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All Night Empires Posts

The motorcade model


Croe stops by. From the kitchen sink I see him in the alley, lifting the lids off the garbage cans. He bends over and peers in, the lid held above him. He appears to breathe deeply but rising he looks neither disapproving or satisfied. He holds the lid to the sky, as if to check its roundness against known bodies heaven and earth.

Inside he shows interest in our books and albums. It occurs to me that I saw neither at his apartment. He picks out a book and holds it in both hands, appearing to judge by balance; older selections he smells. I stand by him with two cups of coffee. He uses much the same routine with the albums. He takes a series of deep breaths, directional things, aimed first at the bookshelves, then an open window, finally at the cups of coffee. He takes one. We sigh more or less in unison.
He looks at me. It’s important that I see your bedroom, he says.
I wait outside, with the door open. Listening. I hear no movement other than an occassional sip. After a while he emerges. This is good coffee.
Of course. He has a copy of my book in his hand. Suddenly frowning he says : There’s a woman sleeping outside on an abandoned mattress. It’s summer someplace hot, possibly Louisiana, there’s cicadas screaming and a small rodent tugging at her foot. She keeps sleeping. A light rain falls. She wakes, stretches. She tugs at a piece of thread on her leg and the thread grows longer and she touches her face in a gesture of charmed surprise and she keeps pulling and her legs begins to unravel and she keeps pulling and the flesh of her leg unravels in rows like a sweater and the force of her pulling exposes the weave of her flesh in augmenting rows against the glowing field of red of her muscle and she looks at me for the first time and I can only stand there and shrug and there is nothing else to do but keep pulling.
After a moment I ask, Can we go over a few things now?
Can I smoke in here?
What’s on your mind?
I’m wondering when we get to some facts. And if that’s out of the question, then can I just start making things up?
I sense some frustration.
You do, yes.
You’re making me sleepy. He opens my book and looks at the words briefly. He closes it. Let’s go shopping.
I look at him. Ok.

We go in his car. Driving is difficult for me but there seems to be no choice. Croe gets in the passenger side and slouches with the book. His car is a ‘63 Continental, with the suicide doors, a convertible, government black. The size of it bespeaks an expansiveness no longer present in urban America. Streets crowd it, light alloy imports buckle in its gravity. I feel conspicuous. Croe slouches against the door, his fingertips just in reach of the radio, his LBJ frame sunglasses a redundant irony. I should have guessed you were a Lyndon Johnson fan, I say.
He quotes When you have a mother-in-law with only one eye, and that eye is in the middle of her forehead, you dont keep her in the livingroom.
He fiddles with the radio.
Have you ever mowed a lawn?
Dozed in a hammok. Delivered the Sunday paper.
He looks at me.
I’m curious about how you happened in this country.
Not in a suburb. He gestured at the road. Try and keep it at least at an even thirty. This isn’t the motorcade model.
Let’s try some free-association.
How about you run over that old lady and I tell you what the stain reminds me of. For fucksake Wim. You drive like I watercolor. I thought you said you were from the east coast.
I havent driven in a while. Where are we going?
I dont see any coffee stands. He flattens his nose with his palm. I read your book you know. What were you thinking?
Your book.
When I was starving in New York, no matter how lovingly I made a spam sandwich, it was still a spam sandwich.
You know I got a ballot in the mail about Spam. Vote yes or no on Spam. Just a simple postcard.
Wait, I think this might tie in to your analogy. Spam is a sort of boundary, a caution flag of cultural or economic distress. Society has a way of not only marking but drawing attention to your progress within it. The ridicule Spam has endured almoist guarantees its permanence in the cosmic fugue.
You said almoist. Here, park here. I want to show you something, Cosmic Fugue.

We walk toward the LZ Gallery. Croe stops at an espresso stand and after considerable banter secures us a ten percent discount. I am impressed by the pointlessness of this. The barista is tall and attractive but the barterting isnt so much flirtatious as confrontational. There is a suggestion that she is part of a bigger problem, but he tips well. Walking away he says I believe by ‘Spam’ they mean unwanted email.

