“Raise hell and a glass in reverence
to the fearless lives of our great saints.”

Avenged Sevenfold


In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God and the Word was…

“Fuck.” Rimbaud rolled off Alphonse, muttering apology, and snagged his Stetson from Magdalena, who’d spilled her Solo cup of Everclear-Gatorade down the party dresses of all bystanders while the two fought. Alphonse stood and bounced away on Moon Shoes of pure, throbbing adrenaline.

“Timing’s impeccable,” he gasped as he passed me, with enunciations way too crisp for having killed a case of Pabst. “New Year’s Eve: that makes a trinity of knee dislocations this year.” He didn’t limp. I followed him up the stairs and we met his girlfriend, Alice, at the top.

“The hell’d you do?”

“Rimbaud kicked my ass.” He laughed and fell against the kitchen counter. They’d been dating for a month. She was the bravest woman I knew. Straight down the rabbit hole, staring at Gomorrah; that is, she was salty, but not at Alphonse.

He leaned up off the counter to test his busted leg. “I gotta go.” I figured he meant he was leaving, but he shotgunned another PBR and bounded back down the stairs, Alice and I on his tail.

He careened out the back door, feet sliding in mud and ash, and pulled Rimbaud from the tender arms of a tall, muscular guy in stilettos. “I ain’t finished with you.”

Rimbaud shook his head, waved Alphonse away. Alphonse advanced; Rimbaud thought he was joking. He shoulda known better. Alphonse, he’d taken more punches than Ali, he’d played Russian roulette without a last word, he’d never said no (least not that we’d heard), he was the resurrection of Jesus and G.G. Allin and his name was and is Legion.

He caught Rimbaud with a weak right jab, and ‘Baud grabbed him by the neck and tossed him down the sumac-blanketed slope at the rear of the yard. He dragged himself back up, hands deep in muddy roots, popped his kneecap back in place with the side of his palm, and gripped Rimbaud around the waist as he was walking back to Stilettos. They grappled for a couple seconds, and Alphonse rolled back down the hill. I looked over at Alice, who had crouched and covered her open mouth with her hands. Her eyes were glassy.

Alphonse hit the summit, and Rimbaud was ready in a wrestler’s stance, but Alphonse stood, shaky, and spread his arms wide. “I love you, man.” He eyed Rimbaud, then looked down at his own knee. “You wanna pop it in this time?”


I got the story once from Aretino. “Rimbaud’s been hanging around for a while, orbiting but never quite falling in with us. Keeps the old-time man’s-man’s distance.”

Old-time is right, far as I can figure: grandson of the last of a long line of West Virginia miners, it’s in his bones like cancer, but the mine’s bone-dry, so he’s gone in for archaeology at Appalachian State, and he wears his grandpa’s jet-black Stetson to remember why he digs. He listens to Toby Keith with the complete lack of irony only bequeathed by real, marrow-metastasized nostalgia, and he knows it. Dude can quote the Bible plus Apocrypha, and he can do it in Greek after a few shots of Beam.

What I mean to say is his distance isn’t voluntary. He digs—he has to—and he writes poems under fake names about the mud of the End Times, its mineral composition, its paradoxic dryness. But he’s a man of flow, of half-burned bushes steaming on the Cape Fear bank. He inherited black lungs and more earnestness than the sappiest drunk in Friends Sports Bar and Grill, the sappiest drunkest bar in North Carolina.

Coal burns even when wet with bronchial fluid. Who can brave such breath, such warmth?

As we poured out dogskin shots at noon on New Year’s Day, I asked him, “Why’d you toss him down that hill the second time? The third?”

He downed his glass of Evan and poured a second. “If it weren’t for Pilate, not a one of us’d be saved.”


The silent, the observer, the loudest always, the solitary and audacious, he saw through everything and shouted it to no one, standing by the crouching Alice as she watched her Cheshire cat get demolished by this anachronistic cowboy-centurion:

“Alphonse is trying to die—no, to glimpse death; to live at the measure of death; to demolish his body, piece by piece in staggered series, so that, though he knows he will not really die, he may watch death’s method like a dilettante clockmaker who takes the back off a watch to watch it tick; and he will disintegrate before our very eyes, like a magician’s last performance spread over years and decades, maybe; and he will love it, every painful wide-eyed second, because he knows what we cannot allow ourselves to know: namely, that we are all barreling down a straight track toward death; and that there are only two ways to live: we may accelerate our collision with death, so that we may meet it, teeth bared and sprinting, as though we mean to take it down with us; or, on the opposite end, we may deny the inevitable altogether, even as we fight hard to stall it, whether by obsessing over health or by avoiding risk and pain; and, of course, it’s clear which path he’s chosen: namely, the path of the all-embracing ‘Yes!’ of Jesus, of Dionysus—of Alphonse, now, too; for that is exactly how he will be remembered: namely, as the inheritor of Jesus and Dionysus; as one in a glorious line of defeaters of death. I’m a Jew, y’all know that, so listen especially close as I say it: behold the Messiah, His sumac crown, the stigmata at His knee and on His face, His pores bleeding 90 proof into the mud of Gethsemane.”