Saturday, July 23, 2011

east of east st louis

Hello. My name is Clarence Plum, and I’m going to take a hard right across America. Hope the burned blush of it doesn’t get to me, but I’m riveted, and it’s needless to say that I’m pretty dog tired of the murder of days rolling along here, getting nowhere and nothing. I used to say, “Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be litterbugs.” I’m not sure it mattered. Everybody scatters their trash. It’s a private nuisance of mine. Got to go around slopping it all back up. But them’s the breaks of it. I mostly say that now. Drink fire instead of wine. That gets me through most of it. West is only water. East is sunset. I get more out of the cold weather than most. Maybe I’ll head north. Anything to get a where that’s not here. Nobody enjoys the present enough, and it don’t last. I grab a handful of yours and…well, it’s bourbon and soda in times like these. I see things blotchy sometimes. It’s okay. My head stays a mess for the worst of it. Give me a pair of Babe Ruth’s bowling shoes and I’ll flee to other shores. A feeling’s humming through me that I’m missing out on things, always missing the best of things, the good stuff. Run a comb through the sludge of my hair. I’ve got my unguarded moments. Got to go through hell sometimes to catch a glimpse of heaven. Prayers all corroborating my alibis. Old judge Masters, that stinker, chucked the Book Of Sam at me. Then Evelyn left me for a bible thumper. Let him have her. Who needs her? But I tell you, I’m still looking for her in some other girl’s eyes. Every other girl. Even or odd, just roll right along through the muck like always. One sapropelic motherfucker, I am. Always deserting on the detritus of situations that I keep getting tangled and thrashed about into.

I start to think of my drunk aunt whom we always had to move. Her waterbed that finally popped and gushed out to soak the carpet as we waded away. I start to…“i was nine and was walking on the beach and my aunt who was a floozy and a drunk was lighting a cigarette cupping her hands over it in the wind and i thought she might be a scarecrow but then didn’t know if scarecrows could be women and why anyway would my aunt be a scarecrow though crows would certainly be scared of her she had a face like a frying pan with day-old bacon grease in it but i was nine and impossible things hadn’t started to seem as unlikely yet as they one day would because being nine you know enough about stuff but not enough to really know about stuff and that was me then feeling as old as i’d ever felt feeling my age nine and it was something wonderful with my bare feet on the warm sand and the wind splattered at me and the sky so big it was like it would never end and i wanted to go dive into the ocean and tumble around in the waves and be lost and i was nine and it felt like something important to be that age then walking on the beach and my aunt lit her smoke and laughed her raspy laugh and coughed her hacking cough and winced and squinted and mussed my hair and i ran and i ran on ahead and she called to me but i didn’t hear her i had more pertinent matters to attend to and i was off kicking up sand behind me as the beach seemed like it would never end and i knew the ocean would go on and on and i’d never get to the end of it no matter what and i knew that it didn’t matter anyway because i was nine and my life was my own and there was a whole world going on around me that wouldn’t care if i disappeared and i wanted to be gone and the ocean was calling me by name and i ran and ran and ran and when i hit the hard wet sand by the water i hardly knew where i was and it didn’t matter because the water was cold enough and i was nine and i’ll never forget how it felt”

Alkaline hell and high winds are the vade mecum of my traipsing. Listen well or know where we are. The sewers and oceans. The jungles and slums. Clean air and a diesel dreaming smoke. Families race in squares about the rattle of vacuum cleaners. Roam as the road’s cleared. Just thinking of you. It’s not jumbo. It’s not as magnificent as Ambersons. Talking less than keeping quiet. Sludge of wet grounds left at a coffee cup’s bottom. Used. Burlap and Kevlar and ruminating from the clack of bones and the gnash of broken teeth. Spooning time into paper cups. Let’s let the road clear itself. Order. Order. Ordering the important of what’s what of the who. Like that. Getting back to the you in you. And then. And then? Yes. Sure.

