At the End of Our Century

We’re standing together at the end of “our” century wondering alone what the hell just happened. It was an ethereal thing, like an accent, something like a ragtime roll born on a riverboat, that kept us lingering around one corner of the room for so long. That tool, which came from our tongues, really, no longer had a job to do. “Do you remember,” says I, “when you was pullin’ riverboats an’ I was pushin’ barges? We sure had us some different sticks.” But you don’t feel like talking much. But maybe you’ll belt out a line: “Ain’t no more cane on the Brazis, it all done been turned to molasses.” Typical, you saving your last word for the damn sugarcane. Not a note, not a melody for the gang nor the walking boss, no hammer gone shine gone ring on down canyon-way, nor “I don’t b’long to you, walkin’ boss”. No nothing. You learned long ago that the light was brightest in the deepest tunnel, and even now at the end of the job you ain’t got no respect for nothin’ ‘sides the work. We’re standing at the end of our century with the final spike driven in and we ain’t got shit to say. I mean, we ain’t got shit… Des’itute. Maybe somethin’ like: “It happened to the best of ’em… and now this other dark age has come”. For the unwritten record takes its place, writing nothing of it all, as it never did anyways. The light is brightest, deepest tunnel. Finally: “I’ve got mouths to feed,” you say, brow sweat hardly yet chilled, “I best be fillin’ ’em in with coal ash before they figure it all out… that it was all just one mad, lost, brisk and misguided expenditure of love. If we’d bridged a continent, it’d hardly mattered. In the century to come, they’ll find the remains of a steel driver’s family, victims of familicide, pistons to the backs of heads, and they’ll know that we truly lived in the time of the engine —but what an American engine it was.” I watch you in resignation disappear into that valley. Finger raised, I froze in time the indication, the verdict, and the ritual: There. There. There lies a steel-driving man. But, you know what? Ain’t nobody out here lookin’ for you.

Railroading on the Great Divide

I guess you never knowed the feeling
Railroading on the Great Divide
There’s Boot Outlets and wooden Indians galore
But on one side there’s Nevada, on the other side Christ
There’s the Rockies, then perdition
And I never knowed where I’d jump
I’ve tried to keep my feet on the steel
No matter how massive the landscape
I remembered I’m small, but the temptation was there
To leap into the firs and pines
I can move fast on a train, but I can’t move the sky
I guess you never knowed the feeling
And railroading on the Great Divide
Some will make it, others will not
Just gotta keep moving
No matter how massive
Because I am small

Pregnant Moment, NYC

It was a pregnant moment. A Chinatown bus at the foot of Manhattan Bridge, back when our hair was less granite and more brownstone. Here, I’ll buy you bubble tea and we can watch the fog over the YMCA. You can see buses listed on the sign all the way to Richmond, and if you ask them there’s even one going to a shopping mall in Florida. But I ain’t goin’ down there. “The city is like one great big womb, protective and prefigurative,” said John, who had slept overnight at Grand Central. “No,” I said, who had stayed at an illegal basement hotel with walls made from spare computer parts, “the city is like a placenta, fecund and facilitative.” The Lucky Star bus man, fresh from his one-room apartment with shared bath, stopped us. “No,” he said, “the city is born. The city is a brother. The city is family. Now get on the fuckin’ bus if yer goin’ to Boston.” Spray some Wild Style into my hair now, man. Something tells me we’re heading into America, and we won’t be back until we’re much older.

Age of Consent

Now that the culture wars are over… sweet sweet reconciliation, Lord. We heard the Velvet Underground on some New York station and thought it saved our lives. We were just trying to be wiser in our PR shoes and our big straw hats. We’re sorry we glorified bondage and Ginsberg and haunted railroad crossings on both wrong sides. Nothing was happening at all. We had no X-Ray Specs to know our influence on the youth, and now that the culture wars are over, won’t you let us come back home? I’ll throw the used-up Christmas trees back on the pile, and our Halloween decorations will be like the scary old Times Square, sweet sweet Jane… and we’ll never be in another Rock-n-roll band ever again, now that the culture wars are over. All you protest kids, let me know, let me know now, how it does feel to be loved.

Perish the Thought

Spare the rod, perish the thought. Ideas don’t dig post holes. She blames it on some centuries that pulled out a chair and sat cross-legged in a dark oak wood grain corner for a fever spell. They wore a three-piece suit and fiddled with a pecan in the left hand until it’d been greased with palm sweat and polished into an acorn. If she hadn’t had the town to call her a “thinker”, she would have hallucinated that her thoughts had value. Of course they didn’t. Ideas don’t dig post holes any more than centuries fiddle with pecans in the corner. Perish the thought, spoil the child.

That’s where such things belong, in darkness, in wood grain patterns on oak floors. Nothing is more ingrown than the mind in commune with the mind in the insufferable delusion of movement and substance. Nothing more tyrannical than a mind that won’t shut the hell up and contemplate the wood grain patterns on oak floors to the point of fever, polish a pecan in a sweaty palm into an acorn, and tell the family what’s the cost of a dozen eggs got to round here.

Ideas don’t dig post holes. She needs to recognize that or get out of town before the light hits that corner and the centuries uncross their legs, check their time piece, and set about their ancient daylight malevolence. Perish the thought.

The Last Elk of Avery County

…and what if you never do miss anyone as much as North Carolina?

