This was the guy your mother didn’t tell you about. On the outside, if you saw him strolling home from the greengrocer’s, you’d nod and say Family man. Nice young bloke with that gray tweed suit picking up some things on ‘is way home from the office. But inside you’d know he was twisted, contorted, growling at his lot in life. Even if he chewed on a red licorice string with a stalk of celery poking form his sack, whistling between nibbles some savory Vera Lynn tunes.
Those eyes told his story. Ian Curtis had Greek tragedy eyes.
We'll give you everything and more
You once spent a week rethreading a crinkled cassette back together, wrapping the chestnut-brown tape around your finger and holding your breath. Like a bomb-squad technician, sweat in your eyebrows, chewing the lower lip, knowing there were only so many chances.
The strain's too much, can't take much more.
They say listen to it in the winter, when the trees are stark and the sky won’t brighten. So you do and there’s a new pain in your chest, an anxiety, because this is where the world is now and you just found it out – three years late. There’s been a new god all this time and you haven’t worshipped at all.
You buy a bass and string it with the thickest gauge and then plug it into the amp that Hank Williams kicked off the stage in Tupelo. It sounds like someone is playing The Velvet Underground in a coffin. The snow begins to fall and you think of how it may pile atop headstones and crypts.
They put a fresh coat of paint on the hardware store and it still looks rotten. You spend a week trying to fit “circumference” into a poem. This old man on your street steps on a nail and now his knees won’t bend and he looks like he is being electrocuted all the time. The thickness of his fingers is amazing and they say he went to the hospital to get his wedding band cut off. And he is a widower. So sad.
Oh, I've walked on water, run through fire
Twice you spend an entire afternoon thinking about death. The end has circumference. (It still doesn’t work.) School breaks and you get a black coat for Christmas. To the knees, a heavy wool fabric that smells like it’s been in a closet. You remember your grandpa died this summer. You feel cheated.
Standing in front of the mirror you notice a solace in the expression of your eyes. Maybe you have come here to comfort yourself, this winter you that looks gangly and cheerless. The black topcoat gives the impression you have congregated with poets who celebrate death. But your eyes belie this unsettled darkness in your soul. These are the oculars of a pale American teen (read: gawky, white bread, knows more Tennyson than he should) and not the windows to a shadowy Manchester soul.
Can't seem to feel it anymore.
They put mints out after dinner and everybody takes a few. If only they could hear those mesmerizing drums (lunar beats, possibly intergalactic and cold as wind in the tombs) or take note of the declining minor chords in these brutal verses. Then they’d know. We would show them. And they would know.
Old man in the lonely Victorian stiffens so much they tell him to stay inside or else he will fall in the yard and become a portmanteau for the undertaker to unbuckle. You see his face in the windows, a pale moon that whispers at you when you pass by in your midnight jacket scowling at the fallen noons of this bleak season. You insert circumference in a poem about deft angles of light and you leave it there for the day when you can tear it apart and start over.
It was me, waiting for me
Antigone hanged herself, as did Ian Curtis. She for choosing proper burial for the dead, he for the spasms of his own wracked body. You fear this lonely old neighbor will not be tetanized before he, too, longs for the noose too much. You think of snow atop headstones and crypts, and the man who inscribes the names and dates on cemetery vaults.
They give you the keys to the Chrysler and say go get red licorice and celery, something for our breakfast with Father Macdonald and the good souls down at St. Mary’s. Your cassette slides into the stereo and out roars the off-key pleadings of a band doomed never to cross the Atlantic. If you can be still enough, you practically feel the vibrations of the singer’s arms whipping the air, his legs twisting, torso contorting, while his eyes – hollow tubes spectacularly lit from above – remain steady on his audience.
They have graveled the parking lot for an imminent repaving and you crunch your way in to BuyRite Foods, find the jellied hams and hocks, the misshapen potatoes, cabbage and coriander for the stew and chutney, respectively. You wonder how they eat this as you tote your sack of goods to the Chrysler, sitting like a dead whale in a mist of rain that is turning to snow.
Hoping for something more
Father Macdonald (white heavy eyebrows, saggy cheeks and craggy chin) delivers the melancholy news: old tetanus has hanged himself. In the foyer, under a crystal chandelier, right in front of these fine nautical sketches (framed in glass) that the departed wife bought on a wedding anniversary trip to St. John’s Bay – Sept. 30, 1955, also the day James Dean died.
Sad news, Friar Mac says. Tragic, sad news. Chutney, please. Old so-and-so invites gleaming cars onto the street simply by having his body detained at the morgue, for dress and makeup purposes. Curvy Cadillacs and staunch Starfires, they brush between the snow-piled curbs and out pop legions of bent duffers and dames, all cottony on top.
The orange streetlamps stay on all night, as they are prone to do. You put on your funeral coat and go marching by the wake, seeing ancient men in silver pompadours clink tumblers to the forlorn bars of one Vera Lynn, as sung by Sunny “We’ll Meet Again” Silvestri, esteemed sister-in-law to the late (and terribly stiff) Dr. Alan Geld. A psychiatrist for the entire terms of FDR, Truman and Eisenhower.
Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else.
The deck eats the tape, and so begins the journey. To Troy and back you will go, hunting “Unknown Pleasures” and finding it nowhere, not even on the radio. They have taken back their god and now you will join them in worship of silent hedges or perhaps some cloistering techno-jazz which seeps from the woofers and tweeters of everybody’s Chrysler.
You watch the big film noir cars roll heavily off the curb in front of Dr. Geld’s until you realize there is at least one old faithful, not yet departed, moving deep into the soft choruses of some sunny day …
Keep smiling through, just like you always do, till the blue skies drive th
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services