They took us out to green pastures when we were young. Gentle folds of fragrant earth open to us, long warm roads winding to focal points beneath the horizon; wheat fields expansive. Open. Blue skies and the right to die beneath a willow with no one’s name. The dark mysteries of night and the thousand specks that beckoned us to the vast possibilities of life, out here in the frontier land. Textbooks’ covered wagons and dreams imprinted on pupils. Let the pupae bloom their wings. Scythes in our left hands, pens in our right. Honesty: what the mighty fought and died for. Tunes of freedom on the nightly news, red white and blue over the colonies and the untamed West and the Cadillac coupes that flew the ‘50s birds from their nests and the conservative… They pointed at green pastures when we were young. Danced naked unabashed, told us it was in the social fabric. We must not have read the final chapters. We didn’t commit to rote memory the organization of the indexed dates and names and categorical procedures for dictating the proper enunciations of freedom in this valley. We must’ve skipped some pages. There are lights inset behind the fabric of the dome, glow blue day sky; relax and enjoy the childhood spent spa-soaking the suburban expense — the pastures carved in grid-wise greed, stare up at the midnight specks of the dimmed-down lights of the dome. Sweat-shop saunas: success by the width of a hand-held; virtue by the desk jockeys beneath your feet. Climb the tower stairs of gold. Dollars glow neodymium green in shadowed bank vaults on computer screens and this is your pasture — run free. Raised on textbook patriotic histories, speak your tongue free, but know they’ve done no wrong. Your desk in preschool is not your desk in grade school is not your desk in college is not your desk on the fifteenth floor of JP Morgan. Starve now your organs; hear the children dying: In the honest candlelight of shakeboard cabins, breathe more deeply the binding’s glue and forsake the god-damned questioning — What shit still holds this together?
Futility in the pages of decades old poetry, mold in the bindings of our 50-year-old dreams. Do you remember cliff-diving outside of Santa Ana? The strangers we lived with in the woods, new friends from San Francisco. Dancing lost footsteps on the sidewalks’ lyrical chalk, a young folk band busking towards Denver. Making love in our tarp tent to the Magnetic Zeroes; rise to find dawn gilding the hills round Athens, Ohio.
The lyrics to our dreaming lives haven’t changed in 50 years.
Dear Dylan, Dear Kerouac, Dear Ginsberg, Dear Morrison
Because somewhere outside of Asheville we heard the hum, low, monotonous, whir of the processors. We thought we would run forever. One by one friends and lovers in graduation caps and office desks, and the hum of the processors grew louder. So, young and hungry and tired of running, we returned to retrieve our degrees. Fortunes awaited, long careers beneath the microscopes of progress. Happily ever after a fairy tale soundtracked by the clack of the keyboards; the digital hum of the screens.
Bookshelves burn and the inferno splits apart the neon glow we hid in our hearts. Flowers wilt and the passages of love decay. Dreams fall to darkness.
Hold my hand.
Skunked beer spills the counter and soaks into the food. Cans flung at walls, at furniture and doors; cans scatter the floor. Head lolling in lonesome; drunk, happy isolation. Enjoyed for the moment from my kitchen chair. Last week I had a bar-mate tattoo on my chest at random his choice of senseless petroglyphs. I passed out in the dirt at the park, shirtless, inviting Earth into fresh open ink wounds. I woke up to an 8-year-old stealing my shoes. She argued for ownership and I did not contest. It seemed like the price to pay. Because I can’t keep a job and I can’t see your face ever looking pretty in a wedding dress. Sorry, but grocery shopping is for douchebags and I won’t build a crib for a single little person. I am trying to think. Beer cans swept into closets and fist-sized decorative decisions through the drywall. These are the only arrangements I can live with. I am trying to think. My arm sticks to the table, old sweat and PBR, and I can hear the termites eating through the wall. A moment of awareness, crystal and pure, and what I hear are the termites eating through the fucking wall. My chest is paper-thin, eyes wide and skull gaping like the crust of an orange lava flow. Brain matter exposed. Walk through the house crushing beer cans under boots, finding furniture insufficiently destroyed. Shelves dashed to the ground, chairs smashed on the walls, throw myself on the table till I shatter to the floor. There are a dozen points of bright starlight on my naked bleeding body. Sore and abraded. And broken: these twelve points of starlight feel warm and intense. I am only your symptom. But I can honestly attest that the purpose of reality is no longer ours.