The gallery is narrow but deep and tall, on the first floor of a converted hotel, burnt pastels darkling in pools of corrected light behind huge arched windows and doors bedecked in wrought iron scrollwork. Luz is in the back room watching the unloading of her work from a professional moving van. She is sunken in an expansive couch, wrapped with blankets, nursing a whiskey, her face in the final paleness of nervous exhaustion. A Cuban danzon is playing over the house speakers, quite loud and bright, the piano expansive and intimate in the tall brick space, and I am suddenly very excited about seeing her work. She looks at me suspiciously even as I think this. Croe walks to her, bends at the waist and lays a hand mockingly on her head, like the ironic consolations of a long-time tormentor. Sweetie, he says.
Sweetie yourself. She squints up at him. In her pallor her face is alarmingly midwestern, waspish, although spared from ordinary by the enormity of her irritation. She sees the book and takes it from under his arm and starts leafing through it. Where were you?
Noe gestures at me. In the suburbs with Mr Pewty here.
I had to hire goddam movers. You’re such a horrible cunt, Billy I mean what the fuck Billy? She double swallows. Hi, Wim.
You didn’t bring Rilka?
Shit Wim. I like Rilka. She looks at me for a while but I can no more elaborate than fly. It’s plain I’m disappointing her. How do I explain that none of us had any idea about her show? As if to spare me this she looks at the book again, then at me. Shit, Wimster. You wrote a book.
Five years ago.
She smiles That doesn’t really change the fact does it?
I haven’t gotten a good conversational handle on this yet. Meaning I get really long winded or hostile and silent so careful where you take this. Often it’s a surprise even to me.
I’m like that with my crap. I wont ask you any questions if you don’t say word about anything you see here.
That is a smoking good deal.

The other end



An old couple sit on the porch. Dressed in black, each ornamented by a single fresh gardenia. Their faces seem cut from a larger whole with boneshears. Their talk becomes hushed as they slip deeper into the springs of the glider sofa. A burnished ache about their faces; a sheen on an overhandled history perhaps. They sip minted iced tea from plastic tumblers. The woman propels them with severe black shoes, suffragist lace-up boots, entirely accurate. Her hair is over-tensioned in a torque bun, a nickel glow in the rainy gloom of dusk. Thunder rolls, a buckle in all that is solid, a redistribution of wastes.
He says Do you still carry that money belt and she corrects him.
That was Emma and it was a money ….insert? shall we say?
His face clouds. What was the joke?
With Emma what wasn’t the joke.
His face clouds further. This is maddening! But he allows himself to glide again, his short legs not touching, and in a moment his face clears, almost happily. He shouts: I should fold up my dick and go home!
She tilts her head. That’s not entirely accurate.
Dear Christ. Was Emma the woman they burned in that melonpatch?
Wila. Wila worked for Emma. We all worked for Emma. She turned to him. Emma was who we all worked for.
He nods but it is a meaningless gesture. I thought we were having pie.
You can have pie if you want.
His hand tremors slightly. She takes it and holds it. They say I can still eat peanuts butter. Cheese, too.
Peanut butter. What else do they tell you?
He thinks. A little wine never hurts. And it’s no longer possible to die with a full head of hair.

Epic of ruin


A new thought,

a smell of lemon peel but the sting’s in the throat
always in tension

He sits in the middle of the metro bus, speaking into a dictaphone. His is unshaven, swaddled in an extravagance of filth and odor, a tweed greatcoat clutched at the neck, lapels up like a funnel clogged by his bony angular head.

Further ruin, number 689-70. She whipped me with my own pendulous member. Pendulous. A man’s penis must not be used against him. This event to take up two entries in the chronicle of my ruin.

The driver checks him in the rearview mirror. The bus is otherwise empty but still he crowds the window, pressing into it, scheming, plotting, streams of thinning hair lifting, seeking to escape in the updrafts.