And then you get to thinking about how that rent check’s burning a hole in your pocket, and a blazer of whisky’d be a good companion for the night. Maybe a pack of Luckies and a record player. A few dances that won’t ever wear themselves out. Cents you make instead of dollars in exchange for what’s left of your brain. There’s a pale wish skipping over the moon, and tonight’s just an empty pocket to shove a cold hand into. Strut around in a shabby suit long enough and the world gets to forgetting you long before you’ve forgotten all about it. Gray tidings and square-shouldered applause and a fortune of subway tokens. Making up excuses for falling back out of love again. Radio’s shot. The dark’s got the only light around. Tonic water mixed with whatever’ll fire it down to the gut. Hung with a dead man’s tie. The beams break with the sound you scream. Nothing’s got enough weight to hold whatever’s keeping you down, and saxophones’ve been broken over less. And you don’t even own a piano. Maybe you say to yourself, “Don’t mock me out there or forget me out there with the blown leaves and the runway fur coats. Let me stick around for a while.” There you go holing up instead of holding up better. The sky’s your only better half. A ruined hack skirting his ambitions until another spring comes around to kill them permanently, again. Half of you’s dead, and the other half’s not making up for it. It’s cocktail weather. A friend forgets you and you turn up half your collar. Fireworks pay attention to whatever’s left. Take the elevator to the roof. The noise you make’s just a minor catastrophe. The cabs will all pass you by. The bars’ll all close on your nose. The gallows don’t need a ladder to get you to them.

Bland. Calling it like I ain’t used to seeing it. Fats breaks. There goes the eight ball. You know how it goes. Those things. It’s not that I don’t got class. I’ve just dismissed it. Early. A boon to the famished instincts hunting all over for a way to not have to go again. Phone calls gone MIA. I got a girl who ties my shoes for me. I’m not disturbed by any of it. Let her pass spelling on to the golf prose. Who needs her? Full of grouching and bemoaning and hustling me out of my own apartment. A cat’s crawled into the alley. Time to let it go. Extremely perishable at all times. Pinned. Counted out. I’m putting the punch back in Hawaiian. All the crowd wants is more noise. The lights are always so insecure, going around begging for a smoke. Broke the shade. Misunderstood the robbers. Went holy-over-holly to get back to the crooked and wide. Bundle my head up with cigar smoke. I’m all shook up.

As the afternoon goes calling for beer I go scouting familiar things: playing cards, gum and glue, tinsel, a dusty necktie, badly dented cymbals, laceless Vans, bad manners, a cold half-cup of coffee, cigarette ash on an old movie poster for Dance Hall Racket, gray boxing gloves, bank receipts curling in a pile, toast crumbs and toothpaste stains. There’s no bottom to this. I put in a little time swaying towards Bethlehem. It’s redemption’s plight. Sorry, so-so, or a big fat pink slip from directly up above. That’s how much we’ll get done caring about the condition of the economy’s jugular. In general, by the time I get back to the bottle it’ll be time the bottle’s had just a bit more than enough of me. I can cope. It’s legitimate. Performing CPR on the city’s punctured ego. Clattered. Buddying up. Valor buys itself another lady for the night, and I’m stuck lurking in the lesser-known side streets of ways I used to know so well. Get a lunch special of whatever it is that’s driving distraction around. Really not the strangest route if you start to think about stopping to think about it. Tariffs paid by skid row’s finest. Bused to the delivery section of Go Thou Across The Land. Raincoating your dreams. Cut in of or out for whatever it is that arrives later than night. Buying less of what’s in store for the damaged. Fleeing four-wheeled terror. Vast and ill-tempered. Burnt out on being good. But my dreams ain’t good enough. Not no more. Wrecked in the blessed I go forth and do as I must.

Taking no for a question. There’re places to get to. Lots of down-and-out to climb over. I make speeches in strange voices I’ve never known to crowds of paramilitarians and earless boxes of musty clothes. Never to be squeezed safely home again. Pour me a drink of moonlight, forget the ice. Pass me that hat that’s going around. Surely as two right feet left. The road screams Clarence. I forget the sound my name makes. Sarah Bernhardt’s calling, calling. Dear, dear. I’m on the roof with somebody else’s wife. Oh lord. Tell her. Leave my nightmares in her name. But tell her, please, tell her I’m done.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


