The Trampoline Series (part 1)

Wow, that makes what’s about to follow either teenagery or pretentious or both (I dished out my fair share of pretentious writing when I was a teenager, and some just the other week, too). Anyway, I took my son to a birthday part at an indoor trampoline place, which was loud and insane. It was kind of like a brightly lit dance club minus the alcohol and drugs and the addition of kids. Once my son was jumping his heart out, I reached into my bag for my journal, but I’ve taken it our (something I rarely do). With no other choice, I wrote using the memo app on my phone. I  usually treat my phone for its intended purpose–you know, calling people–and also as a glorified music player. I don’t write on it. But I killed nearly an hour doing so, and I’ll post the results over the next few days, along with part of a story I’m working on.

No title for this one yet, and I don’t know if I’ll continue working on it:

There’s a quantity of uncharted water in your eyes
should you ever desire a navigator, a boatman
acquainted with grim tides and dismal waterfalls,
the cataracts of regrets blooming in the rising mist.
Five fathoms in, and I’m more experienced than half
the crew that labors at the dock, lusting for you
as your shadow crosses itself at the window.

The moon’s done with me–I’m left
with sun-drenched seas which never satisfy
the urges for shadows broken by cold light.
I pray you need me soon, that your compass
is twisted and canted by the rough waves
that you’re desperate enormous to call my name,
if only to remind me what it is.

Courtship (prose poem)

At least, I think it’s a prose poem. I don’t know…it just didn’t feel right in the frame of a poem.

He was a doomed genius with an air of Faulkner about him, cleaning aquariums in the Upper Room, wondering where the apostles went.

She, slightly detached, channeled Vivian Lee as she crossed hot pavement, stopping when the lunchtime whistle blew and the men with lunch pails poured out like ants from a hill to howl and gawk at her.

They met in the most unlikely of places: the grim cottage abandoned by Adam when Eve left him after one too many fights, blood still staining the floors. Together, they unraveled their pain under the weak light of a dying star. They lay on their backs and traced their names in the air, practicing saying them out loud.

Generational Divide

As usual, I’m not entirely sure where this came from.

Generational Divide

So. Ripped from the back pages of a magazine
for little diced-up boys, were you? Good, I guess.
Make you feel seasoned, like a pro, flexible
and handy with the ladies, don’t it, Boy-O?
Just like an old flag in need of stitching up
before Parade Day when it’s okay for you to be seen,
marching down the street like a right King
and half-regal, gold dust in your hair and flashes
popping all around your grand ass, Just a moment!
Just a quick photo and a comment, Young Master!

You have no idea what lengths the great Mothers
and Fathers of this here Nation went through
to get you where you gingerly think you rightly
belong, and I know you don’t, smiling like
your teeth are made from ivory and silver and gold
and all the shit them conquistadors spilled blood for.
Go on and inflate yourself some more with folks’ breath,
it ain’t like they’ll be needing it much longer anyhow,
what with the Grave checking in about every hour or so,
saying in that cold-dirt voice, You know, it’s almost time to go.

Temporary Survivor

I haven’t had a drinking dream in quite some time (now watch me have them for a week straight), but I heard someone on a podcast discussing dealing with such dreams. I wasn’t consciously thinking about drinking dreams, but it was certainly banging around in my brain because this poem came to me as I was driving to work. This one needs some tweaking (I may settle on a rhyme scheme, which would be different) but I wanted to share it.

Temporary Survivor

She shook me hard, and I rose
like steam from the arena of my dreams
where I faced off with my father again.
Freud, who had season tickets,
shook his head and relit his pipe.

When I woke, I remembered I was drunk.
I was also on the roof and not in bed.
You slept through the flood, she said.
By flood, I replied, do you mean—
I mean the flood!

Other rooftops poked out from the water
like the tops of drowned heads.
I spied Gilgamesh waving to me from one.
All hope was not lost.

She thrust something at me.
I opened the crumpled ball and read:
What the fuck happened? I said meet at the ark.
You better hope reincarnation is real. – Noah

I found a bottle (I could always find a bottle)
and drank it down while she cried.
When it was empty, I lapped
at the water rising higher and faster.

Defying the April Poet Pirate

Defying the April Poet Pirate

“Yer supposed to write a poem every day, arrr!” says the April Poet Pirate,
horny at exactly the wrong time, his plank outstretched and ready.
They all watch–the skeletons in shackles, the deck-boy missing an eye,
raggedy men gathered around a gallon of rum, the decent kind
he keeps secreted away for when the crew has been especially on fleek.

