‘Damn that television! what a bad picture!’—A said bad memories can erase the good ones, like a hotel where an entire floor is shut down because of all the broken plaster and plumbing. The elevator now just bypasses that floor altogether. Old affairs or marriages, mental diseases, their broken telepathy lines, intersection collisions, wrong floor, wrong hotel. I don’t remember the sex either. Occasionally, there’s an odd feeling between my legs. I think, what a lot of trouble. I put it off and put it off till I finally just come in my sleep. So I guess I do have a sex life. I just don’t remember it.
’And all the hills echo-ed’–B was a famous poet. It occurred to me to, but I didn’t fuck B. We had an intimacy though. He’d leave the bathroom door open while he was taking a shit; me sitting on the floor nearby, chattering about Emily Dickinson or quinoa, while he was wiping his ass. One of my girlfriends did fuck him, complaining it was like crawling in bed with your father. I’m not sure why she used this analogy.
‘I might like you better if we slept together’–C was already a rising star when she fucked B, the girl who’d do anything to elevate poetry. Including her shit on an old poets dick. As far as I can tell, it worked! Other poets got ahead or at least their poetry was improved by his shit on their dicks. Or that’s what he said in his journal I typed. I didn’t see it in the published version.
‘You’re so vain’–D brought over a brown paper bag full of opaque black condoms. A sad poet who’d been celibate so long, he couldn’t hold his erection inside the rubber, dangling between his fragile white legs like a wrinkled trash bag. We never had real intercourse, though he mooned around with his paper sack for a while.
‘falling on a termite / who’s choking on the splinters’–E was always in so much fucking trouble! As soon as he was off probation for one thing he’d get busted for another thing. He paid a lot for faked clean urinalysis that were distributed to different states. Once we had to fly to Denver with his attorney for a court showdown. When we got there, we ate in a fancy restaurant. He ordered pasta I think, then ran straight down to the infamous Five Corners to score. When he got back, he asked the waiter for some foil and went to the women’s restroom to smoke heroin. On the flight back, his attorney said he’d been able to bribe a county clerk to remove and throw away the criminal record. He was expensive, but got the jobs done. (Connected.)
‘Everybody shut up and leave me alone’–F called while I was driving to my brother-in-law’s sudden death funeral. He ignored the family death information and invited me to perform someplace. Sounded unnaturally hyped up about how much he loved that performance I did once, where I walked on tables and picked someone up. (Two decades ago?) “Of course you were out of your mind on drugs.” He was on Bluetooth car speaker phone. My sister’s grandkids were in the backseat.
‘Heh, good lookin’ / what you got cookin ’–G became a different person after my grandfather died. My psychiatrist uncle said she had “hot pants”. She called my mom to say she was marrying a much younger widower down the street. His wife hadn’t even been dead a week. My mom had a meltdown. Grandma said Well, she’s as dead now as she’ll ever be. And she got married two days later. She said she’d made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They sold their houses and moved 400 miles in the opposite direction from East Texas to live on a lake in the Texas Hill Country. She was the most nurturing person I ever knew. Twenty people could show up for dinner and she’d just knock it out. But she had a stroke when she was my age and never again gave a fuck about nobody’s needs no more.
‘I woke up this morning in a fucked up America’–H is the fiancé of a musician-cum poet teaching at the summer writing program. She’s about 25 years younger than him and better looking than everybody else in class. Or at least better dressed. Every day I can’t wait to see what she will wear next. Today, it’s a mid-calf length, sunflower-colored silk kimono dress with white and black pin-stripes. It’s very hot and the ground is uneven, but she’s rocking black leather platform ankle boots. Contrasting messages from the writers lie on the floor. Twenty feet in three pairs blue sneakers, two black sneakers, two pair black boots, two with black flip flops, two bare feet. H’s fiancé’s computer has a sticker with the name of his famous band on it and it’s hooked up to a projector. We’d been watching Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. I saw Sun Ra perform at Caravan of Dreams in Ft. Worth in 1980. He was wearing a baggy gold lame suit, entered and left the stage chanting. Head count here doesn’t match the pants count, pants count doesn’t match the shoes. This opportunity to stomp aimlessly without a body in a poem is like the universe Sun Ra is talking about. Where it doesn’t add up, so keep subtracting the bad shit and it’s not the same universe equation. H was added to replace a subtracted wife. Her fiancé was famous for his loud bands but was onstage last night playing fairy-style music—because he’s a rock star and can get away with it here? When my son and I went to Coachella Music Festival, we waited forever in a sweaty body-to-body tent for Beck to start. He finally came out and sung I’m a Loser with a Gameboy as musical accompaniment. Or maybe it was Devil’s Haircut. Whatever.