a some that’s not a where

i’ve gone ever


or a you

that’s a kiss’s soft

turned moonsilver

before spilt drinks die

for the ice of another


at least

got dancing’s long

with a sleepless here

to bring lost blooms to

openended petals

as feet march spring’s song

and toes twist fall’s gone

we’re still

slightly silently

back when hands hold

and shades draw

so no worry ever slowly

grows like nails

to win

this side of

will be

or were’s are

until then spells now

and i is assured

an us

to travel with

more than gladly

over any under

and never

glued beyond our’s this

or born at most

as lost as also’s too

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

xerxes in arrears

Dear Esther,

I have no interest in big stupid oafs who sleep well at night. You who know me so well should know this well. It’s an echo of snores, of blubbering burps, the stink of cheese, rotten chard from the flatus of fools. Don’t you worry though; corrosion is a principle I’m well aware of. You can’t keep blinding me with science and expect me to just gung-ho go along with whatever it is you’re using to stave off being tired. The wiles of musclemen and the ruses of muscleheads lead one nowhere except to the brink of undone chores. The pomes of cotoneasters tell us more about quick fixes in the grout of things, things being the instrumentation of your life’s music. Contentment comes at a price. Sleep comes sometimes, but not rest. Never rest. You’ve got to beat the tiredness somehow. Strangle it to the floor, suffocate it, grind it down to dust and powder. Grain alcohol and soda water. Maple syrup and barley wine. A concoction of pulverized dandelions, the juice of a dozen Sour Patch Kids, a thimbleful of meatloaf grease, 4 ounces of Diet Rite, a squirt of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of liquid pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, a splash of crushed quartz, and a few sprigs of watercress floated on top. As always, I ideate in the slow hours of sleepless dawns these recipes. What the Q-tip-inclined among us might come to think of as the tip of a pinky finger quickly plugging then just as quickly unplugging the ear.

Essentially I’m hog tired, which is a fatter and even lazier sort of tired than dog tired. A term that suits its owner well. Nothing blaring but those essentials, essentially. Put forth your bravest hand and the foot will dodge out of the way. Other than that it’s keeping time to mental balancing acts, or screaming, “Over and out!” over and over. Me? I’m more interested in the quality of observed holidays. The spiritual nature of them, what will surely out-and-out come to pass while we all dance around playing hopscotch, or drinking scotch, or wrapping scotch tape around our heads, or scotching plans to be more prudent in our foresight.

It’s silly to be realistic when it comes to people. Trust me. I know people; I know what they like. People like ribs. Hickory-smoked baby-back racks of ribs with honey mesquite sauce slathered on them. Spare ribs. St. Louis Style. Country-style. Button ribs, rib roasts, rib chops, riblets. You give them ribs and they’ll be happy. Baked, smoked, grilled. It don’t matter. They will say, “Give me ribs or give me death.” Well, that and maybe a bowling ball. I know people. Yep. Have them eating out of the palm of my hand if I wanted. Don’t want it though. Not now. Hands are too delicate for such things. I’ve got motions so fluent they’ll put the socks back on you. Trouble is, I don’t wake up to it fast enough, and spearheading another wince-able castoff into the parsed plien-air of it is making goop and flavorless dog food for jeerers and flouters.

The city sweeps at you, coins phrases with windy gestures as plastic soda-cup lids and leaves twirl in the same jumble, and you step over street-sleepers and slap your hands on lampposts and jump at yellow lights. It’s manageable. Access dismembers partners of double takes. I order takeout whenever possible. My sensibilities are constantly being baffled. And you take your blue periods, more or less, and spread them out over a fire-splotched lake of maybe a few years more. And you take them as they go, each one a deeper and less refined blue than the one before. But your best shades were never much anyway. Hopes get dashed, or dotted, and then some guy with a bad haircut and sandals on comes by and tells you to knock it off just when you thought you were really getting started on something. Cashed out before you even knew you were in. Think of it: normal people in their normal clothes. Jeans, flowy button-ups tucked in, too-big t-shirts, white socks, combed hair, flab and filler, locked up and empty. Sometimes I shout, “The clouds are pink! Look up! Look up!” but nobody listens or looks.

