There is a ritual not lost on you. In the Visayans, your blood would cut their hair in protest or mourning. Coconut oil. Sharp flat rock. Pair of clam shells. When the Spanish came, they used the razor to tame them. Conversion. Conformity. Catholicism. You only hear this story, much later, in some Charm City dive bar, over three fingers of Tanduay rum. The only thing she knows about you is that you’re Pinoy. You’re only half-listening until then–more concerned with Matthew Sweet on the jukebox. Her last boyfriend will always be more Pinoy than you, but it’s not her phone number on a bar coaster that you will keep.
Rubber-stamped passport. Sugar canefields in your skin.
Frayed black cable pig-tailed its way into the left earpiece of your father’s Pioneer headphones. You had your own studio monitors because all the best disc jockeys did–even if there was an occasional short in the wires. On air, you would wrap the cable around your right knuckle until you could hear yourself in stereo. You chose to be on-air on Saturday nights. You came in at 8 and some nights you didn’t leave until well after midnight. There was a tiny window which would overlook the intersection of River and South Street. Your roommates making snow angels in the rain, wearing roller skates on stairwells, calling for Krom in the great Mead Halls of the nerd heart. You would carry stacks of music to and from the studio, raid the archives, make a mess. The soundboard had a cueing speaker which was shot–so blown that any voice coming from it sounded like a chain smoking cement mixer. Your tiny college signal barely made it beyond the town limits. Most nights were a broadcast for one.
Last call. David Bowie and girls with black lips.
You are horrible at not letting anyone know when you’re home. You like traveling alone. You like being alone. You go to the gym when no one’s there, shop for groceries before 10 am or after 10pm, stay up later than everyone, get to work first, leave by the side exits, slip out from weddings and bars, vanish if you could. No one sits with you on the train or the bus. A polite distance. Earbuds and New Era lids. In the Denver terminal, heading back east, you meet a mutual friend, sharing a connecting flight. He didn’t even recognize you sitting at the gate. You both laughed, and spent the layover in silence.
Terminal vending machine. A nickel short.
You remember watching Tom Dowd behind a mixing board, his hands were twin knotted grapevines composing a poetry in sound. He was remixing Clapton, back when Clapton was a god and a junkie. Left channel, Slowhand. Right channel, Duane Allman–his bottleneck weeping and sweeping across “Layla” with a ’57 Les Paul Goldtop. That whole record was a fever dream, a few restless weeks as summer bled into fall. Miami at the threshold of the ’70s. All this backstory–now popular history: Patti and George Harrison love triangle, a motorcycle accident, mental illness, classic rock. All this backstory, ultimately composed and brought to life by Tom Dowd and his hands moving across sliders and channels.
Bell bottom blues. Teenage parking lot across bare shoulders.
You always write to music–or at least edit to music. From The Cure to Ryan Adams to Fairport Convention–there is an odd collaborative chemistry: you and sound and the page. Sliders and keys strike the same to you. When it works–it’s like breathing. The composition in movement–fingers carve away at the marble of empty pages or solid air. The first time you saw that Dowd documentary, you were jetlagged and on your parents’ couch. There was still enough of the island baked into your skin that there was a tan line from your cousin’s rosary. She gave it to you before you left. Her mother rubbed your wrists with garlic for good luck. There is so much history that is and isn’t yours which passes through your hands. Luckily you’re smart enough to not to try and hold on so damn tight anymore.
Deadlines and bloodlines. My fingertips in three-four time.
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, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. He writes “Best Worst Year” weekly for Sundog Lit. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.