Bohemian Rhapsody

This began as a diary entry the other day and ended as a poem.

Bohemian Rhapsody

A thirtysomething Bulgarian-Canadian
with a hipster mustache and a mail-order Azerbaijani
bride. He’s at it again.
He’s been trying to get it right
all week. The first three or four notes of Bohemian
Rhapsody.
They come trundling down
through my ceiling, off-key, jarring,
just after midnight.

Hey Asshole. We, your neighbors,
ask for some sleep.
Not a full night’s worth. Lying awake in the dark
is no big deal – I do it all the time – but being kept up
all night
by some louse’s banal and bungling
piano antics is.

I’d rather hear anything but this.
Your dog dragging its ass up
and down the flooring, your loud and incessant footsteps,
you and your wife
fucking.

True, I’ve only heard the last
sound once, about six months ago; your Cro-Magnon
grunts bringing down the walls,
your wife silent as a corpse.
The whole thing only lasted about thirty seconds,
but brevity, as you know,
is sometimes what’s needed.

I flop around in my bed, the Bohemian Rhapsody
intro caravanning
down through the ceiling,
flat, sour,
a testament to poorly ripped-off
art everywhere;

a half hour passes, he hasn’t gotten
anywhere
but refuses to give up.

He’s gotten desperate,
you can hear it in the angry and discordant banging
of the keys.

It’s as if he’s forgotten he has neighbors,
or that it’s past midnight.

It’s as if he thinks that when
he does get the song right,
his wife,
who can only
communicate with him in the most rudimentary
pidgin
English, will see in him
something she never did before,
something beyond language, something that will finally
make him
fuckable.

***

I spent more time than I’m willing to admit on this drawing yesterday (and still didn’t get it right), but it brought me to some wonderful, nostalgic places. Pictured below is my old friend and customer Russell Wayne Mendes. I’ll never forget all the Friday nights we spent in the back of my shop drinking and carousing and playing poker. On one of those nights, Russell went into my mechanic Captain Kirk’s cluttered Winnebago and did a few lines. When he came out, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He kept pacing around groping his chest and stomach, and lay down for a while on the hood of his F150.

“Are you alright, Russell?” I asked
“I’m fine,” he said. He spoke a little like Jack Nicholson. “Just a little gassy, that’s all. Just… gassy… Must’ve been the Wendy’s burger I had for lunch… Or something.”

I ended up going to a convenience store nearby and buying him some TUMS. His recovery was slow after that. At one point I thought I was going to have to call 911 and report a dead man on the property, but he managed to pull through and the night went according to plan…. poker, beer drinking, lots of laughs because that’s what we did best.

I eventually lost touch with Russell. He must’ve moved away from Florida around the time I did, in 2011. I looked him up recently to find out what became of him, and discovered he got killed on his motorcycle in Virginia Beach by a car going the wrong way on a one-way street. He was 57; highly intelligent, half-insane (nickname: Mad Max), brazen, vulnerable, a con artist and natural-born salesman with a beautiful gift of gab. I miss him.

“The great thing about being crazy is that we see E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G… even what’s not there.”

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Blood Test

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It’s the first Monday in January. You have been sitting for the past two
hours in a cramped little waiting room at the doctor’s office.
The people crowding about you are wheezing and sniffling, murmuring
to each other in some Arabic tongue, or just sitting there with a deadfish
look in the eyes. You are here to get a blood test.
You are reading a free downloaded copy of Goethe’s autobiography
on Kindle, though not particularly enjoying it. The text is in English,
and seems rather dry and long-winded, despite the occasional gem.
The text is much like the three Van Gogh reproductions
on the walls. They sit in cheap, dusty frames,
and seem to have lost all color, not to mention the raw electricity
originally poured into them. It’s as if nothing, not even
the most dazzling art or literature, can survive this grumbling
little hellhole. It all just withers,
withers amid the stench of corns and armpits, of hydrogen sulphide,
of cleaning agents,
withers like dead flowers and the embalmed heart
of Louis the XVII.