A mustache is painted on a marble lion. A rooftop antenna sprouts like a miracle above, and I stare at it, so arrow-like with its almost ornate metal fletchings, and I think about human beings in a very odd way. Busy things waddling about in these bodies: hairy, flabby, awkward, lumbering, skin-covered creatures who breathe and eat and lounge and defecate. Personalities are diminishing. It’s like wandering around on another planet, or more like in a wild animal park where the animals are not so wild nor are they really that animal, really. Humans seem unnatural, as if they’ve forgotten how to live in the world they’ve been brought into, if they’d ever known, and now are just finding more ways to avoid that world, to build their own out of cement and radio waves and fabricated reality. It’s a triple standard, maybe quadruple even. I sidearm pennies into traffic.

The best thing to do sometimes is just wonder about the quality of tree leaves that get in the wind’s way. The redolence of dead grass (as the wind in this season blows from the land to the sea) keeps you guessing. There’s always the past. And it’s always gaining on us.

But get this: the clock above my head said, “I miss you,” as I waited at the terminal’s entrance for the deboarders to go by, then you reminded me that every first last is timed effort strained without deliberateness. I told you that seas don’t become rivers. That was a time when we could still laugh. Before we made history inside our History Factory. Before I was so casual with my I-love-yous. Before you had somebody in line who was waiting to take my place. Thieves of discontent rattle the bars of my sanity’s silence. I am quiet, quiet. You had candy-bar lips and root-beer hair, and the place where our eyes met was corduroy on a tarantula’s silk footprints. The bathroom was always a little too far away. A Quonset hut of emotional repair work kept us warm on cooler nights, that and a temporary disregard for temporal satisfaction.

I dream of terraces and plum blossoms, crocodile clips holding love letters intact. And then some white sedan drives by with “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” stenciled in black on the side door. Gushing, the plain-clothed haberdasher says, “Those palm trees on the roof of the building, look at them, think about looking at them, what it means to look at them, for them to be seen.” And I listen to it, mostly. I only know space and time autonomously. Already, there isn’t too much to see, and it is only getting darker. The spiders are barking. The buses are all going the other way. Even the lunatics agree; it’s time to spatter the gist of who we are onto to-morrow's windows. I’m baking a canna pie that won’t be eaten before it cools. It’s a shame, really, as there were always a few spots of gold in the oil in the old days. The neighbors are teaching me French.

Au revoir.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Circumstantial Plight Of Binary Stars

Sneezy: How many trips to the Laundromat?

Dopey: Don’t know. It’s nothing I want to count, to even think it over at all, at all.

Sneezy: But it’s gaining on you, maybe?

Dopey: Look. I don’t care about it. Leave it alone.

Sneezy: I’m rubbing my feet against something soft. It helps me relax.

Dopey: That’s more like it.

Sneezy: I know. More of that, right?

Dopey: That’s the stuff.

Sneezy: Soft stuff.

Dopey: It’s worth more, and we plan for retirement while thinking these things.

Sneezy: Sure. But wait. What about at the bar that night?

Dopey: That night? Well, you see…

Sneezy: I do.

Dopey: I was trying to talk about The Deer Hunter in a way that’d bring a reconciliation to what happened to me in my own life and it was horrible to try to impart this in a bar also to somebody else there who wasn’t a sharp listener at all really and who didn’t owe me a thing.

Sneezy: But you talked about moving, well….I guess it’s always away, right? When you move it’s always moving away from something, even if it’s moving towards something else. The way you move is right in line with…

Dopey: The way we all move, right?

Sneezy: I’m no good at fact checking. It depletes my frontal lobe of its cleverer treats. Yes. I guess. The way we all move is away.

Dopey: Moving back?

Sneezy: Away also. Away from something, right?

Dopey: Or the bringing of inside things to the outside, or putting outside things back where they once belonged: on the inside.

Sneezy: Jumbling.

Dopey: Whatever difference in the sig or quantity of the thing, it merely amounts to a Hobble Skirt of misunderstanding, the way I look at it.

Sneezy: The way you look at it.

Dopey: Softly.

Sneezy: The way I feel it.

Dopey: A Linus-blanket of the senses. I talk to people, but I rarely listen to anything that I’m saying.

Sneezy: I’m going on strike.

Dopey: I’m retiring.

Sneezy: You? You hardly work as it is.

Dopey: I know. It’ll be an easy transition for me.

Sneezy: But just think. It’s a loophole of taste and tradition. Something lost because something’s always got to be gained. I want to fall awake and stay that way until they invent a new way to manufacture dreams.

