Sunday, January 16, 2011

variations on red warren

Promise that you’ll make wishes on the grain elevators that blow by off the highway as it screams along with me. Give the pan to a caboose or two, and the faces of geniuses camel up the worst of it, then the splatter bugs get their fate decided for them by wind and glass. Gone by in the giving that graces the presented gallop of information, like the way a horse gets when it whips full of beans, and you’ve got those catalpa tress of course, maybe lining a wide boulevard, or it could be just sand on the dashboard, and the cold shivering foetus of it all making irreverent speeches in platform shoes tooling alongside burnished triumphs of amphibian-breathed holiness, and all of this rudimentary gall-giving crater-happy silent treatment doesn’t do a burp of good among wardens and stalled vehicles. But getting the side view is necessary. In fact, speaking to Luddites with pin-tail souls is pergola-watching at its finest. After you retreat. The gaping Sunday-faced marrying along bloodlines, and the shoulders sag and the armpits drip and the lint sticks to chewed gum in breast pockets and flints and is flicked away, those who do such things, we make the dandiest little greeting cards, well, those who worrying are we-ing and whoopee-ing under the hard-packed dirt of another day to have to suffer through, those are plenty and they are left to themselves in keeping pennies and playing keep away with a box of doughnuts. “Come on over and get your reward,” sing the chariot racers, but there’s nobody to listen. Cascading past the ruins of the highway’s scarry past, sucking up all the sugar cubes, making speeches, getting tired of window-looking, fiddling around with a pocket book and scotching a few canceled checks, and the wind plays tricks on the stereo while a passel of july-bugs shadows by. Cordial, and willing at any cost, to bemoan the youthier currents of any suitable event, the boss stays put and paints murals on the ceilings of outhouses. He trims the gristle from the marrow of what you used to be, and then tells you to put a lid on it. Keeping the bulge and the glitter alive, manila-envelope skin and telegrams from outer space, knowing that the end of man is to know, or just passing the afternoon going north-east out of the city. People pray for their own demise at certain times of the year, when the weather won’t stop playing games with their god-fearing spirits, and that great big eye slowing them down from upstairs somewhere. Tilling the backrooms for spare gold coins, we sift through what’s left and bag the rest. Love’s tablecloth stays stained with who you are in my dreams, nothing too dramatic, not like weaving in traffic, not like tossing peanuts in a panhandler’s palm. More like getting in on the joke, swanky and loose in the tongue, sporting a boiled shirt, cussing high and low and not upset at all. And the commissaries are streaking down the line, holding off colds, playing spoons with a few shirtless dweebs, and patches of chokeberry and meadowsweets and photinia rub the hillsides with splotchy dashed color while you run errands and play fetch with ballots and cure your own shyness with watery ebullient cheers like hey-ho-let’s-go stuff. Sure. Run a hay-wagon through it and take off all your clothes. Go pantomiming the great potato, tousled hair crinkled and matted down with perspiration over his forehead, the pudgy face, cagey, the trenches in his eyes, the seven-fifty seersucker that’s long in the pants with the cuffs crumpling down over high black shoes, the tissue-papered tie, imbibing orange soda with two straws at once. But assuming the nicest of things about all involved you can lead a cemetery tour group to flat-out indecent or just drowned decisions, and you with your taffy hair, you’ve got to lead a duck, even with famished cheeks and an unfinished smile treading water on your swimming-pool face. So, please do not rest in peace or chaos, like when you’re reaping profound things from a private conversation, and then somebody else walks in the room and it’s like everything is dead and you can’t talk anymore. Wonder comes in bunches and blooms like crepe myrtle. You leave it at smokestacks. You leave it at love-vine clambering up out of the weeds, to those of the wool-hat and cockle-burr variety casting their lot with the jumping-jack-flashers. You leave it at b-b-b-b-as-tuds with spit flying and screechy tires rubbering the dirt shoulder off the high shining bright slab. A gun holstered like a tumor under an arm. Tamarisk and hobo décor strangling the gaps between here and way way way way over there. Nothing more to keep you brightly lit. Make sure you count the telephones poles as they spool by fishing for compliments, stringing along the race of the wires, as your eyes dance bumpy and troubled, a shade pulled down over your features by an unknown hand that no matter what you’ll never get to know, not the way you could’ve, once, long ago, before the cold-glove grip of the past caught up and strangled the guts from you. As you were. Taps plays. Quiet prevails. Your heart breaks over and over again. Blaming the deviant nature of one on the whole’s nurturing. And you run like a cat escaped from a sack, and you part ways with mahogany wainscoting and the massive stonework of the cellarage, and you crowbar your way back into the wreck of your past. Don’t answer the phone for a stretch. Guess what’s for dessert. Leave your name and number on a velvet jacket’s cuff. Let’s shake the dust off our inner-selves and gussy up the fraternities of now for mud-shack parties that just might never end. Hopelessly redeemed. You get weary making plans. Divorced from the higher things in life, handling it all too well, after the well’s dry and the moon’s gone, and we’re waking up in different beds. The coffee’s taking too long to work, and nothing’s resolving on its own. Sundown’s got its own mess to clean up, or what’ll do until the mess arrives, but then we’ve still got the awful responsibility of time, on our side and against us too, with the highway lowing off scrubbed and matted, sounding out distance into more distance.