You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.
The chain breaks at one of two ends. I’m certain I have the world in my hands but can’t make it to stand two whole days without imploding. The gift-wrapped box in the sky with bow-ties engraved with my name, I can have it: in the land of the free in the 21st century, any one of us can have it (supposedly). The night sky hides 10 billion galaxies the world can’t yet see, just waiting for someone with the perseverance to reach long enough and grab it — a whole new realm of possibilities. The imagination isn’t separate from reality; they’re in the same box. Today I was on the phone for two hours trying to pay six different bills to eight different companies. I washed dishes and shoveled the driveway. I looked at my kid and couldn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be reading just to pass the time. If life is a puzzle it disintegrates just the same. Just like in a movie, when a typewriter flies down a flight of stairs, the slow-motion bursting scatters little springs and keys in an upward shower of catharsis. Thoughts of self-castration are not far from mind. I could’ve been a fucking Jedi.
We found ourselves along the lakeside at dawn, no sounds but the birds and the gentle words you whispered to me. You wouldn’t come with me to Boulder. Suitcases stuck in the corner of your closet that I’ve been living out of; the thought of crawling in there for another 6 months made my stomach itch with spiders. I wanted to strangle you, for the catharsis, a stress test around your neck to hear you scream because, after all, hurting you hurts me — there is one thing I can feel and I feel it beautifully. The one person I thought I wouldn’t live without has changed her dreams, and fallen asleep without me. We sit in the sod and you open your palm. No hard feelings? I want to throw my shoes in the lake, throw my cellphone and my notebooks and my wallet into the lake. I would rather destroy every last thing, shoulder a single little bag and walk heart-heavy across the plains to Boulder. I don’t want to flee; I want to brood my time in peace. I want solitude — from you and your parents, from my future, and from any responsibility. I never loved you: you put your palm back in your lap and look out at the lake. Did you hear me? No, I didn’t, fuck you. She should never have expected me to stay. I expected me to stay. We made love in the fishing boats off the docks; we drank most nights and slept long days in the hammock behind her aunt’s. We wasted weekends downtown at the cafes. We took off our skin and let each other in, and were always foolish to think I could stay. The beauty of these months we’ve spent, it was always meant to be looked back at, a memory of what was had and what we regret.
I hear echoes in the walls, the rattlings of a voiceless savior. Bills pinned to the pantry, I can only sit here and drink and clear my head enough to think that maybe there’s a way to clean the water from our floors. It’s been pooling here a while, coming up to our shins, late nights home from work up in four hours for the next commute. You come home in the mornings sometimes from a bar and find me sleeping on the couch, curled in sweatshirts under blankets. The crib in the bedroom is quiet, swaying gently, and you feel the child’s forehead just to know he isn’t ice. We’ll have a tax return soon to buy heat and more booze. Anything to stay warm and hear the echoes in the walls.
Dreams tend to ferment in vats of wasting time.
You didn’t see me cry as I drove home from work. You didn’t answer your phone, when all I needed was for you to ask if I was okay; I spent some money for gas and spent the rest on a six-pack, got drunk by myself with the child in his crib and for a moment I forgot there was no larger point to this. Than to let the cold water creep onto the bed, fill the fridge, and the pantry, and the cabinets. But for the kid that cries in the crib, when mommy and daddy are too tired and drunk to get up out of bed.
I swear we’ll never win.
You didn’t get a degree when you had the chance. I never had the chance. Sweat labor’s honest work but it doesn’t feed the house. Nor the bureaucratic mouths, with financial attention – I didn’t tell you I almost punched the clerk at the DMV. There’s another hundred-dollar fee to have our registration reinstated, which we may be able to pay once the water goes down. But it won’t go down. The good graces of the landlord wearing thin, the favors of your parents overdrawn, and a car in the driveway that won’t turn-over, the water won’t go down.
I sit here at night too tired to cry, and drink until I’m crazy enough to think there’s a way we’ll get by; that there’s a reason for us to try.
A voiceless savior rattles in the walls, and the heat vents are filled with just echoes.