at the chip shop
the queue is enormous, bunched and snaked
into that narrow room between order counter
and tables, a few droop-eyed patrons eating
their 3 a.m. suppers. The two behind the counter
asking as quick as mouths can take them
in Indian accents for our orders, for the two
lads with spiked hair to please move along now,
while another two argue about rugby or football
in such quick, sloshing Birmingham accents I can’t tell.
All of us here weary after a long night of failed attempts,
our stomachs ships sloshed and slapped by oceans
but the coming anchors of meat and bread will save us;
no one orders fish and chips, it’s all kebabs, burgers
or pizza, orders mangled in mouths–I wanakebab—
when it finally comes to me I nearly forget.
The man in front of me, full-bellied and clutching
a quiet brunette asks me where I’m from and why I’m in Wales;
I give him the short spiel. He tells me where he’s from—
Llanelli—and what he does between noisy wet kisses
on her face—he loves this girl, eh—she doesn’t
say anything, just sort of shakes her tired head
and soon we take our separate orders, tramp off
up hills around corners, this, the last stop
of the night before a messy meal alone and then, bed,
stomachs churning to keep it all down.
Ellie used to live with her boyfriend
and several pit-bulls
in a trailer
where they sold marijuana
and answered the door holding guns.
This was after she was
“one of those girls who flashed her tits” (wait-what?)
at Rob Zombie concerts,
before her second masters in Russian history,
definitely before the days we stood
at the sandwich bar applying tomatoes
and bacon to toasted rosemary. (order up!)
Only told her last name on rare occasions,
said it sounded like the first female President.
(say it with me, Ellie Letterman)
“You’ve got a good name too,
Graham Isaac like an indie rock star.” (gee, shucks)
Her ponytail always tossed just so.
When she moved to Portland,
she had fewer friends,
kept in touch. (hey, how’s Bellingham?)
Once, on a road trip
my roommate, myself and our best friend
met her for pub food (pass the ketchup)
She talked with us
and hiking (respectively.)
They never questioned my tastes again
and our sighs trailed long up the coast.
I bet she tosses that ponytail
during her inaugural address.
Stanley H. Barkan
Summer still winks
through the changing leaves—
Winds rush about
the high tops of trees
whispering, “It’s over!
Pumpkin & squash
reflect the red and orange
of Autumn moon,
larger than any sunburst—
brightening even the blackest nights.
dry with the waiting,
of their kerneled rows.
The spirit of harvest,
fills the afternoons
heavy with fermenting apples.
All days end with equinoctial night,
crossroads of calendric time.
The eve of fruits transforms
to cider charms.
Our Nation’s History
Drinking coffee with a friend.
For a gag, one day I ask,
“When was the War of 1812?”
She sips her coffee and says.
“I’m not good with history!”
So I ask another stranger.
“Sir, when did World War III end?”
“That’s a trick question” he says. The war in Iraq Isn’t over yet!”
One more time I try.
“Excuse me Miss, may I ask; who won the American Civil War?”
With a snap she replies.
“We did! We beat the British for our freedom!”
Oh America, embarrassed we should be!
For soldiers have perished.
Giving their lives!
So we can neglect our nation’s history.
Pain in the gut. Waves of nausea. Dreams in ancient landscapes. Sexual urges persistent through it all, like a warthog backed against a tree by dogs. He spreads his legs and bares his teeth. This grand gesture is lost on the dogs who love to have their backs scratched and are loyal to their master. They’ll rip him apart once the signal’s given. They’ll do it out of love, which from another perspective seems noble. Unless you can assume the perspective of the thing that will kill you, you live your life in fear.
To this day, dogs and small children fill me with tenderness. And recently young women and cats have joined this happy crowd. I can’t begin to explain it. It’s like seeing what I’ve always been looking at.
Maybe this is what dying’s like when it happens real slow. Fear subsides into attentiveness. It’s not being alive that you’ll miss, but the knowing that everything else is.
Crystal G. Folz
My alter ego exhibits no fear. I wonder if she even knows it exists.
Ten years ago I passed by New Orleans. There was this little bar that lit up on the weekends like lightning bugs in July. Conversation was loud, half the time filled with profanities and insults tossed in jest.
These two cats were playing acoustic guitars this one night. The old man in a stained Sunday shirt thumped his guitar while the younger man’s voice melted into the smoke.
In between songs, the singer would reach up and tug on his short beard, probably some habit he started because he thought it made him look intriguing. This one time I caught his eye. He didn’t smile at first, just nodded. So I waited until ‘Sugar Mama’ poured off his lips before I walked onto the dance floor.
