Friday, January 20, 2012

The Gilmores

In come darkness tripping light
Outshine daybreak slippery night
Catdance grateful on ferret's feet
Salvation dreamland stripmine street

I want to be a rider like my father
Cloudstorm singsong instrument weep
All the blue-blue guitars
And the railroad lanterns in the rain
Motel signs flashing on the highway in the rain
I see your blue eyes crying in the rain
Feel the songbirds flying in the rain
Heard about the young men dying in the rain, and the mud
Blackcoat feverdream young child's bed
Exit laughter enter dread
Curiosity unsanded in tendime store
Clockstrike darkness tender whore
Porchlight dimming singer's defeat
Angeltalk anthem down Larimer Street
Plainsong cruelty endsummer heat
Instant-tract balloting come rebel's run
Takestock laughingly dying stun
Wheregoes Eleanor, wheregoes your son
Wheregoes darkling Bobby when teasing day is done?
Rimstone rabbit dying quail
Whalebeach seashore crimsontide snail
Pianostrike different ones not what you think
Deadtired pocketsgone bloodwine drink
Razorblade staticsound recompense grow
Prairiefire overland to prison we go
Bicycle rusting in the drizzling rain
Automobile graveyard in the bloodstained river

Roots Roots Roots
Motel Motel Motel
But the angels are gone
Foghorn Foghorn Foghorn
In the lonesome American night
Trainwhistle riders, hitchhikers and fighters
All of them gone, gone, gone
Where the wild goose flies, and the coyote calls
What happened to the hitchhikers anyway?
Not that I'd stop; I'm just curious
Where are you Jack?  Where are you Jerry?
Where are you Far Wanderer? Where are you Lonesome Traveler,
     Great Rememberer, my lost kin?
Keep on keeping on; these birds have flown
Old drunk Jack, don't be so sas
Your sorrow was not misplaced, no more so than Buddha's
     nor Jesus's
(Oh no, I didn't forget, I thought of you, too, Allen
When I spied old Bill Gates, fresh in off the road ahead
Fingering virtual tangerine in the produce section of America's supermarket
All he'll ever earn is money)
Aberdeen Aberdeen Aberdeen
Prettiest girl I ever seen
Was back home in Aberdeen
Stinkin' lumber town
Got nothin' left when all the trees are cut down
So you chop at anything that gets too tall
Or that might fly too high
Strip all the timber from up off the ridge
Chain your broken angels up under the bridge
Still laughin' 'bout that hole in his head
Still laughin' 'bout that hole in his heart

You know, you run around with a thought inside
     your head long enough
You begin to think it's your own
But you gotta be real careful about something like that
You could wake up in a brokedown palace with your looks gone
     and the bills all due
Bleeding on the inside and on the outside not showing a thing,
     not even to yourself
So that even your name sounds phony
And you can't count all the times you want to cry
Your best friends are strangers, and your children are cheats
Way too late to pray, way too late to start again
Still too humble to be forgiven
Imagine your surprise when they tell you this is heaven

Silence falls like a black cloud over the land
Rain pours in sheets, and the wind storms about
Beyond the black muddy river snowfalls over Interstate 80
And in the little storefront towns it's almost Christmas

It was up in these hills many years ago
That Elvis ran his car into a ditch in the midst of
     a son-of-a-bitchin' blizzard
And tore that long black Cadillac up to pieces
Everything died but a dogleg bass and the radio,
     which played nothin'
But gospel music in that snowfallin', Clara Ward
The Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen
The Dixie Hummingbirds and the Gospel Shakers, the Five Blind Boys
Of Alabama, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Soul Stirrers and Amazin' Grace
'bout six times in a row, as Elvis and his girl
Froze silently to death 'neath the boughs of the pines
The soft, gently whisperin' pines
In the pines, in the pines
Where they had been thrown from the wreckage
Dressed all in black, the both of them, from head to toe
And even underneath, immaculate, not a mark on neither
The snowfalling so hard, the ditch so deep, the night so black
The road so cold and lonesome, the pines so silent
Them moving so fast, them flying so far and so high
That none there were to find them, even come springtime
For animals or Indians or half-whites took the bodies away