He removes a package of coughdrops, shakes it violently. They are stuck together in the bottom of the homemade box in a syrupy rheum. Have a lemon lozenge, Horace. My voice is failing me. Once there was a time when the palliative harmonics of my voice could postpone the inevitable asswhipping. It could also slice through the dense crust of disapprobation present in most women who confront me. Parry the thin long fillet knife they invariably select for my dismemberment. Not that I discount the episode with the poultry shears. Where was I.

He turns off the recorder momentarily. He switches it on. He stares ahead, switches if back off and surmises:

June, she must be found. I know her voice through the vents and plumbing gorgeous and horrified and visits with you even when there is no booze. That’s something. Her voice raids the cabinets and starts a fire in the ashtray; this voice you can’t quite hear with the water running, or even with the lights on.

The math of nobody home


Only recently he had taken to killing ants as he came upon them and of course the more he killed the more came. And this business of killing ants was enough to fill the morning, and the space of the morning, for a time
And recently now was he aware of a thought held past the first light on things, the morning light on the window sill and the warmth on a sleeping eyelid, and this warmed into nothing ordered or preferred or developed so much as a blank stare, a glance forever exhausted upon the business of a filthy home and this march of time and ants alike

And yet recently had he vaguely remembered a last chance, or a choice, or a suggestion of any kind, a thought or notion of why ants came here or what they might find here and how even they, it seemed, might just be passing through

And he lingered there and still ultimately missed this point, and upon others remembered he both missed andsupplied this point, and he unplugged the answering machine because even as all this confounded him, he still missed nothing so much as the sound of nobody home

Even if he could never supply the act outright, this solution of nobody home.

Music for saw and bow


Inside there was a message on the machine: Honeymoon was originally used to describe the period of time that passed from when a man kidnapped a woman and when her parents stopped looking for her. I told her many years ago My shotgun and I will be in your neighborhood sometime today, be prepared to come along quietly. Good lord but how she could stand on a Tennessee porch. Barefoot, thin wristed hand shading her eye, lips still damp from minted tea. A catlike tension binding up her sexual history with the inevitability of my death. The very act of being in her attention, within the scope of those tremendous eyes. [a pause] But now I can’t help but think how much of a relief it would be to use the phrase My wife is dead to help explain my character. This occurred to me this morning on my agent’s boat. What has happened? My ice was melted and I was out of smokes. And the sun was rising over the mountains and an absolute redhead called June Ruin and there’s no way I can translate this for an answering machine.

Let me just say this: We cannot be too devastated.

The zodiac vine


Cold new morning, in each window, in all skies. His bad eye perhaps a shade cooler than the other, as if the optic nerve was wicking out all of his stagnant brainhumors. A framed gravure winked in the new light, lightly frosted. He dressed or rather put on boots, a quilted cardigan, wool cap; adding to the chronic union suit, corduroys and pillowticking shirt. He stared out the kitchen window with a modest wish for coffee that morphed into a fundamental and nameless craving. He thought of crazed ceramic cups, old Sootie Smith 78s. Arabica beans roasted to the very brink, and of a lanky blue-limbed woman shaving hazelnuts into steamed milk and stirring it with a 6 inch vanilla bean.

In silhouette she sat on the kitchen chair on her haunches, in an attitude of roosting, breath smoking. The light beyond the window very bright so that the overgrown clematis seemed an extension of her hair. She asked how he hurt his eye and he said that it would not tear, never has and that he had long since stopped trying to keep it clean. She asked if he could see out of it. He thought about this and regarded her then said Sometimes.

I never sat around and plotted your misery


I get nosebleeds.

I keep a chicken on a chain. Wear a gown some Sundays. Screw hogs and teach them Greek. Killed seven in Horizon City, Texas. Killed two more in Tucumcari Nemexico. I stripmine graveyards. Can only mate in flight…And I can lick both boots clean at a trot.

A worksong. A chant is how it goes. Call and response. Singing it is hopeless.

