How many times and how many years: have I lit candles, rung bells, made offerings at the tombs of Saints, waited for shooting stars, felt marble whisper under my fingertips, spun prayer wheels and tied red string, for the same hopeless wish?
Whenever I return a fight breaks out in the park, someone buys a lottery ticket, steals a bottle of vodka, lights a cigarette underneath the overpass. I-5 rips the neighborhood in half the way the Willamette rips the city in half, it sounds like the ocean if I am sitting alone in the backyard looking up at the lilac. This is where white kids lived and listened to Black Sabbath while they beat the shit out of each other for bragging rights, running in packs, carrying baseball bats that were cut from the same hateful trees our parents had planted before the Asian kids moved in to run the mini-marts and carry knives to school, before the Mexicans moved in and mowed everyone’s front yard— white kids wanting anything anybody ever took from them in shaved heads and combat boots. On the weekend our furious mothers applied their lipstick that left red cuts on the ends of their Marlboro Reds and our fathers quietly did whatever fathers do when trying to beat back the dogs of sorrow from tearing them limb from limb. Lents, I have been away so long I imagine that you’re a musical some rich kid from New York wrote about credit, debt, and then threw in Kool-Aid to make it funny for everybody. I can see the dance line, the high kicks of the skinheads, twirling metal pipes, stomping in unison while the committed rage of the Gypsy Jokers square off with the committed rage of the single mothers. The orchestra pit is filled with Pitbulls and a Doberman conducts them all into a frenzy. In the end someone gets evicted, someone gets jumped into his new family and they call themselves Los Brazos, King Cobras, South-Side White Pride. Dear Lents, Dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster, I am your strange son, you saved me when I needed saving and I remember your arms wrapped around my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around the school yard the night Jason went crazy— waving his father’s gun above his head, bathed in red and blue flashing lights, all American, broken in half and beautiful.
I want to peel off a hundred-dollar bill and slap it down on the counter. You can pick out a dress. I’ll pick out a tie: polka-dots spinning like disco balls. Darling, let’s go two-stepping in the sawdust at the Broken Spoke. Let’s live downtown and go clubbing. God save hip-hop and famous mixed drinks. Let’s live in a cardboard box. Let’s live in a loft above Chelsea, barely human, talking about the newest collection of Elizabeth Peyton, her brilliant strokes, the wine and cheese. You can go from one state to another and never paint the same thing twice. In New Mexico we could live by a creek and hang our laundry on the line. Let’s get naked in the cold waters of Michigan. Let’s get hitched in Nevada. Just you, me, and Elvis. We could sell cheese curd in Wisconsin. I could pay off my bills. You could strip in some dive on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Let’s bite each other on the neck. Oh, my sexy Transylvania! We could be relationship counselors for trannies in South Dakota. It must be hard to have a woman living inside you when you’re watching cows chew the frozen grass of December. You are everywhere, sweet Carolinas. You’re my boss, Tennessee, you honeysuckle. Give us a kiss, Hawaii. Who says we’re not an empire? Fuck ’em, they need Jesus. They need the Holy Ghost. Right, Kansas? Kansas! My yellow brick road of intelligent design. We are not monkeys. They’re all in prison, right Texas? Texas, I was with you on the Fourth of July watching the sky undress with my friends and we were Americans on America Day, which is every day, coming home from work, drinking a beer and waiting for the dark, for the night, the rocket’s red glare, lying around on a blanket in the backyard, a girl from your hometown leaning against you, slipping her slender foot in and out of a saltwater sandal. She’s wearing cherry lip balm and taking Ecstasy. Later you can taste it. The smooth wax along her mouth, her arms stretched out in the grass and each narrow leaf of grass like a separate lover, the horizon of a summer tan rising above her low-cut jeans. She looks different here than she did in her uniform, standing behind the counter of the Coffee-Go, steaming milk, rows of flavored syrup above her head: almond, blackberry, mint, vanilla. This is the Fourth of July and she looks like the end of summer. She’s a wind moving through the trees. She’s the best thing about high school assemblies. We are a country at war and she’s passing a note to you in class, your book open to the chapter on dissecting frogs. How to keep the brain intact when removing it from the small skull. The note says Why were you holding Clare’s hand after lunch? We are a country at war but it’s not really happening here. It is not Clare or her brother or all the bourbon in Kentucky. On the Fourth of July I walk out among the fallen watermelon rinds, the corncobs, paper