Mudlark No. 21 (2002)

The Price of Water in Los Angeles

by R. D. Girard

for Allison

“R. D. Girard lives in Washington and Los Angeles
and writes poems when he can’t sleep at night.”


If They Come in the Morning
Chuck Taylor’s All Stars
Birth Rights
The Price of Water in Los Angeles
Fortunate Son
No Particular Place to Go
Video Killed the Radio Star
You Gotta Start Somewhere
And Then He Kissed Me
I’ll See You in My Dreams
Ghost Riders in the Sky
Property Tax
Til Her Daddy Takes Her T-Bird Away
Crew Cut
The Real Deal
Breakfast at the Marion Motley All-Star Cafe
Mean Streets
Ground Control to Major Tom
Havana Moon

If They Come in the Morning

In the fugue states war crimes are prosecuted impartially.

It’s only natural to fill the gaps.
The tesselated craters in your memory
Where the hits just keep on coming night
After night are like the edges of those old maps:

Here be the dragons

Of lost time—five minutes here, three hours there
Jumping the turnstiles to a landscape
Where nightmares would be a relief.

Always waking in some slant light
To check and sniff your hands, your crotch
For blood, semen, or swelling

Can make you long to live off the grid
In some shaven solitude where the finer points
of dear and cheap sluice through the moral gates
Of the most coarsely drawn boundaries.

Back on the mainland, where salt accrues meaning
Only in a village that lacks iron
And free is the word for both libre and gratis

The difference between ripped off and left alone
Blurs in the vestments of the analyst’s couch
Where value forms in the synapses of endless exchange.

In the lacy jags of the waking states
The supply side origins of nightmares and metaphors
The rogue hours, the minutes taken off the books
Swell with substance and the hallowing of fear.
There are no gaps where language knits accounts.


Chuck Taylor’s All Stars

When the electricity blinks
In Huntsville, the town’s ear strains
For thunder in the distance.

Your lawyer, his heart ticking his eyelid
Can only sell you strategy and process
Having given up music for the law

Sold his guitar, a pre-columbian Strat
Made the year he was born
To pay for his first year at UT

And please his mother’s instinct
For a trade, something to fall back on.
Like the governor, who really wanted

To be commissioner of baseball
Kennesaw Mountain Landis or Bowie Kuhn
Twitching in his sleep

When the phone rings in Austin.
Your lawyer, who took a job after graduation
At the second biggest firm in Dallas, where he made

His bones defending a Houston insurance company
Against a refinery worker who had his fingers
Smashed and torn off in a hydraulic vise and later

Contracted the same cancer that spreads across
The Black schoolyard downwind
Of the voluntary regulations in Midland

And then quit for the Public Defender’s office
Once he’d made enough for a down payment
And learned the ropes enough to know

Where the knots are, makes the call twice each day.
His band once opened for Humble Pie
In Erie, Pennsylvania, where the governor

Has postponed all executions until further notice.
Having bought a red Telecaster knockoff
That sits in the corner of the bedroom

Of the bungalow that matches
A PD’s salary, your lawyer
Still feels those bloody, cracked fingers

In the dark or in the shower or when
He’s driving to work, but not while he blinks
Vacantly at you and explains the options

He’s exhausting on your behalf.
Looking among the visitors who come and go
Family, friends, press, movie stars and clergy

For a love that isn’t just pity
The steady treason of laces and leather
Makes it harder and harder to tie your shoes.


Birth Rights

Imagine prisons on fire, inmates fucking guards
razor wire melting like silver tape worms, imagine

slow dancing along the braided spark of discipline
like a christian killed in Wyoming, strung like a scarecrow

by boys, who eat chili fries in diners
with their girlfriends, across the enamel surface

of a slick sky, dying to the rhythm of whispers
of obedience bargained from steady youth to trembling age

inherited at dawn by sons in spats and shiny ties
men with juice, who love each other honorably

in trenches and capitol cloakrooms, with rosy fingers
diamond crucifixes and palms greased with gold

stolen from the teeth of college boys who flirt with you
in bars. Imagine having to pay the vig

on an imagination evil from youth
on the whiskers of sneaky wet kisses that raise

the hairs on your neck for the rest of your life.