It was then I remembered him saying the only
     thing I ever remembered him saying to me:
Killers are made, not born
You know, there's a particularly American kind of loneliness
As American as the moonlight or blood at the crossroads
You can shoot out the stars like streetlamps
And probably no one'd even notice, there's so many of them
Won't win you nothing more than a violation
That sky stretches to forever, and the land is just as big
Too much to live up to, just the idea of it is immense
It's a big country, bigger than you are
Bigger than anyone that's ever lived in it
Lots of space, lots of burying ground, lots of noise to
     cover things up with
It's not that hard to get yourself heard here, but
     really nobody is listening all that much
Hell, man, imagine having the room to run all the way
     to the next ocean
You should see what it looks like when you get
     around to see it sometime
A roadmap of Nevada's the most frightening thing
     I've ever seen
Just space and distance and stars overhanging
And the strange poetry of placenames on all that land
Imagine having a desert to spare where you can
`    test a bomb
Grand enough to tilt the world off its axis
Yet it's still a mighty long road from Tupelo to Memphis
     (Sacred blue city, where some of the best of us never made it out)
And more of us died on it than ever made it there
You stand under these stars, what would it take to
     make them take notice?
But what the hell do I know, I'm only a truckdriver
Imagine a country where . . . all men are created equal
You know what kind of pressure that puts you under?
For then it's only my fault
An opportunity not even Adam and Eve knew, with
     every outcome justified
Any Jesus can die for your sins
It takes a man to live with them

Yes, it's dark days in the republic, my friend
Never have I heard of a people so proud of all
     they don't know
Flaunt ignorance like courage
You can reckon a debt anyway you like
Tally a total from here to doomsday
But never count yourself poor so long as you're rich
     enough to refuse alms to a beggar
Class always shows, and blood will tell
No faster way to make a desert of your land
     than practice its laws
My daddy taught me never to spit at a bum
Probably because his daddy was one, and his daddy before that
And before that all is lost
Though some with our name spent time on the cross
And shivered in a ditch on the road to Clonakilty, God help us
Gnawed bark from the trees, abandoned out unburied,
     weightless, too many children to
          the scavenging dogs
Absorbed their uncomforted cries as the horsemen
Knocked the roof down around them, and the
     kittens scrabbled in the embers
Like apparitions we were, like walking corpses
     like shadows, like ghosts
Rebels and bandits and paupers and thieves, surplus
     population each, and I'm proud of every one of them
Cropping even the famished grass like low insensate beasts
Sailing our own coffins to these bountiful shores
Where too we were mocked, called worse than niggers
And worked so hard we never grew old
Yet though they did call us lazy. . . drunken
Irresponsible. . .intractable. . .criminal-minded
Lustful. . . impotent. . . credulous and stubborn . . .
Thieving . . . pious and superstitious . . .We were muscle and
Brawn, barroom brawlers and baseball players, bareknuckle
Pugilists, breeders, and marvelous at carrying a tune
Comic actors and kitchen maids, absentee fathers and
     unwed mothers
We were still laying the tracks when the trains smoked through
'Tis a universal tale, would you but listen

The snow has started to fall again, exquisitely
Leaving me so happily alone
Muffling all sound, especially the sigh of expectation
As I watch from my window the cars stop driving
The lights stop shining, the trains stop crying
And silence descends with the darkness over the hills
The bare trees bend mourning and quiet, like the gallows
Attended by misplaced, solitary birds
Beneath a gray speckled sky like the endless ocean
Dispensing an early twilight, the half-light color
Of remembrance in solitude, the season of the bells
I would not live where it does not fall
I need see the sun only so often as to kindle hope
Were that to be never, it would be faith that was required
A much different thing, and harder
Which I will surrender to only at the end
If then, of exhaustion and fear and strategy, embracing it
As does the bandit his refuge and the straight life
     at the end of the long crooked trail, sincerely
I disbelieve like love in spite of not because
And that other Dylan was wrong about the outlaws
The arrogance is all on the other side, with the power
Though the full moon in the afternoon poses a challenge,
     even the shining tenpenny sliver
With the planes circling, winking like planets
Winter is still best, it's so much easier to live up to
Hag's tresses on the frozen willows, sixbit moon shining bright

