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.

Desert Apparitions in Dialogue

Sonoran question:
“you come from the other side?”
I felt like a ghost – it wasn’t just my hue
Recaptured after a prison break
“you come from the other side?”
Lady, I am from the Great Beyond
Tucson and Yuma sands glow on my soles
“yes, sister, I come from the other side.
Wanna touch my hems? They’re also secondhand.
and here before you I am swatting ants
off my legs”

My Anglo-Saxon Soul

All your efforts and all your failures touch me
somewhere deep in my Anglo-Saxon soul –
What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?
– make me want to evict you and move into your house,
and for completely impersonal reasons, a stiff
upper lip and a cane, a paper and the hunt,
ever modern, ever multi-, democratic and free.
Always open for business, always cheering the meek
and waiting for my shot to fall, me or the quarry,
a Sunday roast bake and W.H. Auden. It’s really nothing
personal. All your efforts and all your failures
touch me somewhere. But we don’t touch that much.
And I would prefer it if you succeeded alone.

Suspended Decomposition

There were a number of archaeological objects in the sheets which would normally have bothered me. A press-on nail from the dry cleaners, a beetle that flew in through the kitchen window and burrowed into the neck of my shirt. Sometimes we were almost sleeping on the forest floor or in a midden. I normally would have tossed the mattress. But each time I plucked the offending artifact and flicked it into the darkness. I then rolled over into my mortal position and I put my arms back around you, preserving our remains to be brushed clean. And each time you were already before me in that sleep. In metallurgical dreams you slept, a sedentary sarcophagus from the nights long before we met here.

Palm Sunday

All our vital signs seem to stall. It’s Palm Sunday. Yeah, you can drive that old pickup to church today, but can you keep it running through the work week? Even if it’s your last? The end is never the end. Hosanna. 

In Appalachia on Decoration Day we decorated the graves of loved ones with our congregations. Victory over death. Victory in death. ‘Hosanna!’ we shout, unsure if we deserve it, as all our vital signs seem to stall at the cemetery gate.

‘Hosanna,’ the multitude murmurs as the Ford beater stalls at the gate of Jerusalem. At the gate of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem Ridge. Palm Sunday. We’ll never get in the damn gravel lot across from Bert’s Feed.

Today Jesus rode in on a pathetic donkey, sign of peace, as a conqueror, ready to die. This whole week is about victory over death, victory in death. But it is also about living and dying truthfully. It is about riding in on an ass, a sign of peace and humility, and ready to die at the hands of the vain, violent and lustful. Victory over death, victory in death, victory in peace.

Rev. Edwards and Reason Conner get out and give it a push. They push that miserable F-150 donkey and its John Deere colt in the flat bed across the stock gap and into the Holy Spirit. The victory is hushed. The work week lies ahead, and we gotta keep an eye on Lemiel’s old beater. Can he keep it running? “The end is never the end,” moans Louisa Edwards, the preacher’s wife, “we’ll be driving old Lemiel and his mower around in the church shuttle until Kingdom Come”.

“Hosanna,” says Rev. Edwards, “hosanna.”

Dreams About Women, V

“Do you know how many women would kill for your locks?” I thought for sure that the stylist was going to reject the appointment to preserve my dead cell protein accretions. I had to lean in and whisper, “Do you mean they want to scalp me and wear my follicles around like Ed Gein’s bonnet?” I was partially hopeful. “No, no,” she said, “maybe they would want to touch it, maybe they would hate you and all you stand for but feel inexplicably drawn to you via hair-envy. But I don’t believe there will be any Wisconsin nipple-belts involved.” I folded my arms and squeezed my chest until that, too, felt like cracking a lobster. “I meet my Jungian female anima regularly in my dreams and we get along just fine,” I reflected, “and I suppose that if she were around when I’m awake then I wouldn’t feel sentimental toward any woman at all, ever again. I don’t feel sentimental towards her, actually, I just feel complete. There can’t be any higher freedom than that! Ultimate reconciliation! Aristophanean soulmates, like conjoined twins, like mutually dead cell protein accretions in the form of the opposite gender!” I saw a stem cell floating in the barber’s blue disinfectant jar, and I saw faded clipper hairstyles of baby-faced owners of extensive automobile sound systems, and I saw facial hairs of soft-palmed lumberjacks who ride the timbers of finance down the mighty Colombia River singing their mighty, soft-palmed lumberjack songs: “Yo-ho-ho, the redwoods our fathers, let’s put on their jackets, it’s the lumbering life for me!” Floating out to the Pacific, they crack lobster chests with the dull ends of axes. “Say,” I continued, “maybe someone feminine with an English-looking face could slap on my bloody headdress and talk to me about poetry and America and the wild edibles of the Carolina Piedmont and I’d call the approximation adequate. You have the blades, sister. This could be a new source of revenue for you: Jungian makeovers and Wisconsin nipple-belts. And you can serve Pacific, mustachioed lobster, too. You can crack their claws with the backs of scissors, hot butter lubricating beards…” But before I knew it, the deed was done. And like a secular circumcision in the bowels of a Baptist hospital, there fell my accretions to the floor. Swept up and away to decompose before me, there went my locks, pursued to the landfill by a herd of ethnically ambivalent women eager to braid what my mother incidentally gave my daughters. “Do you know how many women would kill?” — back to the lumber camps, for me, man. Man. Man.

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…

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.