The Price of Water in Los Angeles

            Sunset and Highland in broad daylight. It’s a tricky place. Exhaust
Swirls like tumbleweeds around ankles and antennae, part of the landscape.
It is a landscape of shifting currencies. A lotta skin.
      Of high concept and tripods.
                                                                                                            (Mostly, currency)

            His name is Richard. Sometimes he sleeps w/ a woman named Ellen.
And once he hiked up to the Hollywood sign
On a bet. He was gone all night and Ellen fell asleep      (and waited)
            In the bedroom window.

            He remembers things differently from Ellen
He doesn’t hold the past like
A grudge or an inside straight.                                                (Like Ellen does)

He avoids the eyes of strangers.


His mother had one good eye.

            She longed for depth perception above all else
            And wouldn’t respond when he spoke.

            When he reached the age of consent
            He got married in Tijuana
            And never told her.

They still laugh about it.

She didn’t work and he would go with her downtown,
            On Tuesdays, to the unemployment office


            She won’t leave him alone with words.

Words alone offer no solace: Only movie trailers, a quickie divorce
Can settle accounts and wake the nations
            Like the ruby crucifix that dangles from his ear.

            When she reminds him that the diminutive of his name
                        Is a vulgar synonym for penis
                        He finds himself unable to get it up.
            With no hope of retribution.
                                                                                                            Or redemption.


His mother had a butterfly tattoo on her butt.
She made him take her to the parlor in the valley
And watch while a skinny guy with reptile eyes
And roses on his forearms bled her

He knew then that faith was a bad mix with desire.
They haven’t discussed it since. It’s enough that she was

His chrysalis, his own blood metamorphosed into a butterfly.


In a perfect world                                                                  Richard is a reporter
You make your own choices.                              and uses a lot of different
                                                                                                               bylines because he’s convinced
Cash up front.                                                            the CIA is after him. When
                                                                                                               Ellen laughs at him,
The higher order                                                                   she holds his face
Needs no evidence.                                                              in her hands. Sometimes
                                                                                                               it really pisses him off.


It’s not without pastoral elements:

            Round the bend on the 405 just past Reseda
                        Forsaking the coast highway
Slicing south through six lanes of burnt grass and bedroom windows
            L.A. grins back like a rancid tumor
                        Flayed open from no particular center.

                                                Gogol’s Petersburg or Eliot’s London
                                    Would float in a silver cloud or recoil into myth.
            Opal            Jaundice            Zygotes of red and green            leave only

Los Angeles haiku:

                        Single-minded sports cars
                        Mainlining La Cienega
                        Into the Hollywood Hills.

            Sunset Boulevard
            Snaking to the quiet beach
            The water sheer at ebb tide.

It’s hard to get your bearings when the quickest way to the Far East
Is to sail west past Catalina.


The cemetery behind the Avco Theatre on Wilshire. It’s a preacher’s place
            No respect for Marilyn’s daily rose or the leaves
            On Natalie Wood’s grave.

                                    What he loves most about L.A. is—

Ideas—that don’t fit on 3 minutes of video—have no place.
                                    It is a city of stolen water and
No blame,            movies are movies and not films and they’re in color

            And they have movie stars

Hence            the problem of credit.


Fortunate Son

When the whip comes down
On the common word, exact without vulgarity

And consorts begin dancing among themselves
Scouring the summertime thickets of forged visas

And the guard from St. Louis bums a light, says
“You’re not from round here, are ya?”

The time has passed for putting on airs
For recollecting a vulgar marxism for a vulgar world.

The murderers of our own children, the hooded friars
Who find it hard to be human with no memory

Sit stoic on the board of the holding company
That mined the harbors in Haiphong and Baltimore

With dried bones, insisting we follow our leader.
After clearing customs, time thickens and takes on flesh.


No Particular Place to Go

Sit by the river long enough
And the bodies of your enemies will fall
Like ripe peaches and float by
On their way to the water works and the romance
Of translation through the sluices, gates, the valves
And levers passing through the words on the other ear.
Move, and honey dominoes into the price of honey
Sticky in a web that quivers across civilizations.

