The fanfare of Bascom.
When Jazz turned into rock and roll, the pretty skirts twirling up, and twisting low.
You mean, black labourer, you can taste your rights coming, but you’ve not had a part in the struggle.
Don’t dare pretend this is universal.
The pretty girls promised to me were just charlatans, with “what is love” on their lips, but with the acrid, sweat of pheromones on their breath.
Looking over at the machinery, and the young men, pretending that you’re all virtue and innocence.
But you’re licking your lips and drumming your fingers repeatedly.
And we both knew then, back then, what was awakening in you.
It was eating you, Echo.
The age when I got that sort of freedom, roamed downtown, spotted Johns and the sweets that they were after.
Opened their mouths with tarnished gold teeth and faded, flaking leaf and un-waxed splintering staffs.
And went away with my little lady in the woods in summer time.
And laid low on benzene cocktails in January.
I remember that eerie time in the graveyard, where I’d cried as a little boy, though Daddy was dead some miles away.
You thought I was going to leave forever, and yeah I would, but for then, I was there and I was with you.
And we both know that what we were doing was right regardless.
But you tore your hair out about marriage!
Sent off stories and lyrics to those bastards at the local rags.
He didn’t read shit, because he doesn’t have his job, he has his position and he doesn’t work.
Lazing around all day like he’s man made for sloth.
Remember watching those sun-rises with you, from out your attic window.
You’re a gone girl, but still less could I read about you.
We talk now, through the airwaves that it was me that up’d and gone, but you’re the heartbreaker now.
We both know that it was time well spent.
Is there anything wrong with that?
The revival was over man, it was time to be inventive, and this was how I was going to do it, to do something new.
Wasn’t going back to her, not back in small town, ten years behind me.
Ten years, so much done and gone.
The girl on my block in the city, I had no idea why she ditched me, staring at the ceiling in my room wishing she’d knock and explain it to me.
Nothing could be done or said, no place I could go or be, no show, no act, could get me back into that girl’s arms.
Nothing to bring back the wild nights, contemplative mornings.
She promised me she’d remember me, but as I saw her, long shadows crossing, she just ignored me.
Wasn’t a big lover, but I had been around the block, I’d known love, but I’d not known refusal.
Not known love, and then love removed.
And I found it very hard to think that we had gone from love, in the night, to peeling from that bed, still warm and humid, seemingly still dreaming.
And I wished that I would see her, and I wished that she would talk to me.
Not in new tones, but in the old familiar tones.
I thought maybe she was a bit off colour, that maybe she was just needing space, just going through some things, but if that was the case then probably she’d own that.
Had to admit some things to myself.
She just seemed to change her mind, to turn her back on me.
She’d gone, gone too far from me already, but I couldn’t resist trying, couldn’t resist hoping with every strain of every song, I couldn’t resist loving her in my own way.
Then when I saw her, she was clutching her London Fog, struggling with her satchel, at night as a storm kicked up.
The water making whirlpools in the wind at the blocked drain.
I imagined I heard her voice in the wind.
If she saw me then, she pretended she didn’t.
I was going to the Peppermint anyway, I felt exposed following her in, but I was going in any case, because she was likely to be there.
And as I watched, knowing I made her uncomfortable, I thought whether I had done something wrong.
I drank and I wondered should I ask her.
I drank and I watched her skirt.
A few people came up and distracted me, and turned their noses up; as I dreamed, remembering those lips, remembering those kisses, as I watched someone who looked as though they didn’t know me.
I left the club, with no rope in the wind, no taxi and no hat.
Resolved then to give her the same as I got.
Gave her no emotion, showed her the cold shoulder.
But I showed it in such a way as I gave myself away.
And it was obvious I was pretending, and it was hurtful that she didn’t even care.
And on my own I mouthed the name “Annie” in the dark.
Still that was a long time ago now, and not the last time all that happened.
Dreaming of that love, an echo from those years ago, dreaming that I’ll go back to her.
She’ll be having a drink as I arrive, and she’ll poor me another one, and we won’t have to say anything.
I’d do anything in the world to do that, to be with her.
To put my arm around her and lay her gently back onto her gilt bed.
And for days I’d live with her, she wouldn’t ask what I was doing there, she’d know.
I’d be just waking up as she left in the morning, and I’d be home when she came back.
God, I’d do anything if that would just happen, if I could make that happen.
If I could just make her home, my home for just a few days.
In that time her bed would be our world.
I’d show her the love of a man, I’d show her the brightest star.
If I could just give her a memory to replace the timid boy that left her.
I’d show her the love of a man.
I’d make her forget that I left, we’d be teenage lovers again.
And I’d be in the mood, in that mode where I’m full of it.
When the cocktail is working just right, and it all comes out.
A taste of my real mind.
I’d dip into the trust fund, for that baby.
I’d settle in, because, that’s what that money is for.
And I’d see about marriage, because the bed would be so warm.
And she’d never let me down, never cause me any pain.
Lost on a drunk, the war over, and it was Easter.
Falling over, stumbling.
And not even having the vitriol, the bile to keep thinking that evil shit which fuels a man on these benders.
Back from the Indonesian sub-continent, down and out, watching the street walkers, the phonies, and the Johns.
The street was like death, and I was like death.
Still these women approached me, “Sailor?”
Annie, who I idolised before I went off to Korea, I pretended to myself, in my ritualistic self abusive mode, I was grateful for her.
As I was in the bar, rigid with toxicity.
Not able to move my hand from the glass.
All the other ex service men coming and going, feeling some camaraderie, in our army issue dress down gear, in the wretched depths of a drunk.
And calling me, but I couldn’t even get up from my seat to take a drink with this one.
And then, the man, who had been feeding me, gave me two red ones, saying, “it’s the cure” and then just up and left, smiling.
“What is it?”
I shouted at the door as it slammed behind him.
Next I remember was climbing stairs, holding on fast, behind Melinda, some sullen Spanish skinned whore.
“Come on Mister,” she said to me.
