Jim never found out how she could do that thing, cos he moved away from that town, and where he moved it smelled bad. Xenia, Ohio. I mean the air smelled bad on account of the refinery and that’s where his dad got a job as an engineer. The huge oil tanks at the refinery. This was the sixties, before the EPA, and air pollution meant money. He didn’t talk about his work all that much, he’d just come home and watch the news on TV. It was Vietnam back then and he can still remember the sound the choppers made on TV. Years later he heard them in real life and they didn’t sound NOTHING like they did on TV. There was a lot of talk in school should we be there, but it really didn’t seem to matter, cos night after night, he’d still see people getting killed on TV anyway.
One night, he sat next to this guy that looked like Adam West – he played Batman on TV – and found the conversation galling.
If Jim remembers right, if his memory serves him well, his life back then was one long party where every book was wide open, where all hearts kept flowing. But he ran away from the witches that invaded his brain like overwrought iron, manacling his thoughts and memories of night and visions of remembered misery and the hated lies that he thought were disinterred like husking shells left on some tumid teeming beach in the fading starlight of gnashed dreams and broken-toothed shards of lost angst and desecrated definitions of poorly described sentences. You were there, so you know what I’m talking about. We meet and wait like paving blocks with nothing to do, resting in midnight’s rain beneath a solitary streetlight. Jim resigns himself to a similar fate, but with one main difference: he’s indifferent to he wind’s shift, to the gull’s cry, to the harlequins that stalk us at the edge of town, where the itinerant circus has pitched its tents and the wine flows like tears in our basement. But enough….we are sensible men and women, and this insane haberdashery shouldn’t concern us. But it does nevertheless, yes? The editor is on his death-bed, sick, and the summer is rising and the fish are imperiled by rusting shackles. The ice thins as Jim sips his drink, sold down the forest by angry, listless wolves who are never the way they present themselves, suffixed by lies and cowering when the truth calls….which Jim understands even if you don’t.
Jim wakes up in a mood most complacent. His mood of
late is like coffee and oranges on a sunny chair, which explains
his complacency. Or not. He is, like his friend and drinking
buddy Wally Stevens says, “the green freedom of a cockatoo
upon a rug.” Although he has no fucking idea what the fuck
he is talking about, this makes a lot of sense to Jim. Or not.
It’s like that time when he was in Jerusalem, back in ’71.
The holy hush of the old walled city at night was like some
weird voodoo ancient sacrifice. That night, in the dark, Jim
had his recurring catastrophic dream that of an orange light
over the green wings of a dead cockatoo. Not only one
cockatoo, though – an endless procession of dead cockatoos,
winding across a wide lake, soundless except for the scraping
of their feet.
He awoke in a sweat. All Palestine was silent in the early
morning sun. The sky looked like blood to him. He thought
about the bounty that was hanging over his head like some
divine shadow. Or was still the dream?
Jim is now living in Portland, Maine, surrounded by the
creature comforts with which a mid-level insurance executive
surrounds himself with. At night, he sits in his barcalounger,
tall glass of vodka in his hand, watching TV, thinking back to
that pungent green night in Jerusalem when he was raptured
by the balm and beauty of the earth and the things he used to
cherish. But, like Wally says when he is deep in his vodka,
“Divinity must live with herself.” Again, Jim has no clue. But
he does, and this passioned clue, mixed with the freezing
rainy night outside the bar, mixed with their grieving in their
mutual loneliness and the subdued gusts of the flowering
blooms that will no doubt come in May cloak them in painful
pleasure on this cold autumn night, he remembers the boughs
of summer and the winter branch, or was that an idea planted
by Stevens? No matter.
You see, dear reader, Jim measures his destiny in
soul-filled measurements, and this will never change.
