-for Jerry Tomlin
“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I’m
happy to state, I finally won out over it.”
-Elwood P. Dowd
an archipelago of breaths
purposed and propelled by memory.
The theatric boast of life the eyes parade,
a silent camera, ever behind, focusing.
In patchwork scenes: childhood, middle years, old age,
death – then birth
Nothing known at the fade in
will be felt in the fade out.
Leaving nothing to predictability,
the film is christened and ages
in sensitivity and texture.
The stir of the heart
scripts the direction of purity,
cleaving to what we cast off,
never playing tomorrow as the strains
of another day.
What of the actor?
His lines are his to forget
-his audience to recall.
my father in the trees
my father is the trees around me
here and they wait for my answer
to whatever it is his painfully
tended and burgeoning leaves whisper
to me, and the stars that lean to listen
better to them, without any God’s
tacit or politic permission
i do not understand the words
of any ancestor, though those
who built the wicker men once
are so loving that i can guess at
their gist, and how it is blessing us
who remember them, however
vaguely. the words he says are a
silent question. i cannot guess at
he is the leaves and branches and the
absence, the abhorrence in which i hold
nature and history. he would have answered
me, as well as the words given him at
least, but i demanded no
answers in his lifetime for i was
this memory already, and dead then,
as now he, dead
They push through the crowds of the 9-5ers on their way home from work — from one prison to the next, from a job that’s a life sentence to a spouse and kids as the same. But not for these two, Janice is noticeably staggering and Ken tries to steer her straight down the underground transit system corridor.
Ken is dressed in light clothing, tan and brown and white. He has a moustache, short curly brown hair, a burly neck with a small white hat and a serious expression with a furrowed brow that masks a brain scrambled like eggs. Janice is dressed like she’s prepared for a ski trip but it’s just the casual East Coast Italian look — sneaks, navy blue tights, bulky jacket, dark hair permed, and makeup in place. Boston is their hometown, East-ah Boston, one of the Italian sections.
At one time it seemed all of Boston was Italian and Irish and each town was predominantly one of each. Now, it’s pretty mixed with lots of nationalities, not to Ken and Janice’s liking and not to many Bostonians. But it’s okay by me.
The grimy streets of Boston, a pretty filthy town, await them out from the tunnels and though they valiantly flail against their shortcomings, their addictions, alcohol and pills for Ken, heroin for Janice, they can’t help but notice the parade of weak, conforming, indifferent people handicapped by themselves and what they’ve been sold, limping wounded back to their caves.
The ugliness of the streets, with its grime and dirty snow and ugly “modern” City Hall, it’s a metaphor for the corruption and compromise in the government, where the money not taken by the politicians is sucked up by the unions. It’s a city of tradition, but face it, tradition means lies, tradition, another trinket to sell to the tourists as legit as the Irish restaurants that border Faneuil Hall, the tourist trap section of town.
They get to T.J.’s Lounge, ladies invited, walking through the door is like walking into safety, in a way, like locking the door when you’ve reached home. And the eccentricities and appearance of impropriety can fade in these confines. Judgment melts by the wayside, or, at least, the rules are bent or forgotten here. People staggering, well, it’s like a site of a car crash or train wreck, you can’t expect everything to look okay. Just pick a seat at the bar or a booth, punch in and order your drinks, stay a while.
On the ceiling are plastered posters from the 70’s of bikini girls sprawled on cars and Kiss posters and such. A plastic fireplace has a fake log that revolves around and around, aluminum foil wrapped is scraped against something to produce a crackling fire sound while a red light projects a glow from below. In the heat of August you can drop in and it will still be glowing. The clientele is a weird mix of college students from the local music college to Native American Indians and everything in between. The jukebox is a mix of the usual hit songs with Jazz classics by the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington thrown in.
“Luh-huh-huv, wooh-oh-o, love is strange, oh-o, yeah.”
An oldie is playing on the jukebox, “Love is Strange” by Mickey and Silvia with its mix of 50’s rock ‘n roll and Latin beat. “Many pee-e-ple, wooh-oh-o, take it for a game.” They move to the dance floor, Janice swinging her big pocketbook on her arm, leaning on Ken to keep her balance. In the heart of the night and darkness of the bar they’re lost and hidden from the eyes of the day. Here they can blend in with the shadows not noticed by the others who are also beaten down by the day.
“How do you call your lover boy?”
“C’mere, lover boy.”
“And if he doesn’t answer?”
“Oh, lover boy,” she softly coos.
“And if he still doesn’t answer?”
“I say, baby, ooh-ooh baby, my-ah sweet baby, baby you’re the one.”
Janice and Ken make it back to their booth, through the crowd on the dance floor.
“Is that why it’s warm in here,” Janice asks, “because of the fireplace?”
“Do you hear what you’re asking me,” Ken says excitedly, “you’re asking me if it’s warm because of the fake fireplace?”
“I’m gonna stop doing this, Ken,” Janice says, referring to her lifestyle, “this is just a passing phase. I’m turning over a new leaf. I believe God knows the best for us and that each road down sadness leads us to a better way, it’s to test us, make us believe.”
“Uh-huh, listen,” Ken says, “listen, I can take care of you but you gotta make up your mind to set yourself straight. Do you have any more cigarettes? Jesus, you don’t want to end up like, ah, what’s her name? See, I don’t even – “
“Oh, bullshit, she was just another….hey, the Red Sox did it, didn’t they, a couple of years ago? If they can do it so can I.”
“Oh, man, everyone’s worried about the terrorists; they can’t see what’s right before their eyes. You can stay with me, I get my disability, but no Susan, none of those friends from the – “
“Everything’s gonna be fine, babe. This is just a little holiday for now. I still have my figure, don’t I? Look at that slut, that young slut over there with the midriff showing. You are the only one, the only one who cares, cares for me, only you, sugar, only you.”
“C’mon, this is serious, serious now. No more fuckin’ around. No more days like this. I’ll get another round. Y’ got any more cigarettes?”
Ken returns with the drinks.
“Look at all the lawyers,” Janice says, “pimps in pinstripes, three-piece suits. Politicians, always have a favor to pay back just the goddamn mafia with legal-ality behind their asses. Bitches just shaking their tits for a buck or to suck some guy into –“
“How’re you doing, Janice?” a guy passing by says.
“Fine, fine, good to see you.”
Ken says after the guy passes, “Why do I care, Janice? Why do I care? Because I believe in you. I see something in you I long ago lost. The love I lost for myself and the world still shows up in you. I’ve got no reason to hang in there, it’s all for you, you know all for you.”
“You’re so sweet. I know I’m gonna be all right. I’ll do it, sweetie. Each day is a new day with a silver lining.”
“Janice, can you make this one promise, this one promise to me?”
“Anything for you, babe.”
“Can you please promise me, you’ll never promise me anything again? ‘Cause it tears my heart, it really do. To know, that none of us, the both of us, will never be what we hope for, what we hope life and us to be. I don’t want any more disappointments, it’s just life I can’t live with, you I can take. Just be honest with me, it’s all I ask.”
“I promise, I promise, babe, it’s not a mistake. I promise, geez, it’s my last, my very last promise.”
Ken and Janice spend their time together amidst the smoke, the drinks, the pinball and video games, the fake fire place, the drink specials and oh, look, there’s a new shot called the Oxycontin along with the Liquid Cocaine. They haven’t sampled them but somehow figure it won’t be the same. Actually, it was Janice’s last promise, the only one she kept in life. Soon they’ll be back out into the night, heading back from where they came to rest a little while before they get another day, maybe, another chance to make some sense of the lives and hopefully find some peace.