Florescent light gutters overhead. The strange
droning sound that’s been going on all morning
persists. Mirth here is frowned upon,
the blackbird’s song is forbidden.

A man coughs into his hand, looks at you and wipes it on his trousers.

Happy New Year from Berlin (2019)

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It had been two weeks since I’d written anything. I felt like a dead Christmas tree. One of those discarded ones lying face up in the alleyway, dreaming of the garbageman. I felt like I was disintegrating. I can’t cope without my art. I start getting depressed. The past awakens, the future terrifies. Dangerous and self-destructive musings pour into my head. I start seeing scorpions, and hyenas, and parasites, and goatfish, and poisonous snakeweeds instead of humans. Don’t do it. Don’t stand between my art and me. It’s like standing in the middle of the Yerba Buena Tunnel as a drunken oil tanker driver comes bearing down on bald tires. I say don’t do it.

Illness.

That was the cause this time. Two weeks of nasty flu, waking up with a Medieval skull crushing device on and drenched in a sea of stinking sweat. Sheets soaked, shirt sopped, bleary-eyed. I was at Erica’s parents’ house in England. And for 5 nights in a row it happened, despite her room being a veritable
meat locker. Something about the heating system. One night I saw my breath in the bathroom and my feet were blue as a pullet’s gizzard. I couldn’t pee straight
(my hand was shivering so much). I took my glass of water up the stairs, the water flying out the glass, dousing the walls, the railing, the carpets. My trembling hand
barely managing to set the glass down straight on the nightstand. I threw myself under the covers, my teeth chattering, my voice howling its agony loud enough for everyone downstairs to hear. So much for English manners. So much for Christmas.
The second one in a row I’ve been incapacitated by flu. But I made it through. And now I’m back in Berlin, feeling almost human. I drank cheap grocery store bourbon last night. And prosecco. Went on a hungover walk along the Landwehrkanal with Erica today. Read Martial (a Christmas gift), the Roman epigramist. And now writing this.
With plans for empire in 2019.

Speaking of which, I just came up with a new character for my Berlin novel. He’s a Marzahn call center employee who in a former life broke both shoulders playing loosehead prop for a bottom-of-the-barrel rugby team in Glasgow. His name: Malcolm
Rumgay.

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The Unemployable Hiram Legge

Another customer death. Hiram Legge was his name. I didn’t know him very well, he’d only come into the shop about five times, usually to rent a pressure cleaner for his mother’s house. He lived with her there. I’m not sure if he had a job. I suspected he didn’t. He was a little old drunk with a red nose. I pictured him drinking at night with his mother, doing all the manly chores around the house and living off her social security. One of his chores was of course pressure washing. Another was murdering possums. He went to jail for it in 2007. The article about it is still online. What happened was there was a trash bin somewhere between his house and city hall. A possum had somehow got into the trash bin and Hiram Legge stood over it looking in, armed with a stun gun and a shovel. He plunged the shovel into the bin a few times trying to kill the possum. It was still alive when a lady from Animal Control pulled up. She lowered her window, asked him what he was doing.  “Oh, it’s just a possum,” he said, looking at her with the most deadpan expression imaginable. “I’ve already killed 21 or 22 back at the house. This one’s a little more wily. I’ve tried tasing it, drowning it. Nothing seems to work.” And with that, he plunged the shovel into the bin a few more times as if it was totally normal to do that on Tuesday morning across from city hall just after an animal control officer asked you what you were doing. She told him to stop. She then called the police and he was arrested for animal cruelty, a charge he no doubt thought was bullshit. “It was a damn possum,” he probably said to himself. “A possum is a wild animal. What did I do wrong? I was raised to believe possums were inferior to man. They have no souls. My mom told me so and she’s a Christian.”