Dopey: Don’t get carried away. I’m less of a winner than you might think. Maybe I’m more of a dyer than a liver, too.

Sneezy: Liver? Would that be chopped or diced?

Dopey: Bah blah bah blah bah. There. That works. That’s what I meant.

Sneezy: Perfection is achieved. The smell of a day off on a workday is always different than a weekend scent.

Dopey: A pairing of bland couscous and ground salmon bones.

Sneezy: That reminds me, my refrigerator’s been talking to me.

Dopey: What’s it got to say?

Sneezy: Not much. Mostly just the weather report. It’s not too accurate either.

Dopey: My knee’s pretty good at that. Knows when cold’s coming.

Sneezy: Joints ache. Arthritic. Where the bones are scared to tread no one goes.

Dopey: It’s a jocose result from awkward ministrations. I condemn myself so you won’t.

Sneezy: That’s the kind’a talk that’ll get us all killed, or badly maimed at least.

Dopey: And when your foot, or your shoe I should say, hits the pavement, is it really the pavement down there? Is it really there at all? Is that you putting your foot down there? What’s pavement? Did I mention concrete, tarmac, asphalt, brick, stone? Or Portland cement: flyash, blastfurnace, pozzolan, silica fume? Slag-lime, supersulfated, calcium aluminate? And what about tile? Ceramic, porcelain, glazed limestone, mosaics in rubber and glass, granite, marble. Need I go on?

Sneezy: Please stop.

Dopey: Just trying to help. We’ve got to learn, or stop learning, at some point, that who we are can be, might be, maybe, even if it’s not an of course or a should, could be, possibly, not dictated by what we do. Because really, those feet down there pounding the pavement might not really be there at all. There might not even be a world.

Sneezy: And we under-sleep our way out through it, attempting the “into” part of it but lacking the requisite guts.

Dopey: But am I the only me I’ll ever know?

Sneezy: You the only you? That’s more than enough.

Dopey: This is me biting what’s not a fat lip.

Sneezy: Not yet.

Dopey: Shorely, shorely, it is not so. I think it wise to brave the woe with tortures few and worries no.

Sneezy: What the fuck?

Dopey: Oh, just some slop and creamed mush I picked up in juvie. Nothing to juice carrots about.

Sneezy: Somebody’s doing too many loads of laundry at once these days.

Dopey: I opine more than I pine. Shrug. There. Go ahead. It’s mordant at best, and we’ve smiled without laughing too often already, and I’m cheapest with my time in the present. He who animadverts on the past is lucky to get a chance to weld himself to the future.

Sneezy: I’m gassy.

Dopey: You consume an inordinate amount of polysaccharides. I pity your poor wife, stunk out from under the tight wrap of matrimonial sheets.

Sneezy: She should be so lucky to be downwind from the likes of me.

Dopey: Or the hates of you. Also, getting all worked up about the oddest of things, do you find yourself?

Sneezy: More lost than ever. Laundry comes and laundry goes. Clothes won’t clean themselves. I rely on the spin cycle, the rinse, the tumble dry.

Dopey: Pray for sunshine; get splashed with rain.

Sneezy: And then we get soaked with trying without putting forth any real effort. A patchwork of cindery attempts to futilely stop where no woman has stopped before. It’s uncommon nonsense. Strike blame through it, here and there, and before you know it things’ll just cross themselves out on accident, deliberately.

Dopey: It’s not such a wrong thing to lose when winning’s what’s making a mess of your sense of your own enjoying of whatever’s there to lose for you.

Sneezy: Blah? Or would that be blah blah blah?

Dopey: The only thing left that makes any sense…

Sneezy: Let’s not blow it.

Dopey: Right. Because we dig our own trenches, specially and specifically made for anyone else but us.

Sneezy: Making up our minds to be serious, to be lucky, to pattern our lives after the lives of clouds.

Dopey: That’s good enough for me.

Sneezy: Drones taking lives as the city’s buried in my i.o.u.’s. It’s patterns of this and patterns of more of this. The enemy is never ours. We only know of them through statistics buried in the newspaper’s back pages. Civilians are not real; they’re numbers to be counted and ignored: the price of leading these lazy and self-indulgent lives free of remorse, guilt, or any real empathy for anything outside the safe bubble of our personal sphere.

