May/08

2

To Live Dead and Die in a Small Town

Small towns were a vicious a trap tooled in the basement swat shops of circumstance.
It was a town so small…a prison of narrow streets and boarded up windows.
There were no video cameras turning in the darkness, but empty space has eyes and wind has ears.
No one really needs the newspapers.
Everyone knows everyone’s business,
But everyone pretends not to know.
Every Saturday nostalgic music is interrupted by Papa Jim’s Weekly Swap Shop radio show.
Ears perk in the darkness and silence of Sunday night.
Chafed fingers twist the radio dial to see who is selling what old dream and for what small price.
The yards are littered with dreams: dead, rusted hot rods that once reigned as the supreme speed in the course of a quarter mile sit jacked up on cinder blocks.
These metal corpses are not for sale.
The owners sit on rickety porches with a cigarette stuck to their bottom lip, dreaming of the day that they will fix her up, and tear out rubber smoking toward the ocean.
No one has the guts to tell them that they will never leave.
No one ever leaves.
There are no fortress walls,
And there is no razor wire gleaming in the pale moon night or Agent Orange afternoons.
The roads are open for commerce.
But if you don’t get on the Greyhound and go when the last school bell rings,
Then escape is forever denied.
There are only stale promises of cotton gins, fertilizer plants, and dead men.
Here lives the shrunken man of hollow-eyed acceptance.
As you grow older you grow smaller.
The only pleasures left are a fist fight, a f*ck, or a hallelujah
in a stone church built by dead men next to a cemetery where granite slabs record genealogy.

You never learned the difference between faith and ignorance;
You never had time to wonder if there was one.
You are forever drenched in the sweat and grease of manual labor.
You have no savings account.
Your earnings are spent before the check is cashed.
Your preacher assures you that there is God and a better world waiting for you.
So day after day into endless repetitive days you pray,
But no secret voice ever offers you any answers.
There is no burning bush, no blinding light, and no blood of the lamb.
There are only tiny dirt roads and combines silhouetted against a stark grey sky.

Your father drove an eighteen wheeler.
Your grandfather picked cotton and hauled hay.
Your back is busted from handling pipe in the oilfield.
Your son will be a mechanic,
And your daughter will marry mechanics, and cotton farmers and livestock auctioneers.

Since this town is a holy town, you have to drive twenty miles to buy your favorite bottle of solace that you can afford or can’t afford.
It doesn’t really matter which is which or how it comes as long as you have it in the lonely night to numb The Nothing.
It won’t take too many drinks to swim in that pool of grey ether off in zombie land.
You know the way; you have swum there before.
With time your tolerance has shrunk to the size of your ambition.
Finding the path to the dark tank in your mind happens quicker and easier.
You will lift a glass of emptiness.
You will lift a glass of loneliness.
You will empty the bottles of fear, regret, and frailty.
You will swim in the rivers of distorted perception until life becomes images refracted in broken glass, faded dreams and tunnels devoid of light.

One night while swimming in the gray pool with a broken Jack Daniels bottle in your hand the levy will break with no warning.
Words will spurt from your mouth like blood from a puncture wound,
And you will educate your daughter to your suffering.
The stories will explode from knots in your body that mark all the secret cesspools where you buried pain.
Images will fly from your mind with the sting of your father’s bullwhips.
You will find yourself shirtless in the living room displaying scars and fleshy reminders of what happens when you slam the living room door.
Film reels will unwind from your eyes, and your pupils will change to snowy riverbanks in Kentucky where you slept beneath a one-lane bridge with a bag of oats.
The weather in your mind will become erratic, and your hands will remember the feel of the butcher knife you held in your hands in the shadow of mountains contemplating the murder of the man that had beaten your mother.
Your back will straighten out remembering the white table, and your arms will bulge recalling the straps that held your fifteen year-old arms as the heroin oozed from your sweating pores.
Your mind will become a photo album spitting spinning visual captures of friends claimed by duty and death in far away jungles, and men that came back bathed in blood and nightmares.
Your daughter will meet the dead as you regurgitate corpses on the coffee table.
She will see in the projection screens in your eyes a man swan diving from a bridge at midnight.
He will fall quick-quick-soft, quick-quick-soft into a sudden head collision beneath the surface of the Sabine River, and water will leap and fall redder than goldfish eating roses.
You will lay the memory of your best friend on the table charred in the black soot of a gas well explosion in Texas.
Your tears will drown you in the regret that it wasn’t you instead of him.

Your daughter will learn about the weight of guilt, the weakness of need, and the disappointment of failure.
Then she will promise to never leave, but she will change her mind the night you throw the television through the window, beat her boyfriend and call her a n*gger lover.
She will never write.
She will disappear into a dot on the map somewhere between Tucson and Topeka.
You will be completely alone.
Your son will be dead by this time.
He will learn to make mind altering drugs from drugstore chemicals,
And he will charge into a world of hallucinations to escape the boredom and repetition of reality.
He will perish attempting to fly beyond the walls of small town ignorance with a pair of wax wings and mythological expectations from the top of a water tower.
His wings will never open.

So you will buy a gun and you will write God a letter.
You will revoke your participation in his experiment.
You will buy a gun and six bullets.
One bullet for God,
One bullet for Jesus,
One bullet for your ex-wife,
One bullet for her child-molesting husband,
One bullet for yourself,
And one bullet for unfinished business.

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Christopher James

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