Fire Water River Run

The sky was a low-hanging grey veil thrown haphazard over downtown. The river snaked its way as it usually did, ignoring the threat of rain that rolled through the chill of Northwestern autumn. Jared stood with his back to the river on the waterfront, staring at the clouds hanging over Naito Parkway and the streets beyond. Three months in the city and he was still looking for a permanent place to stay. He had managed to acquire a series of friends who offered up an equal number of couches in whose homes he’d worn out his welcome until winding up on the riverfront. He had been carrying his things all day long. The breeze and the cold metal under his fingers took the bite out of the sweat that had caked itself on his brow and made exertion almost unbearable. His feet ached; his shoes were worn through.

He would walk all night rather than spend it like the gutter punk kids did downtown. Sleeping in an awning in the Pearl or further west, using a collection of Mercury or Willamette Weekly newspapers as a form of secondary shelter from the rain. Jared knew that most of his stuff would be gone by the time he woke up – gone, or he would get fucked up by some drunk assholes who stumbled through the city after its bars closed their doors.  The city breathed in the river water and struggled with waterlogged lungs. It spat out the excess past the Ross Island Bridge and sucked in the air from the east. Jared walked along the waterfront; his eyes were focused down on the water as it flowed past.

Some music fell out of the open window of a car that drove past not more than a hundred feet away. That late at night, there was little else to block out the sound. It was generic music, something created and composed on a computer and pushed out to the public. Jared stared after the driver and began to make his way back towards the city. He stopped halfway in the grass, clutching the green military medic’s bag that hung off of his right shoulder. Finding shelter in the city was like an indeterminate flight or fight mechanism. He knew that he needed to stay out of downtown proper, but also knew he could not make it to the suburbs to find himself a decent place to sleep. He would have to settle for a park and take a chance on the police.

Lights winked out in a building that overlooked Naito Parkway. There was a giant needle piercing upwards towards the clouds that almost perpetually covered the city that time of year; as he watched it, he found himself in thought. There had been a girl when he first moved to the city. He came from the deep, sultry south. His original home was the kind of place where the wind blew down hard against the flat plains and spread heat over the pavement, washing everyone and everything in sweat-slicked humidity. The Pacific Northwest was as far as he could get from that – and literally, the furthest he could get from where he lived. There was a plan behind that.

More than that, there was a girl.

Jared moved to Oregon after he had met a red-haired girl on a trip into the deep woods; he spent four days at a house by a lake, drenched in wine and sex. It was because of this that he had punched a hole through the American West and tattooed his trail down along the highways and dark passages of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and his final destination: Oregon. What had been a dream that he would arrive at a place where he would be swept up in a swirling mass of debauchery led to his current predicament. He found the sex, briefly. He found drugs and alcohol a much more compliant and wanton mistress. By then, he hadn’t the willpower to perform for the former.

There were fourteen bridges in Portland. Jared managed to burn down each one with the fumbling eagerness of a teenager getting his first fuck and with the practiced ease of a sailor’s whore. He had not eaten in three days; he had, however, managed to score two tablets of oxycontin and a fifth of whiskey. The whiskey bottle clinked against the rusted, old knife that he kept in his bag as he slung his body over the railing separating the waterfront from the river proper.

His feet slapped down hard against the cement underneath. He dipped himself low to take some of the pressure off of his legs, but collapsed to the ground with his effort; he laid there for some time, waiting for the feeling in his calves to return. As Jared lifted himself up to his feet, he noticed that his ankle had twisted in the fall. He rummaged in his pocket and slid one of his opiates under his tongue and held it there.

As the pill began to dissolve, he walked. There was a small alcove carved out near where the water line was. Assuming he could find it, he could find a safe shelter for the evening. The drugs worked quicker when he took them sublingually. His tongue felt numb and his body began to tingle, his skin burning with an opiate itch. He chased the remaining fragments of pill and the chalky taste of it with the whiskey, washing out his mouth and swallowing the remnant.