You find something you been thinking about a long time. A person, maybe. Not this time though- lost track of her 1949. First year I made liquor from rosemary, anise and wormwood. She drank fully under my supervision and still disappeared. There is the nagging suspicion that she is alive now. Today I found in a shallow grave the remains of her sourdough starter, and the wig with the wild red hair.

Yet if I were truly evil I wouldn’t get so many postcards.



LOOK UP NOW. Things are on the move, on the mend. Gums healing nicely. Stones passed and in little jars. Polyp recalled by this waning August moon.

Outside it rains. The late summer fruit is rotting, dropping to the earth. At first light crows in the hundreds swarm and scream and brawl, drunk on composting apples. Inside, well, coffee is no longer just a laxative. With even cheap vodka one can make many flavorful liqueurs. She says We’re out of coughdrops, make me a nice Presbyterian.

I’m low on tweed.
Whiskey’ll do nicely.
We’re very excited.

She holds magnets in both fists. For circulation. Armature magnets, six ounces each. She traces them along her arms, from artery to capillary, urging her lush Hungarian blood into tighter spaces. She puts them down in order to drink. She smacks her lips. What a delicious break from potatoes.



He drives and smoke and taps ashes into an empty can of Dixie 45 between his knees and there is Crape Fairweather on the Factoria station or maybe it’s Mississippi John Hurt with Big Leg Blues. He hums, cackles. He drives slowly, slower even still through the crowds of the fleamarket stalls in the late summer mist, trying to look everyone in the eye, the women anyway, more exactly a tall dark woman, smaller in the rain, paler in the rain, condensation beading up on her face as if from the coolness of her glance, cup and cigarette sheltered beneath the wide hat with trembling lilies. He put the Lincoln in park and hits a button and the huge white landau top groans and rears and collapses behind him with a shrill wheeze and the woman watches mildly and he says: I’ve got some porkchops and five beers. And Myself, who has had corn for breakfast all summer and a single oyster before bed and a mandrake root under my pillow and, if you care to check, there is a chicken chained up in my yard.

She smiles and bites it away and looks away squinting as if to scan the horizon but there is no horizon and she says -That sounds interesting enough but you ain’t said if you have any money.

Money Lily- can I call you Lily? Money Lily I believe distracts from the temptation of me but I believe my wife dropped some change when she climbed out of the car.
She has to taste these words herself, The temptation of me. Then: What is your name rootboy?
Enough about me.
-Fair enough but who is selling here?
I’m selling my dead father. His shoes, jacket. Look at these shoulders. I’m selling a vintage summer evening, back in 1938.
-Trade you your dead old man for my dead old man.
He rubbed his neck. What’s the use? My ghost comes with his own bowels. Didn’t even quit his day job.
-Who do you see about that?
Who do you talk to?
-My ghost comes with seven graves, all in view of the river.
Oh, the places we’ll go.
-Oh. The things we’ll see.

Planted hand


Tonight my wife sits in the apple tree because this is the way things progress. The wind moves her slightly, and of course the blossoms depart in a winsome lilt.
I soak my hands in salt water. My hands ache from work, or from the ache that work brings. I go straight to the ache from several scant weeks of work as if this toil has always been available in the periphery. It’s an ache of brassed denim and knuckles the size of rockcandy and of a heartfat that reaches back generations and that toil can never touch. This aches does not detract from a beer and a cigarette, the smell of gardenia though a north window, and a Hungarian woman in a tree.

But work is good. The unskilledness of it is cleansing. Debris is removed at the rate of creation. Time, it would seem, can only approve. What else?

June still sings to me occasionally. Her voice is muffled by her tongue running over her aching teeth the very ruin of song and decayed ballads and sweet admonition over the phone lines. I can sense the humming overhead and the crows leap off the wires and tumble in the air and the phone rings. What is stuntingly lovely is mitigated by its own violence, its own rooting through the trash, its own waking the dead. But where is she now?