As some of you know I have been in Pittsburgh for the last month working to complete a book of poems. And if you didn’t, now you do. I got the opportunity to do this through the wonderful and amazing Cyberpunk Apocalypse Visiting Writer’s Program. Cyberpunk Apocalypse is a collectively run writer’s house on the North Side of Pittsburgh that hosts both permanent residents and a rotating cast of visiting writers, as well as a number of events for the community. I would highly recommend applying for the program to anyone considering, or interested in working short-term on a project you want to finish but maybe haven’t had the time to. It’s immeasurable, how much one can get done if given the time and an environment of creativity. Often here I find myself inspired by the diligence of hard-working artists and writers that come and go throughout the house. It is I have found a rare experience to be allowed to exist in such a tight-knit and strong community of writers and artists (and here’s the kicker, since most writers anyways are lazy) who are actively working to produce something. It challenges and inspires, to say the very least. Not to mention the fact that not having a job for a whole month is awesome and everyone should try to do it as much as possible. And they have a letterpress print shop!
The house recently got a write-up in the local paper, which article you can see here if you want more info about them. There’s a goofy picture of Dan and me there, plus some of my least eloquent (and also sort of inaccurate, which fault is my own) quotes to ever be published and a stanza of poetry that I later cut completely. Interviewers seem to have a tendency to respond to the most offhand, jokey, or irrelevant things I say to them and think of them as great quotables. Though if Nikita Lalwani is reading this: the article is delightfully written and a treat. Honestly. The only detriment to it is that I have a nervous tendency to say stupid shit that’s not really true or accurate.
The book I worked on here came to be a book of poems that is a Greek tragedy in which the main events of the story are not allowed to happen for a number of reasons, the main one being that the voices in the drama keep interrupting each other and thus can’t seem to get a coherent narrative together, or really agree on what that narrative is. Some of these events, too, seem to have happened outside of the framework that the drama gives us. It is as yet untitled. I am still working on it despite doing basically nothing for the last month except holing up and looking at poems. But since my writer’s showcase was last night and I’m (sadly) leaving Pittsburgh in 18 hours, this seems an appropriate time to post some of the work I’ve been doing. Keep in mind these are drafts, people, in case you see them elsewhere in drastically different form.
This first one is the incantation of the Muse.
I’m old school, get it? I remember
when we used to drive up to Canada
(two hour trip) to get cigarettes for 10 bucks
a carton. Lucky Strikes baby. And on the
drive back I have the first soft pack rolled up
in the sleeve of my white t-shirt
as we scream
down highway 81 while Jerry Lee Lewis
comes blasting on the stereo and we roll
all the windows down, you passed out
in the truck’s flatbed.
I know the taste of burnt diner coffee
with a strong kick of whiskey
at 3 AM,
my hash browns growing cold
as I struggle to stay up for the second day straight.
Man, I’ve ridden ‘cross state lines on a motorcycle
borrowed from someone I barely knew.
Messed up and dreaming.
all those old cliches? I’m where they came from.
I’m the bad apple that spoils the barrel.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
was my dick. I’ve been to hell in a handbasket.
I’ve got a million of these. I just killed
two birds with one stone. Don’t ask me
how I did it.
And let me tell you baby—
I can fucking dance. I can mashed potato.
I can do the twist. I tried to sell my soul
to the devil but he didn’t want it.
And that guitar
turned up loud as we all spill out into
the parking lot and hit the road, the night
a song that calls to us into its abysmal embrace—
I wrote that song, and I’ll
sing it to you, the tune for every broken heart
and dream crushed out like a cigarette
under the heel.
Here we see a speech by one of the members of the Chorus.
It was on the walk down the swirl of
Brookline streets, all the way up
where you feel as though you could
touch the crease of sky
that the stone appeared before me—
a large circle of faded green rock about
a foot across with some old serpent god
dancing on the face. It looked like it came from
a garden, lying there on the sidewalk.
I put it in my backpack
and felt the heft of it on my shoulder.
I didn’t know what I was going to do with it.
Returning home, I put the stone on the shelf
over our fireplace and watched it there,
frozen in dance. My roommate came in,
the surly bastard, and noticed the stone.
“That’s the Quetzalcoatl, you know,” he said.
“Nope, didn’t know.” I said.
“Well, it is. God of the sky and Earth.
Guardian of all knowledge and wisdom. And now
he’s just sitting there on our mantel.”
“Wow, all knowledge and wisdom.” I said.
“I could tell he was a badass.”
“I don’t like it,” he said. “Where’d you get
the damn thing anyways?”
“Up the road,” I said. “Found him on the
sidewalk.” I shrugged. The whole thing
seemed funny to me. “I don’t like it,”
he said again. He seemed spooked.
“Well what am I supposed to do with it then?”
I asked. “I don’t know. Put it back
where it came from. Don’t be such an asshole.
You’ve got a lot of options here.” I didn’t
say anything. A moment later he said
“You know, him being here means
something bad’s gonna come.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “old Aztec myth,
right?” “Just saying,” he said, then
started to walk away, “watch out
for yourself.” I didn’t think anything bad
was gonna come, or that I was being
an asshole, just looking for a way to waste
the day. And I had succeeded. I played
and lost a game of knockout basketball,
then chased a dog around after it ran off
with my hat. And then I found the stone
or whatever it was and I brought it home.
Were these omens? I don’t know.
I just wanted to see what I could still
get away with. So I didn’t toss the stone,
just kept it there, where I could sit
and watch it forever dancing, waiting
for whatever was to come.
Next we see the Deuteragonist emerge, who tends to sound like a dramatic, whiny bastard. This is him speaking.