Fingered the things around her room, her place of work.
Wanted talk, I wasn’t sure I could do what I paid for, and I wanted rest, to come out from the stupor.
But I found nothing to say as she undressed me and did her work.
I smiled as she woke me and kicked me out.
The final navy pay packet ran out, and so did my bender.
They gave me a place in the projects, and I was onto my luck now.
Straight in with the music, the negro improvised rhythms, and the women’s velvet voices.
I played a few of my old traditional ones, and they smiled politely, and so I just learned the bebop phrases and joined in where I could do least harm.
But there were also the junk men, and as time wore on, evening sessions became night sessions, became weeks lost.
Wide eyed I dreamed again, and I dreamt right through the raid, where the cops took every black man and woman I was with, and left me.
I had to leave those digs, comfortably anaesthetised though they were, to avoid the recall.
Seemed pretty easy to avoid it, pay or blackmail the right people, move state at the right time, get married, or for me, just not be at the address when they came for you.
With the navy letter, there was another from Angelo, who was on the ship with me.
He was arriving into the city, I met him at the port, sun bronzed.
We spent his last cheque in the same way as I spent mine.
And I packed him back to his parent’s beach house white as a sheet.
Still in the city I ran into some other men who knew me from before my stint.
They took me to restaurants, and we drank fine wine, I remembering “pinot noir” was said a lot.
At their parties everything was available, and I fell into old habits.
We all talked about friendship, but no one knew about addiction.
It takes longer to form a habit the first time, but I was a three time loser now, and I hit it hard.
They played around with it, as I showed them the ropes.
I pushed off and flooded into a world where I was once warm, but now wasn’t.
I itched and I ached, and they ditched me.
I went back, and they knew what I wanted.
They gave me a lid or two, but kept the doors locked to me, though I shouted through my teeth that I would kick it and come back clean.
It took me the rest of that year searching for veins to get to taking the federal cure.
To wanting to get back to the New York I’d known before.
When you get out of that place, you don’t feel “cured,” but you don’t need junk with your whole body, you can make do with like booze, or pot or something less imposing.
Made a couple of contacts in the village and I was back on the scene, admiring how much had changed in the months I had been out of it, down.
And I admired the fashions of the girls most of all.
The pencil skirts were gone, and plaids were replaced by open weave wool.
Chequer board patterns and pointed bras made my skin crawl down to my groin in a way it just hadn’t.
Tried to chat a few of these ladies up, but my patter must have been desperate.
“I’d just like to know, how you feel under that.”
“You look very pretty in that, can I jump your bones?”
Had no inhibitions about doing it, and I only wanted one outcome.
“I just want to know if that unzips or unbuttons.”
Hairstyles had changed too, bobs were gone, beehives were in.
“Is that really comfortable that tight?
“Can I loosen it.”
I was completely out though, suited in spares of whatever few friends I had left.
I felt though, I knew more than the fashionable new generation.
And I started to improve my patter, I was remembering how I used to do it.
I approached with confidence, and said little, but listened a lot.
Asked a few questions, and brought a couple of drinks.
Then I’d suggest somewhere, a rooftop, a park, a night bus off the island.
A sun-rise and romance.
Me looking like I belonged in out-at-elbow jackets, and threadbare trousers.
Her with her hand holding down her miniskirt and animal print hat falling off her head.
I told my man all about any conquest I made.
He kept me filled with uppers and downers, and gave me my little allowance.
But he warned me off one little Betty.
“She’s a junk girl, with her you’ll be back using in no time.”
I met her anyway and went home to take her as she pushed off.
He was there, jacked-up in her bed, smelling her knickers.
She didn’t seem surprised and I resolved never to take her or spike again.
As if I had any will power of my own.
If you give yourself up to fate, you can get away with any bullshit whim you choose.
I wasn’t one of these boys anymore, I wasn’t young enough, fashionable enough.
Every girl I hit on, in those high topped animal print hats, had an equally fashionable boy bringing the cocktails over to interrupt.
I recognised the moneyed society that I had spurned when I was their age.
These kids, they didn’t care who saw, they were dancing, and they were kissing, and I realised, this wasn’t my generation, the village wasn’t mine anymore.
And they could have it, pointed bras, miniskirts, animal prints and all.
Upstate, I dipped into my trust account.
Quiet streets, dog walkers, station wagons.
After dark it became even quieter, even the dogs were afraid to make a sound.
Or they were in on the secret agreement, invested in the peace of the small town.
And in this quiet I let my mind play out all of the pent up volitions of a decade of abuse.
Every morning grew easier and calmer, quieter as if I had travelled away from my old mind.
I started to focus less on the world outside, and I looked within myself.
Nothing to see on the street, nothing to do, but think.
I took a lover, not a fancy woman from Manhattan, but a beautiful girl who ran the diner.
And I spent the time focusing on loving her.
And as I looked out at the street, I had no longing for the city, it finally felt far behind me.
And the mornings grew warmer and easier.
Just to fill the time I got a type writer, and I got out any frustration, and restlessness on pages.
I didn’t think it’d be worth much but I organised pages into books.
And I thought anyone could write these things as easily as I could, but my woman seemed to like them, and she persuaded me to send them off.
We found out that people wanted to read the stories of a rich kid who played at being a drug addict.
And with that we shared the mornings, which became longer and longer.
Two years, and I reckoned I had written all I could make up.
I’d refused a lot of attention from the hack and their rags in the city, I’d done a radio interview in my home once but that didn’t turn out well.
It just sounded like a muffled mumble, and I didn’t really see why he was asking the questions he was asking, and I didn’t really have answers.
It seemed like I was just saying “about time,” and that “time comes around,” and nothing of any meaning in between, and “around town,” at the end.
And I didn’t really want to take the applause, I didn’t even feel like I was working hard.
But after those two years someone approached me to do a TV interview, and my woman persuaded me to go.
And they wanted me to go to some party afterwards, and I’d actually be paid to be on TV and go to this party, they wanted me to say something at this party.
