Fellow I’d done seen you goin’ up and round this here corner Richie Rich you caught that itch best be givin’ me that there dollar Hey man why stand there Starin’ like you care for once in yer life No sir just go sir You can’t fool me like you can yer wife Big man big shoes struttin’ down the avenue
Brother ain’t no other busker see through you the way I do Yer the saint can’t none complain ‘cept all them boys dead thanks to you Hey Drew what say you To them hungry kids whose fathers died Hey friend let’s pretend Yer hands are clean though the blood done dried Big man big shoes struttin’ down the avenue
Mister I’d done lost my sister in them waters rising high Damned dam broke watched my ma choke Guess yer steel ain’t worth yer pride Carnegie, you gotta job fer me Hear yer buildin’ us all a fancy hall Good call, I’ll sing fer y’all Let the country see yer legacy Small man small shoes The Big Man’ll come fer you
-------------------------------------------------------------------- The above is a woefully under-researched piece of historical fiction, crafted with an un-checked artistic license. It is based on some actual events that transpired but with no claims of approaching authenticity or accuracy. Take it with heaping spoonfuls of salt. Also, the affected accent is in no way meant to offend.
A lark called out from a far-off canopy in answer to the strident tone buzzing from the grasswhistle between Jacob’s lips. Emily collapsed in heaving giggles next to him, his face a mask of surprise at the curious thing he had just brought to the world through his sister’s instruction. Twenty paces away, their mother and father chatted idly beneath a lemon tree, its golden prize hefty, its perfume swept across the field by a kindly breeze plucking a humble tune in its course through leaves and reeds.
Ernest drowsily surveyed his grandchildren from the umbrage of the porch, gently swaying in the same chair that his grandmother would take each night of his childhood to recount stories of simple folk doing right by their communities. He would pass one such story to Jacob and Emily this evening, he mused, but better to leave the two lights of his life some more freedom to rollick and dream. With the clattering of a door and a few creaky footsteps, he noted the arrival of Jane, the holder of his heart, the beacon of his life. She said nothing, but placed a warm hand upon his shoulder. Ernest gave a meaningful and weary look up to her precious face, then out to his child and grandchildren, then the vast family estate and the forest that flanked it. This was the happiness he had found. This was the treasure for which he had toiled. He noted a cooling shift in the breeze that had been caressing his face, and his lips drew wide and his eyes drew shut as the weariness of a long day took him.
“As you can see, my esteemed guests, it’s another resounding success.” Vera gestured to the slumped form in the chair behind her. “Ernest Galloway could have only dreamed of such a farewell.”
The attendant removed the syringe from Ernest’s arm, then the helmet enveloping Ernest's head, which rolled abruptly forward onto a feeble, concave chest. A few of the invited patrons gasped, as two more attendants entered to assist in the removal of Mr. Galloway.
“I assure you,” Vera continued as what had been Ernest was taken behind a pair of swinging double doors, “that this is the ultimate gift you can give to your loved ones. No pain. No struggle. Only love. Warmth. Acceptance. As you saw from the display screens, Mr. Galloway died a fulfilled man with no regrets. Instead of his last moments here being plagued with sickness and isolation, he was exactly where and who he wanted to be.”
Murmurs trickled from mouths to ears behind discreet hands. Vera raised a stern one, silencing her clients. “Here at Terminal Fulfillment, we provide the rarest, most gracious of services. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to step this way to where our Fulfillment Consultants are awaiting your loved ones’ needs. In fact, we are currently running a promotion for clients who would like to plan their own ideal departure...”
Now that you’re here Let me bend your ear You know I’m no good at this Well, what I mean to say is
So baby You’re off to Hawaii Don’t deny we had something good Someday be sure to tell me why we Never had all that we could
I don’t mean to spoil your day So many happy things are waiting on your way I know I don’t have the right Just let me call you this tonight
My baby You’re off to Hawaii As goodbye we could speak our hearts Some way before you go just try me Does it have to mean we part?