The voice caught him off guard. He thought it was in his head at first. “Hey.” Jared cut slower in his tracks. “Hey,” the voice insisted. He turned to look in the direction of it. An older man was sitting underneath a slight overhang from the waterfront. His clothing reminded Jared of those old specials his father would always watch about the Egyptian kings and queens that were bound up in cloth for burial. The old man’s hands were kept in cotton gloves with the fingers half torn out. He reached a hand out towards Jared.

“I don’t have anything at all,” Jared responded. It made him feel like shit. He had been told the same thing probably over a hundred times that same day. He gripped the strap of his messenger bag tight in his hands. The torn sneakers on his feet flexed slightly as he prepared to bolt. He watched the old man with a silent, glum guilt mixed with the salt taste of fear.

The old man stood up to his feet. He was shaky and his fingers were curled down corpse-like. They were sick with arthritis, which likely ran rampant through the rest of his body. “I don’t doubt you got nothing to spare,” the man muttered as he took a step towards Jared. “I sure as shit doubt you got nothing. Young kid like you,” the old man paused to lick his filthy, cracked teeth, visible in the glare of the halogen lights that spread out above them.

Jared shoved his hand into his bag. “I got some whiskey,” but his hand was reaching for that rusty knife. “How long’ve you been out here?” He had always been good at thinking on his feet; it was best to keep the old man talking.

Nonetheless, the old man kept up his pace, crossing the distance between them within the span of a minute, inching closer and closer like he was coming at a wild, angry dog. “Kept this space for two months. Been on the street for a few years now. I lost my house when the market crashed.” He paused. “Whiskey’d be good. Just something to warm me up.”

The old man reached out for the bag on Jared’s shoulder. Jared ripped the knife out from the bag and shoved it into the man’s gut. It was a dirty, horrible wound. People do not bleed clean and easy like they do in the movies. The blood began to well out of the man’s body in a sudden torrent preceded by a quick, short spray.

The old man began to scream.

Without much thought, he knocked the old man to the ground with his shoulder and kicked with frantic movements at the older bum’s jaw. The old man’s teeth clamped shut and severed all but a thin strand of sinew of his tongue. Jared’s foot came down again and again. By the time the man’s head was a rough, grisly paste, he had started to sob.

He stood in silence for several minutes; he stilled his sobs and waited, held his breath. He listened. When he was sure that no one had heard the struggle, he rifled the old man’s pockets and found an ancient, crumbled wallet with a driver’s license and about nine dollars. He searched through the old man’s belongings and found a blanket and a dog food bowl. There was no dog, but it smelled like cheap wet food, like the kind at the dollar store. Either the old man had eaten it, or there was a dog somewhere out there coming back to his master. Jared stared at the empty bowl for the eternal span of a minute when time dilates due to the gravity and horror of a situation.

Killing the old homeless man took less than thirty seconds. He found a scavenged piece of plastic – likely a rain guard – and rolled the man up into it. With labored movements, he pushed the corpse into the water and ducked into the shadows the old man had occupied. Once more, Jared waited and listened. He threw his knife into the water after the old man.

Jared collected the remainder of the man’s belongings, he stuffed it all into an ancient hemp backpack that had likely been stolen from one of the hippie shops around town. He slung the backpack over his shoulder and, with the remainder of his strength, pushed away from the wall and started to walk. Jared began the search for that alcove anew, laden with blankets, backpacks and dented, dumpstered cans that the old man had collected.

As he walked, he flipped through the wallet, staring at the name on the license. There was a time when this old man had dressed up in a dress shirt and tie to get his picture taken at the DMV. His name was Eric Collette. Jared surmised that the address listed on the license was the one the old man had mentioned – that house that the bank had grabbed up as quick as a dog grabbing table scraps. He slung the license over the railing and into the water.