The whole mood had changed in the village, the whole scene had swung.
My drugs had been taken in back alleys, in rest rooms, or in underworld apartments, now it was all happening in the open.
Pills were strewn on the table, men with grins the width of their faces laid out rails for skinny girls, and everybody seemed to want to tell me about LSD.
This was a high class of party, and there was money in the room, but there was every type of abuse going on except heroine, and the champagne was sipped.
I sat and watched, I knew what everyone was on, uppers, goofballs, cocaine.
This one was tripping, this one is sucking from a bottle; I could read every face.
And I watched as a thin man entered the low lit room.
He was holding a pencil and a note pad, with a hotel insignia on it.
He had an entourage, but he looked uncomfortable.
He looked like he’d read about this in books, and that he believed he wanted to be a part of it.
He asked questions of the young people he had surrounded himself with.
And he ordered lager, then he ordered whiskey, ice.
Occasionally he made a show of writing something on his pad, and then he tapped his pencil on it and made a three-sixty look.
When I was talking, he strained his neck to make it clear he was listening.
He maintained eye contact, and seemed to be putting messages into his eyes; “you and I are the same, I completely get you, and you get me.”
And I talked more directly to him, he hanging on my every word, seemingly, but I was talking nonsense, and he was nodding along.
Everyone else caught my praises but not my paragraphs, as I linked together all the jive, the slang and the street maxims I picked up from my junk days.
The crowd gave me “well said,” “right on” and abstract, unrelated political utterances.
I knew, and he knew, he was the only one not consumed by their own internal intoxicated monologue.
But this was the art house crowd, responsible for millions of dollars of revenue.
I knew they would be heathens, fakes and shills; but he hadn’t expected to find incoherence, he thought there would be discussion, there’d be exchange of ideas, there’d be critique.
And the circus tide carried him into another suite where entertainment was put on.
The contortionist climbed the ribbon and flexed her twining muscles.
The master of ceremonies took his starched collar and undid his cuffs.
He smiled and attempted to follow the gibberish the blond haired boy was shouting into his ear.
And then his companion handed him a sugar cube and invited him to put it on his tongue.
He must’ve been some executive, some account man, well connected by superficially skimming cream from our creative industry.
He looked like he didn’t work, he went to lunch, and he enjoyed dropping the names of those for whom lunch is breakfast, or supper.
He’s probably well aware that it is his money that paid for this industry, the pageant revue now colourfully going on around him, bewildering him.
And that we, in masquerading as political, as humanitarian, as philanthropists, were worthy ways to invest, and who will give you a return, without the government taking their share.
He was probably no stranger to drugs, he’ll have sat with the Ginsbergs, the Kerouacs, but in arm chairs, as they warmed up.
They’d probably talked about expanding your mind, about literature, and smoked pot, and inhaled a few flakes of snow.
But he’d never dived into the melting pot like this before, where his position didn’t matter, where the loudest, and most outrageous is the king.
I watched him flitting with the danger, as he thought about whether to go through with this.
Should he through caution to the wind, I read it on his brow, should he risk, life, comfort, sanity, to know what it was about.
To know how those others, who seemed alive, comfortable and sane, felt.
To join in, to kiss the girl who had given him this, who was staring at him as a mischievous, domesticated kitten eyes a mouse creeping out of a hole.
I saw him decide, and I saw him let it dissolve on his tongue, and I saw him react as the sweetness was replaced by acrid taste, and as evolved nerves took over him.
The blond haired boy kneeled and raised his arms triumphantly, “yes,” he shouted, “yes.
Gradually I could see the resolve, the reserve weaken.
He looked lost, abandoned.
He tried to follow what was going on around him.
As the freak show played out on the stage and in the audience.
Master of ceremonies had become more loathsome to him, and the dwarfs, seemed to want him to do animal impressions.
I had had enough of the spectacle, and I thought him quite pathetic, so I took my woman and sat down in one of the drawing rooms.
We talked a little, the rushed dialect of speed.
Each line was so right, was so important that we couldn’t listen to the other’s.
The door creaked open, and in he paced, on tiptoes, with quick steps, like he was walking on hot sand.
Then he knelt, right on the bare polished wood floor, and asked if it could call him a car.
He rubbed his hands all over it, in wide circles, and felt the coolness on his face.
One of the waiters arranged a taxi, and he was taken out.
We both agreed to leave acid alone.
I ordered a big lump of cocaine, and flashed some cash at the doctor who gave it to me.
And we went home
I didn’t feel like I had betrayed my old friends.
I didn’t feel like it was my job to take up with every craze.
I didn’t feel like what I had seen happening there was me, I felt distance, and I had to reinvent myself.
I had to have a refresh, even if it was unpopular.
I started in the nights with the coke and the vodka.
Vodka straight from the freezer with a twist of lime.
They were phonies, they were fakes, they were liars.
They had to have something to hang on, to believe in; to define their selves against.
But for me, at the bottom of this binge, I found a memory of heart break, of Annie.
But as I took more and more, vitriol grew, and anger burned, and mean despicable lines started to take shape in my mind.
Annie, you were dressed at the height of fashion, on my arm.
And we laughed at the scene, we thought we were invincible, that we were just using.
But I didn’t see you, there.
I don’t see you anywhere, and you’re not where you promised yourself you’d be.
Just like me you had every privilege, but you didn’t get no education.
You just let all the boys get you drunk, Annie.
And though you complained, it was you who took advantage.
Now you’re embracing down and out life, and you’ve got no idea what’s at the end of that trail.
In the night time when you’re gonna be scrounging to the emaciated street dealer, just one lid.
What have you got to offer him.
Back to those school days and you’ll be on your knees.
People used to call you a whore when I was with you, and I stood up for you.
‘Cause even though they called you that they wanted to be with you.
And even dirtier side they showed me when you ditched me, tore into your person.
But they were always there showing off to you, even the ones in high places.
You remember the ambassador’s aide, the prick.
How did you feel after he used you?
