American Poetry

Masculine existentialism, i.e., men looking forlornly
into the middle distance, not too far, not too close.
Masculine, because untouched. There, contemplating
what? Steer clear of the rocks, stay afloat, take the easy
way out. Otherwise, you’ll end up another Ginsberg.

The failure to buy Apple below 200? How to get a good
piece of land or even better a decent piece of ass. It
finally comes down to this. Lots of spirituality, if you
ask the English majors at Amherst, lots of stock options
if you ask their fathers. That Steve Jobs could really write!

Anal leashes aside, one ponders the love life of J. Alfred
Prufrock, although evidence points to the unlikelihood
of his having had one. Long before the St. Louis arch was
constructed, folks took their places on the roller coaster
clattering across the Mississippi. Ike Turner led the way.

The boys beat off but what makes it pleasurable is the
thought that one has beat the competition. Our youth studies
the Parthenon, but not the philippics, trading memories for
images. Greek mythology works wonders, giving our oarsmen
an advantage as they navigate their triremes into oblivion,

Rothko sets the pace. Our poets aim for abstraction, where
there is less burden. They tie their tropes to hang around
their necks. They are all on a kamikaze mission, aiming
their thoughts for distant dots on the horizon. They’ll
get there through the trees, where the sun sets, into loss.

Choosing poetry over cotton came easy for Anna Mae. Shag
carpeting is distracting. Better do stand-up. Getting slapped
around never stopped anyone from singing the blues, but trust
funds never fail. You’re bound to find inspiration in the outhouse.
After that, all you need to do is put your thumb out.

Vinegar Pie

There was no show business in my hometown.
There was showing off, all right, plenty of that,
so I don’t suppose anybody needed acting lessons,
you know, but we weren’t brought up to think showing
off and business went together, although clearly, they do.

How could everybody be having an amazing time? And
when did awesome replace fine and dandy? Can you tell
me that? Because, all this enthusiasm just doesn’t make
sense, not that I’m into singing the mockingbird blues.
I sometimes think we all got lost on the hallelujah trail.

I wanted a house on Chihuahua Street just like everyone else.
I was ready for a four-door sedan. While my friends ordered beer,
I bought a box of Dots. I had a ten-year-old’s imagination.
My favorite flavor was cherry. I wasn’t old enough to be
ashamed to say so, although I was old enough to be ashamed.

I just wanted my Mamma to be an independent woman who’s
got it going on, but people I knew didn’t have enough money
to have it going on. Nobody I knew had it going on, not even or,
especially not, the men. About all they had going on were the dog
races across the river.

That, and maybe some weed but, back then, it wouldn’t have
been any good. It was all home grown. Folks now call themselves
white because they keep nice towels in their three-bedroom houses.
When I was a kid, not that many blacks had that, so having all that
went to the heads of the ones who did.

Whites got all full of themselves is what happened. The towels
weren’t meant for drying yourself; they were just for show, like
the living room furniture. Blacks had furniture all right, but it
was for sitting on. Is it any wonder Anna Mae Bullock didn’t
want to pick cotton? Didn’t wanna? Wasn’t gonna.

Who could blame her, poor thing? Bless her little heart. That’s
what I say. I just hope now to be surrounded by worthy successors
to Juvenal. Because I find myself in a state of quizzical dismay.
I really do. Eating pho and sushi doesn’t do much to change
the profile of our increasingly late-Rome-like American times.

I don’t mind telling you I am just stunned and discouraged
by the absurd and debauched spectacles before me. It puts
me in mind of St. Louis. That’s right: T. S. Eliot, Miles Davis,
Anna Mae and her violent beau, even that dull writer, Jonathan

Green rules! It’s a miracle we’re here! I’m trying to write a song
around that. Can anybody listen to Porgy and Bess and still say
life is a shit sandwich? The Shirelles! I should say not. We seek
to arrange the rhythms of our disgruntlement in stabilizing stanzas.
‘Course there is nothing a nice slice of vinegar pie can’t cure.

Delmonico’s on the Mississippi

Gardens with no flowers,
church bells ring silent. Our neighbor
believes in God but calls herself an atheist
for the tax deduction. The children
play outdoors at their peril. Their
Halloween candies were spiked this year
with drips of acid, poisoned by a neighbor
who confuses kids with vermin,

Oh, how I miss the days of spoonbread. One
dreams of butter milk pancakes, maple syrup
and, yes, Aunt Jemima. Let me finish before
the thought-police arrive. I am distracted by
reminiscences of cornbread dressing, alcohol
poisoning, trips to the toolshed, and Mom’s fluffy
tuna casserole. You know which one I mean. Well,
I never.

