Cohorts and Collaborators (Part 1/2)

I started writing poetry around 2001, 2002. I have to credit a couple of people like that, but the biggest credit I have to give is to my longtime friend, Rhea McJames. Rhea and I go back about eleven, twelve years at this point. We’ve never actually met, but that almost doesn’t matter to me at this point. She’s one of the all-time greats. One of those people I would absolutely, completely trust with my life and health (what little of it I pay attention to).

I haven’t the faintest clue why she continues to put up with me, and her poetry is a large reason why I finally made the leap in 2001/2002 and added poetry to the rest of my writing.

A lot of things have come along to influence and mess around with my poetry since then. This includes people, places, travels, bad calls, good decisions, weird circumstances and a whole mess of things I can’t even begin to try and remember now.

There’s no question that the website Pathetic has been a pretty big influence. I joined the site in 2003, and in the years since (almost ten? When the hell did that happen?) I’ve been very, very fortunate to meet a wide range of talented, strange and relentlessly fantastic people. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, and what their work and friendships have meant to me. I won’t try. I’m instead going to focus on one of those most positive things I’ve gotten out of my time there.

Pathetic is big on collaborations. It’s not uncommon for two or even three people to get together and come up with some kind of poetic middle-ground for their respective voices. I’ve had countless chances over the years to work with some of the best writers I’ve ever known. Collaboration in poetry is always intimidating to me. I always feel the struggle to keep up with these extraordinary people. But I suppose that’s a good thing, right? I’ve learned from it, enjoyed every second of it and have never, ever felt as though it was wasted time or motion.

I’ve collaborated on dozens of poems over the last eight or so years. I have them all somewhere, but I’m not going to dig that far into the past. What I’d like to do here is focus on a few of my favorites from the past three years. I won’t get into a lengthy dialog about how I perceive my work, but I will say some of the most significant changes to my poetry have occurred over that stretch of time. A lot of that has come through the day-to-day business of my life, but I also think a lot of it has come from being able to work with such a wide range of writers. With their kind permission I’m going to share some of them with you here.

Laura Doom is usually much too smart for the likes of me, but I’ve loved her work for years, and I’ve loved that I can pitch just about any general concept to her, and have her be completely on board for it. I never know where the hell our poems are going to go, but I trust her judgment on the direction completely.

Vince Blake writes some of the best imagery I’ve ever seen. We’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we could bring a town or two to its knees, and get some great writing out of it in the bargain.

Ava Blu has a knack for the kind of honesty that makes your knees buckle. She and I have come up with some unbelievable narratives.

It has been a pleasure to see the evolution of Johnny Crimson’s work over the past several years. His poetry takes me right into the heart of the absolute, best kind of madness. He’s another one who keeps me on my toes.

Samantha Bagley doesn’t write often, but I’m grateful when she does. I wish she’d give herself a little more credit though. Her voice is considerable.

Meghan Helmich
can devastate me in just one line. She’s that good.

A few people are being left out of this entry. That’s not a slam on them. I’d like to run every collaboration I’ve ever done, because all of them have been brilliant, but I can’t. I hope they believe me (should they read this) when I say that I love them just as much.

And this may well be the longest introduction to date, so let’s stop screwing around, okay?

I could ramble forever, but you’ve probably figured that out by now. I’d say it’s better if we just get this thing off the ground.

And if you write poetry? Get your ass over to Pathetic and sign up. It’s a good place to hang up the hat.

Just watch out for romance.

And note that my stanzas are marked with a “-“

**********
In The Talons of the Nighthawks (w/ Vince Blake)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t have a lot of sympathy
for the people who are too drunk
to stop dancing. The ones who are just insane
are a different story altogether.

-God knows why I’d come here
any old night of the young week
let alone Friday. This is the absolute worst
of the underground cartoon cavalcade, and there’s thousands of rooms
just like this one to have to look through.

-At best I’ll be around thirty before I’m actually ready
to face who I’m looking for.

and at worst, i’ll be wading through the same cesspools
with the rest of the late-night,
bleach-burned,
lounge-singer gestapo
until i catch their disease,
and kill myself as remedy.

but i suppose i’m selling the sin a little short,
and perhaps the merits of being this demented
might warrant more of tonight’s masochism
than i have been so far able to admit.