Unfortunately, the possum didn’t survive. According to the article in the Palm Beach Post, authorities gave it a proper burial. Hiram, on the other hand, who died on April 30th of this year at age 66, was cremated at Scobee-Combs-Bowden Funeral Home & Crematory in Boynton Beach. I don’t know what happened to his ashes. I guess his mother got them, if she was still alive. If not, they probably went unclaimed and are sitting in a ziplock bag in a musty storage room somewhere. I don’t think he had any other family.

As for his soul, I imagine it went to Possum Hell, where it lives for all eternity in a garbage bin with a big, dumb, violent possum standing guard over it, armed with a shovel and a stun gun and a bucket of water for whenever drowning is necessary.

Hiram Legge was a Trump supporter, if that means anything. The last time I saw him he was standing on the side of the road wearing a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat.

Here is a sketch I did of him. I copied it from a 2010 mugshot when he was arrested for driving with a suspended license (first offence, with knowledge). It was probably his mother’s car.

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Odin, Loki & Co.

It seems like whenever you return to the old haunts
of your youth, the universe aligns to tell you, Go back!
You don’t belong here anymore.
You’ve already broken free, evolved and made new.
All that’s here for you is dried-up and dead.

Don’t you see it in the passing faces of the morning train,
in the rows of suburban houses,
in the listless grind of traffic,
in the raging commerce of men,
in memories
of an old way of life that’s gone forever?

And knowing that it’s gone.
And knowing you can never get it back.
And accepting it.

You’ve got to learn to let go.
And learn it so well that letting go becomes innate in you.
Only then will a pathway over the mountain
open itself to you.
Only then will the old gods asleep
underground awake for you.

They wait for you,
not as you are, but as you can be.
Detached, uncompromising, transmogrified,
in harmony with nature and wholly expressive
of your most sublime potentialities.

Let go.
And embrace the letting go.
The old gods await.

Botched Haircut Blues (Courtesy of Sport Clips)

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Last weekend, I drove with my parents and a family friend to Captiva Island for my sister’s wedding. It was both her and her husband’s second one, so it was pretty casual, even by Florida standards. I wore my father’s clothes. His shirt, trousers, tie, shoes, socks, boxer shorts – yes, even the boxer shorts that I wore belonged to him. It was just easier that way. I always traveled light. I had come to Florida from Berlin six weeks before with just a backpack and left my wedding suit at Erica’s parents’ house in England. There was no need to buy another one. Nor was there reason to invest in socks or underwear or anything else that could easily be borrowed. True, not all his clothes fit perfectly; true, no one ever called my dad a fashion maven. But I was willing to put up with that for the sake of convenience.

I got a haircut three days before the wedding. I went to a place my dad suggested. That was my first mistake. Never go to a barber shop your dad suggests, especially when he’s devoid of vanity and 3/8ths bald.

The place was called Sport Clips. That alone should’ve sounded an alarm. As if sports were ever synonymous with good haircuts.

My hairdresser, it turned out, was a plump, squat, Sancho Panzaesque Jewish woman of about 60. She sat me down in the chair, threw the cloth over me and asked me how I wanted it. I explained, but she didn’t seem to absorb. I asked her if she knew who David Lynch was. No, she didn’t. I told her to just trim the top; the sides and back I wanted very short.

“You mean a high fade?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “But blend it in. No lines.”

She gave me a confused look, but started in anyway, putting the top of my hair in barrettes and hacking away at the sides as I told her my life story. She’d never been to Germany, she said, but her parents spoke Yiddish, and there were many German words that had Yiddish roots and vice versa. One such word was פֿאַרקאַקטע, from the German verkacken, which in English means to fuck something up.

About five minutes into the haircut, a customer arrived, and the other hairdresser strode out the back. She was unusually tall, and blond, and very pretty, in a tight black miniskirt and high heels. Why didn’t I get her? I wondered. I watched her in the mirror. I’d always been attracted to tall, statuesque women, but the more I looked at this one, the more something rang false. She seemed way too gussied up for a place like Sport Clips, and her hands were the size of trash can lids. Still, better her, or him, or anyone, than the one presently at work on me. She was having trouble getting one side to align with the other, so to compensate, or out of frustration, she ploughed the clippers up the side and half over the top, turning what was supposed to be a high fade into a top of the head fade, though restricted to just one side.