All of the waterfalls Won’t follow where you fall the way that I do And all of the ocean shores Won’t show emotion on your search for the truth All of the sea breezes Won’t ease the wanting of your wandering dreams So it seems
Baby You’re off to Hawaii How could I be such a fool Such an indulgent fantasy No way we could have been blithely Hand in hand in love at sea
So baby You’re off to Hawaii Know that I believe that you’re The closest thing to love I’ve known Don’t hate me Let your thoughts pass by me Let the tide take you to home
A sonata rising from the coiling recesses of the metro slides in rapids across the porcelainized burrows, wafting feebly amidst the dust of the calescent doldrums, dappling the errants’ eardrums, napes, and temples alike.
The throng at the platform of Saint-Lazare bobbles in the pyretic thrall of August’s crimson mane—its fiery bristles penetrating the crust, seeping into the gnarled intestines of the city—their gazes, gestures, and trajectories stunted, caught in a cross-section of no vehicles, a swath of non-departures.
Two women make eye contact.
The first: a whisper of sinews sliding along bones, standing in a queer pocket such that a trick of suction pulls a pale dress to and fro across stolid, jagged shoulders and knees, her eyes fixed placidly upon the woman approaching her, her lips parted in an unending exhalation.
The second: a jolt of fibrous muscles bounding to action, caged in an odd bubble such that a cruelty of chance pulls tired biceps and hamstrings into a dire pose, her eyes fixed madly upon the woman before her, her lips parted in an unresolved inhalation.
So you are the one I knew I would meet some day.
The conductor pulls on the brake with all of her force, but it is of no avail. The women share a burgeoning moment, and then the first is no more.
An hour later, upon questioning by the police, the conductor puffs through parted lips, “whether it’s for a tree, a cable, a dog, or a man, it’s the same procedure. I did all that could have been done.” She is hunched upon a bench on the platform, her uniform stuck to the hulking curve of her spine, elbows digging into shot kneecaps, fingers clawing a scalp through a soaked crimson mane.
-------------------------------------------------- It is estimated that 450 people commit suicide annually in France by putting themselves in front of oncoming trains. New conductors expect that they will one day be the unwitting cause of another's death. Veteran conductors have moment by moment accounts of their first, second, third encounters with these suicides.
It was un bon geste, in any case. So well did I embody the role of le pauvre américain that my dutiful gardiens français were compelled to whisk me away to this particular pièce de théâtre immersif culturel. The news flowed smoothly off of wine-daubed tongues, languid langues cooing after hours of pampered endurance : the apéritif, the plat principal, the dessert, the hours of quipping and sipping in between.
« Bon, Bra-yan ! said Marion. What will you do with your evening tomorrow ? —Oh, I don’t think I have anything going on. I respond. —Parfait. I thought we could all go to the meat roast. —The what? —It is a special thing in a neighborhood not far. Paul interjects. —Oh. —It will be very pleasant for us. And for you. —I see. —And there will be young people, too ! »
The déclaration wrinkled the air with mirth and pity. Such a prominent pairing here. C’est le pain quotidien.
And there we were. This particular fruition of local color and French identity was an annual meat roast in honor of the strapping beaux gosses of the neighborhood’s club de football. And honored they were. Pods of garçons virils conjoined and collapsed throughout the dining hall, their voices and gestures bounding with fraternité compétitive as their family members looked on in worship from the perimeter, piercing the boy’s rallying cries with songs of victory and conquest.
And there was I. Le pauvre américain. L’étranger. La curiosité. As the athlètes bounded around the hall, I was bound to the dinner table with Marion et Paul. They had been waiting all evening for me to make a move : breach one of the pods, charm them with my exotic otherness, but then assimilate. Be happy. They, bien sûr, began to see their faux pas. In no respect would I be able to impose my presence on any of these people. Not in this context. Dans aucun contexte. I have never been the face of the manifest destiny of American culture as a good to be exported. I can not inject myself into a foreign place and demand recognition and acceptance. Manon et Paul keep the light, tight-lipped conversation at the table alive, so as not to concede to the failure of their plans and of my integration. Their faces are taught with the effort of le paraître.