In the fading light of old photographs without people
It’s easy to lose the horizon and find yourself
Liberated from love and the future.
Tonight you’re sitting on top of the world
Where there’s not a lot of room and ripeness is all
And you are afraid of ideas before they even arrive.


Video Killed the Radio Star

About the latest road show
Of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance
The critics complained that the bombs
Were too loud, obscuring the dialogue

And the flying was not realistic.
The audience was parched until
The hint of public nudity
At the cast party. The male lead left early.

Meanwhile on television, for example
There are no longer reports of men
Wearing dresses and the owl of culture
Flies only at night, so tired

That the words repeat themselves
Like billboards on Sunset Boulevard.
Each day we don’t die we get older
And our clothing seems little more

Than floss and magic shoes. The hard shell
Of jealousies mutates, but the yolk remains pure
Even in little ladies during big wars
And old dogs cease their bark

Assuming they have nothing left to say.


You Gotta Start Somewhere

He wakes in mediation alone in the house
lacquering the veins of impotent passion.

His nephew spends complicated Tuesday
mornings making ends meet with a wicked

game of dominos. His friends feel he’s raised
privacy to the level of art—he swears

they never quarrel. In the gaps between nickels
and dimes he sometimes finds his uncle—

a middle man on his best days—flush
with hot tips and prime meridians, asking

women he meets if they want to wake up
in the city or the country. The bone pile

just over the county line is where he’ll find
his nephew with greasy hands on a Wednesday

night. Now he only dates models who have
their own money. His wife wishes he’d take

himself more seriously.


And Then He Kissed Me

In the year your voice broke and Nixon froze wages
We sat through the bump and grind of mass every Wednesday morning
Listened at locked doors and sat with bodies prepared for burial.

The same pus can always be squeezed from new soil
And after awhile they forgot where the fights came from
Slipping into the bog of clenched sleep and a language full of detail.

Morning deadpanned down the hall, awake and aware
That cures are always drawn from long deposits of disease.
They notified the next of kin from the office

And then left early after receiving assurances
That computers would never come into general use.
Sailing after knowledge, barefoot on Wilshire Boulevard

Where boys ran combs through their ponytails and lost
Their religion, caught between going to see
About a girl and going to see a man about a job.

From the upstairs window the little lights we could always see
On the bay winked like the digital future. We wandered
And sniffed like a lost dog turning over a jellyfish

And then tripped down to the boats
Hauling keels against the swell of God’s green sea
In the year that Saigon fell and hail sobbed from the sky.


I’ll See You in My Dreams

Living in the moonglow along the arc of a line drive
I knew from the start that you were the girl for me.

Sitting in the June fog in the bleachers with the cops
The retired teachers and the Sinatra fans, the guys

Still looking for Willie Mays alone under the lights
In centerfield at Candlestick Park, loneliness builds

Like quickness, as repetition and preparation
Quiver into muscle memory, jumbled among

The things they wish they hadn’t taught their kids. The shot
Heard round the world never caught you in San Francisco

And the bad hops never kept you awake. That’s the stuff
That never makes the box score and made you the girl for me.

The day we swear we’ll die together we curse our children
To solitude and sunburned sanity. I can change, I swear.


Ghost Riders in the Sky

When work disappears
In the cruel back beat of July
And all your friends are dead
Not even your mother knows all your names.

The clover chokes in the cracks in the sidewalk
And summer surprises you with jackhammers and tulips
And someone outside the Kroger shakes their head
And says, man, you’ve got a crazy cousin.

On Sunday afternoons when you were a kid your mother would fry chicken
For the whole family and be drunk by five o’clock.
The children would take their fear into the dust out back
Down by where the weeds and the water end until it got dark.