Anyway you look at it; it is performing, because it is never me. On the stage I hide behind routines and makeup, and on the dance floor my alter ego takes over. She is confident. She has this way of making people want to be with her, lean into her, want to be close to her. And me? I do well to look people in the eye and speak without stumbling over my words.
I like to converse without speaking. And that is what happened that night. He stopped singing, just played his guitar while I danced. The couples moved to the edge of the dance floor and the lone inebriated lady finally gave up and left too. It was his guitar and me and we controlled that room. When that smile moved his lips I knew that he knew.
I caught a glimpse of her that night in a mirror. Underneath the red Budweiser paint this chick stared back at me, sweaty hair, eyes rushing like a summer crick. She winked at me.
That part of me has no fear. I want to draw her out but she stays far away. Waiting for smoke filled bars with little lights that flicker like the lightening bugs in July.
Kill the Roots or the Weed Will Spread
So there I was, lost in another smoky Saturday afternoon, antennae totally off-kilter and therefore useless for seeing through the clouds of noise sent out by the Machine, love locked away and time forever shrinking, O what to do, what to do? Drink all the beer in the world, sure, but then what? Why, go see Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka wrestle at the Kenan Center in Lockport, New York, that’s what! I blame the out-of-whack antennae for obscuring such an obvious choice of entertainment, if indeed it is a choice; it could well be fate, or some elemental, magnetic force drawing me toward the auditorium, just as the glow of wrestling on television drew me years ago, when Jimmy Snuka was an icon of wild masculinity, a heel who fans could nonetheless root for because he escaped culpability for his actions by being fucking crazy, but without being the stuff of nightmares, like “George the Animal” Steele was, with his green tongue and stuffed animals and prior life as a High School principal. Maintaining one’s innocence in the Neolithic world of pro wrestling whilst hanging out with the likes of Captain Lou Albano and the Wild Samoans is not an easy trick, I see now, and have to respect the character that Snuka created, a jungle man prone to wearing fake animal furs and tooth necklaces, one whose pet moves were the head butt and the now ubiquitous leap off the top rope onto a prone opponent. There is, of course, some controversy about the actual “invention” of the top-rope dive, but Snuka was the first wrestler to really make it work. By the time Snuka turned “good,” having discovered Albano was stealing from him (shocking!), my interest in wrestling had been replaced by an interest in girls, and while it seems that Snuka’s career as a milktoast lasted for another decade, I prefer to remember him as a barely contained savage; actually, my main interest is in not remembering him at all, but in killing the neuronal pattern that remembers him, in laying to rest my idolization of a clearly racist archetype, as most of the characters in wrestling were at the time. I even developed a dislike for the Isle of Malta, because that is where the repugnant Baron Migel Scicluna purported to hail from. But let me be clear: I don’t want to lay this memory to rest because just it involves racist characters, but because it is taking up space in my head that I might need in the future, and because I like to rid myself of memories of my childhood, a period that extends from the time my eyes began to discern light and shadow through to last Thursday night. I suppose I am still trying to be Other, to be Kurtz, to go native and escape the nauseating strictures of my own race and class by ritualizing the symbolic destruction of various formative experiences, but I also know that I cannot succeed; if I became Other, I would simply hate myself in a different language, since I wouldn’t really be Other anymore, duh.
But shit, isn’t that what other people are for? Don’t we go out and participate in ceremonies, get those mirror neurons firing, seek out entertainments that will help us escape ourselves by jamming our heads full of the sensoria that connects us to our unfathomable fellow beings, even as it blots out parts of our individuality? Well, that’s what the folks were hooting and hollering for at the Kenan Center Arena, I tell you, and they got what they came for. The evening’s card was put on by Next Era Wrestling, one of several “indie” wrestling federations that have sprung up at the intersection of big-time show wrestling (WWE, TNA, ECW) and backyard wrestling, an internet-fuelled phenomenon that involves young men who build wrestling rings in their backyards—or simply use plywood thrown on the ground—and film themselves doing moves they’ve seen on television, often upping the ante by hitting each other with flaming chairs, leaping off of garage roofs, and so forth (YouTube is a good place to see this kind of theater). If wrestling were baseball, in other words, Next Era Wrestling would be something like the Prairie League, home of the Moose Jaw Diamond Dogs and Grand Forks Varmints; if they were an (American) football team, they might be the semi-pro Lockport Rage*; if they were a more conventional theatrical troupe, they would play murder mystery dinner theaters. And because they are generally smaller, and slower, and less polished than the world class behemoths on the WWE, their performances seem somehow more authentic, since they are so much more inartistic, more obviously faking the fake violence that the crowd gathers to see.
