We’re in a tour van and there are too many of us in here to be comfortable but we’re passing around a whiskey bottle so I guess comfort is relative and we’re somewhere in Tennessee and I know this because when we pass road signs the numbers identifying the highways are in white boxes with outlines of the state of Tennessee and I remember what the shape of Tennessee looks like because in the third grade I won my class a pizza party by properly identifying forty-four states based solely on the shape of their outlines and Tennessee highways are dead at three in the morning and anyway I only wish I was in one of the six states I missed in the third grade. The state I want to be in is the one that I live in now, Colorado, and it wouldn’t be a big deal, being away from home, except that I haven’t heard from Aubree in two days and I can’t help but worry that the bed we share in our duplex has gone unoccupied the past few nights which means where the hell is she and the bottle of whiskey that keeps getting passed my way by the banjo player isn’t helping any.
And we’re a country band but we’re listening to hip-hop on the radio and every song seems to be about jewelry and bitches and whenever someone is ordered to pour the Courvoisier, I start thinking too much and it makes me wish that Davey would steer the van off the road and into the side of one of those Tennessee mountains and maybe then when the promoter of our show in Chatanooga starts trying to figure out where we are he will make phone calls and one of them will be to Aubree and she would realize that wherever she has been for the past two days, I was in a tour van, burning to death with seven people who share my love of Waylon Jennings but probably not my death wish, especially not just to prove a point –
And I am begging Arnold-the-fiddle-player, Arnold, please, please, please, let me use your cell phone, Arnold, just real quick, just so I can call and wake her up and apologize for calling and waking her up, just so I can nod my head to the beat of the music on the radio instead of pounding it on the window and getting less and less patient for that bottle to get passed back my way.
Arnold-the-fiddle-player can not help me, sorry, dude, outta minutes and the battery’s dead and goddamn it, Arnold, I am dying here! Fuck your battery and your minutes and –
Before you were born,
you heard Elvis in concert –
not the fat one with the sequined
jumpsuits, but the witty one with
thick black glasses sliding down
his nose. Breaking only for water
or a word with the band, he pounded
out rhyme after brilliant rhyme, each
riff of rebellion and regret honing
your hipness in utero. Your mom
swayed happily in time, rested her
hands on her swollen belly. I noticed
your hand – or was it your foot?- glide
across her abdomen. Your graceful
arpeggio ran under her ribs and stopped
beneath her heart (where your secrets
were already safe) and I knew then
that your aim was true
who will do anything
to stop the pattern in his head
from getting too loud.
He fears nothing more
than the maddening roll-step
of heel to toe,
forever counting sixteen
then back to one again.
Like many tonics,
most musicians simply
whet his appetite,
leave him fantasizing in ¾,
or curious enough to cheat with 5/4
its extra Shiva beat
like two arms on the body
opposite to a single,
until he is overfilled
and realizes there’s more
than just tight pockets and positions,
and apologizes to the songwriters
like the prodigal son on his return
to the controlled sobriety of regular beats
and the steady thump of its liquor,
slowing him down
so everyone else can keep up.
With just the right touch of duty and boredom,
he’ll show us how to keep in line,
with the downbeat on one,
snare on two and four,
and he’ll promise to keep the tempo
and lie about remembering
where the changes are,
because he knows exactly
where they aren’t.
Beggar, where did you lay my clothes,
on winter dawn or summer night?
Am I to sing a song like an umbel primrose
of iridescent anisata leaves?
or sauté the food infused
by memories sprinkled with a pinch of salt?
I turned to call on city lights,
while cooking for ghosts,
performing for the echoes of raindrops.
Remembering the woman
baking bread, hair
black or gray, depending on her mood?
My hands clenched the apron
not wanting to lose
what kept them clean.
I heard her croon
the lyrics to a song,
a personal rendition
of “More Than Words.”