-Because it’s the entertainment district
you gotta watch out for. Those lounge acts are known
to carry guns, assume every woman is a whore
and wave handfuls of guns around whenever
a cell phone starts to ring.

-The slot machines take cash, wedding rings
and whichever arm you can learn to live without.

-It’s definitely not a good idea to be broke
if you’re in love or have dangerous people looking for you.

-Around here you write that story after they send you
to the morgue in a new suit.

which is not to say that the new outfit
was gonna cost anyone half as much
as the things they’d have bought for themselves
with cash snatched from your pockets
before your body hit the floor on a good night,
or any fraction of the royalty checks
they’ll be banking on that story of yours.

but legends don’t come cheap,
and around here,
they come with asterisks even then.

-They come with cups of coffee,
bad knees and stories about meeting Dean Martin
when he came of entertainment age
during the greatest heartbeats of Atlantic City’s
early days of glamour and corruption.

-I’ve been in these tunnels and rooms for years,
and I’ve carried a sinking feeling for just as long
that no one here has ever met anyone of substance.

-Unless you count acid flashbacks
and dreams that wake you up with more adrenaline
than you can take.

-I’ve got all that going for me,
and I’m pretty sure loved ones are starting to notice
when I magically come back from the dead six days
after I left with good intentions.

but although damnation ain’t exactly in short supply,
giving a damn ain’t hardly the same as “noticing.”
and that’s not even to mention the facts
that iron-clad alibis
have never once matched steel-toed boots
impression for impression,

or that our spines curve for a reason.

**********
Beneath the Oaks (w/ Johnny Crimson)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t want to sound cruel,
but I’ve seen better productions of King Lear
in taxi cabs where the addicts have nothing to lose
but the words to their favorite song.

These were the digital eyelid
imprints of a ten-second release
and she keeps a counter for every
fucked faint intrusion.

-But I guess you learn to live with what
when you give children guns, cough syrup
and a list of every bloodthirsty lawyer in New Orleans.
I guess you learn to live with trading in sincere Catholic candles
for sympathetic ears under long raven hair and a lot of bad ideas.

Trading pixie sticks for blow
and squeezing whatever begs for it
under the dim neon light pouring from the church windows,
they caught an EVP of the sucking sounds and the loose change in his pocket.

-It’s not as bad as it sounds though. In the end it’s just a lot
of weird music from the glory days. You just have to keep your head down
and spend as little time as possible wondering why there’s more
fast food restaurants along the Armageddon boulevard than anywhere
else in town. Don’t stick your hands out the window when you’re best friend
gets desperate and guns the car up to a hundred and eighty.

Plead with us in the backseat
as the brain matter tickles her freckled jaw.
Let us teach you the meaning of eating your nerves.
This is the discontent of a generation,
the fever goes up and we leave the thermometer inside you.

-They take good care of you when you’re sick,
but lots of luck finding smooth hands to bless what’s left
of you when you’re too old to get to the top floor
and finally get the welcome home party you deserve.

We bathe in the unforgiving cake mix
of a hot-glue pasted surprise.
These are merely remnants of what actually happened to you,
the proof has been lost in the tides of Hunter Lake,
yet her skirt still rests atop the flagpole.
With mission complete and cigarette packs in our t-shirts
we flip leather jackets over our shoulders and whistle the walk to school.

-Sometimes there’s too many people wandering around
in bathrobes looking for their loved ones,
so I hitch the first moderately dangerous ride to come along,
use my cell phone as collateral and assume payday
will be in the mailbox by the end of the afternoon.

Shaking tiny slides in front of the light
and bending the plastic between my fingers
I remembered how flexible you once were.
What we did to you was fine and believe me the credit is shared,
but I can’t get the image of you winking me over
to your corner of the boys and girls club out of my mind.

**********
Go Ahead, Talk about Our Son
By Gabriel Ricard (w/ Laura Doom)

-Tuesday is our day of rest,
and I’ll be dammed
if we’re going to let that be ruined
by your faith,
in the notion that one person is not enough
to knock down your fears of sleeping alone.

-Why don’t you just marry the Mormons from 3H?

