A Desperate Character

A Desperate Character

I had become a baby sitter of illiterate,
inveterate drunkards, of crackheads, of men with strong backs
and low foreheads
and weak minds. I had become the smell of exhaust
fumes and cheap tobacco smoke.
A broken-down lawnmower, a severed head gasket,
oil drums, cracked piston rings, flyshit in the carburetor
of a 2-cycle leaf blower
had become me.
I was a burglar alarm at 3 a.m., the jarring sound
of a telephone on Friday afternoon,
the collective sigh
of the people in my small town, their jeremiads,
their habits and obtuse convictions,
their sad obituaries.

Sixty hours a week for sixteen years, I had become
institutionalized. I had created a Frankenstein.
I would think about the grand discourse
of the universe and all its galaxies. I would dream
about red dwarfs,
about gamma ray bursts, the asteroid belt,
the oceans of the earth,
monochrome rainbows, volcanoes, rain forests,
The Great Barrier Reef,
Prague, London, Venice.

Did it all exist
for me to sit incarcerated
in some anonymous little shop
in some anonymous little town playing the anonymous
little merchant,
a role I knew in my heart I’d been wrongly cast for?

Well, I thought. If this is my destiny,
I reject it. I reject my life. I will give my life back.
I will jump
off the Seven Mile Bridge, I will gargle rat poison.
Whatever it takes I will do it,
but I will not stay here. I will not live a disingenuous
life with a dying heart
because I am afraid,
because it is safe to be afraid,
because being flyshit in the carburetor of a 2-cycle
leaf blower somehow suits me.

No, I thought, I’m going to be a red
dwarf, that’s what I’ll be.
And with that, I washed my hands of everything,
got on a plane
bound for Berlin
and became one.

Advertisements

The Street Musician

20190501_140116.jpg

I’ve seen them so many times, I no longer see the birds or the trees, the lampposts, the cobblestones, the flowers or the parked cars. I walk along in a daze. I walk among the people and look at their faces, but do not see them either. It’s as if I’m half-blind, or half-sleepwalking, my feet carrying me along, my mind only half-understanding the force impelling me. I enter a street market and the sidewalk narrows and the crowd thickens. There are people here selling fruit, vegetables, kabobs, fish, jewelry, textiles and odds and ends and they are laughing, and they a singing and shouting to draw people to their stands. But their noise goes through me and the jostle of the crowd stifles me, sucking me in and we drift along amid oranges and pomegranates, conch shells, oriental rugs, sunlight beating through the tents, the hoarse snatches of a violin gliding on the breeze. When I get to the edge of the market, I see that it’s a humpbacked old Balkan woman playing. She is wearing a purple headscarf, her dress is a patchwork of blues and oranges and limegreens, and at her feet there is a leather violin case, open with loose change scattered on the floor of it. Her eye floats toward me as I approach, she gives a tender smile, and keeps playing, the music whirling in circles around her, grazing the birds and the trees, the cobblestones, the parked cars, giving life to the flowers and the people. I dig in my pocket. I have no change. I have nothing. I shrug. She gives me a forgiving smile and her eye floats in another direction, her impassioned bow continues working, the music following me as I cross the street, walk two blocks, take a right, walk another two blocks, cross another street, unlock a door, go through a courtyard and return to my flat, and return to my desk. I can still hear her music as I write this.

20190501_140114.jpg

Journey to the End of the Night

680px-Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Elisabethufer_1913-1

Journey to the End of the Night

With a bottle of Belgian beer, I sit among pigeon
feathers and broken black branches and a choir
of darkening leaves, the murky Landwerkanal
gliding past my feet, the choppy ripples reflecting
aureoles of green and amber patches and the flat
white of a solitary swan floating silently through
the mists.

I watch it pass, watch the clouds eat
a maple tree and the Ferris wheel and the purple
geese and I watch the remaining fragments
of the sun as night comes and places a shadow
upon me. I am not supposed to be here.
I am standing on the wrong continent. I am following
the wrong orchestra. I have strayed from the people.
I am not supposed to be here.

And yet here I am,
half-drunk, my mind ecstatic, my heart torn apart
by golden
salamanders by the glittering
pallet knife of some mad expressionist
painter. In a word, by love.
I sit listening
to carnival music carried over the waters.

Walpurgisnacht

fantasy-on-faust-mariano-fortuny

It’s Walpurgisnacht here in Germany,
the night the witches take Brocken, night of bassoons
in the concert halls, and sirens
and heat lightning flashing in the clouds.
You watch from your garden
which sits amid a canyon of dim and oddly-shaped
pre-war buildings. You watch while listening
to the people in the buildings murmuring, banging pots,
playing old jazz songs. Every five minutes or so, the clouds blossom
with fire, glowing and throbbing, revealing their shapes.