פֿאַרקאַקטע

She knew it.

She tried to fix the blunder with a pair of scissors. Then she tried a few sleight of hand techniques, combing my hair in several different directions over it, but it was no good. The combover was a failure. She’d kicked the ball into her own goal, and knew it, but there was nothing she could do. Nevertheless, when she was finishing up with me she asked me what I thought of the haircut.

“I’ll know,” I said. “When I get home. I have to look at it at home.”

She yanked the sheet off me and we walked together to the cash register.
“That’ll be $14,” she said.
I couldn’t bring myself to stiffing her.
I gave her a $20 and asked for $4 back. She stuck the $20 in the register, gave me a $5 and a $1 back and shut the register.
“But your tip…” I said.
She turned it down with a wave of the hand.
You know you got a bad haircut when your hairdresser turns down the tip.
I stood there feeling the errant spikes on the top of my head.
I thought about the wedding. I thought about how I’d be wearing my dad’s shirt, tie, shoes, trousers, socks, boxers, and now this: פֿאַרקאַקטע.
“Thanks for coming to Sport Clips,” said the tall blond in a friendly baritone.
“Uh huh,” I said. I felt the top of my head.
I pocketed the change and got out of there, never to return.

Ink for the Blind, or Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?

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Ink for the Blind

I am the last one left in the garden.
Gone is the dragon. Gone is the apple of discord.
Gone are the daughters of Nyx,
the Hesperian nymphs who in dusk would change into liquid
camphor-oozing trees and sing French arias
in the winds.
Gone.

To the shadowed lakes and darkened groves.
To the Valley of Two-headed Calves where a dwarf
transports
Himmler’s brain and the staff of Moses
to the halls of Dis.

I am the last one left in this garden.
Left to my reflection in the goldfish pond. Left with a flame
lily for a shield, a pot of ink for the blind
and no music.
Left to serve and knowing not why.
(To know is not to know).

I am the last one left in the garden.
Forsaken by the god of the dance of the blood,
by red-gold autumn
and the beautiful charlatans of my youth.

Abandoned
to these old tired forms
that do little more than groan and fight off apathy.
They are dying, and the tragedy gnaws my heart,
but in their death I can sense the breath of wild magic,
of upward,
outward release and wheeling dark fires.

The vision in the inward eye of the unseen serpent.

The Race is On

Yesterday, Erica participated in a 10K run in Charlottenburg. She arrived at around 10:30 a.m.to sign up. The race began at 12. I got to the place I wanted to watch her from, which was about the 8K mark, at about 12:20. I walked along the curb and stood in the shady median. A few minutes later, here they came, the leaders, five Kenyan men, trotting down Kantstraße with enormous strides and an unbelievable pace. Not far behind them came the white people, Germans in spandex running shorts and glow-in-the-dark sneakers, Germans with low foreheads and sledghammer jaws and names like Til Schwertfeger, and Woldemar Radnitz, and Brünhild Guttmacher.

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Across the street from me, standing under the bus stop shelter and shouting and waving his arms and laughing in short bursts for no apparent reason was an old drunk who’d stuck one of his empty beer bottles upside-down in the sewer drain in front of him. After a while, he was better to watch than the runners. More entertainment. He turned his back to the road, yanked his drawers down to about mid-thigh. I thought he was going to take a piss right there in the shelter, but then he plunged both hands into his drawers, tugged them up a little and turned around facing the runners. As they came up the street, their reward for having gone 8K so far was to see him leaning out from the curb, his hands rummaging down below, jerking, groping, fondling, his little feet dancing.

