There’s a crescent moon bruise running along your ribcage. A singular wilting violet tiger stripe spreading into a sickly shade of pale along your left side. It is the waffled impression of a security rail. Saturday morning, you coughed and felt a sharp and sudden bolt run to your spine. You have a fat lip. Blood dried. A fleck on your collar. You’re on your couch. A late night, even for you. Picked up a quick dark hour crossing back into Central Standard Time at the Indiana border. The Hold Steady and Deer Tick. Indianapolis. On the road by midnight. Home by three. Asleep by five. Words tended fireside hours. Ears ring in the key of C. You comb stray confetti out of the bird nest mop of bedhead.
It just happened for you. Not all at once. Not divine intervention. No cinematic orchestrated Hollywood moment of truth. It was probably poor lighting and worse acne. Somewhere. Maybe college radio. Possibly an all ages show. Probably Mugsy’s Discount Records. Three chords. Messy and seductive. Angry. Righteous. A live wire fallen power line, whip smart and bristling on blackboard asphalt.
When there’s dead air in the conversation, it’s not the bar noise which swells to fill this gap. It’s the rising rapid tension of a drum fill. Four/Four pounded out on floor toms. All of these songs replace oxygen. Lean in. Magnetism. Lips part. Soundless.
Which band was first? Whose vitriol did you consume? What was flint to steel? Doesn’t matter. It all spoke to you, rending you from the dying limb of Album-Oriented-Rock. The bloated swinging corpse of big rock suicide. You saw so many bodies and didn’t even know they were already dead to you. Meathook rock with a dying rot of familiarity. Somewhere in this open air, small town butcher shop, they were waiting for you. Teenage temporary and all big world drama. Before you really knew what trouble was. Before debt, depression, and unemployment. Before you understood true and love were always competing for blood like the heart and kidneys. Before anger became not just a reflex but true and unsustainable motivation. Before the fucked and unfucked and unfucking believable, you learned how to love punk rock like poetry.
The last poster you hang has no sharp corners. It’s sun brittle. Pinhole tatters along the edges. It has followed you from a city’s worth of streets and addresses. Finally framed it when you thought you were professional. Mature. Responsible. Had benefits. Wore a tie. Orbison’s Mystery Girl–his last words committed to black vinyl posterity. He was already vanishing into verse by the time you heard his dream soaked operatic croon. You framed a washed out image. Smoke stained and a ghost of that fearless you, unburdened by indecision. He was gothic and myth. He came to you, a herald to your loneliness. A warning and a comfort. Before you knew what a poem could be or how you could poem into being. You always wanted Ray-Bans.
Twin lead guitars. Like a punk rock Skynyrd. No. Thin Lizzy. There is reconciliation. Six strings and Memphis tone cuts through you. A love of analog dials and FM radio without irony. So very Catholic of you. The Hold Steady raises a glass to St. Joe Strummer.
The last stretch of interstate, all the windows are down. What rushes in speaks to the you that has been here before. History isn’t written by the victors. It barely registers as history anymore. Little Steven plays The Ramones. There’s an overpass where the sun should be.
You have spent afternoons defending the last handful of Replacements albums. Always will. The smart, vulnerable, and fierce to your loud, confident, and wrong. Lauded and lambasted. Reflected shrugging shoulders with a self destructive self awareness. Deflected critical examination. Defended awkwardness. A quartet of Shakespeare’s fools power-trash thrashing to life from the Twin Cities. You got it. No intercession was ever needed to be privy to these proceedings. What sustains coalesces and collects us–those misfit toys and life-long beautiful losers. Have enough faith in your footsteps. Walk through those doors and prop that bastard open.
The throat is torn fabric and blood cut fragile. Your voice is a burlap sack holding splintered stained glass. You started out with the aging hipsters and finally fell in with the raging college kids. Pogoing. When did you start pogoing again? Craig Finn tucks Berryman and David Foster Wallace into the backbeat. All-age agers don’t care about aging gracefully. They spend their ink writing truth into nights like this. These stories are coded private histories. Shared. Celebrated. Lost. Regained. Revised and re-imagined. How A Resurrection Really Feels.
Joe Strummer died before a poetry reading. That’s how you remember it. You stood on a table in Barnes and Noble and wanted to be in Shea Stadium. Train in Vain. Your poems. Simple act of naive courage. You were a scatter of pages. A fine mess. Better intentions wrapped around the knuckles. You were as unwritten as any and every future St. Joe prophesized. He is graffiti on a wall in New York City. He was wisdom written on a truck stop bathroom on the Connecticut state border. You should’ve known better. You did and didn’t care. You do and still don’t. There’s a copy of Give ’Em Enough rope in your record collection. There was a birthday.
You watch how feedback stirs the buzzing hearts into frenzy. Behind the merch table. Selling seven inches and hand made back patches. Phil is a red headed Elvis Costello in miniature. Writes like Bob Mould. Sings like Bloody Holly. Plays your roommate’s bass guitar. Some weekends you drive the van. Shirts and ties. Chris–gone by now. He used to scream and forget to play guitar. Bob carries a knife. Eddie is Ed. Milton, PA. You’re welcome. You didn’t have to wait for someone else to create something meaningful. You were unbalance and composition. You waited for no one. Your best poets are punks. Some never even heard Black Flag.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.