Yeah, well, like I say, what the hell do I know
I'm only a truckdriver
That other guy up there in the big house, with
The costumes and the whores and the amphetamines
And the tittyless girls wrestling in their underpants
That was never me; I should know, I was up there
I masturbate only when I'm alone, and real hard up
No teenagers and a camera and a cross, for Christ's sake
Try not to bother nor do harm to any other Christians
Nor Jew neither, for all that matter
Of course, in my line of work there's not all that much pressure
People tend to pretty much leave you alone, and encounters are fleeting
They respect your privacy and such
And it's not too hard to meet a nice girl every so often
Something healthy, you know, real, not one of these freak shows
I got some miles on me, I know, but I ain't looking too bad
And I always been real polite and respectful, just
     like my mama raised me, and generally
          I'm feeling real well
I couldn't name any regrets, no sir, that's right
I'm older now, you know, things don't seem to matter
     in the same way as much as they used to do
I just try to walk with Jesus, keep my head straight
Look at things clear, do you know what I mean?
Sing a little stll, yeah, for myself and in the choir,
     play the piano
Got my old upright in the little frontroom at home,
     in the front parlor
Just always loved the way that one sounded, I guess
Sometimes I'll work with a couple of the kids from the church
They're just not as interested as they used to be
Not as interested as I was, no, that's for certain
But I'm not either, and who really is
When you get right down to it?
I never even turn on the radio, less'n the Tigers are playing
And I'm out somewhere making a drop-off
I'll pull off somewhere quiet, in the shadow of a streetlamp
Pop open a Dr. Pepper or something like that and
Close my eyes a little, just lay back a little
A stranger in my own hometown
Then I can see it all real clear: Everything
The people, the crowd, them Tiger Belles, the kids
     there for the first time
Quiet to silence sometimes with the excitement of it all
     "Cept for them sassy Tiger Belles doing what only
          they can do best
I used to go myself, yeah, but they got way too popular now, and
     I can't afford to anymore
Those boys, they play the game the way I used to sing
The way I wanted to sing, the way I could hear it once
When my heart beat in rhythmn with the music of the universe
That's the only way I can put it to you
It's all right there them, right then, right there
You can hear something of the sound of the soul
     of the country in the way they play
Yeah, hear it -- there's a sound for everything
You know that, right?  Well, I've heard that, and
    a word, and
Everything has a color, too
Despair has a shade, and there's a key for regret
And a word and a sound that captures the flight
     of a crow on the wing, flying stillborn
          in the teeth of the wind of a rainstorm
As beautiful as an ellipsis, as abandoned railyards
     where weeds grow from between the ties
All of it contained and transmitted in a human voice
Probably they'd tell you it's all about cheers and money
Part of me got mistaken into thinking that way too for a little while
But that's not it, you find out too late, when it's gone
It'll happen less and less often though: For you
     might always get a knock at the door
Pardon? It's just like the commercial says:
Because basketball is the truth, that's why
That time the Goat slipped down in Harlem, a
     whole community slipped down with 'em
And Black Jesus redeemed the multitudes, whirling grace
I don't know, not really: You can't lose what you never had
     they used to say, and that's still true today
What else is?  Not all that much, that I have experience of
Just the things that remain, not what you'd think
A simple life: Try to be kind to others, and forgive
     the ones that don't know as well
That ole lonesome boy in that big empty house can
     tell you all about that
He knows just how all this feels, and sometimes,
     late at night, he could still sing it for you, too,
          no matter what they all say, you get him
               alone with a piano
Inside that blowjob monster's just a scared old
     country boy still misses his mama, that's all
Got run over by life and don't know what hit him;
     he ain't alone in that
Never was, of course: how do you think you get to
     sing like that?
You gotta have a heart big as the country, when
     this country was still bighearted, that is, and
          that's a long order
And it's real, real easy to get hurt that way, too
People ain't that complicated; what they do is

Through a darkened front window, mesmerized cats
     study the full moon off the reflective snow
And carry it away in their eyes . . . .
If they know anything more about it than me, they're not saying
Stay with me beasts, faithful as ghosts, watch over me tonight
I know you know the way to someplace I'm going
     maybe the way back, too
I'm not afraid to sleep in the moonlight, either
Just the cold, cold ground
The dissolving sea, the paradaisical, somnambulant rivers
The empty car, papers all in order, indeed, more so
And found more easily than it's last occupant
Who was reported driving erratic and slow
As if having trouble seeing through the storm
Bright lights on, in the righthand lane, slowing to a halt
The falling snow suspended in the solution of the highbeams
The flakes swirling like life in an aquarium, like souls, like atoms
For eternity, the last thing you see
Careful, now, still; he sets the flashers
There will be no more accidents: if he wanted to fall
He could take his chance on living
So he checks the mirrors, side and rearview, one
     last proof he's real, pops the hood and trunk,
          and steps out
Moving slow and dejected but with purpose
Frustrated, bare head down against the storm
Wallet left lying open to his name and picture
     on the passenger seat
Sticks his head 'neath the protection of the upraised hood
Plays a flashlight's beam over it
Nothing here you would be surprised to see in passing
Another dark and cold late-one-night in the breakdown lane
Thinks: One last encounter with things I don't understand,
     and can't fix
Prays: That not now will someone stop to help, let it be too late
Waits: For his fellow travelers to pass on by
And climbs upon the bridge's rail, standing
Balancing upright with the guywire's help
Babylon and Jerusalem, shadowy and aglow, straight ahead,
     far behind
Accelerating the process now to its end, how great a sin can that be?
A matter of speed only -- relativity -- and not destination
Is reminded of a ship's rigging and webs, balls of yarn, Chinese checkers
And goes over, a meteor hurtling, unhinged from its orbit, slave to gravity
Another falling angel, another Icarus, dying star, cosmic dust
And yet gone missing will derail another, it all comes closer, hurried along
Hurricane of hummingbird wings, the ants stampede
Meaningless but never inconsequential
(Indeed, there was some small part of his great sorrow, in ego trapped
     Convinced less of his importance than of others' generosity, or perhaps
          that they too are made of the elements, but never that they had
               the power to forgive him)
Falls rapidly unseen through the darkness into the sky
Reflected toward him in the ice-covered river
Like a pistolshot crashes out of this world through the clouds and the stars
     And the lights
Into the burning cold    into the oldness and deep

