Yang Shaobin, 1961. ”Fighting No. 3” Oil on canvas.
They see the violence. They talk about the blood and how the cut eyelid hung away from the face like a broken leaf gutter. They talk about the mouth and all of its shades. They say the skin was painted with knuckles and hard places and i’ll never forget how you look like this, now, forever. They ask “why” to you. You, with a face finally worth paying attention to, finally. They demand to know why you are ruining their carpet. They never say “quiet now, rest, sit with your blood until it thickens and we will all take turns stitching.” They never ask “who”.
W A L T S A Y S O H N O # 4
"When the cat’s away, the mice will play."
I was once on 3 different layers of intoxicants in the city of Anaheim trying not to die or kill anyone. It was a weird night. It was the kind of night that pulses from the in and out, the blink-sober-fucked of almost too many, of drugs and liquor and the blah blah blah.
I was driving a stranger’s car.
I met these strangers a few hours prior. These strangers, at one point, asked me to drop off their son at his ROTC gala, and I agreed because they couldn’t. As soon as I did, the son appeared at the top of the stairwell like a glimmering apparition, a ghost of a young veteran coming home. I had no idea he was in the house. They, the strangers, provided the layers of intoxicants and the boy looked excited and nervous so I felt obligated to follow through.
The night was lit with fireworks and we cruised through the wide roads, the boy and I. The boy, dressed in a toy soldier uniform, sat quietly in the back. The magic castle and it’s epic parking lots loomed in the background like a cornered animal stuffed on baked goods and meat and wanting more. I turned on the radio and then turned it off. I needed to focus. We were so quiet during the ride you could hear the rotations on the tire grinding against the road and the soft explosions of Disneyland’s closing until…
When I ran over a cat, the boy, with his freshly polished medals for practiced kills and tying knots and perfect attendance and whatever the fuck- the only time he spoke out loud, a few minutes before he rushed out the car and dove into the swarm of his friends, yelling their names into the blank night, he said “I won’t tell. Kill all of them for all I care…”
Anaheim is a strange and magical place. True story.
Mr. Side Eye Gorilla:
"Look at this dude. Pulling snot out his nose like he’s alone on his couch or something. I can’t be this dude’s friend anymore. I don’t care that he has HBO. Game of Thrones is not worth this shit. Oh, OK, he has to look at it first before he eats it. Alright. It’s official. I hate this motherfucker."
When I was child I went to my first and only cock fight. I remember it all. The smell of kicked up dirt. The squawks and whipping sounds of wings beating the air. The yelling. I remember all of it. The shit was nuts.
The great Jose Rizal wrote a lil’ something about it: http://www.aenet.org/cockfight/cockpit.htm
Jeepney. My uncle drove one. It was adorned with a Mercedes Benz emblem the size of a cow’s head at the front. It looked awesome. Hand drawn Nike swooshes and swaths of color and more logos that had no business being there covered every inch. The word “AirCon” curved above each wheel well. Christmas lights and swinging adornments hung along the edge of the open-air cabin like a disco nativity scene. Above that- each letter painstakingly a different color, his route. Everything about my Uncle’s Jeepney was so bright and the colors so busy that it looked like it never stayed still even in the smoothest idle. In the back, where the passengers entered, in capital letters, painted with a deep black, our last name. It was my favorite part.
He was always fixing it.
#NPSOAK is in Full Swing If you want to get your tickets early (which we recommend) head over to Event Brite and save money by getting your early bird passes now!
Information about the tournament and host hotel is available at NationalPoetrySlam.com
I’ll be flying up to this crazy event to act a like a filthy animal… and also to ruin your mornings…and to make your parents worries valid…and to eat at Soley Vegan for every meal. (And to listen to poems or whatever.)
Dive in. Don’t move away from the storm- move inside it. Please, I beg you. Just a few more inches, just a second more- the trouble, the held breathes, stay there for awhile and you will become a monument of calm. I promise. It takes courage but I know you and you hold the strength of nature in you. All will be quiet when you get there. And the noise that shook you down to the bone and blood, the noise that drowned you, the noise that filled you with a snapping fear, will leave. I promise. Look back on it with fond memories one day.
"Remember that one time when I showed this harsh world how tall I can stand even when it was eating me alive…"
(This story was first published in the anthology “Obit” put out by the Australian press Pure Slush in March of 2013. The obituary that appears in the story was the actual prompt from the publishers.)