Dopey: A lot a’ medium-cool air, my fellow.

Sneezy: The All-Thumbs Generation hunches their collective shoulders, yawns, and gives up.

Dopey: An alligator chasing its own tail.

Sneezy: I ride the subway alone, look out the windows at the bacon-colored rust marbling the rails, at the fog-licked hills, the houses lined up in neat rows, the misery of immobile pumpjacks and derricks, endless lines of traffic-snarled cars, big rigs belching exhaust, people singing inside closed windows. There are no movies playing in America. And I’m lonely. No matter what. That’s what I’m left stuck with.

Dopey: Cartesian dualism will get you nowhere. Not in pants like those.

Sneezy: Fast, for a change of pace, pull away, zipperless, double-knit reversible trouser darlings, skin-tight, pegged, button-fly, gone trout fishing.

Dopey: Boy, the cases of The Borings have increased exponentially over the course of all these supper-less bedtimes.

Sneezy: Raise your right hand…

Dopey: No. The left. I swear.

Sneezy: We are awful tacticians when it comes to solemnity.

Dopey: It’s more to the center, the humor we stumble on, or craft out of art cartels. It’s piecework, yes?

Sneezy: Boy o’ woman. I’m low-nosing out of here if the air pressure stays steady.

Dopey: But the Laundromat’s still open for beeswax.

Sneezy: Too hot for coffee.

Dopey: The trips add up, but they don’t. Not really. It’s all the same journey, going nowhere, getting nothing, achieving small gains on emptiness. Rolling that same boulder up the hill, over and over. Clean to dirty. Dirty back to clean. Upkeep. It goes on and on, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Sneezy: The downside of upkeep. I don’t know. It’s slim. Tiny SOS’s slipping through the cracks, messages we send out hoping somebody somewhere might accidentally read them, might notice, might return something of ourselves back to us.

Dopey: Yes. These throwaway lives that we lead. Nothing stays. Nothing matters.

Sneezy: Wash. Dry. Fold. Wear out. The accumulation of always scattering dust, it’s what makes us who we are. Or, well, more like who we are not.

Dopey: But what about fabric softener?

Sneezy: Don’t use it. It’s pointless. My clothes are soft enough as it is. Maybe I need the grit, some sort of an edge to things, a hardness, a little hunger in my gut to remind me that I’m alive.

Dopey: In the striving for high ideals we get permanent-pressed into ordinary constraints instead of insisting on being dry-cleaned to a crisp, tidy finish.

Sneezy: I’m the sudsy water leaking from the machine’s bottom, pooling on the floor’s tile, soaking shoes, making the world happen to whoever happens to be around.

Dopey: Irons steaming out the wrinkles in the way we were.

Sneezy: It’s a copout. Folding techniques tell their owner’s story all too well. I’m brisk. I flourish a wild hand at times. The sky reminds me of the sound of my own name.

Dopey: Bed sheets and comforters. Towels. Low-heat-only linens. Bath mats. Rain-soaked shoes rattling around in a dryer. Liquid or powder detergent. Choices, things to ponder over. Magazines and newspapers and romance novels. Crossword puzzles. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting in plastic low-backed, bucket-seat chairs. Waiting while the world turns.

Sneezy: Scraps of sunlight painting accordion shadows on the opposite wall from where you sit and wield a pen like a dagger.

Dopey: Back and forth we go, laundry in tow, never ourselves to ever know.

Sneezy: Unliked?

Dopey: Perhaps. As if that were a curse and not a blessing.

Sneezy: Perhaps both, if there really is a difference. Existence proceeding essence.

Dopey: Fuck it. I’m getting a cat.

Friday, July 1, 2011

the stilted situations of traveling salesmen

tip me over with

she didn’t say

newspaper clipping of a Picasso

cat eating bird

raggedly triangle-pupiled

messed up over a chase

it wasn’t dig

ripped now flimsy

hip pocketed

it oughta be drugged


for the blocks it takes away

dimpled traces of hands

with fingertips sprouting flowers

at very last


vested with uninteresting earlobes

rattles back to fine

cries don’t suit


to gill-breathe forgives

lawn insects their splats

clogging the drains

never make it

to the ocean

your hat