They find him in the morning on top of the hill
A blot on the snow
Surrounded by shards of ice jagged as windshield glass
     where late a passenger has flown
Halfslumped over on his side, in a strange position, only halfburied
As if clasping a wound
Like the frozen Indian at that last massacre
This, too, another death he'd past read about
"I must go out now . . .  I may be some time"
(And he could hardly have believed he would have
     been the first
          To return -- was that his gambit then?
Perhaps then it was vainglory and potvaliance the two shared
Conquesters of continents and mountainpeaks; sounders
     Of dungeondark depths, where the rain never falls and the
          sun never shines, and there be unimaginable monsters
And the shut-in, all but, booktraveller
Whose authentic physical wanderings had taken him
Only so far west as Ashland, Ohio, north once to Montreal, and south
     to Norfolk, Virginia
To the east he just looked, across the waves, back
Who asked them to go then?  Who waited for them there?
Did Thule quiver in anticipation of its mapping?
And what were they afraid of at home?
Methinks them less brave than the blue-eyed boy in
     the land of the giants
Who finds a marble in the trashbin
And suffers the loss of blue bear with unashamed tears
And laughing good faith in tomorrow
What are you looking for, what vanity blows you
Like leaves across the freezing ground?
The puma will pounce, regardless; the code has been entered
The cells divide and split again
Keep a wilderness of your heart
Therein is the world; make your explorations there
What matter if your land be desert
For rain follows the plow
Allow no one to tame or settle it; trade none of it for security
     or its promise
Grant no concession to trappers, traders, miners, or engineers;
No priests should build their missions there
Carve your own trails, leave memory your only chart
The more difficult for outsiders to navigate
Allow only the wind and the rain to build there, and
     the stars to watch over it
Lay the tracks along another route, paste the handbills
     elsewhere, move the boosters on
Let the store and town spring up at some other junction
Leave your dust for the crows and the coyotes: Theirs it will
     be in any event, as certain as behind the boom follows the bust
Don't sell the land you stand on, for where should you be buried?)
He was as ill-equipped as that poor fool, only a little less confused
Though it never spurred him to seek cover in glory
(An old-fashioned notion that today is called fame,
     its cheap counterpart, as intensity to passion, wealth to
          riches, success to honor, yet still even in those times
               mosttimes falsely coveted in miscomprehension
                    of its nature)
And no false entries would disgrace his journal, even should he not return
(A ghostly authority he was certain he could enforce: taught in the school of
    soft knocks, like that of the raven's upon his chamber door, he had careful
          study made of the power of the dead to command)
Just go on down that dirt road by himself, where they would not even do him
     one kind favor
This experience had taught him he could rely on
This was no part of his motive, though, which must remain obscure
There are sadder things to leave than a mystery
Though the grieving heart first cries out "why?"
Yet in its depth, in a truth not so easily rendered, is the solace of bigger things
Did you think you were exceptional?
Here is the communion of the souls
You can know them without ever speaking
Look up . . . . light shines from tearstained windows
Wisdom shines in rainwashed faces
And no one hears your footfalls on the leafstrewn sidewalk
Until comes the wind to hurry it all away
Do you not know these things? Would he have to write them in his book,
     and even then would you understand?
Inside the apartment, the water runs, somewhere deep within the walls
And the woman, she thinks, hidden deep within that midnight cataract
Is the sound of her baby crying
In that room so far distant down the hall
Have you not known this?  How could you not?
     And could you not live it?
Here's access to the worldwide web, for whoever
     is joined to all the living retains hope
And sometimes that baby just keeps right on crying . . . right on
     for years and years and years
Rain falls, the water runs, tears flow, the years roll, the rivers run
To the ocean, which is never filled
Yet there are floods, and great storms sweep over the abiding earth
Justice is not a thing of this world, where the hungry cry and the rich eat
Still you will not know elsewhere such beauty and truth, which are the
     province of the living
And why the dead stay so long with us
This is all of what you must do: Make it whole, arrange the fragments
Look at the way things are arranged, not necessarily with a purpose
Yet have you never profited from happenstance?
Why should you be different? It will come to you as it comes to us all: In
     a darkened house so quiet you can hear the clock ticking
It'll happen less and less often, though, for you might always get a knock
    at the door
Did you think I might mean death?  Maybe it was insight, which others call
     clarity and I, salvation
Maybe he was like me: Sometimes I think so hard my teeth hurt, and
     no one seems to understand why I wake in the night sobbing; touch
          me and I shout
The medicine doesn't work anyway, that's for sure,
     another secret nobody knows but me
Here's the example, the parts don't fit;
But I saw it in his eyes the first time
     the last time I saw the video: He'd
          already been there
What bargain had he struck for so brief a return,
     to sing one last song?
You have to watch real careful to see it
'Cause the credits almost cover it
He plays that ancient murder ballad, as old
     as yesterday's betrayal, and it seems he
          almost nods
In empathy, perhaps with his protagonist
Was that the secret he took with him?
Another mystery solved, another stoned engineer
