“The blues, is a low-down achin’ heart disease
Like consumption, killing me by degrees”
– Robert Johnson –
Johnson sang that in his song Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil). And brother I do believe he was singing about me. How a poor black man in the Mississippi delta back in 1936 could have done this? Well I suppose we both done went down to the crossroads and made our deal. And the Devil has his price you got to pay.
You know the blues when you got them. It ain’t just a cloudy day or a bit of disappointment. It’s a low feeling that creeps in on you and makes itself at home, wrapping its cold fingers around your heart. Taking whatever it pleases and laughing at you when you try to fight it off. It wins…It always wins. My blues will win. Maybe sooner rather than later. Who knows. I just know I am hanging in between living and the other thing. That’s the blues man, it don’t shake down and go away. It is a life.
Lately I have been thinking on God, the nature of man and the weapons we build when we sleep just inches away. I want to believe in God, I do man. I have seen miracles and had hope wash in on a black place. But that was long ago. God seems to have moved on. Maybe like Job he laid a 20 to 1 odds on my ass and the other fellow won. And if anyone has his price to exact it’s God…Think of the Sopranos but with stained glass windows and chants.
As for man. Well here’s the dice as they fell. You’re mostly fucked…No it’s okay. You are. That’s just it. Most of you are discouraging and frightening. I find you baffling and questionable. I like you sometimes too, that’s the scary part. Like petting a tiger. It’s soft and the sensation is wonderful, but you just never know when it’ll turn. And you know them teeth and them claws will gut you sure as shooting.
And then there’s those things, the things we do to each other. Things in the name of love, heartbreak, justice, lust and Sunday mornings. How we cut into ourselves. Ol’ van Gogh was just more literal than most. But I’ve cut out pieces of me and dropped them in butcher paper to give as an offering to someone I wanted to see me bleed. A bloody mess left in the lap of one quite incredulous. Only to find out later that the choice cuts were to be made against my will. It all sounds like burnt offerings and the smell of sex left hanging in a room, the bedding in a heap on the floor and a strange look of astonishment on our faces. Ah beauty, it’s hideous and grotesque!
So there I stand. Fucking empty. A broken vase. Really, that’s a great description. A vase serves no purpose really, except to hold something. Flowers or sins, you see. And when you break one, there’s no reason to keep it around. At least that’s how I feel. So I continue to linger, feeling like a ghost. No one sees me till I make my presence known. And them that seek me out tend to do so out of fascination or mortification. Some experience to relate later around your kin and kind. About the time he did this thing you won’t believe.
Spending my hours alone, trying to commit myself to life. To stay put, to stick to some material thing because that’s what’s expected. But constantly wanting to be free. To fly away, to know what it’s like to feel the absence of chains, grief and the burden of languages.
Someone tell me it’s going to be alright…I dare you!
Hey you…out there on your own…
The ghosts are here this evening. They want to talk. So who am I to tell them to go and be silent.
Today I thought much about my father and what he might think of how this all turned out. I thought about a girl I loved and where she might be now. How she smiled and the way we made the world disappear while standing in a supermarket. I thought of my little brother, how he was always there when we were kids and how I figured he always would be. My whole world is sort of spinning off and away, finding it’s trajectory far from me.
I wonder if this happens to everyone as they get older? Is what makes a man go silent and still?
But mostly I remember a few years back. Maybe more than I care to count. About this time of year. When I was “of no fixed address” and I was in a bad, bad way. I had pneumonia and an infection in my sinuses and throat. My stomach was bleeding and I was constantly vomiting. And no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find a place to lay down and let the sickness take it’s course, kill or cure. And at the time I couldn’t have given a damn either way. I wound up being taken to the hospital by a Salvation Army officer. But the hospital gave me medication and turned me out. They didn’t want the likes of me hanging around. And I certainly wasn’t going to take an offer of shelter from the Sally Ann because I had drugs to do and death to taunt.
But the truth is I was exhausted. When I say this I mean truly exhausted. Not like I am at the end of a week at work or the way you might be after a tough day. I was shutting down and I had nothing in reserve. In no heroic way I would have gladly accepted dying.
And to make matters worse, my lying, conning and ripping and running had isolated me from everyone I knew. I was one sorry cowboy. My mule had taken off for the horizon and left me behind.
Somehow I discovered that if you kept your mouth shut, didn’t stick out too much and maybe talked to the priest or holy type that approached you in a polite and respectful way you could sit in most Catholic churches for as long as you’d like. Even take naps. Occasionally a priest would come out and even take pity on me and let come back into the kitchen and get some tea and a rest in a lounge.
Well one night I was sitting in the sanctuary of one of the older downtown churches and I noticed people coming in a praying and lighting candles after dropping coins in a little box affixed to the side of the candle racks. I knew a bit about faith and religious customs and figured they were asking for blessings, grace and indulgences.