Your aunt gets up to leave when your crazy cousin
Comes out of the closet, says
Hello, I’m Johnny Cash
Bringing the footprints, the ribs, the scabbed over idea of women

To a world without women.
Always remember where you came from.
Fried okra and tomatoes, the color comics
splayed on the floor and the sports page full

Of Ahmad Jones, Abraham Lincoln High School’s light hitting
Slick fielding shortstop, who calls himself the A Train
Wears dreds and keeps a toothpick in his mouth
Even when he’s turning a double play, (much

                                                To the chagrin of his daddy, a race man from way back,
                                                A back room kingmaker without portfolio who
                                                Did two tours in the Navy in Nam, flogging
                                                Gun boats up and down the Mekong river and once
                                                Got shot by a cracker at a civil rights rally and has a soft
                                                As a baby’s butt camel hair overcoat and a sweet rack
                                                Of snap brim fedoras)

Is one badass nigger, with the solid rumor
Of a wicked crossover dribble, which is hard
To verify since he’s the only one who’s transferred to Lincoln.

            He hangs with a jug band
            Guys with low spark and high heeled nerves
            That jangle elegant down the alley
            In London Fog trench coats and long black veils.

In the lean years he would never forget his father telling him
Always keep your wits and your papers with you
In the occupied zones and border towns
Where a Mardi Gras of uniforms scrubs each new crack
In control and authority. Your mother never lets him go

Upstairs, where your crazy cousin learned about love
From his older sister, shadow dancing
In the back of Eddie Wilson’s father’s Chevy

Singing sin softly to him from beneath callow
Eddie’s furious cheeks, pale
Beneath the moon when they left the top down.


Property Tax

On a corner in the shadow of the Hollywood Bowl
where ordinary pronouns take wing
and sex splits and stars like a shattered windshield
who will be the next to trust a friend with a girl?

Love plays havoc with fidelities
caught in the romance of rooftops at twighlight
where form follows function down the back stairs
and yet a face persists across generations.

On the Lux Radio Theatre each voice
dominates a single emotion, and the wage slave
is the flip side of the gambler, covering
the spread on the weighty past of work.

In a world seen through bottled smoke
the authentic cannot be reproduced.



After a night of rough trade
In the bug house
I dream of rolling in the back of a long black limousine

            Back to town from the country
The Hudson River on my right
                        With November notions of ice sliding by.

My driver, a guy from Long Island named Michael
Is a regular guy, a guy I can talk to
Who drove ten years for Saturday Night Live

            Has The Supremes on the player.

Night falls and we glide
                        Past a city of wet pavement

Seasoned jaundice yellow by the streetlamps
Reflecting New York, London in the shadows, Amsterdam
            Below the horizon
      A palimpsest slouching toward Los Angeles
Whose steel and concrete and trash can fires
            And smell of fish
Solidly defy the digital transfer of paper money.

It’s a Carey car, a black Lincoln
      With tinted glass, solid doors and electric windows
            That glide in silence
                        Hired by the hour
Taking me to dinner
            At an overpriced neighborhood place
Where you might see Eddie Murphy or Tom Cruise

                                    (Knowing the bourgeois
                              Spends less on his food
                                    than the workman
                  I take all my meals in expensive restaurants
                                                In solidarity, leaving
                              Always an extravagant tip).

Stop with me here a while and soon
            You’ll know everyone on this street
The doormen, the cops, the waitress on a break, the driver
Smoking against the fender or asleep in the car, the woman
On a bicycle with her hands in her back pockets, the guys
Too proud for the shelter who think of the economy
As something natural, like waves or the wind, blowing
            Hot and cold, guys
whose jobs have gone south, and their women
Who know they’re not coming back. I arc through them
Like a dolphin or a lifeguard who must
            Coldly keep his distance until
                        The drowning are ready to give themselves up
                                                To salvation or the sea.

When I wake up I remember days

            When my grandfather, a longshoreman
Who could squeeze a nickel till the Indian howled

            Took me to banks like cathedrals
                                    Or train stations
Back when train stations were train stations.

Rolling downtown in his new Olds eighty-eight

                        At the death of his third wife
                                    Whose first husband

            Made his money in a string of dry cleaners
Into a new Cadillac
                                    Every two years need it or not.