Then his lids rise, a last wide-eyed, blue-eyed look
And he wakes, to fear, incomprehension, not a nightmare so much
As the wrong place, always the wrong place, always the wrong time
How did all these people get so close, and so far away?
And then they closed
Blue blue eyes, bluest eyes I've ever seen, but what are eyes?
     A microbe's ambition, nothing more
Still there's proof that worth can come of it
But what are ears? A microbe's ambition and nothing more
Still there's proof that worth can come of it
For those who suffer consciousness as an affliction
What consolation in discovering its instruments to be germs
So try the medication again
His head was found in a driving wheel, and his body never was found
How apt: Disembodied, how often have I longed for it?
Delivered from sleep, from feed, from desire
     How free I would become
In thoughts I can compete, and their torment is sanctuary:
     No one else dare go where I know, and must take flight
          at the approach
But I would gladly surrender the yoke
                                         So he says
For he lies about everything, even what's bothering him
     Just ask his doctor, and his wife
Had though, I found just one of you worthy of the truth,
     I would have told it to you
But I did not trust you enough, you did not earn it
This was nothing; I hinted merely and you got scared
What was it you were frightened of? I came closer than this
I never asked you to go with me; you could not stand even to hear of it
It was this left me most alone, and made me brave
That you turned away and looked at me so strangely
Never would I have credited myself with being so original,
     but it seemed only I thought this way
Blast me for silence, but if my thoughts are forbidden, how can I speak?
Is this really all that you feel?  Have you really never thought any of this?
Why, then, take such pride in the commonplace?
It's a true wonder I never got burned, you shine so brightly,
     beyond extinction, you believe
          Don't you?
Better turn it against oneself than another, for
Every condemnation is murder in the heart
I might give you credit for restraint but perhaps
     you just lack imagination
Presumably you've never thought any of this, either
So how could you be in their place? For what are you
     to be congratulated?
Without temptation or opportunity or need there is no innocence
The only sin is power, the only virtue is forgiveness
Yours I don't need, this, too, I'll take on my own
Would you deny that each of us must die?  Soon?  Now?
     Then how lonely you must be, or what surprise that
          there is this in me
Close enough, already,for you, I'll come closer still, watch
     Look and look and look and look
          And never turn away
You'd better just listen, I don't have the time to make this rhyme
Words are faster than I am, but I still can't outrun it
This is what I've seen: My brother cold already
    in his grave, eyes closed, parched and bruised lips
          slightly parted, mark on his cheekbone, skin like candlewax
               with the flame long guttered out
Faster than you are, and less afraid, laid out on a table
     in a flimsy gown, someone else's heart in his chest and unchanged
"Watch what's going to happen now" was the last thing
     we heard him say, a minute not greatly different than all the others
Proof, do you need it, that there's death in life and life in death, they are
     the same as meaningless unto themselves
Time is the challenge, science is magic, don't be so proud
For which is the greater, a silicon chip or a grain of sand?
Answer what you will poets are prophets, and so shall be you
Arrange the fragments: Pay attention, make words of what you see,
     and then a sentence
Or colors and notes and then a song
Did you think you could outrun him you were mistaken,
     and neither have you looked as hard
So raise your monuments of paper and stone, I'll wait for you
     in Potter's Field
His mother entered then, threw her arms around his neck, and
     raised him to herself
And for the first time I understood the Pieta
Have you not known this? And could you not live it?
"Tis a universal tale, would you but listen
Sleep won't take my mind away, it's another three-ten
Sleep won't take my mind away, it's another three-ten
Just lying here thinking, waiting for when
          I got them Ticking Clock Blues
Snow in the railyard, trains abandoned under vaporous lamps
Tracks running where no watchman comes
Refuge for pariah dogs, another prophecy fulfilled
No lanterns swinging, no flashlights darting, no fires burning in rusty barrels
The switches are frozen
And no commuter's ghost haunts the lonesome passenger cars
For the souls were pensioned off in the big buyout, and they're buried
     down on Wall Street
Well, you know, it's hard to tell, it's hard to tell
When all your love's in vain    guitar
These are my blues, the only way I can play them
Dad lay dying on the couch, ravaged like a skeleton
Too ashamed of his wasted body to change his shirt
In front of the faithful little boy who mixed and brought him
The special medicinal milkshake
But he was shedding the weight of this world, not putting it on
Until in his pain and suffering he begged them
Make me a pallet on your floor    piano
For what was by then little more than his shadow to rest on
There he lay, how long, how long    piano
Until in the dark middle of one dark night, he cried out
And another boy, almost a man, his bedroom adjacent
     aroused from masturbatory sleep
Reached for the clock and saw that it was ten minutes after three
Fearful of what dark forms in hovering convention around the dying man
Could not bring himself to go out to him
Do you know what it's like to be haunted?
Who can say whose time it was had come?
Do you not know thia?  Could you not live it?
But this is all that is required of you:\
Comfort a crying child, sit with a dying man
This is all there is: The earth belongs to the sufferers,
     though others hold the deeds
Another brother confused, chased by imaginary pursuit