‘The future is coming on / it’s coming on’—I walked down Tyler Street to the post office to drop my electric bill in the mailbox. On the way, I counted about 150 loose candy, hotdog and other wrappers, some half dozen broken beer bottles, as many plastic bottles, passed a storefront with a torn and faded sign, Latinos for Obama; rounded the corner at Jefferson, passed the quinceanera shops. The post office is right near where they found my stolen car last summer, torched, I guess for its DNA. I passed the pawn shop where I have a small necklace with diamonds on loan there, and the carniceria. Then I helped a boy and his grandmother locate their three fancy chino dogs. Two were puppies, who’d followed the adventure getaway. There was a church service going on in a building behind them, where the sign had letters dropped out. I could hear the electric bass and girls were out front in sleeveless pastel colored dresses and flip flops. Walked back down to Bishop Arts, past the house that lets bunny rabbits run loose in the yard, and into the Winnetka Heights residential neighborhood. There, it was much cleaner and the yards were hovered over. Signs on the lawns talked about their security systems and I saw my fourth Smart Car in Oak Cliff this week. This took little over an hour. The weather has been mild so far this summer. Cool breezes made up for all the trash on the sidewalk. A runner flew past me with his earbuds on. I noticed his feet were splayed open and thought he might have knee problems down the road. I looked down and saw my right foot was angled out and that I was walking more on my out step. The sun, its bony face and droopy hairstyle of clouds had greying roots. A barrette of leaves fixed up a nice beehive on the horizon.
‘I got levitation’–J’s home is a collector’s paradise. A mother’s nightmare. Objects of a thousand days—about how long it would take to list everything on every surface. Guitars, film projectors, posters, paintings, photos by N, clothing–dozens of jackets on the dining room table, records, signed photos by B, letters from everyone and a Siamese cat named Zelda. A half dozen phones were disconnected at the wall, multiple televisions with different channels or looped video in different rooms. Dim lighting. Every movement, from opening the door to walking up the stairs is mined with dozens of carefully spaced and placed shoes, unopened cartons of household cleaners, toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoos, cat litter. The bathroom door downstairs doesn’t close because of the overflow of books lining the baseboards of every wall. I carried my suitcase overhead to avoid disrupting so many needles in so many haystacks. J grew up in Detroit, but I’ve seen this system before on an Assiniboine reservation near Canada. They had amazing art. But repelled by the organization of Americans that destroyed their lives, domestic arrangements were subversive resistance to displays for materialistic respect. And whatever else white people thought reflected proper civilized living rooms should look like. But they knew where every single object was. Would simply peel back one way, dissect the other way, from what looked like to me, jumbles of dissimilar objects and materials and voila! There were the scissors. Or the newest coffee pot. (5 more were on the porch.) J knows where everything is too. The precious letters are stacked on different stove burners. I never corrected or asked if the gas pilot was lit or the stove worked, just very careful in his complex ecology of objects. In Lodgepole, if something no longer worked, they just threw it out the window or door. So that as many piles were stacked outside as inside. It didn’t come off as trash, but outsider sculptural art edits. J processes like a firestorm. Deposits like the stone layers in the Flatiron foothills. Manic buildup, radical weather changes, thought’s switches and parallels.
‘I just wanna get along’—K has a rapid fire recall of so many details surrounding every literary-related person and event. And he remembers more about me when I lived in Boulder than I do. For a couple of years we spent nearly every day or evening together, along with a small group of artist friends—and whoever his or my poor choice of girlfriend and boyfriend of the moment was. I can’t, but he can, tell you who they were. K loves a detailed breakdown of many things and people I don’t necessarily want to remember or talk about. But he does. He always annoyingly says ‘You know I only did drugs when you were around’. True enough I don’t remember he ever paid for any of it, but he sure did a lot of mine. I know for a fact that others gave it to him for free too—maybe because he’d hooked them up with a rich junkie– so I wish he’d quit saying that. However, his other people’s drugs rubric turned out to be smart future financial planning. It saved him what it cost me, which was a lot more than money, but money too.
‘It’s gone baby gone / love is gone’–L asked why girls were no longer interested in him. I said I don’t know, You’re still handsome. Brilliant. I should have added, Reality check, L! Because he was still only interested in young women. The much younger women once so easy for him were because he was young too. They forget about that in Boulder. Naropa Peter Pan Syndrome. I think it comes, at least partially, from the past Buddhist and Beat presences. Age of consent was reported as earlier from them too. And Beats loved their twinkies, to keep the muses brewing, be nostalgic or just someone strong enough to carry the luggage. I remember how confusing it used to be at Naropa picnics to tell daughters from the most recent wives when they were diapering the new babies.