And I still loved you, Annie, would’ve taken you back, but all you gave in return was this scorn.
I put you on a pedestal, and you trod all over me.
You did it to be more with these perceived Jonnys, but they all turned out to be Jones’s.
And worse, they were streetwalker, Johns, the same type you laughed at with me.
And now they are the ones calling to you, and you’ve got no way to say no.
Seeing that you’ve got nothing going for you.
And I won’t be back to cover you up, and make you feel safe.
Would hear the national anthem, on the television broadcasts.
But at that point, it sounded like either it was a foreign song, or that I wasn’t from the country it purported to be from.
The Hills of the Buffalo
Please don’t take my tale wrong, it’s about a boy who thought he was a man.
And made the wrong choice to go with to Mexico, to the Hills of the Buffalo.
We were all desperate for work, in the years after the war.
Men like ghosts, like skeletons... like ghosts, trailed back south from the camps.
I remember I left camp with a group of men, but I arrived back in Jacksboro on my own.
I didn’t feel like the person that had left, and I didn’t feel I could go back to my life as it had been, I couldn’t work on the farm.
Besides the farm wasn’t making any money, all the animals had been eaten by the army, and all the fields were bare.
I thought to try my luck over in Griffin county.
A well known, famous, killer came up to me.
Crego was his name, famous throughout the army of Northern Virginia.
Famous for his action as a sergeant of cavalry, rode past a copse with a troop of union infantry and had his horse shot from under him.
He rolled on his back and sheltered behind his horse, his troop panicked and rode off.
He picked off all five of them with his carbine as the horse’s body juddered with the rapid fire they kept up on him.
At least that’s how the story was told when I heard it.
As a captain though, he’d been disgraced for a drunken murder over a game of cards.
He ran from the death sentence and rumour was that he was responsible for the murder in the night of the general who presided over the courts martial.
And since then, in the months after the war, he’d not stopped his killing.
He was known in the town to have killed men out on the highway for their money, and he was suspected of killing a whole family and rustling their herd.
Rumour back over in Jacksboro was that the sheriff was too much of a coward to confront Crego.
I thought rather that Crego probably had the law paid off.
I wanted nothing to do with him, as he sidled up to me in the saloon.
“How do you do young cowboy,” he slapped me on the back.
I wasn’t a cowboy at all, as I’ve said, I felt much more the sergeant I had become before I was captured, but all that was gone now, Davis had been captured in his girl’s robes, I didn’t wear grey any more, but brown, like every other peasant, cowboy, farm hand.
“How’d you like to go with me, spend the summer pleasantly, in them Mexican hills of the buffalo?”
I wanted nothing more than for him to get away, but his reputation, and his revolver scared me.
I didn’t want to blankly refuse, it being obvious I was out of work, I didn’t want to give offence to a man like Crego.
“Well, going out in to the hills, kind of depends upon the pay.
“You see I ain’t got no problem with your line of work, I ain’t got no problem with travel, nor hardship, as long as it’s all paid for.
“I just can’t be going without pay for months, not knowing how I was doing.
“And I’d need to be sending some of that pay home.”
To my surprise Crego had an answer for that, and he clearly wanted me in his band.
“Don’t you worry about that lad,” he slapped me on the back again, and poured me another whiskey.
“You ain’t signing up with no Buffalo skinner, nor no drover of herds, we’re going for the easy pickings, there’ll be money every week, I’ll give you a certain percentage, and I’ll give you a horse now for transport to and fro’, and that won’t change.
“What you do with that money is your business.”
I had now no grounds to refuse him, “alright I’ll come with you.”
And I thought it better than stuck in that farm shack, picking over table scaps, I thought it’d be more like the life I had grown used to with Bobby Lee.
“Just one thing though,” he said to me before we shook hands, “out there I’m your general, I’m in charge, and I tell you if or when you are free to go, and when you come back.
“If you desert me, I won’t shoot ya, I won’t dig you a grave like the King of Spades did, I’ll see to it you starve out there, and I’ll leave your bones to get white and dry in that long summer days.”
We clinked glasses and talked war stories until the saloon finally chucked us out.
His gang I met the next day, with one or two more that were just as new as me.
“Things’re too hot around this county now!”
These men were all pretty much in the same point in life as me, considering that the only work we were good for was killing, carrying on the grim trail of death that we had laid and trod for the last five years.
The only difference, instead of signing on for duty, or glory, or some forgotten principles, we’d signed on for money this time.
We were better equipped than we had been before I first joined the regiment, each of us a decent mount, well made saddle, and a breech loading carbine.
Good quality gear, tarps, blankets, cookware, all new, or near enough.
Crego had spent a lot of money, and on top of the food each of us had two canteens for whiskey and one for water.
It was like the army days, except we were all much drunker, and we crossed Pease River... or was it the Lactic, or Boggy Creek.
As we crossed one of them anyway, and headed west, troubles began.
The merry atmosphere soon changed as we dove into our real work, as we overrode a wagon, killed the men who fought back, and tied up and left for dead those that didn’t.
And all for nothing, they had nothing, a few bottles, and a couple of handfuls of coin, and a pile of buffalo hides that we didn’t want.
Rustling cattle herds paid well, he said.
And when the Buffalo season was over we’d find those wagons full of gold, he said.
So we set up on either side of a pass, waiting his signal.
He set sharpshooters at either end; the furthest of them was to begin the show when they were too far through the pass to turn the herd around.
As they climbed up the pass the clouds came in, and the darkness in the day time was followed by rain, the rain was followed by an electrical storm.
The lightning flashed like hellfire and made the cattle run, their hooves adding to the cacophony of sound.
We couldn’t tell if the firing had started, nor see the others in the band to coordinate.
Me, and the two others with me, resolved to ride down the hill into the fury of the beasts, to carry on the plan as if the signal had been given.
The drivers were panicked enough, struggling to keep in their saddles, their horses rearing.
They were firing into the air to keep the cows moving forwards, but as we had just one aim it was easier for us to pick them out than it was for them to defend the ambush.