Everything aches. My skin, from jaw to foot, droops like wet paper. I’m gettin’ ol’. I am ol’. But really, what i’m really concerned about are my hands. I use to be proud of ‘em- my hands. Now they are all bone and scars and curl up in pain whenever I use ‘em for too long. The headaches are gettin’ worse too but the real trouble is- what is a man if he can’t hold on to things he needs to hold on to.
I have worked for the Sleepy Hollow Cementary for 40 odd years and I think it’s time I retire my mop. I ain’t specialized or nothing like the other folks here. I’m what you might call a Handy-Man. Whatever the Sleepy Hollow needs fixin’ or cleanin’, I clean and fix. The pay ain’t good but it’s enough. I got a room I rent behind Ms. Martha’s place at the edge of Tarrytown and I ain’t got much family to speak of, so I don’t mind that slim check I get every week since I just pay for myself and all. Mind you, I ain’t retiring any time soon on account I got a few more blocks left in these old shoes but one day I will. One day i’ll put that mop away and never have to smell that stinky thing again.
Ned the boss told me yesterday that ol’ Webster Murphy Allen is coming back to town in a pine box and we got the pleasure of stuffin’ him in the ground. Knowing Webster, that pine box will be the prettiest, most expensive thing this bone yard has ever seen. I’ve been knowing for a few days now about Webster on account of his obituary that’s been sitting in my back pocket. It’s damn near invisible because of how many times I’ve read it. The man, I’ll give it to him, led some kind of life. I damn near have his obituary to memory:
Webster Murphy ALLEN, 87, of New York City, died May 1, 2012, during a vacation with his wife, Esther McDonald Allen, 85, and their grandson, Theodore Murphy Rice, 21, of Portland, Oregon, in Toronto, Canada.
Mr. Allen was born April 14, 1925, in London, England, to Richard and Emily (Smith) Allen. He was the third of four children, and after the birth of his sister, the family moved to New York City, where Mr. Allen remained until his death. Mr. Allen’s father, Richard, was an investment banker.
Mr. Allen attended Tarrytown High School in New York, and continued his education at Yale University, graduating in 1948 with a degree in communications. After, Mr. Allen attended Harvard University, graduating in 1952 with a juris doctor degree. While attending Harvard University, Mr. Allen met Esther McDonald, who was matriculating at Radcliffe College. The two were married in 1953, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before the Allens relocated to New York City.
Mr. Allen began his career as a lawyer as an associate at the firm of Smith, Stearns, and McKeen, where Mr. Allen remained until opening his own firm, Allen and Sons, in 1971, though the only Allen child to enter the practice as an associate was his daughter, Marianne.
Mr. Allen’s three sons – Webster, Junior, Sam and Robert – pursued careers in finance, education, and philanthropy, respectively.
After retiring from his firm in 1991, the Allens enjoyed several trips around the world, and had homes in Switzerland, Puerto Rico, and Savannah, Georgia, where Esther Allen was born, and where her family remains.
Mr. Allen enjoyed watching baseball and football, playing Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, and spending time with his family. The Allens were season ticket holders at the Metropolitan Opera, and patrons of the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Philharmonic.
Mr. Allen is survived by his wife; two brothers – Philip Allen and Marshall Allen – and their spouses – Crystal Allen and Meghan Amos-Allen; one sister, Mercy Allen; two sons – Webster, Junior and Sam – and their spouses – Meredith and Michael; one daughter, Marianne Rothson; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Arrangements are with Callahan Brothers Funeral Home in New York City. A private viewing will precede a public service on May 5, 2012. Mr. Allen will be interred at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mr. Allen’s name to Look Before You Leap, the charity his son, Robert DeMary Allen, founded before his death in 2001.
I ain’t goin’ to lie to ya, I hate the bastard and I’m not sorry he’s dead. The only thing I’m sorry about is that it took the lord almighty this damn long to figure it out. If the man kicked the bucket 30 years ago it would’ve been not soon enough. Now I hate to speak ill of the dead and I’m sure his family is going through it right now but the man, from birth, was nothing but a mean dog.
You can say we grew up together. You can say it. Webster was older than I was by a handful of years. He was about a foot taller as well. Don’t get me wrong, I was picked on by everyone in town on account of my natural god damn condition, but ol’ Webby was especially cruel.
I remember the first time I met him too. How can I forget? It was the day everything changed. I was sitting by myself, behind the church on York St., flipping through a picture book and before I know it, a foot comes flying by my head. It came so close I could smell the rubber from it and its last three steps. I look up and there he is, standing above me like a storm, laughing- that white boy was frothing.
“Hey Nigger boy. What you doing with that book? You’re kind is too dumb to read.”