‘and the one who has loved you so true’—M used to sit next to me during my hours of daily yoga practices. Fridays through Mondays, I drove from Dallas to Waco to assist in her care. Every morning, I’d apply rouge, lipstick, eyeshadow, nice clean clothing and jewelry; she’d sit, rocking on the back porch in her bucolic country setting, singing a non-ending, not exactly in English syllabic song. Quite a dose of free associative language joys mixed with harder concrete realities in those days. Ah Mama, with our iced tea, around your trees, near a rural town called China Springs, which is Texas inside the outside of a honky tonk, when we played your country music favorites on repeat play. Dancing with your grandson in the bedroom to I Can’t Stop Loving You, the same lullaby sung while drifting to sleep every night. Praises to the practice of the now-we that are not the former-we but the even better-we moments I get to know the real-you. The one who sees more clearly than ever the same being in the bird with-me. Though you can’t quite articulate its name, pointing. Smiling. It is more than enough. Zen mind, zen mountain with clouds for thought, turn to rain.
‘Everybody’s got their something’–N has had the same phone number in Boulder for over 40 years. He was a professional photographer I met through B. His photos of scantily dressed teenagers made him notorious when the local sheriff arrested him for one published in Art in America. B paid for his legal defense. I recently reviewed those photos with a museum curator who said that by today’s standards, those photos are about as pornographic as a Gap ad. The sheriff was the one who was finally discovered to have been sexually abusing young boys and ended up going to prison. You’d think a town that let us get away with walking around doing drugs in plain sight would have been more tolerant of gay people, but they were not. Later on, a homophobic wacko neighbor called National Enquirer and proposed N as a suspect in the child rape and murder of Jonbenét Ramsey. N’s picture was on the front cover! L and I were in a Dallas grocery store when I saw the tabloid. I knew this wasn’t possible, so we went to about twenty grocery and drug stores, bought up all the copies and threw them away. Anyway, N sued National Enquirer and won, but the mischief it caused his reputation was irreversible. A former typical Boulder athlete of multiple sports, he’s lost some inches in his spine–combination of autoimmune disorder and prolonged methadone use. Still has his family’s house, but has to rent out every square inch except an 11×11 room. Barely has kitchen privileges. The sheets were dirty and there were about a dozen wasps flying around the room. He told me not to panic, those wasps have been there since he was a child. After the wasp visit, we had brunch at an old hippie greasy spoon. About halfway through my biscuits and gravy, N popped the question—Do you believe in aliens? I thought about the wasps flying around his room, the untouched fifty years of photographs ignored in damaged stacks in the floor. His lingering paranoia from decades of persecution and covering his emotional suffering up with opiate use had all combined to land him on You Tube. One search led to another. And now he’s a You Tube alien anthropology enthusiast.
‘Take me to the river, put me in the water’–O’s the only one of my former addict friends I know of that turned to Jesus in atonement. I met her for dinner, unaware she had planned a Jesus talk for me. We’d barely gotten chips and salsa when she started her speech. How she wanted to provide for me till I can pull it together to accept Jesus. That is, when she’s gone up in The Rapture. She told me where she stashed water, food and cash for me and my kids. And dog food—she wasn’t sure yet if her pets got to go too. She even tried to give me fake ID cards to access her banking. She asked if once she was gone, and I saw this real proof of Jesus, would I finally accept him as my savior? I said No. And declined her fake IDs. If she was wrong, I didn’t want to go to prison for forgery and theft, while she was ascending to a nut house. She started crying and causing a scene at the restaurant. I didn’t know what to do except keep eating enchiladas. It turned out that O was just this side of shitfaced drunk. And that she gives herself daily intravenous injections in the stomach to lose weight. (And trip?) While she was still only this side of shitfaced, I thought it was a good time to ask if she had any weapons on her. She said she didn’t need weapons because her duplex neighbor had an arsenal of automatic weapons and stayed on the alert to rescue her at any time. She quit crying, couldn’t find her wallet, so I paid for dinner, drove her home, left her smiling and waving, on the street – pretty close to the front of her duplex.