“I don’t rightly know, there, well if it’s just to lend out parking spots then…”

His creamed and curded face was meadow-muffin colored, and no amount of mints would take the sour garlicky odor from his breath. There wasn’t a lot to like about that bloated mug, as scowling and twitching were its most salient attributes. His head wasn’t as big as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it’d give you a hard time seeing around it in a movie theater even if you were sitting about 5 rows behind it. Calling him a heavy sweater would be doing an injustice to marathon runners; sweat pits would form under his arms almost instantly after donning a shirt.

“Grub around and glom onto the clutch of things. I’m hightailing it to Virginia where they’ve got apples growing wild on the trees right there off the highway and you can just reach up and pluck one down and eat it right there on the roadside and ain’t nobody gonna bother you none about it.”

I conceived an idea. I let nothing pertain.

“I’ll smart aleck you to death I reckon,” said I as I sidestepped a remarkable remark.

And in the slow muscle of the evening foaming with a greasy, slush-like moan there would be the cries of strays and the hee-haw squawk of seagulls, and near the church-bell melody of stoops cluttered with posy and feline purrs and mechanical trinkets that hum and bump and rattle, and the swinging of doors; and now, because you’ve kidded the hotel chippies long enough, you take the charm of hand-holding clowns, you set the saucepan away for good, you toss aside filmy gowns and the punched-through spackle of deteriorating drywall. A purpling mass of sky descends, or seems to, as everything is close and all around. The marsh sings, half repulsed by the flash of car headlights, half unaware of even itself. People drive on and over things--the thin, crackly crust of the present--with vowels that clack like spoons.

“There’s no weather in it for us.”

“Spilt and dreamless,” he croaked. “That’s about all the gum I got.”

“Christ. Bladders like teaspoons. There’s no getting around it. Swimming around with your ken, some pother and semantic struggling. Christ. I mean, Jesus.”

I threw a tennis ball at his head. It missed, but I made my point.

“Stop your infernal suffering.”

He was a flypaper-souled guy, and his ambitions lent towards card tricks and needle beer. Nothing made sense about him. He’s the kind of guy who’d instantly make comradely raillery turn to dour subjectivity. Skin rough and worn on his tooled and tan face, fresh bloody crust in nick-cuts from shaving peppered here and there on the sag of his cheeks, gumball-blue eyes always squinting, peering circumspectly at whatever happened to be passing their way. A huff and a spleenish groan. A public servant serving himself. Nothing but poly-ticks.

“Stop your fussing. The sun’s come to light, and I don’t know how long it’ll bear witness to the likes of you.”

