At my wife’s grave
it's changed a lot in a month;
someone's planted some forget me nots.
It's windy and flower petals from the trees are making pink
I know you're at the grave.
Of course you can imagine my reply to you
standing in the swirling pink falling blossoms...x
The following tracks are from Spuyten Duyvil's debut EP, In Spite of the Devil.. They headed into the studio this summer (2010) to work on their upcoming album, New Amsterdam.
We were totally unprepared for the winter of 1968; it was bleak and cold, and it seemed to last forever. My wife and I were from the North -- Reading, Pennsylvania -- and we had joined a government program to help organize the dispossessed so they could eventually help themselves. This program was called VISTA, which stands for Volunteers In Service To America. What it really was was my ticket out of Vietnam – if I volunteered to help the poor, then I wouldn’t get drafted – it was called ‘alternative service.’
The folks we were supposed to be helping were Southerners. Poor Southerner whites. Rednecks. After training in Atlanta, we got sent to Tennessee, to the tri-cities area on the Tennessee/ Virginia border – the three cities were Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. We ended up in a hollow just outside the Johnson City city limits. The locals had named this particular hollow ‘Maupin Row,’ and it was a sad collection of dilapidated wooden shanties lining several narrow dirt roads which were clustered around a polluted creek. If you were driving on the city road that circled Maupin Row you couldn’t actually see it – you had turn off the main drag and cut through a sort of high hedgerow – the ‘community’ such as it was, then opened out below you.
Lyle let his engine rattle for a ten count before he killed the ignition and stepped out. The snuffed porch light and the blanket nailed across the apartment window served as warning that he had best signal his arrival, that he should move slowly and keep on the pavement where his footsteps could be heard. He scraped his boots on the mat, gave three firm raps to the front door. He knew not to hesitate. Standing in the dark looked too much like listening in on things and then Uncle Keith was liable to do something sudden and irrational. Twelve days without a word from him. His uncle alone in the dark and wide awake, peeling back the window covers with dead certainty he’d find someone staring back. Twelve days taking apart his furniture and listening for whispers from the air vents.
Billie had called that afternoon. When his uncles’s ex was worried enough to start asking after him, she asked Lyle first.
“What you gonna be when you blow up? I bet you gonna be a balloon…kee kee kee!” That was Willie T’s salutation these days -- delivered with an eye-rolling guffaw registering satisfaction with his chortling delivery of this epistilatory greeting. He had a whole stack of them, borrowed from some commercial he’d seen on t.v. and gussied up with his own punch line that he offered up like Hallmark Cards to any and all he met, shuffling them every week or so like homilies before suddenly becoming serious, conspiratorial -- as he made his pitch for a dollar or even a quarter. Refused, he became piteous and, with an abject tug of a sleeve or urgent tap on the arm of the person he was accosting, would produce from a pocket some meaningless trinket, a bauble of costume jewelry or a fake medallion he would become proud again offering.
“Take it,” he’d say, his six-foot lanky frame bent at the neck like a condor in an effort to make meaningful eye contact. “Go on, take it -- it's yours.”
The poem "Bananas" is a true story. I was flat broke in Hong Kong, strolling along Kowloon's Nathan Road vaguely wondering how to pay my rent. But also thinking poems. Suddenly this stunning black GI on R&R from Vietnam stops me and asks where he can get a massage. There are big neon signs everywhere blaring MASSAGE. No, that's not what he wants.