And now it’s dark. Only the lights
in the buildings gleam,
the reddish-gold glow of the rooms spilling over
the balconies and onto the walls.

A shadow moves behind a thin, luminescent curtain.
Another one appears. You watch them tango and whirl
as loneliness, that hissing serpent
with red eyes, enters the garden, slithering
through a bed of flowers and up the tree, coiling
around a limb just over you.

But now the light of the room goes out,
now the shadows disappear, and fat luminous insects
take the air, swarming the pollen
and the pollen exploding from its pods,
glittering as a wave of hot sulphurous breath
hits your shoulder. You turn around, the serpent is gone.
Your loneliness abates and soon becomes
love for the wind, for the leaves, for orange peels
and elevators, a love of solitude, love for the inviolable
flower someone planted in your chest,
for the miracle of being alive and on the earth on this night,
Cherubim blowing their horns from upon
fire-lit clouds.

Strange Instruments

Hiroshige,_Travellers_surprised_by_sudden_rain

Strange Instruments

Holed up in this dim
ground floor unit, curtains open
to the cool green shade of the garden,
swivel chair like an old man groaning under you,
a bright white screen gaping at you,
the cursor blinking.

You sit hunched in the glow of it, feel the knot
in your back, your legs cramp.
You stretch them
under your desk. You have been here all day,
gone into it, lost in yourself, departed from humanity,
fighting against light and shadow.

Isn’t there something else
you could’ve gambled your life on?

You think about all the dead souls
you’ve drifted from, the lovers, the money,
the impossible distances,
the years piled on top of each other,
the hours spent bent-backed
in the maddening orchards
of literature,

your dreams bound up in the harvest,
your heart like a tiger
roaming the earth, oblivious
to the wind,
the rain, the seasons, the moon.

Only knowing the strange
instruments
in its head,
only listening to them.

Inspiration

The_Famous_Scenes_of_the_Sixty_States_42_Izumo

Inspiration

I live in the back building in a ground floor flat that faces
a little German garden. The only people with access
to the garden are me, the Turkish family that lives next door,
and the widowed hausmeisterin
who lives next to them and keeps it green.

This morning, the garden is empty except for the little birds
fluttering around it. I stand on the stoop
in shorts and bare feet and no shirt
and watch them, listening to them chirp
as I smoke a thin
bent joint. Beyond the garden,
there is a sunlit
parking lot, a little tin-roofed garage,
and newly blossoming trees, hemmed in on all sides by
the surrounding buildings. I stand here
in my bare feet feeling
a dizzy rush in my blood and my blood trying to keep my brain
from becoming a fusty
beehive
of troubles.

Now is not the time, I tell myself. Now is the time
to go completely out of myself.
Now is the time
to become nothing
so that the nymphs and sprits of the trees
(who only see nothing,
who only work with you after you’ve reduced yourself
to nothing), will fill me with something

like cloudbursts and pale fire,
with fragrant burning twilight,
and violins,
with the lewd plump sea
and something especially
like the sweet ecstasy glowing in the hearts
of the little birds
as they flutter among the fenceposts.

Jakob Böhme

JAKOB BÖHME

Long, stringy black hair in a middle part.
Wizard’s beard. An old, lavender cape taking on light
and wind
as he floats along amid
golden
clouds and the clattering of dusky evening
cathedral bells.

To the local scourge he’s just a shoemaker.

They don’t care about his view from the sky,
the Gates of the Paradisiacal
Garden
of Roses,
or the sacred portals of his electromagnetic
mind
wherein resides the Cumaean Sibyl in her virgin apparel
smoking Benson
& Hedges
while surrounded by shoals
of cloud-eating purple
fish,
high voltage wires, stargazer lilies and wild orange trees.

They don’t want to know
about that.

What concerns them are the practical
things: bread, candle-stubs,
a clear and definitive
statement: he makes shoes.

Everything else about him is fuss.

A Hero of Our Time

XKH154873

Who are the heroes of our time? I was thinking about this question the other day, and I’m sure for everyone it’s someone different. For me, it’s not a specific person. I don’t have any living heroes, unfortunately. But I do have an image of a hero. I am picturing a man of no particular race or age. He’s an artist of some sort – a poet, or a poet-painter, or a poet-musician, or some combo of the three. He’s also a minimalist. His needs are very few, and he’s learned to shut out most 21st century distractions. He’s not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other social media sites, although he may have a blog. In fact, he does have a blog – the peacock must show his feathers off somewhere.