Everything that the old man had been – body, life and soul – now belonged to the Willamette. He took his other oxycontin tablet, dry swallowed it and ducked his head down to ignore the sad beats of rain that the sullen clouds began to weep. A sob caught itself in Jared’s throat as he stepped on a loose board. He no longer had the knife to pry them up, but he knew what lay beneath. His alcove was directly underneath.

He reached down and began to dig at the wood. His fingers reached to slip between the planks. The fingernail on his left index finger splintered and snapped off. He gritted his teeth against the pain and managed to yank the board up. He maneuvered his thin body down between the planks and pulled the board down after him. He stood in the little alcove, shaking the board back and forth until he found the holes where the nails had been. He pulled down hard and drew the board back into place.

The place smelled like death. The corpse of an ancient rat sat rotten and fat with water at the far end. Maggots crawled out of the empty eye sockets and made a white bridge between the eyes and the open mouth of the rat. Jared kicked it towards the river in disgust. He was at a lower point, nearly close to the water’s edge. The rain began to hammer harder, wolves at the door. The river ran with a rush that ate slowly away at the cement that made up the waterfront.

He wrapped one of the rags he’d pulled off the old man around the broken fingernail and slumped into a corner. Jared took out the fifth of whiskey and twisted the cap. He was never a fan of cheap bourbon like this, but he could never afford the kind of whiskey he liked anymore, not even with a profitable day of busking and hustling down town. He had earned the liquor with the sweat of his brow and the gratuity of passing strangers.

The drugs were different. There was an old hotel room, one of those kind that are set up for extended stays. He met a woman in the lobby when he had made his way through the lobby to get himself a soda from the machine. After ten minutes of talking, he discovered she had serious back problems and stayed in the hotel on account of it being cheaper than a regular apartment, paid by social security and disability. She was forty-nine years old and had sixty oxycontin in her hotel room medicine cabinet.

Jared had found himself on his knees next to the bed with her naked thighs rested on his shoulder. After she came, he went into the bathroom and threw up as quiet as he could. He brought her pills to her and she gave him two for his services. The same two that led to his lack of concern for the old man, the same two he’d taken within an hour of one another. He took another swallow of his whiskey and rested his head back against his new backpack. He slung his messenger medic bag to the side and pulled the blanket he pilfered from the dead up over his body, wrapping himself up tight in it. His arms were almost immobile by the tight, scratchy woolen thing.

The fifth of Wild Turkey lay empty next to his head. His mind drifted. He fell back to dry, raspy sobs followed by thick, wet coughs. His body twisted hard into the blanket as he turned to rest on his side, faced towards the wall with his back to the mouth of the little cavern-like alcove. The rain began to pick up harder; it battered against the wooden planks through which he’d escaped. Sleep came heavy and fast.

Throughout the night, the rain continued to increase until it was a near torrential downpour that washed dirt, blood and vomit from the waterfront where the old man had died; it washed away the stale scent of acrid, spilled beer from the patios outside of the bars of Portland; it ran like quicksilver through the streets and met to pool.

That night, the rain water caused the river to rise. Jared never turned over, his face pushed down near the cement floor of his newfound home, just short of the Steel Bridge. As the water came through, it lapped up against his face and clothing. He shivered uncontrollably as the blanket was covered in the chilly Willamette run-off.

When the water levels rose higher, almost eight inches higher than it had been before, the corpse of the rat washed up against Jared’s feet. The water filled his nose and mouth as he slept unconscious from mixing pills and alcohol.

Jared had burned through every bridge he could to sleep beneath one in the worst rainfall the city had seen in several years.

When the clouds began to illuminate from the grey, sulking light of morning, his body had already begun to wash out towards the river.

In that moment, he and the homeless man named Eric Collette were one and the same. All that Eric had once been had become an arthritic barge floating down the Willamette. He was joined by Jared two days later when both of them had washed up onto the banks of the river.

 

Jesus Christ, it’s been so long since I’ve posted or written anything. I’ve been really busy with life lately, but will throw some new stuff up here soon. Here are three really old poems in the meantime from a chapbook I wrote called “An Addict’s Prayer Book.”