Our ornaments were stolen. Our door kicked in.
My wife’s car was blocked by a foot of snow piled
high across the road. When she stepped out,
a rock-hard chunk of ice hit her in the head.
She bled from the ear and wept but the ambulance
was stopped by a mob of angry teens standing
with their pants down and their genitals on display.
One stepped over to urinate in her mouth.

And all she wanted was candied yams, lightly spiced
and oh-so-sweet. You know what I mean. Things began
to go wrong when she tried to follow that recipe for
succotash, the vegetarian option, that called for her
to follow the recipe but replace the bacon and the drippings
with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. She even
gave up that little bit of smoked paprika on account
of Daddy’s ulcers.

It was called dancing Matilda, the kangaroo jig, danced
long ago in the halls of Montezuma, that’s what Daddy said.
The little drummer boy came by to pay his respects. They
shot up his car and raped his wife. The poor lad made a wrong
turn on to Humes from Lombardy, down that dark alley where
the boys and girls used to play. The area has gone to the dogs.
The poor have beagles and the rich, Afghan Hounds. My dad
had him a twenty-year-old Plymouth, white and sky-blue.

Mother ran in and left the engine running. They
called it civilization or as they call it now, hahaha.
If you ask me, omitting bacon drippings is a bit like
replacing Johnny Cash with John Denver, or calling
the boy named Sue, Bob. Never been to a picnic
didn’t have dirty rice. Where you from anyhow? Got me
a jar of bread and butter pickles. Brought some deviled
eggs and creamed corn. What else you got?

Oh, almost forgot. Voodoo Village was real scary.
It was a neighborhood or property in North Mississippi
you had to approach like on a dare. It had all kinds of
rudimentary structures with stuff on them to scare evil
spirits or kids like us. Didn’t I ever take you there? And
the Bitter Lemon. John McIntire, Gaza Bowen, Furry Lewis
and Arnold Klyce. Mary Bird had to tell Furry not to sit in
Daddy’s chair. He wouldn’t have liked that.

If we were not all happy, no one was. We didn’t dine
alone. Masturbation was a rumor. Honey suckle hung over
our heads. Jasmine awaited. We mixed up paradise with the
golden years, 1959 to 1965, when John Coltrane lived the life
supreme and the Supremes lay in wait, to hijack our misery
and teach us to be proud. We danced to the music, as James
Brown sang out the only answer he ever knew: Yes. Yesyes-

We all walk the plank. For those of us who can stand, waiting
for the train of anxiety and the promise of forgiveness, I’d prefer
the sharks. Give me Moby Dick any day over Fear of Flying.
The gals who made this possible want men to share their periods.
They’ve stuffed their mouths with gauze, forgetting from which
orifice come the lies. Bring back the holy rollers, I say, those whipper-
snappers with fat hands. Those gentlemen who wear burlap bags,
those men in suede shoes. They know a thing or two about bullshit.

Earthworms Here

It looks like worshipers of the croc deity
bred the area’s most famous reptile for mummification.

I saw a mob marching down the street yelling “eat the rich.”
They were wearing tattered T-shirts, saying “New York, New York.”

Another was wearing “Shit Happens,” and had on shoes designed
by Tommy Hilfiger. (His house is called Five Chimneys.)

Some guy had on a football jersey from Franklin & Marshall
College. He had been rejected by Harvard.

These were not the same folks I met at the Club Ebony the other
night in Indianola, Mississippi.

It felt like being albino in Tanzania is what it was, just like that.
I sat hoping for a piece of chess pie.

You can get you some prison pasta, anywhere you want along
the road between Yazoo City and Pensacola, Florida.

The guys bought up the pepperoni at the commissary, and
spent the day peeling garlic. Thank God for the microwave.

I sat with a kid named David Earl. All he said was “Cotton
hates wet feet.” That sounded deep.

David ordered an orange soda. I asked for Dr. Pepper. He’d slept
alone for four days running. His girlfriend ran away.

He’d asked her to get married. He bought a ring in downtown
Memphis, but she wouldn’t listen. He said, “My baby done shot me.”

David Earl’s daddy drives a truck. His mama makes fried chicken.
His retarded sister listens day and night to Elvis’s Love Me Tender.

He also told me the blues was getting as scarce as a white man
in Baptist Town, Mississippi. “Now, it’s up to us.”