We did not shoot as it was all too frantic, but rode right up and pulled them from their saddles.
I’ll bet most of those boys were trampled to death as the cattle stampeded.
We had a damn good breakfast the next morning, making use of the beef that we’d had to shoot for the broken bones, but we’d lost three quarters of the herd to god knows where as we’d ended up desperate and taking shelter.
Mexico is a forlorn place, blazing heat punctuated by storm on the high passes.
If you are not getting full of stickers riding through the cacti you’re shivering with the chill of the wind through wet clothes.
We had to steel our hearts as we bent down to piss stream creeks to fill our canteens with dirty desert water.
And now the booze was running out too, I was waking up to what we were doing, and who we were with.
Our souls felt like the cattle in that storm, headed in all direction, with the action of the world all around us, trying to dictate to us, to tell us where to roam, but contradicting itself every step we took.
We still hadn’t been paid.
We rode on, taking our diminished herd in to a town to be sold.
As we climbed another long disk shaped hill, across the plain I saw a train of buffalo skinners, their wagons loaded, their guns firing in all directions, cutting great swathes through the range, skinning them, leaving their carcases for the vultures and loading the gory skin onto the wagons, all without the wagons stopping their monotonous, lumbering motion onwards.
I guess I thought at least that would be honest.
After the sale, it wasn’t much, the killer Crego, refused to give us our percentage.
It’s all gone he said, on the gear, the guns, the horses and food.
“Let alone all you gone and drunk, you’re all in debt to me!”
And we rode out of that town with him, all purporting to agree with him, that this was fair treatment.
That this killer, who had made killers of us all, who would not budge, and would not go even to a reduced percentage until we had paid him off.
And then after days, when men tried to bring it up again they were pulled back, heads shaking, as we all silently made up our minds.
This famous hero killer, this famous highway murderer, this plains bandit; be killed by each of his band in one night, after the calm of the campfire.
And we rode of back North, back across the Pease, with no mention of the bones we’d left bleaching in the hills of the buffalo.
Once again I arrived alone in Jacksboro, thinking of a girl I hadn’t met yet, of a sweetheart I hadn’t kissed yet, and I woman I was yet to marry.
And never again to go back down those killing trails to Mexico.
A First LoveThe year was nineteen fifty six.
I saw this girl all the time in my neighbourhood.
I remember it well even though it was a long time ago.
It was a big moment in my life; and I guess it was just hard luck on her.
I suppose I dumped it on her.
But that was a long time ago.
If I could see her again, I really think that we could start things up again.
I found God since then and I know therefore that I’ll see her again.
And I know she believes, but there was nothing for me in that town.
I’m my own man, but she’s the best thing I’ve ever given up.
Now I’m thinking about it, and I’ve no way to let her know.
She was such a deep lover, she felt everything.
But she broke down when I left.
She was ok when I was with her, and I just left her.
I’ve no way of knowing, but I’ll bet she’s not unrequited.
She’s serene, like the wind.
And she was mine.
She’s certainly not calling for me, because I’m easy to find now.
But I’m nowhere near her.
I feel involved in a depression now, everything seems shit to me.
And I’m struggling with self medicating, thinking about the end.
She’s alone, stuck in that place, probably.
When I left her, she just smiled and said goodbye.
I think of trying to find her, I think that I’m still in love with her.
But I think she ain’t thinking of me, she’s just thinking that the Kingdom of God is on its way.
She’s looking up and ahead, smiling.
I ran away, I couldn’t get away fast enough.
I can’t go back and see her.
Everything everyone says is just defamation, I feel their accusing me of marrying the wrong woman, they’re all saying I was wrong to leave her.
I don’t need them anyway, the phoneys the groupies, now I’m who I am.
But it’s probably just paranoia, but it keeps getting reinforced.
And she was so beautiful, she was unattainable, but she loved me.
Sometimes I dream about her, I’m hugging her, inching closer.
I wake up and she’s gone.
I wish I’d stayed with her.
The dream that I had then, I’ve more than fulfilled.
But I’ve traded something so vital, something that I didn’t know I would miss.
With all my fame.
I feel guilty, but it was so long ago and I was young.
Her hatred haunts me, though I’ve never heard her say it.
I thought they were righteous, the reasons for which I left, but I have got the same emptiness I gave out.
I’ll just keep on playing.
I’ll keep on wishing I could help her.
But I left.
What Was in Paradise
A dream one day of battles fought and the lulls that follow them, one morning after a late night.
With a jolt I looked outside and saw the treetops shift, a swift, a grey brown dart across the eerie, tall, voluptuous clouds.
A drawing I made last night, looked better, of the western story, the rider alone in the forest, it didn’t look like I thought it did.
I turned on the lamp, its lowest glimmering setting, and stared at the shadows in the corners of my room.
Was this paradise, staring out from my apartment, across the meadow, under the trees… I’m not sure.
Last night someone must’ve hit that lamppost, it was caved in.
Someone, must’ve been going very fast, to bend and give it the evil twisted shape it now had.
I hope no one was hurt, and I think of car seats and crying babies, smashed glass, like a movie.
But I didn’t see it, I didn’t hear it; did it happen?
Like the tree that falls when no one is around, does it make a sound, does it happen at all?
Nothing ever comes out of paradise, and no, this is no type of paradise.
My friend, last night, we sent him off, but who wasn’t happy to see him go?
He’ll fit in in the army, where they’ll tell him what to do, what shoes to wear.
And they’ll just not listen to his moaning, groaning complaint ridden apoplexy.
And if he goes to fight, thinking to find his paradise, upon those sandy shores, those dunes, those mountains, he’ll not find it, just miss his gentle life, and his pet dogs.
People thinking that there is still time, making the mistake of looking for multiple lives.
Making wishes that cannot be fulfilled, that have no hope, they are lost.
They’ll wake up one day, with someone peddling self-help, and it’ll seem right, seem worthwhile, and they’ll believe it is their own personal paradise to find in it.
