On May 1st, 2020 you will want to be in Joplin, Missouri at the Bookhouse Cinema at 7 pm. auxarczen is hosting our first-ever poetry reading and book sale. Admission is free, but we will have a merch table with books, broadsides, postcards, t-shirts and who knows what else. Two of Joplin's best bands, Dr. G and the Tall Man and Blister Soul, will be playing and you will want to hear every note. We are also thrilled to offer an amazing line-up of five poets that are steeped in the vocal tradition of poetry.
Each day this week I will introduce you to one of the five.
John Knoll (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
John, originally from Pittsburg, Kansas, has authored five poetry books, two plays written with Joe Speer, a CD titled Black Wing, featuring John Macker and an environmental jazz radio play, If You Rape My Mama I Will Kill You, with music by Zimbabwe En Kenya. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Beatitude and Exquisite Corpse. He also performs his poetry with jazz and rock musicians, most notably The Jack Kerouac Band, Nuclear Trout and Ground Zero.
John is the real deal. I first heard him read in Glenwood Springs, CO in the summer of 1992 with a jazz trio backing him and three others. Four poets were seated on stools and took turns reading as the musicians followed them as if they had practiced each word and note. With each round, the poets became a bit more competitive trying to top the one before them. It was one of the most incredible nights I have experienced as an audience member.
While his poems are always a knockout, I am going to feature one of his short stories as an introduction, turns out he maneuvers through prose with the same abandon, taking no prisoners.
FOURTH OF JULY
Dwayne and Bernadette Silva turned off New Mexico’s Highway 502 about a mile after crossing the Rio Grande on Otowi Bridge. Their Mercury’s headlights illuminated a little wooden cross stuck in the ground beside a cholla cactus. A couple of days earlier Erik, the party’s host, told Dwayne he stuck the cross there to keep human coyotes away.
He drove into the bosque, mostly tall cottonwoods, a few juniper and pinyon. The river could be heard echoing off canyon walls. A huge bonfire was visible through the trees. They were late arrivals to the party and the road was lined with cars and pickups, mostly pickups. He parked in a spot next to a sweat lodge.
Before getting out of the car, he reached in the back seat and opened a cooler filled with ice and pulled out a beer. He opened one for Bernadette and they walked towards the bonfire beers in hand. He didn’t see anyone he knew. He stood in the shadows and watched a young boy light a roman candle.
Bernadette disappeared as she often did at parties. Dwayne stood under a clear desert sky, looking up he saw Jupiter directly overhead. He turned to the southern sky to see if he could identify Betelgeuse in Orion’s Belt but the horizon was obscured by canyon walls.
He followed the sound of Howlin’ Wolf’s blues into the house. A few people were milling about in the kitchen where a feast was laid out: beans, enchilada casserole, red and green chili, tortillas, a fruit tray, a chocolate cake with cherries and a bottle of tequila sat on the table. I wish I was hungry, he thought as he sat on a couch beneath a colorful expressionistic painting of an Indian’s face; reds and blues and golds and greens. The painting looked like an R.C. Gorman, but it wasn’t, just another imitation.
Across the room, he recognized Tom Verlaine talking to a woman weighted down with turquoise jewelry. He waved. Verlaine looked at him but didn’t respond. Dwayne yelled across the room. “Verlaine is that you, brother?” A big smile creased Verlaine’s face as he squinted in Dwayne’s direction. “Dwayne,” he said. “How in the heck are you? I didn’t recognize you because I’m not wearing my glasses and I’m pretty messed up.”
“Yeh, so am I. I ate a couple of shrooms before I came to the party.”
“You old hippies never die,” Verlaine said, eating mushrooms, playing pool, drinking Japanese beer, smoking marijuana. Does your mother know you’re acting like this? What are you going to do next?”
“How you doing,” Dwayne said. Dwayne met Verlaine, a Sioux painter at a recent art opening in Santa Fe. They went out a shot a couple of games of pool, talked art and women. Dwayne like the guy and was sorry they hadn’t exchanged phone numbers.
They laughed and sat on the couch next to Verlaine’s girlfriend, an Anglo woman from Chicago, wearing turquoise ear-rings, silver bracelets and cowboy boots. Dwayne’s mind flashed to the night he and Verlaine played pool in Tiny’s Lounge. He stroked the 8 ball into a corner pocket and scratched. “Fuck,” Dwayne said, loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear it. Two guys at the next table turned their bad eye on him. “What are you guys fuckin’ guys looking at?” he said. To himself, he said this. I’m too old to fight, he thought. Pretty soon I’ll be too old to make love. Then I’ll probably get Alzheimer’s like my Dad and I won’t remember fighting or fucking. That’s why my mantra is: “Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it.”
Verlaine leaned over and whispered in Case’s ear, “I love white women, Dwayne. I tell them what they want to hear from a noble savage and they eat it up. I’m a living myth, bro. It’s good to see you. I hope you can come to my reading tomorrow night.”
“Where is it?”
“At the Aztec in Santa Fe." Hey man, let me introduce you to Gail.”
“Dwayne’s a poet, too,” Dante said, “Gail’s a painter.”
“Do you have any books?” she asked.
“Four,” he replied, with a sullen air.
“Gail’s in a Santa Fe gallery,” Verlaine said.