His gentleness run off from him and made a stranger
These are the deep, deep blues, like being buried up
     to your neck in mud, like my father's eyes, like my brother's,
          like my son's, like Dylan's
The littlest one, nine or ten, milkshake maker
     dreams of his dead father hanged from the family tree
Whence comes this imagery? His is not the color
     nor the place nor the time of such crimes
How great is the art of the guitar, how many the crosses
     how few of us do honor to the vigil of the dying man
Bury Christ and raise him with three chords and a handful of blue notes
Don't worry about the key, just write your song
You need only make it your own, not new: For all real songs are old
Of what I've made of me from all of it you already know too much
And there is no story there: Sorrow is never what you bear, which
     belongs to another
How does it feel?  Sing the song and you are free
Tell your story and you are free
Know your story and you are free
What if I were to tell you that America's greatest singer
     works from a milkcrate
At the boardwali on the beach for handouts and
    chokes on windblown sand the sunny day through?
And even now it greatest poet nears your town
On his neverending journey to the soul of the country?
No more excuses, that's what: you'd have to do it yourself
"And behind this old honesty there can be only thieves"
There is no heaven, no burning hell, still death is not the end
Could you believe it, you might not yet
The train leaves at half-past-ten: All aboard
     for the long ride to the endless graveyard
          thanks again and always, Jack
See, you wish again that I would not speak, it's
Unbearable, you say, but I bet I laugh more
     than you do,and enjoy it more: not even your spirits dance
You can't really think like this all the time,
     you say, and I think that you must be the lonely one
What else is it you would have me do?
You have your song, and I have mine
There is perhaps more harmony than your ear tells
Who got murdered, who got killed?
I came in from the cold outside, blowing like a racehorse
I heard the voice upstairs, behind the closed door at the end of the hall
But when I entered there was no one and nothing there
Just the radio on the desk playing that old murder song
Curtains blowing in from the open window above the aged radiator
And a tragedy of ravens conferring outside in the darkness on the wire
This, too, have I seen and wished to paint it:
     A stream choked
To standing with overgrowth, shopping carts,
     bottles and newspapers, a plankless
          wooden bridge crossing, tires
A graveyard of automobiles, down and off
The exit ramp, hard by the culvert, in the shadow of the streetlamp
Skeletons of cars, rusted unto death, wheels gone,
     doors taken, windshields shattered
Some with bulletholes, and the bandits clustered
     around a fire burning in an open barrel
Taking smoke into their chests
So who is to say there are no angels, at least of our nature,
     and what their purpose might be
This, too, must be eternity, and who can argue with it
His action, then, was indecisive, the coroner's report inconclusive,
     his doctor mystified, if not shocked
For he lied about everything, and who knows where is born
     the certainty that things will end bad
Perhaps in that moment when the rackety schoolbus
     maunders to the top of the hill
To find, smashed between the lane of oaks and the dump truck
Peeled back as if by some great can-opener
The yellow car the color of sunlight and speed
Skinned trees, crumbled lampposts, and shattered fences
Describing its spinning, chaotic course
Police cars and ambulances screaming at the scene
Cordons thrown up, incomprehensible instructions
     crackled out in mechanical megaphone speech
The bus's lee side deserted as fascinated young faces
     press against the windows opposite
"No one got out of that car alive," speaking one of them authoritatively
"That was the car my brother left school in,"
     saying another quietly, so quietly that no one even heard him say it
Or perhaps it was even earlier, when, emptied of its linen ballast
The towering metal cabinet began to totter,
     tipped from its precarious stability
By the body of the one boy, pushed against it
     by the other in spirited but not malicious horseplay
Toppling ultimately not it but from on its top
     the large bottle, container of several gallons
Real glass in those faraway times, in which was kept water
To be used by the mother to make steam in the clothes iron
     she used each day in her basement laundry
Swaying, I remember it, beneath the pale fluorescent light
Perception is faster than action, always, we watched
As it came down, fell, on the uncarpeted cement floor of the cellar
Throwing tiny diamonds of glass outward as it exploded
Both of them beginning then and there to cry
     not, thought they, from any injury suffered
But from shame and guilt that they had broken the jar
When perhaps they were not supposed to have been downstairs at all, ever
Or was it just horsing around down there that was forbidden;
     in memory the directives are unclear, and neither was old enough
          then even to start school
"Come here where I can see," the father said
     gently to the one who had been pushed
His attention drawn by the flicker of lamplight
     captured in the fragment of glass now
          trapped in the blue left eye
The mother had hold of the other one, shaking
     him roughly and screaming, "You see what
          you did? You see how you hurt your brother?
               You see what you did to him?"
As if the splintering flying glass had blinded
     her also to herself; but her anger and fear,
          her words, had not been born there either
Nor could she see that she was speaking to herself,
     as most often we do when convicting others,
          with no more justice
For the house had been haunted before they even lived there,
     by the stainless soul of the chrisom child
Not truly, more so in poesy than in actual definition,