Do you have to go back to find out?
Are your ancestors still national forests?
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway gonna lead up into the sky this time?
Are you gonna slip on lichens off Jumpinoff Rock, or choke on the pawpaw seed of the Great Dismal Swamp?
Wipe off the mists of the Cherokee orchard, and pan for the bones of the last elk of Avery County?
You and your shotgun wandered off from Boone and never came back.
They seen your passing around Kingsport, too:
There goes the man with a North Carolina death wish, trailing behind him the vapors of hollers and the breadcrumbs to lead back to the dream mill.

Ode to An Indigenous Woman

A dual-spout wedding vase remains to be filled. I got tired of some sacred platitudes such as “water is life” and “heart of maize”. I ate grits and cornpone at you while intimating what seas my blue eye had seen and I indicated where a Muskogee must have begun to cut the scalps off my forebears like some New World covenant had been born and I am the inwardly scalped gentile. I made it clear there was nothing I could do better than be surly about occupying space. It was, after all, “land and liberty” on the corn liquor tongues. What sacred platitude! A dual-spout wedding vase filled with hooch.

Horsehair pottery. A dual-spout wedding vase. And with that we grew entirely modern skins and in the marketplace of skins we sold them for a dollar a dozen or a bead an acre as “the color of land”, and from there we tease about whether to erect a cigar store Indian to adore or whether to embrace the God of the gaps of Cumberland Gap, and therewith won’t you open your ranges to bestow your valley?, and either way we’ve committed an anthropomorphic fallacy of the whole damned thing, from Ulster to Utah. Fire water and rangers and plagues. A dual-spout wedding vase. Horsehair pottery.
We clear our throats. We circle our wagons. Turns out we’re both covering nakedness and waiting for divine intervention. Yet it occurs only to me only now, at Churchill Downs, that you are a beast of burden I know from the farm. You were named “America”, your coat was described the color of American land, on the face of buckles, bolos, coins. You call yourself by the name on my ticket, and you sell yourself by the pedigreed hues of husbandry. America LLC specializes in leathers and pelts. I owe America my livelihood. My throat tightens. Does America win the race? Turns out our bets are the same. America is a dual-spout wedding vase. If the potter was any good then it’ll hold what we put in it. Like a potter’s field. Like a continental grave, funerary statue of liberty.
Tomorrow we’re back on the trail. Many more will die, with dying visions of where the oceans meet the land in a shimmering strip of unbearably bright banality. And in the sacred squint of the eye, the modern and momentary collide with some arguments of prescience and provenance. Yet it occurs to me only now that within such gaps do we access promised lands. Yet we wager against the same sacred platitudes, you and I. Waiting for obscene interruption. No… inviting it, rather. Filling the wedding vase with it, and drinking from dual spouts. A covenant ingested apart, though I may owe it my life. Every unearned second of it.

***

I thought I knew you… Oh, wait, I did… I always knew you… In the back seat of a Toyota… On the back side of a mask… I never knew you… I thought I’d wait until I did…

Manna Meal Ticket

You remember when work was easier ‘an livin’? You spent all them days moanin’ on ’bout how you gotta work to live, you live to work. Yeah, man. Say it again, brother. Yeah, man. How you been? Still kickin’. Ain’t dead yet. Can’t complain. Or I could but I won’t. Haha. Yeah girl. Please sister. Yeah girl. Never see the missus. They grow up so dern fast. They got me hook, line an’ sinker, while my hook, line an’ sinker ain’t touched the water all year. But you remember them OTHER days?… them days when work was easier ‘an livin’? I reckon if the job is good enough then that’d be the best feelin’ there is. Anyhow. Ain’t you got a job to do? You got time to lean, you got time to clean. Who you workin’ for anyway? Don’t need no food, I got that blessed bread and fish buffet. I got the manna meal ticket, yes I do. I get my clothes from the lilies in the field. But just gimme a job. Come on, now. Put me to work.

It Was Morning In Old Mexico, But…

The comforting feeling
I woke up in the hammock with the mosquito net over me
The smell of rendering fat and burning pork rinds from in front of the corner mechanic shop below
It was blowing in the corner window and blowing out the courtyard window

And for a moment I thought I’d woken up in the cab of my truck once more
Somewhere around Lubbock, Texas, where the
air was full with cow.
Copper blood, bone sand. The trains passing the yard even seemed to have traded their steam horns for moos.

Texas. What great act of genius invented a Texas.
A place to walk tall and render the fat.
Texas! The word like a monolith standing in the center somewhere.
Flat skies, oil fields, live by Texas and die by Texas.
Ay, Santa Ana! Horrible Texas, an open question.

The hammock swayed.
The sweet potato man blew his whistle,
the knife sharpener blew his flute, the garbage man rang his bell, and the
children spoke Nahuatl as they cooked
their hen’s egg over a burning tire.
It was morning in Old Mexico,
but Texas burned in my eyes.

Married Women

What sociopathy from the modernist novels! You read Henry Miller and Camus and denied the obvious wisdom of the ancients, that all social relations are necessarily based on an omission and disavowal. That society is organized by way of constraint and sacrifice. That the innocence of children is circumstantial, by virtue of ignorance and not by goodness of nature. But you, who would seem to will ignorance… You never studied your folk etymologies, your vernacular truths, you ran around like a chicken with its head cut off pecking at nonexistent oppressions from a muscle memory trained for nonexistent revolutions. Where’s your head, child? The other end of a hoe’s blade. Now you say you want to sit and talk dirty about your Lost Generation like I was your priest at confession in a Left Bank cafe. And the non-ironic workers and washers, they are to be your backdrop. I’ll have no part of it. Put away your toys. Learn your folk etymologies and your vernacular truths, and stop trying to get a married woman to confess to being the Lindbergh baby. Sometimes we’re just married women.