The judgment of slick slabs of alabaster marble
            Crossed with rivers of red carpets

            The natural geometry of shameless and understood
Surveillance and the hardon
                                    Of the implied ability to punish

                                                Along with the rippled hush
                        Of stacks of folding money, deposits
                                    Dating back to the end of Black Reconstruction
When millions were liberated from the land
            And delivered to the bosses.            My grandfather
Always voted Republican in a Democratic district
                        And longed for New York

            Lighting his cigars with hundred dollar bills, buying me
A fifty dollar hooker named Viper
                        On my fourteenth birthday
Real movie stuff.

            Having come to it late, he saw
The abstract of capital rise to the concrete of money, his verb
                                    And his days on the docks
            Sending twenty-five centuries of philosophy packing.

He never caught on, my grandfather, that real money
            Invisible money
                        New York money
                                    Never had to raise its voice
Above a whisper.

He never posed the world
            Any real danger, was always daring you
                        To step on his blue suede shoes.


            In the Jesus dreams he looks like John Malkovich
Skinny and pale, sneering and whining
In a bar or on a pier, feeding seagulls, me and Christ
                        Two white guys sitting around talking.

He says he hasn’t slept in years.
                        Every night
            The same thing, staring past me like a guy
      Who did two tours in Nam, running the same lines
                        Every night

            He would insist he wasn’t white,
Like those white people who tell you at parties
That they’re a quarter Cherokee
                        Or that their great-grandmother on their mother’s side
      Was black.

Someone this swarthy in a Lexus, he tells me
      Would always get pulled over in Beverly Hills, every time
I tell him not any more, but he’s pacing now
Running his hands through his hair, talking
            Talking like he’ll die if he stops.

            Who do you know has a dinner party when he knows

            The cops are coming in the morning.
                         Twelve guys who will disappear when the heat shows
                                    Just talking, talking about themselves

                                    Paul was a boring fanatic and still owes me
                        Twenty bucks, Judas,
            He’s the only one

            I’d still talk to.            And not just
Because he was so beautiful he didn’t care
                        Who your daddy was.

When they killed me
                                    Only my mother and a hooker showed up.

                                     Two fathers can make you an orphan

Working for the homeless. Nobody talks about it,

            But my mother spent her golden years drunk. A guy
                        From the country lives in town
            Could do worse than keep his mouth shut.
                        When I remind him about that twenty bucks
            He just says “To Caesar what is Caesar’s

            To God what is God’s”
                        Big talk with all the residuals,
                                    The real estate bought on margin

                                    And the deferred money
                        I’ll give him Caesar, do I look like
            God to you?


Michael tells me how difficult
Steve Martin could be. His wife was nice though.
I tell him how I knew a guy in the tank

Got kicked out of the navy for lying
About his epilepsy. He told them,
Some captain and a guy in a suit

That he didn’t have epilepsy.
But they said he was in a world of hurt
If he didn’t sign away his pension.

He hopped the next transport back to Carolina
And it hit a wind shear and had to crash land
At a top secret Air Force base somewhere

In West Virginia where soldiers waited
With machine guns at the end of the slide
And rows of B-52s hummed in the distance.

Steve Martin once played a white guy who thought
He was black and would get in the car and say drive
When Michael would say where, he’d say just drive

As though he would die if he stopped moving.
What they thought was epilepsy turned out
To be a brain tumor that wasn’t found

Until he’d pushed a Wheeling Avis all
The way to San Diego to see about a girl
He knew from Atlantic City, who swirled

With breath and her hair all pretty, kissed him
Hard and said she was engaged to a Navy captain
Take me to the beach. I knew him

In the house, after they put the plate in his head
Long after the time when pushed like Judas
Up against the wall by the Roman heat

I would’ve palmed Caesar’s nickel and told them
Don’t piss, don’t shit, don’t fuck
Until I call you. Do nothing

Until you hear from me. Back then
I worked like I didn’t need the job
Danced like nobody was looking

I could play any song with only three chords
I wore black high top Converse All-Stars
Across the parade ground unlaced before Joey Ramone

Was out of diapers and then did the push-ups
On my fingertips. Before the cock crowed
Three times I knew every day was a good day

To die.