In my weak and ill state I searched my pocket and found some change and decided I’d go over and light a candle too. Maybe I’d feel better about being there. And if I was lighting a candle anyway, why not add in a prayer and make it official.
I got up dropped in my change and then prayed and I said what amounts to this “Hey God, listen I figure you got no use for the likes of me. In fact I probably am nothing more than a lesson for others to learn from. One of those cautionary tales. Look out or you’ll wind up like that loser. Well anyhow I got nothing going for me. And I doubt I ever will. But maybe if you could just give me a break and get me out of this, maybe if you could forgive me for all the bad I’ve done. Well maybe that’d be okay. Just you know get me out of this deep dark place I’m in. Amen Goodbye and Farewell.”
I’d like to say the next day it happened. I found some glorious response. And all got better and better, day after day.
But the truth is it didn’t. It got worse. I nearly died. I got more lost. I ended up fucking up in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.
There was no miracle.
Eventually though I did get better. I did get out. I did find a way. And guess what?
I blew it again.
Somehow I would pull up and out each time only to fall back again. To make a mess, to hurt someone, to lose it all again. Leaving a trail of good intentions and bad decisions long behind me.
And so I got to where I sort of expect no matter how good it gets, it’ll all fall down once again. If you kick a dog every time you feed him he’ll come to expect it. He’ll take the kick just to eat. But he’ll go mean and squirrely and probably never be the type of dog anyone wants for a pet.
Call me that dog. I ain’t saying it is anyone’s fault but mine. I am my worst enemy.
But I think I am reaching a point where I wonder if maybe I blew it. Maybe I should have never lit that candle, never said that prayer. Or the thousand others after where I said I am sorry and asked for a little help. Maybe I messed up my exit plan. Why the hell would any God or man want to keep giving me the legs to stand up when he knows they’ll just go weak eventually?
I have lost more than I ever had. But I have had more than I ever deserved.
I have seen love like a great big sun in a world where many go through a whole life alone and lonely. Man I have awoken to the soft eyes of a woman beside me, I could see in them that I was perfect.
I have been places and done things only the strongest and bravest can go. And come back to tell the stories. I have contraband and mythology. I have a brilliant vocabulary to tell the stories with.
And my God! I have been there to hear the first cry of my little girl. To hold her with shaking hands and sob with absolute gratitude and joy. When so many never get that chance or never appreciate it.
There is beauty and gifts in the world. I have seen and received that most of the moving things around me never see because they’re just shallow ponds and no great currents there run. I have been struck weak by the beauty of art. Made small by the magnificence of nature and made wise by the words of those before me.
But here it is man. Here’s the small print.
I am here alone again. I am not even sure if this time I chose it or it was thrust upon me. And I am living a life I don’t want any part of anymore.
I’m looking for an out. To take back my prayer.
And I think maybe this is all some crazy self-indulgent crap. So I will just shut up now. I said my piece. Silence is better used.
“The screen door slams
Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me”
– Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen –
Man if that ain’t poetry then nothing is. I am always so struck dumb by the lyrics of early Springsteen. And I can’t never make it through Thunder Road without tears welling up and an ache in my heart that belongs only to my youth and the crazy dreams that died somewhere between there and here.
Springsteen wrote about this crazy freedom, the rush of escaping your father’s rules and the world telling you to grow up and that you ain’t old enough just the same. His early records remind me of being so young and so wild, running the streets till the dawn and late night kisses from the girl you always swore you’d love no matter what. Friends that are come and gone who swore they was blood brothers and we’d take that long walk together. It was your world and everyone else was just an orbiting satellite sending signals and songs.
And I grieve, for that innocence. The naive kid. The wild heart who was never going to break. He wasn’t that kind. There was something to be said and he was going to say it and say it better than anyone ever did. Armed with notebooks and songs about broken hearts. There was meaning to it all. Every sidewalk crack, every smile and whisper.
But somehow it all got away, it slipped out the window while I slept. It was squeezed out by courts, bosses and doctors. I stopped being invincible and started feeling every bump and all my bruises. And a few too many broken hearts and goodbyes. The girl I swore I’d always love stopped loving me instead and I watched her go. Off into the cloudy skies of grown up and making reasonable choices, the world of two car garages and mortgages. To some guy whose name doesn’t matter who offered financial security and family portraits instead of my lonely poet’s soul and dreams of greener hills in far away places. The friends, they died, fell away or got old and forgot that we were suppose to never get this lost.
Somewhere there is the sound of a big machine, two wheels of aluminum and steel. The growl and hiss of an engine hitting overdrive and blowing down some lost highway. And the ghost of kid who had no idea where he was going and that was just fine by him. He just keeps on rolling, on and away. Sometimes I can stand on the side of the road when it gets real dark and real quiet and hear him ripping a hole in time. He’s out there still…Wild and free.
“All the redemption I can offer girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?”