‘She was just 17 and you know what I mean’–P, a very beautiful nineteen year old, appeared while I was organizing more of N’s beat archive photos yesterday. I didn’t know what the connection was, but N has lived in Boulder a long time and has many friends from all walks of his nine lives. I first met a ridiculous choice of a third husband there too. N said he’d known P since his coming of age. Define coming of age, I asked him. He said, oh-14. Ok, I stopped trying to figure the connection. When I called late last night, P was still there. In that cramped visitor uncomfortable layout. Very limited activity possible and N spends most of his time in bed watching the documentaries on aliens. What was going on there all day and night? He had the sniffles on the phone. N is very gentlemanly–unfailingly polite and courteous. But I’m thinking even though he says he doesn’t do drugs anymore, there was that blackened spoon stacked in the photos I arranged the other day. When I went back it was missing. I had added four days to my already difficult trip to help N assemble his photographs for exhibition. I kept trying, but it was impossible to do any work. The room is stacked with litter and boxes and piles of mixed dirty and clean clothes, sometimes piles of people on what seemed to be different drugs. N, P, V, and me, squeezing into that 11 x 11 room that only has one chair, a twin bed and big screen tv with alien spaceship soundtrack in the background. The phone was ringing all the time. The pepped up or nodding out people waiting on whoever was on the phone, shifting places, no one lifting a finger to empty the overflowing trash. Their disconnected inter-coded communications. Also, the wasps that had been there since N was a child. They were still there.
“Rock the casbah / rock the casbah”–Q’s therapist thought Lubbock was in the Ukraine. Born New Yorkers must think Ukraine is a place more comprehensible than west Texas. Joe Ely lives in Lubbock. O once had an affair with him. He brought the English band The Clash home with him while they were on a tour break. They were terrified, didn’t see any cars on the one freeway. Thought it was a set up.
‘My watch is burning when I look down at my hand’–R: You now have $12,500 of our money for a show that didn’t happen because it only sold 17 tickets and you expanded a contract’s technical rider of ten pages down an unauthorized rabbit hole of thirty. I have mailed the remaining fee balance for this show that didn’t happen, solely based upon our highest regard for her stature as an artist. But for the fourth time, No. I. Do. Not. want to reschedule this tour for an additional $10,000. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to hear another fucking word about her, you or your tour. Have a nice day, kxm, ws ed
‘All infinity / leads to eternity’—S is for sad. Not because I first met the wrong God in the wrong place. Not because I began watching gods watch me. But because a lemon drop colored bird phoned in from a flower’s barren drooping stalk outside nearby to say don’t care, don’t wish to woulda coulda met the right God in the right place. If Gods had shown they liked me better, I might have liked them more too. Gods can’t be certified anyway, so I propose to meet in the middle of mountains’ green teeth to chew fat with only tiny finches as judge of us all. If only you’d met the right god on the right flower stalk, Anna S, 1985-2018, RIP.
Reach out and touch faith”–T had been B’s famous romantic partner for a very long time when B made a play to steal N’s eighteen year old boyfriend. Once that went down, T brought the seventeen year old daughter of one of their upstate New York farm friends to live with him-and them. T presided over a few classes at Naropa. His pedagogy was to enter class without word or greeting, and sit in a chair to stare out the window for an hour. Then he would turn around and ask if anyone wanted to read what we wrote. On his birthday, I brought him a piece of cake to class. He insisted on dividing it into five perfectly equal slices for each poet. Someone else brought him a small canned ham. He was so overwhelmed with fascination for this canned ham, examining every square inch of it, saying ooo and ahhh the whole time. This he kept for himself. I know T had his problems, and I’m glad I wasn’t around hardly any of them, but he was the most beautiful of the beautiful, a religion in his own right.
‘when the music’s over’–Dear Karen, it is time we had a heart to heart talk. It was my observation in Lubbock that you would make an unattractive candidate for any prospective employer. You are an old soldier. You move slow. Even if you had a PhD, I doubt anyone would hire you. I think you should quit wasting your time in school. Love, Uncle U
‘a falling star that you cannot live without’–V dropped her bottle of methadone on the kitchen floor one day. Then she demonstrated how to lap it up like a dog, convincing us of the absolute necessity for this.
‘All eyes on me’–W parked behind a girl standing naked in full frontal noon sun. She was rummaging around in the trunk of her car, pulled out a dress, wriggled it over her head, picked up her backpack and walked back to class. We got out and walked with her.
‘And it’s 1, 2, 3 / what are we fighting for’—X was radicalized by service in the Vietnam War and became a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the early 70s. They raised a lot of hell. He kidnapped William Randolph Hearst’s granddaughter Patty Hurst and his wife accidentally killed a teller while robbing a bank in San Francisco to fund their revolution. I didn’t meet him until he’d gotten out of prison and moved to Hawaii. He said I was bourgeois for not incorporating direct political statements into my poems. I was staying with a famous yoga acharya and she didn’t know what bourgeois meant. Couldn’t even pronounce it. They both drank nearly a bottle of wine each and smoked a lot of weed that night. X now lives off his disability income from the Vietnam War. I’m not a purist of anything either, so I’m fine with all this. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Poetry is both and more.