You can only dodge sleep for so long.


The slow, steady slide in increments that don’t register
            Across the span from green to bloodless pale
                                    Has left me breathless
                              As though I’d jumped
                                                                        Down the emergency slide
Into the fire-killing foam
                        Covering the wet tarmac of a West Virginia airbase

To find myself in the back of this car

Where Michael has switched to NPR
Where Ken Wiwa says, “It’s hard to carry on
                                                            With the activities of your life
                        When your father’s been hanged.”

            My own father was an engineer
                        A man of aqueducts and sluices
                                    Who wanted me to be a writer, having no idea
What assholes writers can be.

            As I know my life
The way I know every guy on every street corner
                                    I have no need to speak.

Stepping lost from the limo

Late in the evening the lingering smell of weddings
            Stirs the petals of lost religion
                                    And seeps into all the corners of the world.

The sly little despairs of descent can fool you
            Gathering grains without shadows
                                    Stacked like another novel

About somebody’s divorce
            With quiet vengeance in a corner
                                    Until faith doubles back

On how I could have lived
            With my seeds outside my skin
                                    Like strawberries.

The pavement soft beneath my heels
            Bearing me up like a small boy
                        On his father’s shoulders

Wondering what I wouldn’t give
            To know again the feel of my own skin
                        Or taste any word that hasn’t already been chewed.

Missing you in hell

Wait for me, wait
For me please.

And I’ll see you in my dreams.


Til Her Daddy Takes Her T-Bird Away

Three seasons cluster in a single June day.
All we lack is summer.

The thin man down the hall wears black cashmere
And loafers with sad tassles.

He tells women that theory will kill you
And wreck your sister’s wedding.

Without the heat and the leaves changing so fast
The sackers of cities

Can only blame a lack of pale lace
And the ideology of modernism

For pearls turning inward out of season
Across our own V-neck sweaters

And a blue dowry lifted from
A lean hermeneutic

While the borrowed tux with tails across the hall
Fills his father’s shoes

To find the man who gives this woman.


Crew Cut

Back then it was O.K. to pass as a thug
or the child of a good job at the post office
loitering in the trashy alleys out back of the Dairy Queen
or parking cars for tips at the winery.

Back then we woke through the mist of chilly Sunday mornings
looking awry at the girls in shiny pants, talking trash
to their brothers. Quick stepping only when we were alone
through a love struck suburb pregnant
with fresh pavement, parks and a savings and loan.

Back then we had the time of our lives
amid quiet lumber and rocket stamps licked in the dark.
The literal images riddled with the grace
that would have made us afraid of the same wet promise
every day lie folded into our memory of the present.

And the future, my friend, was a long time coming.


The Real Deal

Your parents will die while you
Still think there’s a chance to make a clean breast of it
Which will leave you wondering

If this child will grow up to dodge a draft or love
Furtively in dawn’s doorways
Or write yet another poem about women’s breasts.

No matter, he won’t remember the day
President Reagan faced the press
Looking like a bewildered homosexual capitalist

Afraid of the masses, and told them
That no one remembered the holocaust
And that the murder of a crowd of South Africans

Wasn’t about race because some of the policemen
Were black. You can’t even begin to explain
That world to a teenager who will never see the inside

Of public school. The simple things disappear
And each day we learn again
How easy it is to lose

In the things that seemed
Real important at the time.


Breakfast at the Marion Motley All-Star Cafe

After the swift sadness of a good book finished
Or a birdie on the eighteenth hole
Dirk digs into the formalities
Of stiffening his heart against a century

Of yesterdays. His nerves prefer the reality
Of cold afternoons alone in the garage
With a fender primed but not painted.

The differences between the large insanities
And the smaller ones swim along the row
Of little labelled jars of nails and screws.

One golden hour of filing blades, patching tin
And crimping lead shot onto twenty pound test
Lets Dirk face a lack of children and allows him
To take up a task suited to his strength.


