THE UNDERGROUND SCENEShaft poised over a pagan sea,
the headliner angles for fame.
Many a mile from Miles City,
but Tongue Rivers are always the same.
Something under the surface takes the bait —
freakish fish with a singular hunger.
Faces bubble, the pit agitates —
heads popping like grease in the fryer.
Snow blind with white noise in a gale-force squall,
a giddy belligerence infects the throng,
who—bouncing lunatic off the walls —
find missed notes symbolic, not wrong.
A string breaks an already broken riff.
It’s almost better the more mangled.
Beethoven’s Fifth—a perfect myth.
Punk’s reality is a tangle —
bloody chords and lost voices screeching,
a sound unbound by bars,
six strings strangled, yet reaching
for the floodlit stars.
Spiritual bliss or a masquerade —
it smells more like Nirvana the more they’re paid.
This, after all, is how legends are made,
and the fatherless progeny of drunken barmaids.
Flashing backstage passes or tits
—which work the same —<
guitar-hipped groupies pack in the pit
tight as Escher fish in a frame.
Instruments given to new sensations,
they straddle the shoulders of momentary consolations,
dreaming of stars in brighter constellations—
and ready to give kneeling ovations.
In a fit of white knuckles,
cuckholds in the crowd are making it big, like…
in their dreams—strumming belt buckles,
and howling into beer mics.
Strobes confuse placement and distance;
the lost lost in black frames between.
Shaking their piggie banks empty of sense—
all of ’em pining for the underground scene.
Lapping the walls with a cool blues lick,
the lead’s grip on the neck goes slack.
Breath streams through as he finger picks
the melody lost to feedback.
For the encore, a roadie ignites a nimbus
to brighten the used-up star —
who agile as a walrus,
needs a hand strapping on his guitar.
Feeling exposed, he flips us the bird,
then wings his axe into an amp.
Ear drums percuss; his guitar splinters.
The roadie kills the lamp.
Bandmates grab the songster
like a thief down from his cross;
they carry him out on their shoulders.
The crowd’s at a gainful loss.
Diehards in the lowlight stomp their feet and cheer.
They singe their thumbs till their fluids expire.
“Lock and load,” shouts the bouncer,
"We can’t go till yer gone, so get there!”
Stratocaster bits strew the stage.
Men in black sweep up the mess.
Clearly beginning to feel my age,
it would take some care for me to care less.
I got bored early, kept checking the time.
The rage was marketable.
The wheels fell off the rhyme.
It’s a cynical walk back to the Turcel,
with that something inside all the time sinking.
Maybe it’s winter rounding the corner,
but I feel pursued, and can’t help thinking
that I’ve missed something somewhere.
I’ve deformed my thought to conform to the measure.
More beautiful are songs from an untrained ear,
A mud spattered mockingbird stirs in the gutter.
I know too much of what I don’t, I fear—
like you, I suppose—like you, child…
who rate your senses broken dials,
and your brain a cabinet short a few files.
Getting home might take a while (it’s never just a question of miles).
All of us, songbirds in cages of bone,
when the show’s over, together alone,
we wait in the wings for a free lift home
as the loadout trucks start kicking stones.
A FAMILIAR DRAFTLooking back at the litter of years
flung out a flying car’s window
I wish they were nearer as they shrink in the mirror.
The future’s overcrowded by shadows.
Too late to be driving; paper boys are rising.
Too many cigarettes, too much champagne.
Somewhere a smoked wreck is carmelizing;
blood’s being hosed down a sewage drain.
My heart opposed the glowing ball;
I grabbed a shadow from a dying year.
We raised our hopes with alcohol —
our lips parted when the hands severed.
Ten past five, in underwear and socks
I gaze from my bedroom window.
I dump the contents of my memorabilia box
on the floor, and begin thumbing through.
The past opens like a palm, or petals from a bud,
containing so much beauty; there seems not space enough.
Through a small crack, memories flood.
Hauntings bleed through like dyestuff.
Rewetting our lips, the record skips
when we close our eyes and need it to.
In the bathroom the sink drips
steady—time an incessant obligation, you
keep me awake for something
I can never name—me,
I lie awake in early morning
limp downstairs for leftovers in the pantry
and there pick cans from the garbage
like moments, to recycle them, so
what I find of meaning, I salvage
an index I will reference when I lose
myself; see girlfriend #7.
The paper reads of dying and bleeds black
on my hands—God, play that song again
Don’t know what it reminds me of, but the track…
skips, and I feel a familiar draft—
a door or window opening—from long ago,
yet prescient. Curled at the foot of a golden shaft,
lies my sun-loving calico.
I stow the used cans, throw the rest out the door—
then seeking newness leave my tigress for the used bookstore.