A while later, he got bored, went elsewhere and I stayed there watching the runners. Some of them, judging by facial expressions, looked like they were in agony. They probably were. That’s why I don’t run. Running long-distances had always been my idea of torture, but I have to hand it to some of the people in this race, and not just the winners. One man over 80 finished in 54 minutes. The over 70 winner finished in 41 minutes, the over 60 winner, 36 minutes. Erica, to give you an idea, is 28, had been training for the race for a few months, and finished in the top 1/3 of her age group, but was still 2 minutes slower than the 80-year-old.

I waved to her and clapped when she passed me on the road, and then I walked alongside the runners under the yellow leafy trees to the finish line at Schloss Charlottenburg.

The first thing I did when I got there was get a beer at the beer trailer.

Then I looked for Erica, but the crowd was huge and festering and I couldn’t find her, nor did I have a phone. We knew this going in. My phone broke a while ago and I haven’t bothered yet to replace it. Our plan was to meet in front of The Museum Berggruen at 2 p.m. if we didn’t find each other before. She would be there with a colleague from work and the colleague’s boyfriend, Germans with names like Heike Weinwurm and Wolfhard Krapper. Heike had heard much about me through Erica and was anxious to meet this paradox that rented out construction equipment, worked with crackhead mechanics most of his life, and yet also wrote poetry, read the Ancient Greeks and drew cartoons.

It was a failure.

I stood outside The Museum Berggruen from 1:35 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. (not including a short trip for a second beer), and there was no Erica to be found, no Heike Weinwurm or Wolfhard Krapper.

There had to be some good reason. Something must’ve been miscommunicated. But we said The Museum Berggruen at 2 a.m., I knew that for sure. At 2:20 I did a lap through the thinning crowd at the palace but still had no luck. I thought about the drunk wanking under his trousers at the bus stop. There was nothing that could’ve symbolized my quest for Erica and the waiting around better than that.

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Only later, after I got home, did I find out where she was. She was at ANOTHER museum, one that was next to the palace. She claimed I said the Museum Berggruen was next to the palace. I don’t remember that. All I remember was saying we’d meet at the Museum Berggruen, and that’s exactly where I was. Still, I didn’t have a phone. So something had to be my fault. A smart woman will always make the thing your fault. You might as well just accept it and begin there.

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Death of a Painter

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I have been so consumed with my new Berlin novel lately, a rewrite of my old novel Fortuna Berlin, that I haven’t had any time for the blogosphere. I started rewriting the novel in about March. I say rewrite, it’s actually a complete overhaul – I’ve had to disassemble the engine, rebuild the chassis, replace the pistons, the piston rings, cylinder liners, clean all the nuts and bolts, and order new factory original parts. I finally got everything together last week and got it going with help of Sir Henry Bourbon and Alphonso Marijuana. The marijuana I bought at Görlitzer Park. The bourbon is some cheap knock-off brand I bought at the local supermarket. I would only drink bourbon at night, but the marijuana I would smoke in the garden in the morning while drinking coffee and listening to the woodpeckers and the thud of chestnuts on the tin roof. I don’t like to bring too much sobriety into my writing. I also don’t like to go too far the other way. The key is to find the perfect formula and flux – write sober, edit drunk or stoned, or vice versa. I’ve never been a big pot smoker, by the way. I’ll finish what I have and go back to just coffee during the day. In the meantime, it’s loosened something up and the bourbon too has jarred something. I normally just drink beer and wine and the occasional shot of mixed drink. Bourbon I drink on the rocks, usually only one glass if I want to be productive. Any more and it’s a write-off, but the temptation is always there. It’s in my DNA. My grandpa Powers (100% Irish) was a world-class bourbon drinker. He also had a great sense of humor. None of my other grandparents had one. He had to supply the whole lot for us grandkids and was also the first to go, in 1974. He was 71. Died of a heart attack in the bathroom. I remember my grandmother showing me the dent in the drywall his head made when he fell. It was always there and it fascinated me, probably as much as my son is fascinated by the subject.