The cartoon brutality is not exactly the point, however, anymore than it is in King Lear; the violence is integral, of course, but really, the play’s the thing. The play presented at the Kenan Center was alternately mythic and crass, but maybe that’s redundant, since most myths are crass… I suppose what I mean is that most of the matches seemed to involve very complicated back stories while also featuring some fairly nasty crowd-baiting monologues, women in skimpy outfits who seemed totally unconnected to the plotlines, and a few very unhealthy looking wrestlers. The first match, which I missed part of, was between a pudgy black man who wore a cowboy hat and rode a toy horse, and a sketchy looking clown. The next match was between a tall guy in whiteface trying to look scary and a scrawny little dude who brought a pumpkin in the ring with him and talked to it whenever he got nervous. This match was interrupted by a whole ‘nother plot line, wherein a short, stocky guy with tattoos and a long goatee jumped in the ring and took on the scary guy, but the match was a draw, and the crowd started to get bored. Next, a tag team match between the Bonecrushers and the Junior Spot Monkeys, a strange duo that stormed through the crowd tossing bananas everywhere, evolved into a match where the Bonecrushers were beaten by the Senior Spot Monkeys; then, some guy in a hammer and sickle mask lost a match and got fired by his manager. Weird, but not as weird as the “Rumble at the Locks Battle Royal,” which featured the cowboy and clown from the first match, along with Spiderman, an obese man dressed like a little girl, a skinny guy in a business suit, a few other outlandishly dressed but unidentifiable characters, and a ’50’s greaser, who won the match. Even weirder was the fact that all the combatants were easily recognizable Lockport residents: the guy who works at the gas station, the guy who hosts the big Halloween party, the guy who drives the ice cream truck, and so forth. You won’t see this level of community participation at a big-time wrestling match, that’s for sure, but it certainly helped increase the carnival atmosphere in the arena, and this type of carnival is especially important for towns like Lockport, which was a bustling metropolis in the mid- to late-Nineteenth century, when the Erie Canal was still an important trade route, and has been in decline ever since. Not only were we cheering and sneering for costumed loonies acting out script backed mayhem, we were cheering for our loonies, and we may as well have been up there ourselves. I saw, once the Rumble had winnowed down to a mere two combatants, a pair of old women leaning on their walkers just behind the rope around the ring area screaming horrific things at the greaser, and I imagined what it would be like to suplex one and throw the other over the top rope onto the concrete floor. Hah! And I could do it while wearing a diaper and sucking a giant novelty binky…
After the chaos of the Rumble, the other matches seemed subdued by comparison; in the most exciting bout, a clean cut young fellow jumped off a 15’ step ladder onto someone called “Superbeast,” who weighed at least 500 very flabby pounds and, it seemed, began immediately to have a heart attack and had to be helped out of the arena, causing a shudder of fear to sweep the crowd. And then, at last, the dénouement! Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, 65 years old and scrawny, fragile, thin of hair and bicep, entered the ring for his fight against Nick Paradise. I shall have to thank Mr. Paradise, if I ever meet him, for being the sacrificial lamb this night, since Snuka couldn’t even get up to the top rope: he gave a few head butts, climbed up to the second rope, and leaped onto Paradise—there was a hush, the whole crowd strangely and suddenly silent, as we waited to see if this AARP member would rise from the canvas, or if he would stay prone, hips both shattered, dreams of wild boar roasts and spear fishing flitting through his head…. but rise he did, and so did we, and we all cheered, so he climbed up to the second rope and did it again, pinned his opponent, won the match, and then, perhaps sensing that he hadn’t given us quite our money’s worth, jumped one more time on Paradise, who had basically spent the entire match prone, trying to soften Snuka’s fall.
Even had he leaped but once, the crowd would have been happy, I think. Snuka had, throughout the event, made himself more than available to his fans, and even brought a Polaroid camera for photos, like this one of he and I:
I also managed to get photographed by a reporter, and a picture of the two of us was featured in the local paper; not only am I larger than Snuka, but in the news photo, I seem about ready to smash him in the side of the head, which I suppose I was:
Now, I’m not interested in beating up an old man, so the nascent fist and readiness to strike I can only ascribe to the fact that I was face to face with a man who I knew only through tv, through the turgid story lines of pro wrestling and the lessons it imparted to my youth: it is fun to leap off the top of the sofa and drive your elbow into your brother’s neck, and wildness is its own reward. Or something like that, it’s all a bit fuzzy now that I have begun the process of killing the brain pattern I had, the one where Jimmy Snuka is huge, crazed, and powerful, and letting grow in its place the idea of Snuka as a small, tired, apparently happy old man, and then that idea can become just another aspect of the more general concepts of age, decline, and the way human life seem tapered at both ends, like a fox turd. I cannot think what childhood memory I should kill next, but my antennae seem more focused now, and at 3 am, the Machine is quiet. Maybe next it’s time to kill some memories I haven’t made yet.