Mean Streets

Days we’d flip the songs
on the juke box at the Don’s Burger Villa
in the heart of the heart
of Silicon Valley looking for Little Walter
and His Night Cats
walking the dog down from Memphis or Chicago,
surviving on chili cheese dogs
and a frenzy of aphoristic density.

Nights, when we could no longer
count on television
for the clear expression of mixed emotions,
we blew a lot of second chances
on misty champagne kisses
aspiring to the condition of music.


Ground Control to Major Tom

In an age
            When the poets have plenty of Language
                                                            But no longer hear voices

                                                And have no more need for truck stops or bookstores
                        And the musicians have long ago ceased
                                    To concern themselves with moving air

Certain prophets arrive on a warm fluke
                                    A gust of blood alcohol, fully prepared
            As the weather in Phoenix becomes more

                                                                                    Like that in Houston.
Weather girls and middle-aged men staring at screens
                        Feel that the general rise in relative humidity

                                                Foreshadows a new ice age, an age that demands
            The air be refrigerated rather than pushed
                                                            Down through the house and out the windows

                        And advise a return to tin cans tethered by string.
                                    The umbilical tether is all, just ask
                                                Those Apollo guys or their Hitchcock blonde wives

            The window, and not the thumb
Cut and riveted into tempered steel, stronger
                                    Than reentry fire or the Indian Ocean, framing

                                                            Galaxies in eight inches by twelve
                                                                        Is what makes us human, separates us from monkeys
            Or dogs. In even the most minty fresh epochs

                                    A solid image of nature, like a little black dress
            Or your teacher’s sightless skull, never goes
Out of style. Seeing, again and again, and a six pack

Of Lone Star Beer cooling in the refrigerator,
                        Is believing.

John Glenn.


