“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…
I stand here, out on the sidewalk, out in the drive. In the same spot I stood a thousand times before. It’s the terminus point. Or it was. The spot where to the left or right I could still run. Off and away into some other reality. I hesitate. I did that so many times before too. I would shudder and tremble here. Afraid of what was there inside. It was not a new feeling. Not a new fear at all. As a child I would stand in one certain place outside my father’s house. There I’d fill with a fright so deep I couldn’t feel anything else. I’d lose my breath and whimper in the way a frightened puppy might. I was little else there. A scared animal. The machine hadn’t been built yet. See there I would prepare for battle. There I would tense myself for the inevitable blow, the beating and the shame.
That was one I never whispered to you in the dark at night. How you scared me so. How you made me that child again. How I would wait at the spot outside the house. Waiting to find if my leaden feet would move forward or I would run. Run away. The way I did when I was still just a boy. A child without the means or mechanization to survive in a world I didn’t understand. I must have run from you too. Why else would there be so much left unsaid? So much left in anger and pain. Why else would I have never said goodbye.
So now we touch the edges of our anger. Mustn’t ever wade fully in. The battles have been fought, the picture frames smashed. The vases hurled and the names called. And to get back there we’d have to dig through the bones and dust of a closet we’ve closed, looking for the armour we wore. The weapons we sharpened from the secrets we told. The faults we laid bare. The weak spots only a lover still covered in the fine sheen of intimate sweat and the smell of sex would know. Those terrible knives we hand to our assailant in blind faith and a naive trust. The belief that this time..This one…They wouldn’t ever turn the gun on me.
What have you got now. The gossip and slanderous asides? Well love, I am here to say most of your accusations are true. And are rightful. Most…Not all. but the 1 in 5 that is wrong, need I plead my case? Should I fight you for that little bit of ground? No I won’t. Not anymore. I am the animal/machine. I am a foul thing. I try to live as best as I can and I try to do what’s right. But find always myself in the wrong. I am truly indefensible. You are right. I am all those things…The names, the shames and the disgusting slights. But I try, I always tried for better. I honestly tried to be better. For you. Yes for you…Does this shock you? I am sincere when I say this. I tried to live past my scars and the tumbling rocks of a falling mountain that is my history and my learned dances. But I failed. I always fail. But I always try.
See maybe you never understood. Yes dear I know you said you did. But you never really understood. I was raised by wolves, I timed my breathes with the tides and learned by laying my palms against the walls and feeling for a hum. Like some mute demolition man. I know how to fight only because I forgot how to care what happened to me. I am the end result of a complete loss of a sense of self-preservation. I learned how to fuck because I could make you close your eyes and shudder. I could hide inside your body as I stared at the back of your head. Animal lust is easy. I knew no truth there. I learned how to lie because I was so full of incomplete links and shame. I couldn’t dare tell you the truth. I couldn’t be who I am. I couldn’t just be like everyone. Because I was always less than everyone. So I gave you the Hollywood version. A creation I idealized. The thing I wanted most to be. But could never really maintain. And so when the facade fell and the dirty windows came clean. You saw. I was the mess in the middle of an empty room. But I warned you. I did. In the beginning. I always warn them that enter the cells and cages. That they really don’t want to be there. That they must keep their distance. And I even showed you the scars. But in some act maybe worthy of sainthood you chose to carry on. To step in closer. But you never really believed, never really…Understood.
Does it matter now that I am sorry. That as a man who has come through hell and found it to be of my own making. I am sorry. I made my messes. I did my own cutting. I have learned. That’s of little consolation and probably no benefit to you now. But the man standing here now. He’s different. Scarred and afflicted with a terrible case of battle fatigue. Any movement of the heart makes me fill with fear and I flash to terrible yesterdays. But I am learning. And now I try to live each day a little at a time…An inch an hour, two feet a day. I don’t expect too much from life. There is no grand parade, no victory party and I will never drink from the cup. The myth I was is dead. And all that is left is the living sum of my errors. An equation that is still solving itself. And that you are not here for this, I am sorry. I honestly am. I wanted so much to be this before our house of cards fell.
But here I am anyway. Out on this spot waiting. Waiting to see a light in a darkened window. Even though I know you’re not there, you don’t live there anymore. But just in case…I leave these words out here for you. In case you should come by, in case you should toe over the rock I hide them under. In case you need to close the door one last time. In case you need.
I will choose this time to turn and walk away calmly, with poise and dignity. The stride and cadence of a man who has been to war and come back limping and lost in far away stares.