The backyards with their patchwork fences of chicken wire, mesh hexagons rusty and sagging in places, the grass sopped with rain, muddy puddles pocking humps and clumped weed-flowers, and their chimneys so lonely, cobbley, smoking above tin or sheet-metal roofs where the rain patters and thumps and makes those below sink into a somnolence, an almost-trance that keeps the yawns coming and the coffee brewing all day, and then there’s time for to listen to the train whistles as those hunkering gray beasts smoke and screech into the station to remind all that life is motion, even when it’s being still, even on a late rainy afternoon while the moths are still toying with the idea of playing hover over the flicker of yellow bulb light, even when this here train is grumbling and grinding to a halt, the people inside just shadows, just figurines, just chattel awaiting another destination in an endless line of destinations, none of which will, as they never should be, the end. A rumble stirs through the dining car, dishes and wine glasses awkwardly cavorting on tremored tops of tables. Windows frame rectangles of the forlorn landscape. A water tower leans gawky over rows of corn. Klee-klee-klee whines from a tidings of American Kestrels. Squares of fallow farmland checker the flat stark terrain, the bland similarity of monotonous pastures, a place where nothing can hide, where nothing can be obscure, and the sun sets fire, and the sky’s so big it’s like it just wraps around everything and makes you dizzy and lost in it. The porches are warped and creaky and covered with wind-blown dirt. A man chewing on a pipe pauses for a moment, sets down his newspaper, sits up in his rocker, and stares at the ruddy and scaly flesh of the world, his drifting mind now settling on something, something that curtains his sight’s movie screen, something that bread-and-roses his instincts, and he might even chance to catch wind of dogwood and redbud, or part ways with dreaming Chickamaugas and Chattanoogas in an attempt at expiation, short-lived as it may be, for the horded company of his past. The skyline trembles.

In a wild, electric way her hair, cut off at that crazy length, very black and choppy, by itself could make you fall in love with her at a glance. Something disinterested strolled around in her eyes, which were glassy and moon-like, and which would sparkle at you but only if it was necessary. Being close to her was an occupational hazard, though one you’d risk every time, as the summer dwindled and the lawns faded to a burnt sienna and cow smell crept in to chase away the cedar and pine. There were certain times when that graceful turn of her hips, her luxuriant and languorous stride, the way she stood on tiptoe to spoon sugar into the coffee or playfully shadowboxed with your palms, were enough to make you stick around. So, then you step off the train and it’s cold, a biting cold that pinches and slaps at your face. You weren’t made for weather like this. The gravel scrunches like dry Quaker Oats as you step away from the platform. The houses clap and board up your dreams. A shiver warms beneath the pavement, and you carry your bags to the terminal bar where you’ll sit and smoke cigarette after cigarette and drink beer after beer until they oh-so-politely ask you to leave with the utmost brevity and class, and you’ll go, quietly, without causing a ruckus, lugging along ghosts in gray suits with plastic daffodils sleeping in their lapels, dragging your feet, on your way home.

The road sweeps, tilted and crumbling, and mulls in a wash of moonlight. Rabbits and prairie dogs mingle and dart and artfully dodge drool-hungry wolves out in the chaparral’s dark. Rounding bends is a serious high-risk situation, but it’s got to be done, without the aid of streetlights, so you do it, matching wits with the Doghobble and Barberries and Corkwood and Hollyleaf Buckthorn and Smoketree invading your mind’s garden. For a minute there, as the horizon marbles and the guardrail corkscrews and culverts clunk underneath making your head rattle like a clogged Hoover, you start to think you’re drowning, but then you realize it’s just the hogwash of terrible gutless remorse suffocating and botching up your reason from clear-headed to sappy wilted-lettuce numb. There’s a sneeze’s moment where you know just what needs doing and just how it will be done. You walk along the side, mud clinging to your boots, scratched by thorns and wiry branches, socks brambled, eyes peeled for headlights, ears wary of engine sounds, treading along careful and hurried, carrying yourself like a carton of eggs, awe-struck, an iota of kindness still hell-or-highwatering down your swallows, slicing at the mean-stitched blimp of what it currently means for you at this moment to be alive.

“Why are you always eschewing me?”

“I’m not. I’m hachoowing you. It’s not what you think.”

“No. You’re always eschewing me out of things.”

“Yeah, and Francophiles are girls who love crooners.”

“Could be. Could very well be.”

“Lunch is a mistake these days.”

“Every apple counts. Been sick with vitamins for too long.”

“Friday’s don’t come often enough, but when they do it’s too much.”

“Braces and other obstacles to popularity stick with one even after the darkness lifts, the trophies are all handed out, and the invisible people win yet again. Play that fucking sandwich like a bass guitar. Sippy cups are for sissies who hang Olympics banners from their backs like capes. Get out of my way with that Hasidic drool.”