     in innocence and sorrow, for he reached eighteen months
But would you understand you must seek the
     other truth, the one that I know, dismiss
          all science, see what every eye tells you
Even my only one (there, I had not meant to so
     Reveal myself; which of the brothers was I,
          I wished you to keep asking
               Is this theft or is it empathy? Did
    I crash or did I mourn?)
Unendingly you proclaim your disbelief in ghosts,
     In this can be measured the degree of your corruption
Your skepticism, I assure you, is of no matter to them
     and does you no credit; sooner should you
          deny the atom, and you would seem less credulous
And they guard themselves with mirrors, and we are too
     Little alone, looking for ourselves in the crowd,
          finding membership there but never belonging
"What have you done?" she screamed, screamed at him
     shaking him, shaking him
"What did I do?" she meant, with now new
     cause for forever wondering, again, accusation,
          hollow though, even against herself, guilt
               incurred before the crime, again I failed my watch
How dare you deny the ghosts: I could link you
     a chain of sorrow from here to the garden, and
          this but one song in a minor key, something
               to hum only to myself, never dare sing aloud
Yet foolish would you be in thinking yourself
     Fortunate to escape it, for this, too, must be
         all we know of eternity, and who would
               argue with it; as the night keeps the day
                    so, were we immortal, would our life be
      beyond notice
Whose work does the wolf do?  Everything that is forbidden
     is also natural, or where springs the necessity, and all
          knowledge starts in sin
This is your theology, not mine, you have prejudices,
     not convictions, say it anyway you like, all
          knowledge is sin, all sin is knowledge
All sin is only this: to exercise power over another one of us
Whose vanity is the greatest, when you insist that
     Yours is God's work, or of the greater good,
          or for my own? Do you think by judging
               it too short you could lengthen the day
                    by even one minute?
The night will come, and with it the cold, and
      the wolves howl
Did you think if you were treated fairly you
     would survive death?
Oh oh, I think you did, here it is: Justice, the
     second-oldest of man's desires, from which
          all his religions are born
Here's mine, sing this:
And now the angel speaks from among you:
For it is written, leave the dead to bury
Your dead, and this is right, for they no
Longer have need of you.  This you know,
And it is part of your sorrow, but also
You cry for them, that in their passing
They knew fright, that the brave man 
Balked, and that the fearless halted. Cry
Not, for their passage was gentle, and 
That for which you loved them made easy 
Their way, and they themselves escort the 
Friendless.  Yea, and that which
Diminished them, and all their earthly 
Woes, are forgotten, and that which made
Them great are strengthened, as are all
The cords which bind.  Yea, but do not
Forget them even as they cleave to you,
For their journey is shorter than you think,
And they lie near, though it may seem that
Desolate canyons, the angry seas, heaven's
Vast expanses and the eternal sands of the 
Desert divide you, yet are they close, and
Your love lifts them, and in your hearts
They are exalted. Tremble not for their pain,
For they have none; take not their fear unto
Yourselves, for it is lifted. Fear not to mourn,
For it shall redeem you; fear not to live, as
They did not; fear not to die; for all shall be
Rejoined.  Know that you have been given all 
That you need.  He whose day was shortest hath
Other consolations; possessing understanding,
He needeth it not; for he hath the secret, which
Is joy.  He sits under a brighter sun, and breathes
Night air that is fragrant with promise.
Not good enough? You do not offend me, it shouldn't be; write your own and believe it
But the night will come, and with it the cold, and the season is almost past
All that snowfalling soon turned to prophet's rain
So he must hurry across town on his own
Past the drowsing houses, slipping like darkness's shadow
     past the barking dogs 
One-eyed, cataract blind, like the singer at the crossroads
     (forget all those other blind seers, it is time to honor
          your own), ahead of the wailings, gotta keep
               moving, gotta keep moving, blues
     coming down like hail, dead man walking
Crossing behind town in the darkness to the hill above
     the flickering lights
He plods through snow to his knees to the top
And lays down to rest in the pines, the soft whispering
     pines, the gentle whispering pines, in the pines,
          in the pines, where the sun never shines, and
               you shiver when the cold wind blows
Uncaps the bottle with which he will ease himself in,
     will hasten and protect him
Pours a remembrance onto the frozen snow and begins
     to sip the whiskey, leaves it to the God in 
          whom he does not believe, and his savior Jesus
To determine whether he wakes or freezes
I wonder if they'll keep my grave clean, he wonders,
     one kind favor I'd ask of them
The snowfalling at some point begins to cover him up
And he gets turned, partway on his back, a little 
     on his side, as if he tried to rise, bare hand
          on the tipped, snowy bottlw
He leaves no note, but there was his life
Is he suffering the punishment, or is he committing the crime?
They bring him down on a stretcher strapped to sled in the late morning
Death by exposure, the coroner calls it, death by misadventure
And aren't they all, truly, whose is not
This, too, must be eternity, and who can argue with it?
No, strike a line through all of it, it's cowardice
     and nothing more, I did already, I'll 
         forgive him anyway
Would I had done it sooner, but for what?