She tries to remember the world in color,
pictures the snow as a heavy coat, takes it
off to find the soft flesh of a belly, the bone
of a hip warm against her and knows that to look
inside his heart means finding brilliance and blue,
like the sky after a hard rain.
turning to him, she touches the weight of red
when tracing the tattoo on his shoulder,
imagines what it’s like to be under his skin.
she is like the bulbs planted last fall,
buried under soil and snow waiting
patiently, she knows she will bloom
in him, sees the promise of spring, the want
and desire asleep behind his smile, with
the touch of her lips, she stirs them awake.
– plane crash in Iowa
snow, night and pilot error
(or was it the toss of a coin?)
pitched them into a cornfield as I
was being born
no one then remarked
the co-incidence of events
or informed me ever
of their augury
except perhaps Brueghel
whose Icarus fell to the sea
while oblivious earth
was plowed underneath
of course neither myth nor pride
had risen that day to precipitate
the music’s dying . . .
it was merely another sad end
in a world of beginnings
Down back streets in St. Louis
near the banks of the Mississippi
where the Admiral, an old riverboat,
cruised the muddy water on summer nights.
Peacock Alley was where we headed.
We loved jazz and being the
only white kids at the back alley club
where we listened to Miles Davis
play “All of Me” and learned
about music and grace and beauty.
A green pink glow flickered on wet asphalt
outside the windows and I sat with the laughing boy.
Drank rum and coke with a paper parasol in the glass.
He was one of those boys who peak early.
His collar turned up, hair slicked. He wore
pegged pants and a faded jacket. Smoked Camels
and squinted through clouds of smoke.
The charm turned to a pot belly I heard,
but God! that smile, all gums and eager.
The music brings them here,
to a house in a part of Georgia
that lacks streetlights.
The trees are their only neighbors,
their naked branches don’t mind
the drums that beat deep under our skin,
and sometimes they dance too.
My gypsy aunts take off their heels
and lean out an open window,
proud of the blush of their bare shoulders.
They fan themselves with their long skirts
and get back in time for the next song.
The men dance with their beer bottles,
invisible strings lifting hips and hands.
The sound of their starched linen pants
seems to whisper: Baby,
this is the Cumbia.
I watch the shadows of their spinning legs
flicker on the far wall;
how the men chase the women,
want to touch the sweat dampened parts of them.
Only when the sunlight seeps into the creases
of the yellowed curtains, the ashtrays overflow
with lipstick-smudged cigarette butts
and an overturned beer can drowns itself in its own liquid—
only then do the women allow themselves to be caught,
swept up carelessly, their eyes
and skin smoldering like embers.
The women sink their weight
Then, into the men
I was a giddy girl: laughing when Ruth streaked
icing on my arm, licked sides clean.
Twenty steps above the garage we played doctor
my tongue pressed under her popsicle stick, aaahhh.
We should play new games, we are in seventh grade
now, she said, pulling from the top shelf
masks of the Beatles, handing me Paul and holding
John. Our faces squished against cardboard
tongues edging through slits. Ruth knew what older girls
knew: how to let boys unbutton her shirt and touch her
down there. Her fingers maneuvered my hooks. My eyes
closed, heels lifting off the floor.
Flummoxing isn’t it? how these episodes
risk such mealy apings of the last,
a ritual thinking of you.
Stock-still, Janis Joplin is bra-less, toning down
on the crinkle of mirror-cabinet wall.
A Jaffa-yellow sheath
of The Best Of Nina Simone.
And the block-print postcards
that tumble from the tubular rack
in pieces, shingling floor.
Where are you now?
Time’s garbled. I see the Islamabad saris
amplified onto misfit walls, Trotsky’s My Life
nodding off on the bookshelf
and that boating blazer, seldom, if ever hung
laid-back on the wing of the couch.
There’s still the characterless bottle of Valpolicella,
punctured drum of cigarettes.
The volley of remembering
into the half-heard rustle of the radio.