Nascent
One more night soaked
in this sweaty, humid
emotional whirlwind
beckons me from my
gargoyle’s roost
to descend on the moonstruck
plateau build for me
by the labors of
devotional love–
one more night to last
my life away
is all I ask.


Clamor Song
Mister Machine churns
his way through darkness
every night of his life.
He has his alibis;
they keep him chaste and clean
and forgotten along with the wayside
trash of libido and religion.Mister Machine works in a world
that can
 never
   forgive.
This does not dishearten
rather hardening his heart to
the cruel excuses uttered by everyone
around him.
He continues
churning like an industrial Beethoven
deaf to his workings
a masterpiece in himself.
Mister Machine wonders to himself
in his factory night
with the quarter-silver moon
and pisshole stars.
Wonders about everything
and nothing at all
focused repetition of his
cause forces him to believe in
no-emergency-exit life
built up of endless doors
leading to dead ends.
Mister Machine plugs
a bullet in his head,
scratches a knife along his wrist
and finally,
learns the truth.


 

Layers
The music of apartment complexes;
ringing phones, slamming doors,
screaming children,
bass from below the stairs,
shouting heard outside the window
and all languages spoken through
vents and grates
mixing to form an unrecognizable
mesh of human experience.
I imagine every heartbeat
sounding in time
like a drum at
60 beats per minute.
Echoing through the air ducts
to the stairwell.
Some stray laughter explodes somewhere
in the building,then dies as abruptly as it began.
Listening to this as I sit
on the stairs at the top floor
I cam connected to every sound
and one with every heart.
Resounding resplendence with
every solemn chord struck
by a television set blaring
the six’o’clock news
and the American desire of
appliances cycling away;
so ambient and innocuous,
it requires me to hold my
breath to hear it.
The music of life enclosed in
claustrophobic serenity,
of a box with hundreds of tiny
boxes inside of it
sets me up for the flow
of energy and transubstantiation
to become
another layer on the mix.

 

Aside

Emotional Vacancy

there’s a hotel sitting on the corner
in a city rarely accessible
with a giant sign flickerflashing
neon bulbs burst, broken, busted
but still broadcasting “emotional vacancy.”
this is certainly something that needn’t be advertised.
everyone knows.

we check-in out of convenience
and stay for the peace and quiet.

last night I dreamt I was a river
crashing and thundering through rocks
of a particularly phallic caliber.
metaphorical, clearly.
I’m sure my shrink would say it’s an
unresolved
issue.

my entire generation is an unresolved issue.

our parents had to deal with
drunks, the simple brutality of abuse
and in return we were given drug addicts
hustlers, welfare queens and the introduction
of the cycle of abuse as children,
which is sort of like a bicycle
in that you don’t forget how to ride it out.

that river I was snaked its way through streets and avenues
past the rocks and rapids of misspent youth
and poured down through cracks in pavement
until it burst into the parking lot
(cracked and worn like it was)
of that hotel with its scab colored sign.

and as I found the way, rushing down
into the empty faded boulevard
I saw the sign flicker once more
–EMOTIONAL VACANCY– 
then gutter and die.

maybe there’s hope 
for us
yet.

Oklahoma

there was a fire in my belly like bloody gold
the day Oklahoma receded into memory
like barbed wire to soldiers and prisoners both
like flaming whips of fire to speed me on
with Saturn as my guide –
and the moon shining overhead like a bloated queen
culling the sky and calling me through
burning tiny towns away in my wake
I traveled through desert
shrub
mountain
vale.
My boots moved one thousand miles from
chill to heat to chill again
as I lay my head in a mountain town
while the singer on the radio keeps singing-
“am I strong enough to start again?
all will be forgiven.”
And I sing along with perfect cadence
to serenade that bitter, bloated queen
to chase the better one that waits for me.