“Quiet listens.”

“Silence hears.”

“You don’t maybe exactly want to be that kind of guy but you already are that kind of guy and as you modulate and go through your life you appear to others to be that kind of guy whom you don’t want to be, see, then what kind of guy do you want to be? It gets confusing and sometimes you’re just plagiarizing. So, maybe you are suffering from flashbacks of being born. There’s no cure for that. There’s not cure for shyness or jealousy either. Just drink up the water and dive in.”

“Suzette came home at 8:13 PM. She tossed her keys on the kitchen counter, took off her peacoat and laid it over a folding chair, made herself a sandwich with last night’s leftover meatloaf, plopped down on her bed with the sandwich, and put the movie October in the DVD player. October is a 1927 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein. A re-creation of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, the film chronicles the events leading to the Bolshevik takeover and is considered to be an historical masterpiece.”

“What was she wearing?”

“Nothing but clothes.”


“A smattering of spellcheck-dither had hooked her attention and she thought, ‘well it was nearly summer when we sat on your roof, when we smoked cigarettes and stared at the moon.’”


“She wanted to be amused. She needed something exciting. All she kept getting was credit card bills and grocery bags.”

“Whose spelling was she checking?”

“Her own. And yours. And mine.”

“Did she ever sing?”

“No. She had no cause to sing.”

“Oh. Did she ever watch the film?”

“October? No. Well, she tried. She just couldn’t have worked in an orange-juice factory.”


“She couldn’t concentrate.”

“Makes sense, what with all the spell checking and Tom Petty lyrics in her head and stuff.”

“Too many directions for her thoughts to take. Too much to think.”

“Oh golly gee. Tell me now what I already don’t already know.”

“Suzette wanted to change the weather report. She believed the devil was controlling the numbers in her bank account. It’d been a long time since anyone had brought her flowers.”

“Did she think that she made other people dumb?”

“She might have. Sometimes she wondered, ‘If I fart and nobody is around to hear it then have I really farted or has it all been in vain?’ This usually occurred after she’d eaten a giant bowl of broccoli with American cheese melted over it.”

“The sun is a nothing wheel. Snow isn’t soft and it doesn’t taste like vanilla frosting. Have you ever seen a black and white rainbow?”

“Well, charge my horoscope with murder. I’m all idea’d out.”

“To the moon, to the moon, to the moon, moon, moon.”

“Creeping off to the waste of space in plum deals of time are movies without end.”

“I’m keeping my hands to myself.”

“Maybe that’s there is the damn problem. Like fabricating a Bill Of Wrongs.”

“Being sad is a right I’m not about to give up without a fight.”

“Mild, trivial catastrophes are the accidents of modernity, as the balance between the individual and the world has been lost, and we’ve lost so much more, and all before supper too.”

“No more chromium 6 in the drinking water. Nobody’s going down to Oxford Town. Not now. Not now. We’ll get back at Mother Nature one of these days. One of these old days here. Yep. Any day now. One of these days. Riding on a train headed north. Give me early hours and coffee on the stove, a ring made out of tinfoil, and a hurt that barks more than it gnaws.”


“You can’t talk like that. Not in here. It’s not allowed. It’s in the lease.”


“That’s more like it. Knew you’d shape the ship. Like wearing madras on a rainy day, or the Mormotomyia hirsute, the fly that doesn’t fly.”

“If you mean certain things, well, tigers flying on t-shirts, incompetent happiness, cotton socks sticking to toe hair, well, if you mean, well…certain things.”


“What’ll you do now, my baking-soda eyed son?”

“Pour plastic money over the Lone Ranger’s hanging head.”

“The way I love that woman I swear it’s about to get me killed.”

“Aren’t you ever going to grow up?”

“Where, where, where, where are we going?”

“Oily-greasy-glimmering in the slanderous rays of lamp posts.”

“Cranky and improbable as the calliope plays Dixie, as still as a tomb, as cold as a nun’s panties, while the clumming strips naked night’s enemies just ere the sun gushes a blush on the drowsy chilled hills, and it’d take a hell of a lot more than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to patch up this old heart of mine all over again and all over again.”