Originally published in The Molehill, Vol. 1
For a season we lived as wild animals,
As boxes of unmarked mail,
As kites fluttered loose from strings,
As bottlerockets, whistling into fantastic finales.
And we sailed over cities at pinpoint height,
Skipping along sky-ways,
Far from the friends of our tethered days,
Those sidewalkers and cardrivers.
We spoke as howler monkeys
With force and volume– senseless as sex, crude as oil–
In long, resounding whoops, and fine, barbaric yawps.
And it seemed to be going okay.
We were cigarettes on work breaks.
We were vodka cranberry.
We were shuddering fingers on guitar strings,
And stuttering sticks on drum skins.
We were Whip-its in the walk-in freezer,
Ritalin-flavored truck stop chicken fried steaks,
And greasy songs in the parking lot, arm in arm,
Just waiting for someone to call us hippie fags,
So we could bare our teeth.
It all seemed so good that it wasn’t worth wondering
How long it might last.
It would just last, man.
We were good, thank you,
And yes, another round,
And yes, the Rolling Stones,
And yes, I know how to dance,
And no, not right now,
And man, do you remember that?
And no, I don’t,
And I know, isn’t that crazy?
And we would just keep laughing.
It was so great to laugh.
It was probably the best part.
When we were laughing, it seemed like:
The field sobriety test would never come,
Like the lights would just stay on by themselves,
And the stove would turn off just, you know, automatically,
And we could just keep fighting,
And no one would ever really get hurt.
I loved the idea of it.
I was a founding father, high on democracy.
I was Joey calling from the crack house.
I was don’t-you-feel-it-don’t-you-feel-it-don’t-you-feel-it?
I was in all the way.
My name comes up for jury duty.
I get word that we need more diapers and milk.
The applause fades,
The curfew bell rings,
And when I want to stay out late to sing Woody Guthrie,
And of course New York is still New York, And Las Vegas is still Las Vegas.
But no one here cares anymore.
Somebody else will have to do those things for a while.
The young howlers
Will knock the older ones out of the top of the tree.
They will call for the females.
They will swing with impossible grace.
And you will just write a poem.
And you will just read it late at night
By the glow of the bedside lamp,
And afterward, go to check on the sleeping children.
(Those funny open mouths,
And tender breaths,
Stretched, loose and lazy,
Across coteries of bears and dogs,
Leftover legos, and Barbie clothes.
All suspended in the air
with such impossible innocence.
There may be nothing more beautiful than a sleeping child.)
Then, you will sit by the fish tank
And wonder how you came to be so pulled out
And pushed in all at once.
How you could be so coming of age,
And so long in the tooth?
Don’t worry, James Dean.
We will usher you out of cool and into old age.
You will become the father you once longed to hold,
And when it collapses on you—the weight of goodness—
You will love the crush of it.
It will not be so bad becoming someone after all.
You will begin to feel the iron rod inside,
Running strong along your supple spine, and you will think,
Okay, now I am standing up straight,
And you will be.
I swear it,
Even when you are nervous and uncomfortable,
When you daydream of detective shows on the computer in bed,
When you keep your mouth shut for the sake of civility,
(that thing you once scorned),
Even then you will be standing up straight, James Dean.
Do you want to know how I know?
You want to know the secret of it all?
Well, here it is:
It never looks as straight as it feels,
And it never feels as straight as it looks.
You never get to see yourself.
You just keep looking over your shoulder in the mirror,
And not quite seeing the back of your own head.
Sure. You could get another mirror, and look in that mirror
at the other mirror and then you’d see the back of you clearly, but
Then you’d also see yourself behind yourself,
And behind him, another you,
And another, and another
Until it makes you nauseous.
So, you put down your beer, and you say,
“Boys, I’m gonna pack it in.
I got an early tee time tomorrow.”
You get in your car.
You turn on your radio.
They will be playing
“Take The Money And Run” by The Steve Miller Band, and
You will think,
Now, that was a great summer band.
And you will listen to that rhythm section
Stumble through whole passages like
A teenage boy on a basketball court,
And you will think,
A great summer band.
And then, you will shut off the radio
Before the last chorus plays,
To listen to the sound of the road’s
As your car hurtles through the winter night.
Then, James Dean,
You are sitting up straight as an arrow.
But thank God you don’t notice
Because the moon is out,
And she is pouring silvery light on the fields by the highway again,
And I would hate for you to miss that.