She told Dwayne she worked in oils and made $25,000 from selling her art last year. Then out of the blue, she said, “I work out with weights, too. Do you?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, noticing her muscled biceps, he sucked in his stomach.
“What club do you belong to?”
“Club? I don’t belong to any clubs. I thought you were a surrealist. Can’t you sense you’re talking to Dada? Where’s your artistic intuition?”
Gail hugged Verlaine’s arm a little tighter. Dwayne sensed Gail was accustomed to polite conversations. Poor thing, here she is being confronted by a stoned Dada poet.
“What have I done to deserve this, she thought. “I just want to make love to this Indian, go home to New York and describe my far out west primitive experience to my friends from Sarah Lawrence.”
Dwayne got up from the couch and walked into the adjacent room where people were dancing. Teresa Gilberto appeared beside him. He met her at a softball game in Los Alamos just outside the 12-foot high barbed wire fence where the Los Alamos National Laboratory housed 2.7 tons of plutonium.
“You cut your hair,” she said.
“Well, thank you for noticing,” he said, flipping a limp wrist. “I’m trying on a homosexual persona. What do you think? Does it work for me?”
She stepped in closer. He could smell her horniness. “Brother, you are so homophobic. Whatever you are, you are not gay. You look sexier than ever. Maybe we’ll connect later. I’m staying at the Casino of Gold Motel,” she said.
Bernadette was wandering around the party somewhere. He could visualize here coming in the room about now with Teresa rubbing her snatch on his leg. “I’m innocent Bernadette. I didn’t do a thing to make her come on to me. In fact, I told her I was gay.”
Bernadette didn’t walk into the room. Teresa walked away when she saw someone rolling a joint on the kitchen table.
Verlaine was telling Gail about the time he was in a Denver bar on Larimer Street, drinking beer. “A guy sat on the stool next to me,” he said. “I turned to acknowledge his presence and he said, ‘What are you looking at?’ I bought him a beer. Turns out he was Crow. When I told him I was Sioux he called me a dog eater. I told him I didn’t appreciate being called a dog eater and wham, he pulled a knife and stabbed me right here in the hand.” He held his left hand out for Gail and Dwayne to see and they saw a half-moon scar on the back of his hand.
Susan Avery, a potter from Santa Clara Pueblo listened to Verlaine’s story from across the room. “I just pulled the knife out of my hand and licked the blood of the Crow’s knife. It hurt like hell, but I’ve done the Sun Dance and I’ve learned not to show pain, but…”
“You Sioux guys are tough, huh?” Susan said, pimping him, interrupting his story.
Verlaine acted like he didn’t hear her and continued his story. “I grabbed him by the throat and said, ‘I think you owe me a drink. If you don’t think so I’m going to rip your throat out and bite your nose off. It’s your choice. The Crow guy bought me a beer and I kept his knife.”
“Now don’t get me wrong,” Susan said. “But do you Sioux guys really eat dog because I have a friend from North Dakota who told me puppies taste like human flesh.” Susan was drunk and in dangerous territory.
“How does your friend know what human flesh tastes like,” Verlaine said, breaking the tension. There were about three seconds of silence. Susan took a drink of beer. “I’m just playing with you, man. Tell me were you at Pine Ridge?”
“That was a long time ago and I don’t want to talk about it.” The mood changed and Susan and Verlaine got into a conversation about skinning rattlesnakes. Susan said they tasted like chicken.
Bernadette tapped Dwayne on the shoulder. “Tara just called,” she said. “She wants us to come home so we can light fireworks. Are you ready to go?”
“Hey Verlaine, I’ve got to go. But let’s get together. Are you staying in Santa Fe?”
“It’s early, bro. Where are you going?”
“I have to go home. My daughter wants us to come home and light fireworks.”
They exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together soon. Dwayne and Bernadette walked out into the night blossoming with fireworks. He stumbled into a cholla cactus and howled like a hyena in labor. “Give me the keys,” Bernadette said. “You’re too drunk to drive.”
When they got home Tara, their nine-year-old daughter, had roman candles, sparklers and assorted Black Cat’s lined up on a picnic table. They shot a couple of bottle rockets, lit a few packs of firecrackers, some sparklers, and an M-80. Case got excited about lighting the M-80 because he and his brothers use to sell them on the Kansas Black Market. An M-80 is one-eighth of a stick of dynamite. Case lit the M-80 and it went off like a lady finger.
“Really loud Dad,” Tara said, laughing and spinning in circles, holding a sparkler above her head.
When all the fireworks were gone they went inside. Tara gave them a kiss and went to bed. Dwayne and Bernadette drank another beer. Drunk, he looked at Bernadette’s classic Hispanic-Jewish profile, feeling like he could taste her beauty.
“I’m going to bed,” she said. “Are you coming?”
“In just a minute. Can I wake you if you’re sleeping?”
“Please do,” she said, sliding into his arms, kissing him.
He went outside and looked up to the Pojoaque Valley sky, Jupiter directly overhead. Fireworks illuminated the night in fractal patterns of delight. Dogs barked. He went inside, locked the door and went to bed. Bernadette was sleeping. He tried to wake her, but she was too far gone.
“I love you,” he whispered in her ear. He curled up beside her and fell asleep