IHave often felt a tree in winter —
Awaiting thaws with apprehension
I stare at a stripped tree
Inside my winter would
It write of green
I write leaves
As I await a touch from the south
In the real air
FEBRUARY HEAVENthe bending cliff of frozen tiers
whispers, Where am I
to the lake steamed over
with feathered glass
Here am I, echoes
Clouds roll over
grinding glacier slow
darkness comes like death
filling everything in until
even the ducks have
no space between them
looking glass of souls
it grows colder
the dripping slows
there is nothing left to do
leave the lovers to their dying
and look for a warmer place
And God saw everything that he had made,
and, behold, it was very good.
(Genesis, I, 31)
He summoned Apollo to dissolve
the veil of shadows, “Illuminate her.”
Even he could not know what she understood;
and she had cautioned of what would evolve
if he could not make peace with a darker
love. Heedless, he opted to preserve her
with art. Loving her more than ever,
he took the soil of the earth and began
molding it in her image; with his hands
he ribbed her; with his thumbs, he impressed her
eyewells, and cheek hollows. When finished,
he looked up, but his beloved had… vanished.
Eyes gouged, he lives yet, chasing lost virtue.
Blinded by the wire, he still fails to see.
The clay is cold and wet. His fingers swim
through shadows, groping, like a man returned
to the site of past glory to find nothing
but vacancies and corroded dreams,
or a beer and barkeep’s ear for confessions
of trading love for ersatz impressions.
He spoke to her; she could not hear, not words.
He chose clay over essence, rake and wire
over her—mud lips, breasts, womb; art is barren.
Dust to dust, he sighed, come elements, come snow,
sweep yourselves away, to the roots of the rose.
REBIRTHafter all the affairs
after all the spinning six a.m.’s
after all the forgotten years and lies
you finally found religion
like safety glass
making sense from sagging shards
and how ironic
this, the way you leave us:
a splash of glass like broken water
and not even the laminate
can hold you from heaven
more or less
PARIS IN FEBRUARY IN WASHINGTONIn a flat on Rue de Saint Germaine,
a boy, not yet twelve,
was telling us the difference
between Manet and Monet.
My explanation had only to do with vowels.
We were listening to Puccini and drinking wine—
red (there is no other kind).
I’d just devoured A Movable Feast.
Like real expats, we lounged there,
afloat on operatic waves,
which seemed written just for
the curtains’ gentle undulations
as the day rose from the streets
and filled the room with bakery smells.
If you’re a visual learner,
imagine pages flying off a calendar.
As a sales manager, I know how
to accomodate different modes of cognition.
I can tell if you’re a red, green, or blue personality.
The wrinkles on your face tell all. Accordingly,
I can adjust my personality to fascinate you.
I am both a hunter and a farmer. I know how to get
cars in the lot, and keep the pipeline full. That said,
I need a few days off. A few days,
to be myself. I want to be<
unlikeable—just for the hell of it—
and plan to piss somebody off as soon
as I’m cleared.
People can become less
for trying to be more—organ grinders,
trained monkeys, who clap mechanically for love or money.
But there’s nothing so spectacular or funny about
watching a human accomplish what would be a neat trick
for a lower ape. We humans are so advanced, in fact,
that we get bored. Over time, client input
becomes a predictable array, prompting
an equally predictable, and none too interesting,
set of automated responses. Indeed, one can
succeed in business without really trying. In fact,
one hardly need be conscious, and often
—numbed by phone scripts and sound bites —
your average telemarketer can’t honestly claim to be.
Exhibit A: having just
gotten off the phone with my mother, I
recently closed a call to a businesswoman with,
"Love you," before hanging up. I lost that sale,
but gained a friend.
“How are you?” “Fine.”
“How are you?” “Fine.”
“How are you?” “Still fine.”
“Great… yes—so how’ve you been?”
Three days ago I initiated that sparkling bit of conversation.
And there’s more. Yesterday, after reciting my script
to a girl at a McDonald’s drive-thru, I went home,
threw my briefcase in the hamper,
and damn near dumped a load of dirty socks
on my desk to get to work on them.
How surprising then that I’m chasing ghosts of myself,
tugging the hands of the clock, trying to rewind to Paris.
Oh, those were the days, I tell you.
And I remember that time…
that time we lost our Dutch girls to Italian sailors—so
you know what we did? We flew to Athens,
sailed to Bodrum, and found some Turkish ones.
Damn the torpedoes, live if you’re alive.
Yes, that was how we lived then.
And now this… this feeling of loss —
loss of a spontaneity I hope to regain, and it seemed
possible this morning, for the wind rose from the streets,
parted my curtains and…
it all came back, that old but new feeling.
The well filled; I started scribbling,
I pushed PLAY, let an aria catch me in its sway
(auditory learners—cue tape enclosed),
I’m anxious as a shoot in May
(olfactory learners—scratch and sniff the rose).
Spring is but a month away
(visuals, see line 18 for instructions).
If satisfied, remit payment within thirty days
along with testimonial and yellow carbon.
Move on to Part IV