The opening is strong, a beautiful testimony to perceived beauty and harsh reality. Jim nevertheless enters the room. He looks out the window. The weather is beautiful: spring (or is it autumn?), and, as you know, the things that clog his brain with inflo-glut are so paradoxically wonderful that he has no choice but to reflexively fall on your sword and air his sucking wound, all the time the leaves turning crimson as the grass dews in the meadow and the turncoats turn like whirling dervishes and the warmth that Jim feels leaves his fire like some incandescent chariot. Some jerk put a smoke bomb in the fireplace and Jim can’t watch TV anymore, now that his ladder’s broken, so he must get by in the darkness by reciting flowery prose and like, “Oh, God! You should have been with me yesterday when I finished my ham and eggs and knocked back some whiskey!”
Jim wishes to God that he wasn’t here. You were here once, but that was long ago and this memory is so awful that you’ve erased it from your mind. Jim doesn’t have this luxury. He can no longer eradicate anything from his brain. Every thought, every sensation clings like a clogged drain.
It is autumn, as you know, and nothing is as it was. The trees are beginning to die. It hasn’t rained all summer and into October. But still it is so wonderful to be out in the crisp drought.
The dead fall air, with the leaves turning gold and the grass turning brown, and the cold warmth of the sun feels like victory.
But it is a Pyrrhic one.
He sees that no matter what he does here that it does not matter. He tried to escape once. The guards caught him and beat him about his kidneys with big thick branches. He peed blood for weeks. He seems to do nothing but watch TV. The news is full of personal interest stories, but they never have a good ending. The days get shorter and shorter and darkness comes so soon and all the flowers die from freezing. The days are too long with nothing to do.
Jim is in Vermont again enjoying the beautiful weather with you…it is autumn…but you know that…and things are beginning to die and this is not a cruel thing…it is so wonderful to be out in the gold fall air with the leaves turning crisp and the warmth going out of the grass and the sunlight turning turning brown and unwarm and Jim builds a big hot fire in the fireplace while you rake the lawn. You have the TV on. It’s always on. The days get shorter and shorter and darkness comes so soon… falling hard in a shattery sort of way and all the flowers die from freezing.
Jim wishes you were here to enjoy this beautiful weather…late summer, as you know, and things are full of promise and primeval potential…it’s wonderful to be out in this air with the leaves dark green and the grass lush and the hot warmth a big hot fireplace while he waters the flowers..at night he watches TV, more than he should – much more – he fills his head with it and then dreams of truck bombs and Michael Jackson…the long days are here and the darkness comes so late and all the insects must wait so long to start their whirring noise.
Jim sits in the trailer just lookin out the grimy window at the swirly dust. A dog it howls someplace. The TV is on blarin grimly about God knows what. He works at the factory about ten miles or so from the trailer park. He don’t feel talking about it. When he was in school the teacher said in this great country you can do anythin you set your heart on but Jim he must’ve not set his heart enough or set it in the wrong direction cos he sure din’t set it to be workin in no stinkin factory. He thinks bout his friend Joe Varraciola doin five up at Carson City there for grand theft auto. He went to see him one time. Joe he didn’t look too good. Jail wasn’t wearin too well on him. No big surprise there. Jim he had seen TV shows about prison and if Carson was anything like what he seen on TV no wonder Joe looked like shit.
I wish you were here to enjoy this beautiful weather with me. It is August as you know and things are just at the beginning of death. It is so wonderful to be in this cloying humidity, with the haze growing hazier and the sun’s heat stroking down, and the intense scorch-warmth going insane, crazy in the sunlight and the big hot solar fire in the earth’s fireplace while Patti Smith sings “Because the Night.”
I see a lot of Pakistani bombs on TV, yes, because I watch it a lot more now, more than I should, more than is good for me, yes. I fear that darkness comes will come soon, and all the flowers will die from freezing. Oh, God! You should have been with me yesterday when I finished my coffee and went to my studio with a fierce kind of joy in my heart because I was proud to be an American on a day like this. If felt like a goddamn paradise. You remember that bliss you felt when we were soiled by relentless flashbacks and ghosts too foul to name? Oh no, don’t ask why. You could have been president, but your road was full of forks.