Religious imagery they’ll hang round their necks and pin them to their cloth, and believe in the promises.
But after them, as they gaze inside the falseness they have bought, they’ll hear the derisory laughter, of conman convinced of moral-less living.
I think about the woman I met last night and I think about the relationship I could have if I went that far.
There would be a negotiation of sorts, so that we knew where we stood, but behind each other’s backs, quiet words of mistrust and boredom, becoming shouts to which there is no harmony, no antidote.
From offstage, my fleeting, adulterous head, listens, waits for the moment in which, without lying, without caring, without hurting, I can take my guilty pleasures.
It cannot be that there is hierarchy in paradise, but like the sparrow is to the sparrow hawk, here there must be predator and prey.
It makes me sick to think of the way I think of women.
I think about the accident that I had, when I was a kid.
The parents had told me not to ride it, but of course, like some un-dead banshee it called to me.
Something I did wrong, felt guilt about as I lay in the hospital bed, as I saw my mother’s tears and my father’s “I told you so” eyes.
Did I hit someone, I can’t remember, with a broken back which still aches as December closes in and the last leaves have left the trees, and I know thinking about this sin that it cannot be paradise that this room is.
It cannot be, as I scrape around for what small little bits of breakfast I can find.
All that is confined now into what I must call, experience.
But truth, it is as insignificant as the breeze, the land breeze meeting the sea.
But what do I think of, as I see the homeless, grotty bastard, struggling against the breeze, and me up here still wrapped in thick duvet, and my nonsense that I ply myself with.
I think about those two, that couple, dancing, happy, on the dance floor last night.
And me, I am a wallflower, until I drink and drink and then I am that mess, that no one wants, that breath of acidity, of lies, of knowing that I won’t remember, that this is all a fake, that it is someone else who behaves like this.
It doesn’t matter though.
Then I think back to where I am from, as the low sun, already leaving the sky, to plunge me once more into night, into the same activity, for any other excuse, to hit on other women, to be repulsed, by people I know and by myself.
To try and feel free from my fate, to which I guess others must be resigned.
As I drink to death, to bleeding gums, to false teeth, and to the ruddy skin of alcoholism.
It’s not hard this paradise, which I have been looking for and not sure I have found.
And so I try to return to sleep, thinking that maybe if I can just not have this day, or rather this night, I might find a better one tomorrow, and do things right.
I close my eyes and think of someone with plump and luscious lips, I must dream of her wet mouth if only I can shut my eyes and think long enough.
But I cannot sleep, and I get hungry, and thirsty, and need the other things I need.
So this cannot be paradise, can it?
In the West
I was married to a girl with an Egyptian sounding name.
I guess that was her heritage, but she wasn’t as you would say Egyptian.
We’re all mongrels in the United States, we’re all wanderers.
I wonder if her daddy ever told her all about their family, I wonder if her daddy taught her nothin’.
She certainly never talked about her family much.
She breezed into my life and pretty soon she breezed out again.
I was a wanderer when I met her so it was pretty simple to go back to wandering.
I changed my look, got a new hat, exchanged some of the possessions that we’d put together in our attempt at co-habiting for a horse.
And I rode west.
I new all the stories, I’d seen the Wild West Shows, I reckoned I was fair with a pistol, I could aim a rifle... protect myself from buffalo in any case.
I was always pretty good at staying on the right side of people too, so I wasn’t expecting to get in many fights or nothin’.
The scenery changed, as I crossed dense forestry, high pass, and desert route.
The people thinned out and so did the law.
I kept my hat covering my eyes mostly, especially if I couldn’t read a feller.
But most folk seemed pretty decent, especially the freighters, the men riding shotgun in the wagons, they were full of whiskey and life, they were good to throw down a bottle, and they were good company for miles at a stretch.
Eventually I reached a town, one street, and camp tents around.
One church, one brothel, one gambling den, one saloon.
I guess I started same place as any, whiskey shots in the saloon.
Particular about this town was that the county lines ran through the middle of it.
That meant the sheriff of one county was powerless in some situations, it didn’t stop him shooting as the felons ran across and hid in the church.
I stayed a while, get rested, get clean, rest the short legged beast I was callin’ a horse.
Third night I was drinking in the saloon, wonderin’ if I’d go for cards as I’d done the night before.
I was running out of money and I was starting to wonder what I’d had planned when I set off in this direction.
I guess “Black Ice” James knew what I was thinking about when he walked up and said; “you got a match?”
He flicked his cheroot and I lit it, lightin’ my own.
Looking at him across the room I’d not noticed the jewlery that flickered between the folds of his open clothing, I’m no expert but I reckoned those were real diamonds and sapphires.
Not the type that you see on princesses, but these were smoky in colour, grey, grey like his one dead eye.
“You come here for something easy to catch?”
I was half cut at this point, I thought he was talking about the tarts upstairs, I thought he was talking about big Fat Guts that the barman coveted.
That night he made me understand that he knew a big dump of these diamonds, he wanted someone reliable, someone fair with a pistol, who could hit a buffalo at two hundred paces.
He stank of booze, but so did I, I guess.
Any way I listened and I believed him well enough.
I asked him where he wanted us to go.
I asked him how far it was.
“We’ll be back in four weeks, you get supplies for us both.”
I hadn’t thought about my little dark skinned wife that evening, not until I pulled up my blanket next to Black Ice’s fire, and that North star sat and spinned.
I spent all my money on the supplies and he promised I’d make a thousand times that in a day where we were going.
The promise of riches just around the corner’ll spur on a man, and he’ll put that to the horse’s flanks.
And I thought long and hard about these riches on the first few days.
As we rode, as we climbed, as the wind got colder, I grew more pessimistic.
I started to think more on her.
On the little life of promise we’d started together.
We’d laughed when I’d told her about how I’d run away to the mountains, how I’d make my fortune in some great find, and start the biggest city that America had seen.
I could’ve told this story but for a few details.
The day before she left she’d said a few things, I wasn’t worried about them, I thought it was just pillow talk, in the hot delirium after sex I thought this was just my little lover’s romantic soul.