‘Hello It’s Me’–Y spent a lot of time in Havana as a child, and grew up around rat pack Hollywood entertainers. He was the grandson of an Italian organized crime boss in Chicago. Those social and financial connections would multiply and last for decades. He opened a gallery near City Lights Bookstore. His friends, both inherited and newly made, were a full alphabet of very famous film makers, artists, writers, musicians, clothing designers and pre-reality show ultra-rich. I recall a retired hit man that was always welcome at the gallery too. Eventually Y needed rehab away from San Francisco’s drug scene, and moved his gallery to Dallas. His beautiful art collector girlfriend, who’d renamed herself after an Indian epic’s heroine, moved with him. It was one of her family’s banks that the Symbionese Liberation Army had robbed. She spoke French because she was descendent (and heiress) of island colonialists (and their sugar plantations). Problem for her with him was that, even though she was so fabulous, she could not curb Y’s roving eye and appetite for both sexes. And pretty much everyone was in love with him from all walks and backgrounds. He was a 6’5” irrepressible mess! He would walk into an expensive designer boutique and drop names for wardrobes on credit he never paid for; mooned the mayor; broke a chair over someone’s head in a bar for calling him a queer, whatever and everything. I don’t think Dallas has ever seen anyone like him before or since. Above the law, above aesthetic reproach—and above working for a living. When he finally went broke, he was able to supplement his income by facilitating introductions between friends. He was a great friend to everybody and we all followed him everywhere. When he moved to Woodstock, his trend of screwing friends’ wives or husbands continued. But because it was Woodstock, it was of little impact like it had been in Dallas. His French girlfriend stayed in Dallas and opened a very exclusive nightclub with a famous French artist and her Old Dallas Money friends. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay enough attention to its management. Their job was just to show up and look fabulous and rich. The club was raided one night because their club manager had been dealing suitcases of ecstasy. No customers were busted because a thousand people emptied their pockets and ran. There were so many drugs on the floor that the cops were slipping and sliding, unable to catch anyone. Except the manager in his office, red handed. The cops closed and fined the club, the goddess had to beat it back to San Francisco, then France. But she and Y finally met up again when he left Woodstock and moved to Mexico. She was with him when he died there.
‘Somebody’s gonna’ get hurt before you’re through / might be you’—Z was too slow in comprehending what every woman is forced to acknowledge much younger in life -or be considered a fool. That the power he’d held, just because of youth’s good looks was gone in middle age. B and most of the both male and female poets that had longed for him were now dead. Those few remaining, like C, who’d had crushes on him, held grudges because he never returned their advances. Their resentment had hardened over the years, and they took satisfaction that he was no longer one of the twenty thousand photos that proved he’d been such a great beauty and heartbreaker. But he still wanted to rely on being one of the beautiful people, and believed he had that choice. No one cared. Not even on Facebook. But me. I still cared for him. He hadn’t been just beautiful. He was a kind man. Very kind. Genuine and generous too. History is always being rewritten in the arts world. Artists like him, igniting or fanning the big flame stars of culture get tossed in the rewrites. Sad, because he also published respectable books, worked his ass off in promotional service to their literary movement. But that resentment from the people he didn’t fuck or those he ended it with, came with karmic scorn for his vanity and pride. It happens all the time. Which somehow seems even worse than just getting old and having one’s work dismissed for any of the real reasons. Shoved off the stage and shown the door. Cock blocked from the new topper now. They don’t even send him event emails anymore.
‘The people—they walk through you’— Before I left town, I bought a farewell trinket to give C at her reading that night. And a single flower to place next to one of B’s pictures on campus. Truly, I was sick of seeing my reflection in ghosts of others’ incorrect self-understanding. A called but I couldn’t answer. I called L but he didn’t answer. O called but I didn’t want to answer. I called Uncle U, but he didn’t want to answer. Q went to voicemail. N left a voicemail. I walked into the 7-11, came out, there were mountains, ate at a cheap restaurant, came out, there were mountains. So I went into the mountains, and there were only mountains.
Karen X Minzer— Some things I did–50s/60s: Texas country towns; 70/80/90s: U of Texas, Austin Sun, The Panics, Naropa Institute, Paris Records, Art for Arts Sake, Starck Club, Bearsville, Dial A Poet Television, Wowapi; 2000-present: Dharma Broads, WordSpace, UT Dallas, Naropa University–I’m not done.