“Yer not allowed to use that there word unless it be about eyebrows,”
he growls and slips his parrot an Oxy-infused cracker, strong enough
to knock his wings the fuck back and make him bob his head up and down
to a Marley song, the only one he knows how to repeat, no woman, no cry,
while women on every piss-poor island from here to Barbados cry plenty.

“I hate the water, and ships, and this whole scene,” I say to him
as I I lower one of the rickety life-boats and hop in, stuffing my pockets full
of paper and quills and inkwells before I jump, grinning like a slapped fool.
“You’ll be dead before morning,” declares the April Poet Pirate.
“Maybe,” I say, beginning to row, putting my worn back into it.

A Couple of Swells (short story)

I suppose one day I could submit stories for publication, but I know nothing about the market…and I have enough to do with submitting poetry. In the meantime, I’m happy to post fiction here.

Since my time to writing is limited (usually forty-five minutes a day), I’m trying to write a complete draft rather than writing for a bit and leaving characters in permanent limbo. This one came rather easily after the first line.

A Couple of Swells

“What the fuck was that?” Judy Garland’s ghost asked, looking up at the ceiling. “What do you have up there, a team of wild horses?”

That time, she appeared as young Judy Garland, right at the start of her career. Sometimes, when she was feeling cranky, she showed up as she was in the 1960s. Still larger than life, still able to command an audience like none other…but tired. Wearing thin at the edges.

I sighed. It was just more ghosts, but I didn’t want to get into with Judy. She was something of a drama queen, which probably doesn’t surprise you. I was just glad that Mickey Rooney’s shade hadn’t shown up because God knows it would have been a bitch-fest broken up by sporadic dance numbers. The whole thing was just plain uncomfortable.

“I asked you a question, Darren,” Judy said in her most imperious tone. She stamped her foot on the ground, which didn’t make a sound. Unlike my guests upstairs, the only noise Judy made was from her voice. The woman could still belt it out, but it was clear to me that night she had no interest in singing. At least, not at that moment.

I could have lied, which I did sometimes, but she often found out the truth, and then she was pissed.”It’s a dinner party.”

“Oh, delightful,” Judy purred. “Shall I go up and entertain?”

“No, I don’t think that’s wise. Just stay down here with me.”

Judy pouted, and it was hard to take her seriously. “And why must you be the only one to enjoy my presence tonight?” she asked.

“Because I know those ghosts up there, and they probably don’t want anything to do with you. They’re more into punk.”

“Oh, they’re ghosts,” she said, drawing out the word as she lowered her head as if ready to weep. “And here I thought you’d actually gotten some friends.”

Judy didn’t like competition, but at least the ghosts stayed upstairs that night. She’d gotten into terrible fights with other ghosts who’d showed up on what she referred to as “her nights.” When that happened, she demanded everyone pay attention to her or get the hell out. She’d look at me, demanding my help, as if I could disperse the other ghosts. I could not more do that than I could summon them. They came and went as they wished.

Judy, on the other hand, could clear a room. There were notable exceptions, of course, including those she didn’t want to leave. Frank Sinatra was always welcome to stay, as was Sammy Davis, Jr. Of Dean Martin, she said, “That man is deplorable, and I’d rather drink a gallon of kerosene and swallow a match than spend a mere moment of my afterlife with him.”

Judy perched herself on my sofa, crossed her legs, and scrutinized me. “Darren, you look horrible,” she pronounced. “Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well?”

“I’m fine, just a little worn-out from the day,” I said, keeping the real reasons to myself. So far, and to my great surprise, I’d been able to keep from Judy the girlfriend I’d had for the last few months, but that secrect wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

“No, there’s more to it than that,” she said. “But if you’re not going to be honest, what can I do?” She snapped her fingers. “I’ll sing to you! That’ll at least make you feel better!”

“Oh, no, Miss Garland,” I tried protesting, “that’s not really necessary to–”

It was too late, as always. Judy blasted into “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart,” and zing, came the headache. I don’t mean to sound cruel; she still has an incredible voice, but you haven’t been two feet away from her when she’s singing. Her voice is like a physical object in the room, forcing itself on it whether or not you want it. I pulled a happy-ish face. When she finished the song, she slugged me on the shoulder and said, “Still glum, chum?”

“No, I feel better,” I said, convincingly, I hoped. “I always do after you sing.”

We heard another crash upstairs, followed by raucous, drunken laughter. Judy scowled at the ceiling, saying, “Listen, if you want me to man-handle those bastards up there, just give me the word.”

“It’s okay, really. They’ll settle down and be out of here before you know it. How about another song?”

Judy’s face lit up. “Now we’re talking, buster. Which one? I got a million and two, you know.”