And speaking of death, I got an email from my brother yesterday telling me one of our customers, a painter who had been coming into the shop for 20 years, had died. It happened almost two years ago, in December of 2016. He was 55 years-old, and no one bothered to write an obituary for him so we don’t know how it happened. My brother found out about it after Googling for him because he was curious about his absence from the shop.

Now this painter, his last name was Loudin, which was about as fitting as last names get. Whenever he came into the shop, his voice just carried. You could hear him from all the way in back of the place, over the lawnmowers engines and the bench grinder.

“I WANNA PICK UP A COUPLE FIVES OF THAT DRIVEWAY SEALER!” he’d shout, and then he’d start bragging about the job he was planning on doing, or business, or the house he’d just paid off, or how it was mini-lobster season and he was taking his boat down to the Keys for the weekend.

We had an issue when he first started coming into the shop. He’d parked his truck behind the place while my mechanic was working on a paintsprayer, and apparently the overspray got all over his hood and on the roof. You couldn’t see it, but could feel it with your hand, and now he had to get the thing detailed, and this, that and the other. He said he’d settle for $100. We offered to detail it ourselves. At first he balked – he really just wanted the money – but then he took us up on it. We cleaned it up. It must’ve made him feel guilty, or maybe it was the awkwardness of the issue, but a couple weeks later he brought in a cooler with two lobsters in it. That was Saturday morning. Monday morning he called to ask how they were.

“They were great,” I told him, and went into a whole spiel about it. I think I pulled it off. We hung up, I rushed to the back of the shop and opened the cooler. The lobsters were still in it, dead and rotting, the rancid stench blowing up into my nostrils. I’d forgotten all about them.

There was another painter who came into the shop, a tall, pot-bellied old man with a mop of messy gray hair. His last name was Tart and he knew Loudin. They hung out once. Loudin told me about it. He said he and his girlfriend were over at Tart’s house, and Tart and his girlfriend got in the jacuzzi with Loudin and his girlfriend and as the four of them were sitting there drinking and telling stories, a penis pump came bobbing up through the foam. Loudin said when he saw it he grabbed his girlfriend, leapt out of the tub and took off running. Well, that may be true. But he blamed Tart for it when I’m confident that he, Loudin, had brought the apparatus along. He’d probably been using it under the water and the grip slipped. Or something.

Loudin was one of those customers I neither liked nor disliked; I dealt with him, that’s all. His girlfriend probably felt the same. I don’t know if they were still together when he died. I imagine they were. They’d been going out for years and had no kids, just a dog and a parakeet. He had a savings. He used to talk about it all the time.

“I COULD RETIRE RIGHT NOW IF I REALLY WANTED TO!” he would say. “MY HOUSE IS PAID FOR, TRUCK’S PAID FOR. I’M SITTIN PRETTY.”

His online obituary reads thus:

Loudin

Age 55, of Boynton Beach, passed away Dec. 20, 2016. All County Funeral Home & Crematory, Lake Worth, FL.

Published in The Palm Beach Post from Jan. 6 to Jan. 7, 2017

Other than that, the only trace of him I can find of him online is his Voter Registration. He was a Republican, if that means anything.

Worldseeker

I just realized I haven’t posted a poem on here since May. Here’s one from by book Hallucinogenic Dragonfly Intermezzo which can be bought on Amazon or better yet from me direct for $10 (shipping, autograph & a couple of drawings included), guaranteed to be worth 50 grand in the year 2043. Contact: mppowers61 AT gmail.

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Worldseeker

You are not even blood.
You are the ocean of light that blood becomes.
You have no purpose but to serve.

And you serve us all by eternally seeking.
Preserving nothing.
Portraying best life’s most beautiful
half-remembered dreams.

You are an adagio trapped in marble.
You come to me in my most somnambulant hours.
A raven bearing your soul-image.

A tortoise-shell, a fractured
shinbone, the fiery eyes of a German mystic.

You are a doorway meant for hearing
opening inward.

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