I hate you, Oklahoma.
I hate you for the friends you took from me
for the mentor that died in your arms
for the truth that I wanted to find
at the bottom of every whiskey bottle
but instead found vomit and piss as my bedsheets
head aching like a freight train rumbling through –
ribs aching like I fought a hundred men –
and I hate you for the pills –
all that valium, vicodin, xanax, oxycodin and worse.
But I love you, Oklahoma.
For the family you gave me unthinking
the ones you didn’t take away
that showed me a better way than a revolver
pressed straight above my ear
to paint the wall Navajo orange.
Am I strong enough to start again?
All will be forgiven.
I’ll sing it and believe it –

Because when that family who bears you
and the family you choose later
lifts you up to the sky and pushes you on
to better things
life isn’t going to let me down again.

Post-Ictal Blues

I’d sleep but I can’t sleep.
Racing thoughts ache to wrench me
from restful slumber
from dreams of
…what?
Probably best that I don’t remember.
If I took my Xanax could I sleep?
If I took my Xanax…
If I, if I, if I,
“Why do you think you had a seizure?”
I don’t know, Doc.
Probably because you loaded me up
with enough tramadol to
kill
a
horse.

Or at least tranquilize one.
After all – that’s what it’s used for. Right? Right.
So, maybe you should feel like
your body is on fire
every fucking day.
Or you can’t think of one thing without
thinking
that same thought over and over and over and over and over.
Let’s trade for a day.
Then you might give me something
so I can go back to sleep.

Bukowski said:
“waiting is depression. We spend our lives waiting
to sleep, waiting to wake up
waiting to eat and then eat again.”
Well, Chuck. My body sings that intrinsic.
Because every night
from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.,
I’m waiting to sleep
and from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m,
I’m waiting to wake back up;
it would be rest if I could
feel it.

At least when I was drinking
I never had this problem.
It was always the morning after
that caused the most trouble.
I’ve decided that this is God’s way
of telling me that I need to get back on the bottle;
it’s a good thing I never
believed in God.

Right?

Right.

Addiction Dirge

Summer has closed her eyes
and Autumn’s drawn a wicked scar
across her throat and left me
to count five hundred days
with five hundred pictures to show my progress
or lack thereof.

The building collapses, the heat shakes the windows
as Winter dreams herself into a seizure coma
that rattles every glass in every cabinet
built inside of the head of every god
wrapped up in man-made packaging
and sold on the covers of magazines
while I count away five hundred days
times sixty divided by every time
that dark voice comes to sing inside my head.

Where are you going, what are you doing
who are you, what will you say next
and the whisper comes fast and slow and
there’s no day left to count.
Every day turns to night that bypasses
the slow decline of Winter into Spring
with bloodloss and a lack of inspiration
that doesn’t dwindle past the bleak desperate
concocted careful lies that live behind my eyes.

As I count each picture of every day
five hundred times in shadow withdrawal
speechless and breathless and timeless
and I run with my hands bound behind my back
and my legs tethered close together
my skin a Pollock, my face a Rembrandt smile
that never seems to fall off the face of
every angel and every angle I’ve ever cut
to reach the destination that leads to ruin
discarded packs of cigarettes and empty bottles
five hundred days wasted on five hundred
pills broken down to bear me to
five hundred and one.

Lethe

I drove down to the river one day to watch it
and think those sullen thoughts
that seemed so outdated and made for yesterday.
Each varied attempt to disappear
makes it that much more difficult to return.
I waited for the water to trail past me
and imagined the water,
close enough to reach,
but too far out to see.

I waited there: alone, watching, silent, hiding.
There had been a time when I had attempted
so desperately to save my own soul
by professing a quiet prayer to a noble calling.
And from this, I received such congratulations
that perhaps were not my due;
why congratulate someone for saving themselves?
The world keeps spinning dizzy in the dark.
The only difference was
I wasn’t spinning along with it.

That river kept on, kept on, kept on.
It twisted and arched and turned and sighed
and I felt like a voyeur;
I watched something that I had no right to see.
Each unbidden, unwanted thought surged up
enough to make me wish that the Willamette
was the Lethe.

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