But she told me that now wasn’t the time, that we’d met too soon, that she would marry a mayor, she’d marry a colonel, she’d marry money and be a lady.
She told me about how she’d look, and I listened to some of it, about how she’d wear smoky diamonds and sapphires.
But I can’t really remember, I was just filling in the details, as I forced my horse up over the next rocky slope.
It was getting to the point that we could barely light a fire, it was so cold, and it was hard to keep it going.
Each evening we had to scrape away the layer of snow and build a fire pit.
We had to build up rather than dig in because as the heat warmed us it also melted the snow on the ground and off the trees, and it made the fire spit and fizz.
What was more, was that my partner was starting a terrible cough, a splutter, with a thick dribble.
This was freezing, green and brown, on his two week beard.
Most nights we were getting to the point that we would wonder was it better to stay wrapped up than forage for more fuel.
What we found was frozen and damp, the fire melted, and then had to dry, the sticks before it even caught.
One morning I found him in the dawn trying to wrestle my blanket from me, I struggled with him and then looked at him accusatorily; he looked at me hungrily.
My hand went immediately for my pistol, but I’m glad I didn’t draw it; I just cocked it under the blanket.
His bewildered expression turned to one of sanguine friendship.
I wondered if my pistol would even have fired, it was so damp and cold.
I woke up and half brewed a luke warm coffee.
Finally we reached a kind of sloped plateau, thick ice, and no rocks, save the peak at the far end.
“Under there, there’s an ancien’ tomb.
“Like a pyramid, you seen in pictures.
“In that tomb there’s a body, and them rulers, them Emperors, buried in tombs like that, they was buried rich!”
How we were going to get down there I had no idea, if he’d have mentioned diggin’ I’d have bought shovel and axe, but any ways, we’d have needed to bring the whole town, whores and all to have dug down twenty foot.
He didn’t look bothered though he waved and urged me on into the near blizzard that was whipping up as soon as we left the shelter of the tree line.
We forced our animals through this terrible, thick wind.
The snow melted on my thighs and then froze on my saddle.
We stopped after about half a day, but we must’ve only come a mile or two.
He’d found the way down, a ready made crack in the ice, with ledges that looked almost like a natural staircase, though which were damn precipitous.
He motioned for me to go down, whilst he staked our horses to one of our major tent poles.
I hesitated for a minute, thinking of him trying to steal my blanket, but what good would a blanket do him now, and he’d been pretty normal since then, pretty sanguine.
I went in, sometimes getting down on my hands and knees to lower my body down, and sure enough I heard him coughing and spluttering down behind me.
I was grateful for the noise as I descended, my own breath becoming deafening, my eyes stinging from the vapour, and my legs shaking as I tentatively placed them, no feeling in them to tell if they were slipping or secure.
His noise reminded me that I was not alone, that I wasn’t in death’s delirium.
His angry rasping throat, with all its desperation for these riches, was the only reminder of the world, the world of riches, of hot baths, of dry, clean clothes, in where I was, the world of toil, of frozen limbs, and barely able to shiver.
Next words I heard from him was a cry, it was a shriek, it was a hoarse, thick with sputum, croak, which dragged into a yell as I saw him fall beneath me.
I didn’t hear but I imagined the crunch, the snap, as a fierce stampede of wind cannoned down the fissure.
It nearly took me off my feet.
I looked up, and I looked down.
It was easier to steel myself and go on, I reckoned.
Easier to descend towards the red mist that had formed in my vision in the direction James had fallen.
He was dead, that was easy to see.
His lifeless face had thick globs of frozen phlegm, red with blood but black appearing in this grey nowhere.
But I was certainly in the tomb that he’d promised.
And the glittering sparkles that shone through the snowy furore were beautiful, I was going to chisel these off, and make a necklace for my little lover.
I was going to be rich, I was going to start that city.
People would come to me for advice, come to me for help.
People would bow before me, adore me.
I could see how these ancients had carved out this tomb for their emperor, niches like in church, and all odd but strangely beautiful pillars.
They’d made these sculptures, that hung like daggers, allegorical that death hangs over us all.
And on the round these looked like horns, they were to symbolise the plenty with which this great man was buried.
I was that emperor, these were my riches, this was my tomb, but I wasn’t dead.
Alright James could take my tomb, he could occupy this niche here, but I was going to take his name.
I was the “Black Ice” emperor.
I took his jewels and dragged his body into its final resting place, I tried to lay him into some type of dignified pose.
The pose of this mad man, who’d found this amazing place by adventuring.
Then I sat with him, curled myself up into a mirror like position of his, and I tried to eat some of the frozen salt beef we’d been living on.
I cried and as some strength returned to me, and as the blizzard winds ebbed, I started to see the reality of what was around me.
Hollow ice caves, and grey columns of ice like glass.
Like ancient glass.
I cried, and I remembered a prayer, I made a prayer in my mind, I said it a few times, before picking myself up.
This man I’d travelled with was mad, he’d lost himself here, and seen the same sights that I had seen.
If he was mad though, I must’ve been too to have come with him.
But he’d been good company, we’d been free, chasing some kind of dream.
I’d found the dream, and he’d found death, but I left with nothing.
As the heat left his body and I watched him freeze I thought of little Isis and how warm she had been to lay with.
My partner’s horse had bolted, but you can’t imagine my relief when I found my pony dutifully standing at the point where I had descended.
I slumped up onto him, and pointed him east, as near as I could guess where east was anyway.
And he diligently trod the path.
I had no food for him as yet, but I guess he sensed like me that anywhere was going to be better than here.
I slept on his back as we descended that first day.
And I woke up with the first of the sun appearing through the cloud, the pony had lowered his head and was munching through the first patch of coarse grass that was poking through the frost.
The snow was thawing down here, and feeling was returning to my face and limbs.
I counted the jewels in my pockets and thought about my love’s face as she received these.
As we had our second wedding and made promises more real than the first.