A man to be admired once asked
How much history can be communicated by pressure
     on a guitar string?
The answer is, of course, all of it, just like any other act
More sometimes than even the player may be aware
Which is his genius and his torment
The artist is conscious --that he is acted upon
To name it is to create, to sing it is to create
That which made me I never knew
I learn it like a story, like Caspar Hauser
All that is forbidden is also natural,
This, too, is eternity,or all we know of it
And would you argue with it?
Nobody ever killed without reason: how would you
     set yourself apart?
I know, I was up there, and that wasn't me
I believe that just about every white man they
     ever executed in this country looked like me,
          or wanted to
And the colored ones were even prettier
I know they felt like me
Like they got put in a world that was never meant for them
And there weren't but one way to bring it closer
     Or make it line up
You know, things happen to people that there's no
     making up for
And sometimes they live through it
Gilmore, sure I remember that boy; had for them
    to kill him I guess
It's what he wanted, weren't it?
They took him just a few months before I was called home
My old friend John talked to him on the phone just before they did it
"Is this the real Johnny Cash?" the boy asked him;
"Well, this is the real Gary Gilmore," he said right back to him
Like he ever knew
Grandson of a magician, with a soul that disappeared
In Utah, that little America where its sins 
     are memorialized and the outcasts sit in judgment
Called by themselves now saints
Justified in rectitude by opportunity, having run
    far enough to outdistance the miscomprehending herd
I guess the country's a lot smaller now, seems that way, at least
Erecting in doctrine the monument that the children 
     shall suffer for the crimes of the ancestors
But you can pass on that debt forever, collect payment when you will
You know on the news today where I live there was a story
About some kids who killed for some sneakers
Or maybe it was a leather jacket
Niggers with guns just wanted a pair of Air Jordans, I suppose
But what color was old Stagolee, anyway, and how can you be so sure?
I know a whole country that was conquered for beaver hats
And that assessment seems not that far off from your own
For it has been determined: a human life is worth
      precisely five hundred and two dollars, if you
           serve on the coroner's jury
You know, they put my daddy in prison, too, one time
For being lazy and shiftless and generally not worth a damn,
     but as it is written
One can indeed come out of prison to reign, even 
     though born poor in the kingdom
"What kind of singer are you?"
      "I sing all kinds."
"Who do you sound like?"
"I don't sound like nobody."
Consider, for once, the possibility that I was an artist
That I could say precisely what I meant, or rather knew, in my own way
And the language that I speak, as I speak it,
     holds more possibility than your own
That in randomness there is beauty
If you but see the order
They were right, my name means chaos
What do you think it cost me, another suffering servant,
     not to sound like nobody
It's a big, lonesome country, without virtue,
     which is only forgiveness
You seem to have mistaken God's work and your own
There seems to be some fundamental misapprehension
To exercise fate is not to protect oneself from it
To judge history is not to escape it
Always and everywhere we must be better than what happens to us
This is the task: why cannot it start with you?
If you cannot attempt this, then you may not condemn
Some there are born to misery
What has been taken from you cannot be lost
Save you forfeit it yourself
"Hush little baby don't you cry
You know your daddy's bound to die
All my trials, Lord, will soon be over . . . .
There was a guy that said one time, he said,
You never stood in that man's shoes
Or saw things through his eyes
Or stood and watched with helpless hands
While the heart inside you dies
So help your brother along the way
No matter where he starts
For the same God that made you made him today
These men with broken hearts"
Make it whole, arrange the fragments
Then we make God better, as ourselves

Gunshadow bornagain lastday sooncome
Thoughtful nevermind vanity hardwon
Bluesmusic sorrowbound
Like newsprint sullying snow
Remember me . . . . but now let me go
           Let's do it
Who's to say there are no angels, at least of our nature
     What's lost might sometimes be found
          I may be some time