See, that’s my real job. I’m here to make sure they’re okay, and even though I had a splitting headache that night and bummed out about Tiffany, I knew Judy showed up because she needed an audience, just as the ghosts upstairs needed to have a crazy dinner party. I offered sanctuary of a sort, and I took my role seriously. Too seriously, probably, because I’m sure that’s why Tiffany ditched me. I never let her come over to my place, and I cancel dates left and right when ghosts showed up, needing something.

“You certainly do, Miss Garland,” I said. “How about ‘By Myself’?”

Judy wrinkled up her nose. “That’s a little blue, don’t you think?”

“Well, maybe, but you sing it so well.”

That was all it took. “Anything for you, darling,” she cooed and began singing softly.

I closed my eyes and leaned back, reminding myself that no one else on Earth was as lucky as me at that moment, having a personal concert given by Miss Judy Garland herself, dead nearly 50 years…but with me at that moment. A little transparent, a little monochrome, but beautiful as could be.

“You Can’t Just Pet My Head and Expect Me to Poop Out Jewels”

I didn’t intend to write this, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I like to think that in an alternative universe, Isaac and Charlie are working on a new album.

“Well, you can’t just pet my head and expect me to poop out jewels,” said Barney Carter, confusing and disgusting the patrons gathered at Stumpy’s Bar. But bass player Isaac “Pinky Man” Ray and guitarist Charlie “Bugaboo” Ramirez perked up, got out their instruments, and launched into a crazy improv number that turned into “Jewel Thief.” The song entered Billboard’s Blues Album chart in the summer of 1996 and climbed to number twenty.

“It was a trip when that song started doing well and getting picked up by radio stations, man,” Ray says. I’m sitting with him and his musical co-conspirator Ramirez after they tore up at stage at Asheville, North Carolina’s Bluesville Festival. “I mean, it wasn’t many stations, but I heard it a few times driving around in my truck. I was like ‘That’s far out.’ I never expected any of our music to reach the masses, let alone that song.”

By the summer of 1996, Ray and Ramirez had been playing for nearly thirty years in the Burnin’ Junk Blues Collective, a huge band with rotating members and only Isaac and Charlie as the only permanent fixtures. At one point, they even convinced Barney Carter to hit the road with them, despite the fact that he played nothing and couldn’t sing.

“Shit, Barney was crazy, that’s why we brought him on the road,” says Ramirez, fingering chords on his bright blue ’67 Telecaster and smiling. “We just wanted him there for the good times, you know? He always brought that with him. He jumped in on a few tracks of our Catfish in Heaven album, just making all kinds of hoots and hollers. We had him do one of his fucked-up spoken word things and we were going to have it as an intro, but decided against it.”

“Yeah, [producer Rick] Arnett was not down with that,” Ray picks up. “He didn’t even want him in the studio, period. Said he stank too much, which was true. Barney wasn’t too keen on baths and he slathered himself with that god-awful Patchouli oil.”

Of the inspiration for “Jewel Thief,” Ramirez says, “Barney was always spouting out shit that didn’t make any sense to anyone else but him. He was pretty fried all the time and drank this foul mushroom tea that sent him somewhere like the 5th dimension or whatever. I just kind of thought the idea of Barney pooping out jewels was funny, and so I came up with the riff real quick, and Isaac began cooking on the bass. We wrote the whole thing in, like, ten minutes.”

Ray laughs and takes a drag on his Marlboro Red. “It’s not like any of our songs are all that complicated or took all that long to write,” he adds. “The longest time we ever spent on songs was when we were making our last album, Shock Proof. Damn, the second track [“When the Cat Bites You, it’s Done Passed Time to Get a Dog] clocks in at eight minutes forty three seconds, but we wrote in under an hour and told the rest of the guys, ‘Do whatever you want to fill in.'”

As for their future, Ray and Ramirez are hopeful but also practical. “We had a modest hit in 1996, and now it’s 2016. I’ve got grand kids older than that song, and you know what? They don’t give a shit about it. They’d just like me to come around more often and take them fishing.”

Ray, who’s been married to his wife Bonnie since 1979 and has four children and seven grand children, feels similarly. “We’ll keep playing festivals like this from time to time,” he says, “but I like hanging out at home. Plus, carpal tunnel’s a bitch. We’re not the Stones, man. If we had that kind of money, maybe we could be. I don’t know.”

I ask about Barney Carter, the man who unwitting inspired a hit song, and both Ray and Ramirez chuckle. “I wish I knew where that bastard was,” Ray says. “I mean, he might be dead, or maybe he got clean and is living in a cabin or some shit. Sounds like something he might do.”

“Your job is to find him and report back to us,” Ramirez instructs me. “You got it? Using your reporting skills or whatever and find Barney Carter.”

“And if you do,” Ray says, “tell that old sonofabitch he needs to come up with another idea for a hit song.”