I’d cleaned up on the travel and I’d bought new clothes, a wide brimmed hat, in which I’d poked an exotic looking feather.
I’d mended my woolen poncho, and washed it in a stream, the bright reds and blues shone through again.
And after ten days I rode in to the town where we’d lived together and started asking after her.
“The little coloured girl, she lives down by where the dried up creek is.
“Don’t go down there, people think it might be back magic or something.
“She’s the reason our towns goin’ to shit most reckon.”
“Where you been?”
I didn’t tell her.
“Looks like you’ve changed a bunch.”
She looked at me, as if to say she was disappointed I’d left.
“I’ll stay this time... if you want me to.”
That was all we needed to say, and I remembered the May day we were married first time around.
I remembered it had rained, I remembered peeling off the near white wedding dress, I remember her easy smile, her laugh and the love we made.
This spring, and with the black ice necklace across her chest it was the same.
You Never Travel as Far as You Do when You Are Young.
Though in reality there is always just young and there is old.
Frankly, when old you are settled, and you’ve no way to understand the young; when young you are travelling, and you are confident that the world will be as you wish it, when you are old.
It can really seem like the old are just dead weights, it did to me when I was young, but now I am older, and the world is in a place where I understand it, I am comfortable within it, and I don’t want to roam around, to travel and find myself, I haven’t got the time for that now.
But did I change time, or did time change me?
Every generation, looks forward, and looks back.
Forward there is hope, and back there is loathing.
The loathing is not rational, it is in a sense simply because the young person is not a part of that establishment, he or she is outside, looking in, and feels unwelcomed by it, so in a sense wants to destroy it, to build it again with them at the head.
But in these changes the randomness of human nature prevails, and so whilst I felt the tumult of the change in times, the cultural shift, I did not like the way that it changed.
So I am here, loser from the older times and loser from the new.
Would it be that government holds any sway over these processes?
Or is government so part of the untenable establishment that it can only oppose the sea change.
And won’t, then, all governments be beset by protestors amassing in front of their seats of power.
Blowing like the racket of a terrible long winter, shaking the window panes, the noise of the new generation.
And in families as the children grow up, will parents ever approve of the choices the young make?
Will they ever see good in the new music, in the unkempt hairstyles, which look bad because they do not conform to the previous generation’s idea of neat?
Or is there a universal, and timeless classic that only a few styles, only a few creations, ever reach and that is something, a tune to which we all might nod along, a decision that we all might agree with, and actually that newness of the classic which can only come from the tumult of youth.
I just think that there are some things that shift and some things that stay.
Fashion, governments and fads, they all fade away leaving classics alone.
Though the exterior may conform to what is saleable in that decade, that panda to the young world, of media, of music, of the tacky temporal art scene.
And we, who understand that, exploit the facts of this, and just change the words from some old classic, which was just a rehashing of another old classic that his hero made.
The most sincere, insincerity, written to sell records.
So go travelling young one, it’s a young person’s game.
I feel like I used to know my way around myself better than I do now.
And I don’t know what the old me might have said about the me now.
I certainly think that he would’ve baulked at the amount of moaning I feel like I’m doing.
I mean, what the fuck, I’m moaning about everyone, everything, to everyone, complaining, like a tired old... I don’t know, or are people just being dicks?
I knew who I was, I drove the length of the country, I partied, I got sober and I worked, I made stuff, and the things I made I was sure they were good.
I was confident in meeting people, I could think through the intoxication and I was confident in leaving people.
Now I feel like a younger man, less secure, and lost in something that is only just a little bit new.
I used to have little things I could say, and they were ready for any occasion.
I knew they were true, I knew they were right.
I still know they were true, but I can’t remember them.
It seemed clear then, to my earlier self.
And I lived on history, everything was a reference, art history, political history, social history.
Everything was neat in that mind of mine.
And I can say, “oh, well I didn’t know as much then,” but I don’t reckon I know more now.
Yeah, I am older, but I’m weaker, frailer.
I lived vicariously at times through the faces of the lovers that I did or did not have.
And it feels a little fake now, the person that I was for them.
But it didn’t feel like that then, and it worked a good few times.
I was just showing off I suppose, “I know this, and I know that.
“That’s fucking wrong, man.”
And with a sneer I jibed at those fools who’d get things wrong.
But was I wrong, I certainly feel wrong now.
Now that I am without that amour.
I was on a confidence hike, but really I knew shit.
I took myself as seriously as I saw these elder men, who could tell me and speak from experience.
Little key words that I was shouting, “rebellion” I think it might have been.
But I don’t really remember, because now I’m not into that, I am full of the mundane.
I don’t feel that I have any originality any longer.
I probably didn’t then, but I felt like I was.
I remember rock and roll and thought I was doing it fresh, that somehow my way of life was new, and that actually people would follow that way of life, revere it, revere me.
And I knew that was what I wanted.
I don’t have a clue what I want now.
So I tried to defend these little idiosyncrasies of mine, little bullshits, which even if they weren’t important, I believed in, I don’t know what I believe in now.
And I really wanted to change things, but like all petty revolutionaries, I didn’t know what I wanted them to be changed to.
So I told and I taught but listeners didn’t listen for long and exasperated I started to moderate.
Really I just started to get confused.
But to me, then, confusion was welcome, confusion is what the great theories come out of, what happens before enlightenment.
And I went after than delicious confusion with a headstrong confidence, a maturity that I cannot imagine having as my present self.
It’s very easy, I thought, as an old man, to examine the you of the past, and come out with such a damning cry, of who was I, or tried to be all those years ago.
But damn it, in the reflection of that guy I was, I’m a nothing now.
Though I wasn’t an everything then, I was a thing, an entity, I had substance.
I overrated myself then, and I feel more able to accurately judge now, so more moderately I will just say that there were a lot of things that I love about me then.
But they are lost, and I am resigned to just living out an existence, which wasn’t promising, which had both good and bad, and which from a mental health perspective, weren’t in equal measure.
Me today, who has nothing which is measureable.