plates with chicken grease being pushed by a little breeze so they look like moons spun out of orbit. I go inside. I turn the television on. It’s playing the Civil War again. The Battle of Gettysburg remembering itself on the football field at Lincoln Memorial High. A rush of gray uniforms poised on the scrimmage line. The poor sons of Alabama wearing the uniforms of dead soldiers. The North marching down toward cotton revenue and Big Tobacco. The South starving, fighting, often without shoes, the narrator explaining how the muskets were loaded, fired, and then reloaded. That’s a lot of time to think about the person you’re killing. That’s a lot of time to wish you were home. Unless, of course, you were home and your house was burning down. Out of the smoke there’s always more smoke. There’s always the hacking apart and crying. You can go from one Civil War to another and still not be free. The man in charge of the antique cannon has lit his shirt on fire. The man in charge of the horse runs Ray’s Hardware on Tenth and Main. He’s having a liquidation sale this weekend. The show is over in an hour. That includes commercials and the slow I-won’t-kill-you pace of the reenactment. This is how it happened, the narrator is saying, while his producer plays a Negro spiritual. It makes you weep. The vocalist calling out to God. Oh Lord! Oh Lord my God, she’s singing, have pity on our souls. You can go from one state to another and pity will meet you at the Greyhound Station. In the stands of the Lincoln Memorial football field a little boy is eating cotton candy while the dead men rise up from the twenty-yard line and walk toward their families. I love the History Channel. It’s so foreign. The old reels of Germany having the fascism bombed out of it. Kennedy waving from the black sedan. It’s almost real. Boston grieving. Pulling its hair out. You can take the Chinatown bus from Boston to the Chinatown in New York City. You can go from one shop window with peeled ducks hanging by their ankles to another shop window with peeled ducks hanging by their ankles. In Oregon you can go from one hundred-year-old evergreen to another hundred-year-old evergreen and never turn around. They’re everywhere, cut down and loaded up, like paperbacks in bookstores. My favorite bookstore is in Evanston, Illinois. The owner is Polish and his daughter wore a wool skirt that kept sliding up her legs as she sat on the edge of his desk. God bless her for it was cold outside and I was almost alone but for my copy of The Idiot I carried with me everywhere. You can go from one Russian novel to another Russian novel and never have borsht. You can go from one daughter to another and eventually end up with your own. You can go from one founding father to another and still have the same America. The same Alaska. The same Baked Alaska served on a silver plate in the same hotel where the waitstaff are all South American. The same cows sleeping in the same Wyoming with the same kids getting drunk, shooting cans, peeing on the electric fence. The same Main Street with the same True Value. The same flags staggered between the streetlights like marathon runners. I walked down that street in Tacoma, Washington, with Jennifer when Jennifer had red hair and listened to Broadway musicals. We smoked cigarettes in the town square below a statue of one soldier carrying another. The plaque read Brothers in Arms. One soldier carrying another in his arms. We were young and mean and thought it was funny. You can go from one town square to another and never fall in love. Even in New Hampshire where people Live Free or Die. What kind of life is that when you’re on the road and the woman next to you is hardly there, hardly speaking, her feet on the dashboard like two very different promises. How are you supposed to drive under these conditions? Forget about the rain. Forget about Vermont and the Green Mountain’s majesty. Forget Ted Nugent. Forget Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Forget the swimming pools in California because if she doesn’t love you what chance have you got with LA? In LA you don’t get to be lonely. You get skin peels and mud masks. You can go from one spa to another and watch the same lemon slices of cucumber pressed against the eyes of thirteen-year-old girls and seventy-year-old women. You won’t see that in Minnesota. Minnesota! Cover me up in a wool blanket and put me to bed. Let me sleep. Let me have the dream again where Kenneth Koch walks through my mother’s house looking for a leash. He’s taking my dog for a walk. The dog is scratching at the front door and Kenneth is saying yes, yes, I’m coming. You can hear him telling the dog that one broken heart deserves a heart that has been differently broken. I had that dream in New York City. Times Square looks like America throwing up on itself. I want to hold its hair back. I want to sit in the park where my brother and I drank coffee and ate donuts from Dean & DeLuca. We watched a man fly a little wooden airplane over the green benches. We ate lunch at the Cedar Tavern. The French fries I ordered were covered in pepper like the poem Frank O’Hara wrote to Mayakovski, saying I love you. I love you, but I’m turning to my verses and my heart is closing like a fist. The burger was bloody in the middle as if it wasn’t through living. My first girlfriend refused to eat meat. She said she wouldn’t be a tomb for another living creature. But she privately cut herself on the arms which confused both her parents. Senior year she moved to Idaho. I miss her, my sweet potato. You can go from one state to another and still hate yourself. Hide in your room listening to The Cure, carving little commas in your skin. You can go to Arizona State and never leave your past behind. Arizona waiting with open arms for the new blood. The great white hope of tailgate parties and college football. Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play! I’m ready for the lobster rolls of Maine and the coeds of Maryland. In Maryland I played miniature golf with a waitress from Denny’s. I spent the winter sitting in her section, drinking Pepsi, watching her hips hydroplane inside a green polyester skirt. It was the year my Uncle Joe died. He was a G.I. He was a G.I. Joe. A man who hid under the table if a car backfired. He refused to eat rice. He came back from Normandy wanting ice cream. He had a friend from Arkansas who ended up all over his uniform. An ear burned into the helmet. He had a friend from Colorado who got his hands cut off, slow, and forever. His pal from New Jersey was thrown into the sky like a human constellation of broken teeth. You can go from one state to another and still feel pretty good about enlisting. Joe lived in a trance. Love saved him. He would scratch his wife’s name over and over into the tough leather of his boots. Hidden below the view-line of a foxhole, his knife drawn, the word Alice, written like a child writes on the chalkboard. Alice, Alice, like an antidote to death. Joe died in a hospital. You can go from one pool of blood to another and never see your own reflection. Oh, Mississippi, I worry about your boys. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, are you half empty? Washington, DC, the sons of senators are sleeping between flannel sheets. Darling, let’s go to Florida and sit in the shade of an orange grove shack. Let’s meet some Cubans and Jews. The world is so big. Why stay up all night and only have ourselves to keep warm? I’ve never been to West Virginia. What the hell are West Virginians doing this weekend? Or Iowans? In Iowa there’s a new Wal-Mart opening and I’m gonna shed some dimes. We’ll take a bus there. A bus is a diplomat. It throws us all together, our books, hats, and umbrellas. I am never more human than when I’m riding next to someone who makes me shudder. If my body touches his body who knows what will happen? Race issues and cooties. The great unknown coming home from work. You can go from one state to another and still not know how to act. We are losing ourselves. We are somewhere in Delaware. You are my Georgia peach. Your love is like a field of buffalo when we still had buffalo and they looked like dark rolling hills deep in North Dakota. America, I’m in love with your imports and exports, your embargoes and summits! Let’s walk down to the river. Let’s bless the paper boats and turn the whole thing into wine. We can sit quietly on a blanket, watching the transcendentalists come and go, talking of Henry David Thoreau. Take me to the river, Ohio, put me in the water. Missouri goes down to the river and drinks Vanilla Cokes. Rhode Island goes down and prays for money. Connecticut goes down and washes its clothes on the sandy bank. We go down to the river and the moon pulls up in its silver Cadillac. America, let’s put our feet in the water! Let’s tie a rock around our waist and jump in. The moon is revving up. The river is rolling by. Tom Petty is singing about a girl from Indiana and I am buying you another drink. I am trying to take you home.
“Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked. Conservatives don’t give a shit about you until you reach ‘military age’. Then they think you are just fine. Just what they’ve been looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers. Pro-life… pro-life… These people aren’t pro-life, they’re killing doctors! What kind of pro-life is that? What, they’ll do anything they can to save a fetus but if it grows up to be a doctor they just might have to kill it? They’re not pro-life. You know what they are? They’re anti-woman. Simple as it gets, anti-woman. They don’t like them. They don’t like women. They believe a woman’s primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state.”—George Carlin (via ellephanta) (via xharekx33) (via sebaxxxtian) (via bradicalmang) (via tawny) (via tblant)
When you become the disease and not the fix, that you consume me so that I end up on a drip just to flush you out of my veins, that already my heart is dying, like it knows the future - but I still try to pretend that it isn’t true.
“He is fleeing neither guilt, nor shame, but the simple emptiness that attends him, and will take him in the darkness, should he ever stop moving forward. He would cave in like an abandoned church.”—Guy Rundle