04 June 2009

Denis Johnson

[Denis Johnson's The Incognito Lounge, Carnegie Mellon, 1994]

The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph
Our Patron of Falling Short,
Who Became a Prayer [excerpt]

With four monstrosities in uniforms
like mine, I pulverized guitars and wept
for the merriment of many. Brothers,
when shadows lengthen, and they lower down
the American flag and close our government,
another country rises like a mist
by garbagey coliseums on the warehouse
side of town to listen to that rock
and roll: God speaking with the Devil's voice,
unbreathable air of manacles, a storm
to bless your multicolored lips with sperm.
We sundered them until they brought their bones
forth from the flesh and laid them at our feet,
screaming their lungs shut tight as fists,
shedding their homes forever, leaving name
and tongue and mind and sending us their heads
through the mails in the night. We ran it past the edge,
we gave them something everyone could dance to --
whatever is most terrible is most real --
the Bible fights, the fetuses burning in light-bulbs,
the cunnilingual, intravenous
swamp of love. Three times I died on stage,
and the show went on while doctors snatched
me back from Chinatown with their machines.
We struck it rich. Without a repertoire,
without a name or theme, we toured the land
and eighty thousand perished. We were real,
but not one company recorded us:
everywhere we went they passed a law.
We toured the land -- sweet, burning Texacos,
the adrenaline darkness palpitates frantically,
the highway eats itself all night, the radio's
wheedling bebop fails in the galactic
soup near dawn; the Winnebago shimmers,
everything tastes like puke, the eight-ball
bursts, nobody
know how to drink in this fuckin town . . .
One night I heard our music end
abruptly in the middle of a number
and looked around me at a gigantic silence.
I felt the pounding, saw the screams, but all
was like the long erasure of a wind
calming and disturbing everything
on its route through stunned fields of hay.
My bodyguards tried with huge gentleness to lead
me off, but I threw myself outside, rolling
through a part of town I'd never seen --
the flat grey streets looked Hebrew, and the windows
held out the paraphernalia of old age,
porcelain Jesuses gesturing from the shadows
of porcelain vases, surrounded by medicines.
A rain began. I strained myself to hear
the trashcans say their miserable names,
but nothing. At the brink
of stardom high over the United States,
untouchable as God but better known,
I stumbled over streets that might've been rubber,
deaf as a cockroach, finished as a singer.
Brothers I spilled myself along the roads.
Mold grew on me as I dampened in alleys.
I began in ignorance. How could I know
that whoever is grinding up his soul is making
himself afresh? That the ones who run away
get nearer all the time? Look here or there,
it's always the horizon, the dull edge
of earth dicing your plan like a potato. . . .

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