ANNIE HALL ON THE DRIVE BACK TO BOSTON
How the evening tempts me to grandiosity
as we drive back from Lowell—the early fall
has brought a light rain and the hum of
the radiator sings as the radio turns
to “Sleepy Lagoon,” that old swing tune,
while here in the backseat rolling a cigarette
I look up and there it is—
Boston, early Sunday evening, the old brownstones
and high-rises freshly aglow in the dying light.
It is the effect of this, the buildings through
the rain-soaked window seeming to be rendered
in watercolor that when I flick a match
to light the cigarette seems close to perfect.
Why now, Tommy Dorsey,
at the hem of the afternoon
spent with someone I’d like to spend more
afternoons with to make the moment seem
like some Annie Hall interlude?—the glow
of the cigarette reflected back at me in the car window
beyond which it is too picturesque to not
make me yearn, the band lounging
as the trumpet comes in bright—
it is too cinematic, too arranged for me
to not feel as though this song is meant to be
a pivot into something new, a fever of hurting
for some semblance of reason here, that maybe
someone has a hand in writing all this out—
a hand that slips away, sudden, as the driver
changes the station and the dream
Then before our Protagonist emerges the stage is stolen by a group of Satyrs who attempt to lighten the mood through their singing. Here is one of their stories.
MAY DAY 2012
How still it is in Logan Square
today as I sit out on a sidewalk bar,
head light and lolling to the sound of the idling
garbage truck. In the circle the borrachos
aren’t even drunk yet—their voices carry
for blocks, singing a worker’s song
on the low grass around the Centennial Column.
How funny to see the masses march
down Milwaukee ave. as I sit across
the square, my beer cooling my hands.
How many will learn of the pinch
of the handcuff today?—How many
police batons will caress the crease
at the backs of protester’s necks?
Downtown the businesses are just letting out
for lunch, all the clashes in the street
suddenly punctuated with an audience.
Here the sky is too clear-blue
and the first sip of beer too sweet
and cool to imagine picketing anything
except maybe the absence of beer and beautiful
afternoons. It is as though I want to
speak to them, to stand on a soapbox and sing
of a day when the world just seems
to reach out and embrace you. I can almost
picture it now—how joyous as downtown Chicago
relaxes into a state of total peace,
men turn to women and say “hello how are you
wasn’t it lovely just to wake up today?”—
as the politicians put out public apologies,
say “you were right, guys. We’ve been
robbing you blind for years.”
I turn to my afternoon drinking partner, say
“I’ve got an idea that could save the world.”
He laughs and says “this afternoon is too
wonderful, isn’t it? I was thinking that too.”
“They’ll erect statues of me,” I say, “in all
the squares. Standing with a beer held over
my head like a beacon of light. Founder of
the Free Party of Wonder.” “That’s really
something,” he says, “you should try it out.”
We laugh, and I can see on his smile
that the beer is warming him too.
The borrachos‘ songs are starting to take spirit.
“You know what I bet, pal?” I say.
“Somewhere in the world two men have just
shaken hands on a business deal that will profit
from the death of someone else.”
“Hope it’s not me,” he says, raising his glass
up to mine to clink it.
And finally our Protagonist appears, though a bit regrettably, to sing his story. Here is his first lament.
THE PROTAGONIST SPEAKS
In another version of this story
I called in to work, stayed home
to watch the people walking their dogs.
In another I was fired back in December.
In another I had moved years ago
to be closer to that girl
who would eventually break my heart.
Another there is no work, only
people sitting and talking. Yet another
I am old and do nothing but watch baseball
and sit. Ah, the possibilities! Maybe
I do go in to the bar, but instead
leave early with some townie girl
I care nothing about. Maybe I say no
to another drink—yes, I see it,
I am sober. There are no dead hunks
of fleshy memory inside me, all prim
and beaming the way only the newly clean
can beam—maybe I walk out, quit
the evening that has turned stale
and somber, almost 6 am now. The pages
of my commuter book are wet with rain,
and I look up to the sky and notice
somehow, inexplicably, a new day is here.
There is an alternate story, see, somewhere
in here—one with no protagonist
and something beautiful happens,
and no one is around to bear witness.
So that’s generally what it looks like at this point in time.
And yes, for those of you who may have wondered after me in my nearly two-year blogospheric absence, I am still alive, I still live in Logan Square in Chicago though at a different address than the one previously posted on here, and I still work a shitty job and like to drink and stay up all night. The Effigy zine sounded its death rattle with the eighth issue, unfortunately, and the zine I intended to write about the greatest pinch hitter of all time never surfaced. Life, to alter a phrase of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s, gets in the way. But you can still order any of my Effigy zines (excepting the first three, which are out of print by which I mean I don’t feel like making any fucking copies of them okay?) by sending me a small amount of concealed cash in the mail. 3313 W Belden apt 2 Chicago IL 60647. For now anyways.
And yes, it seems this blog might be useful to me again, so there is a chance (though I promise nothing) that it will stay active at least until I find a new distraction or lose internet access. Last night I performed several of the poems from the book, some that you have seen here as well as others. Since there was video of the event I may decide to post that video here, in case you’re interested in watching four people tell falsified stories about me and me lackadaisically throw t-shirts into the audience (you know, like at a baseball game!). Again, though, I promise nothing, though you should stay tuned (or whatever the digital equivalent of that would be (what’s the digital equivalent of a commercial break?)) in case I do. I am also considering creating an online AV version of the book, which would most likely just consist of video of me reading the whole damned thing. So again, stay tuned.
Currently I am drinking warm beer from a day-old keg out of a coffee mug, and it is wonderful to be digitized again, and as such I may consider staying so, though perhaps when the hangover kicks in I’ll regret even this post.