A name comes to mind for the Possible-Legal-Name-Change list. I have always disliked my own, and here, it exacerbates my otherness. Félix. A Félix would integrate here--would have no issue navigating droves of disinterested strangers. A Félix, by definition, must be happy. The name bounds around my skull for a while.
A DJ starts to play. The pods of beaux gosses Speckle the hall, But hardly hallow it As a dance floor.
I can not Impose myself onto them, Can never Assimilate into them, But sure as hell Will I assert Just how Other I am Just how Étrange Just how My muscles Weren’t bred For sport But how My bones Were bred To rip the spaces Between the beats Along the ley lines Of the air exhaling Chacun de mes os Un oiseau Qui vole Sans méprise Jusqu’au bout De l’âme
The pretty boys, flummoxed and guffawing, deride the lone American weirdo who is dancing with the intention to dance. Some parrot the movements, others let flow a joke in streams of indecipherable French. The parrots, however, begin to realize how gratifying it is to move not for purpose, but for expression. The pretty boys begin to dance in earnest. They bound and swarm among themselves, their dance a bit of a scrimmage. I leave them to their task, rejoining Marion et Paul.
« Wow, look at you go! cries Marion. —Haha, merci. Je sais comment danser! I say. —Tu sais danser. Paul corrects with a mirthful wink. —Ouais, c’est ça. Je sais danser. »
Marion, Paul et moi pass the rest of the night in high spirits, both emotional and alcoholic. They are more à l’aise for some reason. Less paraître, more être. Perhaps they are secretly happy that I prefer their company to those I am expected to befriend. We find a spot to drunkenly dance, just the three of us. On est vachement bourrés! We roll out of the hall and along cobbled roads through crooked corridors of le quartier, slurring Sinatra’s New York just a bit too loudly and avec un peu trop de bonheur.
I am from that womb Against which I never fought Whose walls I stretched Neither by fist nor foot
I am from that first thought Gauzy yet tenacious Aloft Abreast the zephyrs Mid-Atlantic No land Just a queer movement of moments Malaise at the bottom of the drain —Is it over? —Is it over? —Is it over?
I am from that first crisis The dawn of first grade 50 pounds Sad eyes looking plainly in a mirror —Why was I born me? The dawn of first truth —I will never be happy.
I am from that absence Of my father His language His culture The legacy of voyagers Uprooted at my feet Their song Trilling vowel to consonant To vowel to consonant to vowel Rotting in my mouth
I am from those deaths In the water My sister the savior My sister the slayer My sister the sine wave
I am from that sense Of self Selfishness Self-ness A rogue idea Cast into bone Flung into flesh A certainty of nothing Save self A refusal to die Despite the desire A meager vessel Seething with purpose With no vision of it Cleaving the orbits of ions In a lyric spasm That juts past the fulcrum Of the vertebrae Of the crust
I am from that fall
I from that lack of verbs I that lack prepositions That lack a subject Lack syntax that
I am from nowhere. I am from no where. I am from now here.
From where am I? I am from where From where I am Where I am from.
Many the years where I cursed your guise while stitching your shadow into my mythos.
Kindred light, I had not yet learned to feel your trace in the humble passersby that glancingly broke my stride by matching my gait—
as when you were the hibernal maiden, beauty and strength flashing in stolid gestures gripping truths,
as when you were the island daughter, precision and poise undulating through the current, breaking, crestfallen, tidal,
as when you were the haloed boy, mirth and mischief slaking my thirst for the warmth of the sun,
as when you were the stricken one, neurosis and reflection shattering happily alongside me—
forgive my pride; I had not yet learned to see you.
Kinfolk wind, for too long have you molded to my needs without reciprocity. I too shall bend beyond this frame shall dance between the bones shall fly beside your hearts humming the tune you never knew you’d need.
Kindling love, I too can be stitched to mend your holes.