This man tries to keep one foot in the unknown as much as possible but also has a structured routine. He wears the same outfit every day. Black trousers and a black t-shirt. His wardrobe used to have more colors in it, but in a world where a man is assailed by so many hundreds of choices so many times a day, to have one less wherever possible is the best choice. His diet too is very sparse. He drinks coffee in the morning and eats very little – fruit, eggs, nuts, a small piece of chocolate; for lunch, he has the same thing every day – a liverwurst sandwich; and dinner is homemade, although he might eat out one night a week. His only extravagance with what he ingests is alcohol. He drinks wine, beer, hard liquor, all to excess, not so much because he’s addicted to it, but for the sake of his art. His Muses demand it.

“Ever since Liber enlisted barely sane poets among the satyrs and fauns, the sweet Muses as a rule have smelled of wine in the morning.” ~ Horace

Being drunk or hungover also gives new eyes to his art. Sobriety only sees half the picture, and too much sobriety is fatal – it’s how you end up with a Donald Trump, a Hitler or the Islamic extremist. It’s his firm belief that the halls of poetry are closed to water-drinkers. He also holds in high esteem Rimbaud’s famous line that the poet makes himself a seer by the long, immense and rational derangement of the senses.

Other than Horace, our hero’s heroes include many of the ancient Greeks, the famous Russian novelists and short story writers of the 19th century, a handful of German philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries, and Meister Eckhart, William Blake, Beethoven, Bach, Delacroix, Van Gogh, Baudelaire, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. It’s books by these authors that he will read first thing in the morning as opposed to the latest news cycle. That’s not to say he doesn’t pay attention to current events. He does, but only in small doses, and from the most detached perspective possible, so as not to get too much mud in his hair. What fascinates him most in politics are the eternal qualities of human nature to be found in it, and where these go slack, so does attention.

He sees no need to try to save the world if it cannot be saved by art. And he is not tainted by greed. He might’ve been tainted in his youth due to immaturity and the culture he grew up in, but never to much of an extreme, and he has seen enough to know that the rich are often the most miserable, and there’s very little – if anything – that they have that’s worth envying. Their lives are almost certainly empty beneath the façade, and his art is what he loves. Bringing it out from the very center of him like a silkworm does its thread. He only needs as much money as it takes for him to do that as often as possible and has no machinations or plans to defraud anyone in any business.

Our hero could live anywhere – in a big city, in a small seaside town, in the mountains. Wherever it is, he can often be seen talking brisk 1-2-hour walks, usually in the afternoon or early evening or sometimes very late at night, after he’s done with his creations. He goes out in search of some beautiful thing he vaguely intuits. He doesn’t know what it is, but he knows it’s somewhere. He looks for it in the faces of the passing people, in the reflections of the mountain stream, in shop windows, in the changing shapes of the clouds. He feels he is getting closer to finding it every day. Every day he trembles on the edge of it and every day comes home empty handed. But art is his meditation, his silkworm’s thread, his mad, wall-eyed ecstasy, and sometimes he finds it in there.

“For whether we agree with the Greek poet that ‘Sometimes it is sweet to be mad,’ or with Plato that ‘A man sound in mind knocks in vain at the doors of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘No great intellect has been without a touch of madness,’ only a mind that is deeply stirred can utter something that is beyond the power of others.” ~ Seneca

Poem: Insomnia

IMG_3264

This was first published here, along with 4 other poems on Menacing Hedge.

Insomnia

3 a.m., in Wedding, and the wet streets gleam like blown glass;
trees in a broad current appear to be sailing off.
A heavy truck idles at a gate,
hazards flashing.
A shadow climbs out.

3 a.m., in a phosphorescence among sunflowers,
devoured by peacocks
and grey wolves
and the voice in the walls.

The sky swirls with glaze-green tidepools, a ring of Nibelungs,
fog-white, blue-pale,
gliding fires and no sign of dawn.

3 a.m., in a building of dark halls, locked doors
and conspiracies,
of old leaky plumbing and betrayal,
of tiny rooms where people are asleep, like caterpillars
in the rainforest,
dreaming of peril and fertility.

I lie down on my lumpy duvet amid the hiss of glowing radiators,
jars of walnut oil and turmeric,
images floating across the room:
a Peruvian mask, a coral shell
necklace of light,
lies, rapture.

The windows hum with blue electricity.

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.”

20190114_102854(1)