-Their orgies will top my winning smile
every single time.

And that would be the messianic ‘we’;
the pronoun that pronounces a smile
to frame a portrait in mime?

Did I hear that right?

I can take the myriad of stares
that shift your eyes to eulogize
the vices of love, a shimmer of blind lament
that’s wasted on the virtuous.

But if lust is the chicken that came home
to rut, then love is the egg
that scrambled my faith, and I can’t see
there’s a whole lot riding on the result.

-Well, Hell’s bells,
why didn’t you tell me from the start
that we are nothing but fantastic gestures
of kindness. Terrible motions
that trouble our friends, annoy the spirits
and guarantee we’ll be together for thirty more years.

-I think that’s what you’re trying to tell me.
I’m only half-listening,
because you’re only trying to get the skin
off my back with about half of your usual enthusiasm.

-I’ve also got the TV on,
and I really think George C. Scott
is going to run away with Diana Rigg this time.

-Sweetheart,
it’s not that I’m unhappy.
It’s just that I’d rather see us accept old age
before we actually get there.

-We’re not dramatic teenagers anymore,
and people are starting to stare.

Or maybe they’re busy shooting each other
to pay for the upgrade
from hospital to network;
staring at walls, dancing
round those fatal floors.

Meamwhile, we are gaining morals
and losing morale with every passing option
sold off to the silent majority
screaming democracy and breeding
provincial minorities that roll their eyes
at compromise.

For them it’s just business, as usual
but we can’t afford to buy time, or spend
our Mondays window-smashing. It pains me
to say it, but you are far from cost-effective
and I like to conduct my affairs
with economies of scale in mind.

-I’m cost-effective plenty,
you stupid, half-drunk, all-gorgeous,
all-kinds-of-unhinged broad
from the Island of Transferred Souls.

-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.

-Blame the old woman in 5G.
She does this non-stop Popeye impression,
and uses it to scream the headlines of the day.

-Who the hell gave her a computer?
Who the hell is even aware she’s alive?

-I ask too many questions. You don’t.

-You assume the water-tower is half-empty,
and that the cops will never figure out
what you said to make that friend of mine cry,
and drive her car right through the only florist I know,
who still has a pure heart.

-You wouldn’t know morals,
if they mounted you from behind
and sang your favorite Leonard Cohen song
in your perfect ears.

-Don’t take that the wrong way.
Sweetheart. Red-light-of-my-life.

You know, when that tongue’s not tied
it sure is spiked — I’ve had death-threats
less intimidating than your back-handed compliments.
Just because you give good tail
there’s no excuse for losing your head.

How many weeks have we been living
one year at a time?

Take it from me, I have answers
to which you’ll never find
incredible questions; the woman in 5G?
Her son stole that laptop from a pole dancer
working the Arctic 24/7 scene. He prefers
to stay out of touch that way, since
the luxury cruise off the coast
of Somalia, and her subsequent
incontinence.

It’s better this way; insomniacs sleep
on a need to be ignorant basis.

If it wasn’t for that arid humour
that has me wetting myself
before you lay a finger on me
I’d be on the next caravan to Carnal City
kicking up a desert storm.

Besides, you are the one eccentric constant
in my otherwise mundane chaos.
And who will be there for you
to take out your frustrations on
once I’m impaled on your prurient pedestal?

-Jane Russell is coming back from the dead,
and assuming Bob Mitchum isn’t right behind her,
I might just give her a ring instead.

-I kid. I love. I drink, watch and reference
the same five movies, no one under forty
cares to remember.

-Remember,
when I fed those stray cats you stole,
While you were out realizing
that women can be just as bad in bed as men?

-I think that speaks volumes,
but I’m notorious for grasping at chewed-up bendy straws,
so it’s your call
and your fantastic, low-cut wardrobe
for all apologetic occasions.

-What can I say?

-It’ll be twenty years at half-mast before long.

-You say it better than I ever could, anyway.

-I don’t mind,
because sometimes it makes me brilliant by default,
and because I firmly believe
that the gashes on the back of my head build character.

-Like shoveling snow for a bloody August dance-a-thon.

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    • Amaranthine
    • November 17th, 2011

    Flattery will get you everywhere, love.

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