Havana Moon

The Library of Congress calls my editor
To ask if I’m the guy with my name
Who wrote Space Aliens From the Pentagon.
I say no but in the year I was born Billie Holliday died
Fidel Castro drove Michael Corleone from Cuba
And in 1969, for instance, the year Miles Davis
Made Bitches Brew, the year before
My two cousins died one from cystic fibrosis
The other in Cambodia, I lost three weeks
Allowance on the Orioles and five years later
A hundred bucks I’d made selling Panama Red
Cut into baggies with oregano to mothers in trailer parks
And three junior high school kids
On the best jai-alai player in all of Mexico City.
They were both sure things.
That same year they say a man walked on the moon.
You tell me, I saw it in black and white stoned
For the first time by my cousin home
Between tours and my other cousin
Who ate the dope in brownies for the pain
In our grandparent’s house on a clear night in La Porte
Dangling at the other end of Highway 49 from Houston
The city that tethers astronauts.
Some Friday nights in the early years
Of the Gemini Project my father, whose father gave him
My name, would come home
Full of Texas Instruments codes
To our Sharpstown rambler before Frank Sharp
Pioneered the bleeding of widows’ pensions
Paving the way for Senator Glenn and the Keating Five
And pile us all, my mother, my cousins and me
Into the Plymouth headed south.
We tumbled like puppies in the back seat
Past the bobbing duck derricks and the refined stink
Of crude transmuted into the acorns of working class cancer
Breathing across Pasadena and Deer Park, the moon
Shimmering oily orange, too young to cut my cousin
Any slack on her soggy lungs scratching for breath
Past Corpus Christi as I fell asleep across her
Bony girl hips and her brother’s smooth chest.
Saturday morning sun off the bay found us stacked like cord wood
Across my aunt’s round movie star bed
In the house of three roofs.
In that house my people swelled with the audacity
Of weather prediction. With the zeal
Of fishermen or Mission Control they would stalk squalls, twisters
And wind direction with binoculars, weather vanes
And CB radios, track Beulah, Carla, Edith
God’s furious daughters hacking across the Gulf of Mexico
On my grandfather’s tesselated three color charts. His calm
Refusal even as the waves were spraying upstairs windows
To take to higher ground unless his taut vectors
Revealed a coherent conspiracy of wind, his faith
In the view from a weather satellite, his cold
And unadorned love for hurricanes
As everything that daily life was not
Gave him the logic and daring of an inside trader, made him
The deft and centered eye in a room of distracted innocents
Trying to make some rough sense
Of the jostling Gulf of Mexico.
On days more ordinary
Days of still funnel skies or cloudless humidity bearing
Down like a vice squeezing any music from the mirror bay
Before anyone could say no we were past the bench
Where my grandfather, named like a King
For his father and his son, killed one beer
For each tanker that crossed the afternoon horizon,
Down the grassy hill to the pier that grew more stunted
Each time a hurricane ripped the shingles.
And we went down to the boat
The keel buffing gently against flaccid tires
Barely bobbing in a glassy bay
Like an ice cube in a tumbler of whiskey.
The oil leaking from the outboard Evinrude
Coiled through the water like the hissing smoke from green wood.
On the day my father asked my mother to marry him
He went down to that boat
Set bow against white caps, forth on the godly gulf
Bearing his woman across the bay
To Galveston
Wooing as the crow flies like Cuba from Florida.
Driving, you have to cross
A bridge from Seabrook worthy of Lake Ponchartrain
To crawl past the drugstores and retirement homes
Wheezing with Atlantic City nostalgia
But from the reedy beach where my father wedged the boat
And spread a Mexican blanket, the horizon of hotels
His cheap champagne and the scattered salsa notes
Could still conjure Havana before the revolution.
It’s an island that leads with a nose bandaged by a seawall
Giving safe haven to a palimpsest of life
Outside of history—it is an island
Of concentric recollection, of landlords and lawgivers, Jean Lafitte
Privateer and lonely patriot
Who sold slaves by the hundreds to Jim Bowie
And later as the Republic’s governor left the earth
Bitter and scorched for the brief
Visits of General Gordon Granger on Juneteenth
Bringing emancipation three years late after one last
Cotton harvest—Sinatra, Tony Bennet and the Marx Brothers
When the Maceo brothers ran the Balinese room at the end of a long pier
That bought the time to turn roulette into gin
Rummy before the heat
Could find the back room until the Texas Rangers
(The cops not the baseball team that was once
The Washington Senators bought
By a future president named for his president
Daddy (who as CIA director imported the coke
His son would have to deny) with Harken board
Stock sold before the bottom fell out, you
Do the math) planted a guy
And busted the place
The night the mob kids in shiny suits with rolls of tens and twenties
Brought their civilian snapper school chums
From St. Thomas and St. Agnes
In white socks and their daddy’s scuffed wing tips
And my parents tasted rum and coke for the first time
And bet twenty one black just like that couple in Casablanca
And held hands all night in the holding cell
Six years to the day
Before I was conceived at dusk on the beach in the shadow
Of the stub of the Balinese pier beaten gray
Like Sputnik. If Castro’s curveball had had a little more bite
Africa would have fewer doctors and Bobby Kennedy
Would have been President when the black and white
RCA in my grandmother’s sewing room
Brought the Miracle Mets into the house
Just like the pipes brought flouride and the mail
Brought draft notices. The night before she died
My cousin and I lay side by side on the twilight grass
Facing Galveston Bay breathing shallow
And talking about some hippies who were going
To levitate the Pentagon, just enough no doubt
To let the aliens slip in. She said she wanted to go
And I said shouldn’t you wait until your brother comes home
And her fingertips brushed my knee and she told me
She was in love with him, wanted to lay with him
Just once before she died and her chuckle about
Bequeathing her broken double helix to children
With tails collapsed into a rib wracking cloud of phlegm
And I could only hold her hand, couldn’t bring myself
To tell her about all those small secret steps
That became Frank Robinson’s giant leap
From the loneliest man in right field
To the swift purveyor of judgement without mercy
All those small steps we never even notice
Like all those things Miles Davis listened so hard to leave out
Leading to the giant leap into a world where Don Clendenon
And Ron Swoboda could never be anything
More than holograms and when the hacking relented
She asked me if I didn’t think that maybe
Somehow everybody was related and I said
Tonight we are all descended from pirates.

William Slaughter, Editor
Department of English & Foreign Languages
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645


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Contents | Mudlark No. 21 (2002)