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Walking Backward in the Dark

[clock] 3-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Spring 2007
So, the jury says, once upon a time you fed the poor.

You couldn’t see the ground for the wreckage.
If the women had dysentery behind their sheds
the earth turned green and red and yellow
and you couldn’t tell what was food and what
was shit and all your Jim Morrison songs
were without avail. No prayers in your head
took the smell. The only relief was the smoke.
Tijuana’s dead dogs, flat cats, starvation cows,
and highway horses split open by retired
Illinois Macks hauling a load of American chairs
into Baja were drenched in a rain of diesel, fired
up with torches: their ribs made smoking cages
to catch your vision, charred hearts
sacrificed to carrion crows.

You couldn’t see home on burning days,
the veils of flesh-fired fog cut the sky in half.
You took them clothes on their burning hills,
took them water in white jugs, took
frozen doughnuts and cans of donated corn.
You went in the name of whatever God you’d cobbled
together from your nightmares and your hopes.
Head lice fell
by the thousands.

This was the dream.

Late, from Mexico, you’d rise
to the neon lightning of America, you’d rise
stinking of dogs and filthy women’s armpits, rise
covered in the sweat of men who kill themselves
mining for garbage in coats made of plastic bags.
Bloodmud was caked on your running shoes.
Too tired to run. Undone by days and days
talking to people
with no teeth.

Home, your sweet rock-and-roll boys, so pretty
with their Bowie hair and their painted girlfriends,
all your best friends so dangerous with their Marlboros,
doing their all-night hang at the doughnut shop
you peeled a sheet of skin off the back
of a child boiled by overturned cooking pots
of lard

after their gigs at strip bars and bowling alleys.
Coffee and bear claws.

What were you supposed to tell them?
Was Elvis Costello cooler than Joe Jackson?
That you knew where the immigrants were born?
A Gibson SG smokes a Les Paul any day, man,
but a Les Paul is ten times better
than a Strat if you’re even going to think about
“Dazed and Confused.”
People eating run-over alley dogs.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads buttons
she tried to abort her rape-baby with a wire
on leather jackets.

You didn’t even try to sleep.

It was too quiet.

2:00 a.m.

3:00 a.m.

Televisions then signed off—showed bleached film
of American flags, static, or test patterns:
that Indian chief in the middle looking lost
like you. You had meant to learn to dance.

You, Emperor of Maggots.

That night you knew,
that night it hit you
you were walking
the abandoned miles of bedtime
Clairemont Drive: duplexes smelling like pot,
your high school already looking small as a fossil.
John Lennon shot in the head.
You’d been holding down a screaming girl
as a doctor peeled scabs off her face
as blood lipsticked her mouth.
Before you found out.

Walking. Clocking.
Quarter mile.
Half mile.
Ahead, almost black against the greater black,
that man. Facing you,
moving away.
You squinted, sped up: he backed away.
You had to catch up to him—it was all in that
crazy son of a bitch hurrying backward into midnight:
it was all there, in him, and when you got close,
started to say it, he spat at you,
backed away running.



No moon. No stars. Maybe a Camaro
with glasspacks raced a ’68 Mustang to the stoplight.
You had a notebook in your back pocket.
It was too dark to write
what you needed to say:
I have to get away from here.


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