“I wasn’t readin’ it. I was jus’ lookin’ at the pictures. And I ain’t dumb.”
“Nigger boy, I’m going to have to take this book from you because of that attitude problem you got. You probably stole it anyway.”
“I didn’t steal it and no, you are not.”
Apparently I shouldn’t have said that because after I said it, he picked his foot up and kicked me square in my face. The force of his kick smashed the back of my head against the cement real hard on account that I was sittin’ down with my back flat against the wall, you see. I don’t remember much about that day after that. They tell me I was in some kind of coma and I was out for almost a week. When I finally did wake up, I was in the hospital- the old one on Rainer Street, not the new fancy one on Heath, and the police was there too. Mind you, I was but a small boy, no bigger than a stack of books, been unconscious for a few days, and these police got me tied down to the bed!
“Boy, you up?”
“Boy, we were told you attacked young Mr. Allen without provocation and in order to defend himself he pushed you and you then fell and hit your head. Is this correct?”
“No, sir. He was the one who…”
“Boy, that’s not what we wanted to hear. Mr. Allen is on his way to Yale University this coming Fall. He is one of the brightest kids we got in Tarrytown. We know he wasn’t the one who started this.”
“But sir, I didn’t do…”
“Shut up. Can you read?”
“Can you write?”
“A lil’. I know how to write where I live and my name…Where are my parents?”
“They’re outside and they can’t come in just yet. You know how to write your name, huh?”
“Well then, how about you write your name on this paper and everything will be fine.”
Boy oh boy. Puttin’ my ol’ John Hancock on that damn paper was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Let me tell you this right now and take it as a damn fact: the police and Webster Murphy Allen sold me up a rough, awful river. Not but two weeks later, I was sent to some trouble boy’s home further up state. Probably because they thought I was going to tell the damn truth sooner or later. So because everyone who I’ve never met a second before said I was guilty of getting my head kicked in and I needed to be reformed because of it. I still shake my head over it when I get to really thinking about it. I get to this place, the Juvenile detention and it was 5 long buildings across and all of them had dingy white walls with loud echoes, and on the first night I got beat up. I tell myself that if they try it again somebody is going to leave this place feet forward and lying down, you know, so guess what happens? They tried again the next day and I put up such a fight that they pretty much left me alone after that. The folks who ran the place had other ideas, though. They kept on me and wouldn’t let me be. They said I was nothing but trouble. They threw me in what we called “the straps” a few times but it really wasn’t that bad if you really got to thinking about everyone pretty much left you alone ‘til they pulled you out.
The people runnin it up there didn’t give a rat’s ass ‘bout us kids. They didn’t even give us any type of schooling and they barely fed us crumbs. It was the worst. I kept runnin’ away on account they didn’t believe I needed any medicine for my headaches and the awful treatment in general. They thought I was just joshing ‘em and tryin’ to get sympathy. After that year up north they sent me back here to T-Town and, let me tell you, I already felt like I lost at everything. Every year after my return, especially right here in this here neighborhood, I was treated like some damn criminal or some worthless bucket of mud who was going to spill the beans and ruin their Golden Boy…or go nuts. I didn’t, of course. I just lived.
My life has just been one downward spiral up a large hill. But that’s okay now, I’ve made my peace and I’ve had a few laughs along the way. Nobody ever apologized and I never asked for one. A man needs to keep shoveling shit until the path is clear, you know?
Tomorrow they bring in Webster Murphy Allen’s body. Tomorrow will be the first time I’ve seen him since he messed up my head and ruined my life. Everybody around this here Cementary actin’ like some big shot is coming back home and they gettin’ everything extra nice and clean. Fresh flowers and soap buckets everywhere. I’d rather cut my hands off then clean for that man. But nonetheless, I can’t wait to see him.
There’s perks to being the Handy-Man in a bone yard. I have keys to the gate and nobody says a damn thing if I’m wondering through the dead lanes by myself with a shovel. So if I wanna, and not saying I will, but if I wanna, on the darkest night, on May 6th for instance, I can dig up some mean, ol’ dog’s grave and I can open that mean, ol’ dog’s pretty pine box and I can whisper in his dead damn ears, “You’re welcome, you son of a bitch. It’s because of me you lived the life you had. It’s because of me you got you a pretty wife and spoiled kids. It’s because of me you own more homes than I have shoes. And it’s because of me, for the rest of your death, every year I’m going to find the meanest, angriest, and hungriest rat, and bury that animal with you until you are nothing left but what it shits out.” If I wanna.