I LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC
By Paul Killebrew
of willful confusion in pants that didn’t fit the legs
we sawed off. We looked at each other and fell
forward and back, forward and back, a little bit
like dancing and a little like aggravated assault.
At times it seemed reasonable because it always
seems reasonable to accept whatever anxieties
or losses must accumulate in the face of what
we really wanted all along. In buildings and on
streets you could paint a few eyes on a face
and see the careless representation of brothers
and sisters making a family out of paint
and the gracious mistakes of seeing. Mistakes,
the essence of sight, could have been all we had
to go on anyway, and not for us to leave behind
what took us through the shower of dumbasses
with tact and a breath of elegance, even the hope
that later, when the streets cleared of agitated needlers
and the AC kicked on for good, we could sleep
on the clothes spangled outside the closet and find
a reason for closing the bedroom door on shadows
of pedantic radiation from thin margins of lamplight
always suggesting some other plot in some other bedroom,
tensions to splay us soon enough. And then it occurred
to you, or maybe it occurred to me, doesn’t matter, I think
actually someone called and said that anyone who doesn’t
leave something for you isn’t worth having, so maybe
now’s a good time to find a dapper little high school
where everyone can be a little less civil, and blessed
with selfishness, we could part the fingers interlocked
between us, make fists and get busy. Then intensity
fermented into green books of music, loud country music,
and I love country music. It rolled around my ears
in corridors where boredom had once been so irrefutable
and heavy, and I was happy and dancing and throwing
punches at pigeons and even hitting a few. But the romantic
arc never made it over the willful lack of conviction,
some gap between the faces on the heads we saw
pass our table in the sour-faced restaurant run by those
French people, okay a gap between that and the face
in the dream you had of your father, the one where you said
he stuffed a billy club down a duck’s throat and called
for another shot of Dewar’s. I expected you to take things
when you left, but not those things. Light diffuses
evenly across the kitchen, blood through my body,
and it’s sort of funny, but our whole thing fits between
two haircuts, like a roadtrip or something. I feel now
that I’ve been digested by time, and light would pool
into terrible reflections of my own back as I backed
into a mirror or performed some other forgetful jujitsu,
an effort to lose thoughts or patterns of thought,
but the light diffuses and you walk through it,
collide with little pieces of what ate you, get angry
and write long letters about how your hand can’t talk,
how the paper is so light and effortless when you hold it
how could you even know, you couldn’t even imagine
holding this light and ridiculous thing that my hand
brushed over in patterns it will later try to forget.
Then I taped my mouth shut and tried to whistle.
Leave me alone. Don’t call. Get lost, dumpster
of confusion. I know it’s never been that easy,
that from the eyes in your skull the black plastic bags
were suffocating the trees even though to me it was
more like a ballerina’s shadow had escaped and was dancing
through the branches frantically with desperate happiness
and cause for alarm. I guess either way something unsafe
and ridiculous was happening, and I guess we knew it,
I think we even talked about it, but I’ve been a little lonely
since I started writing my dissertation. It’s about class
consciousness among people who work behind registers.
And it’s interesting, there’s all kinds of different races
and classes and income levels represented in the world
of cashiers, but at the level of values we see predominantly
two classes, the complacent and the entitled, though many
cashiers are some measure of both. The complacent
are resigned to what they understand to be their position.
They’re courteous and reliable; class issues only arise
when people are rude to them, which they tend to handle fine,
though if they say anything about it afterwards, it tends to be
a cruel and brief dismissal not only of the occurrence,
but of the entire offending person. The entitled
have a very complicated expression of social hierarchy.
Because they see themselves in transition,
usually ascending, there’s this idea that their values won’t,
or can’t, find full expression from their current position
and so they don’t feel compelled to act in a way consistent
with their values, while at the same time they may expect
to be treated in accordance with those values. When people
are rude to them, they flip out. Basically today’s been pasted
together from the leavings of some green intensity
and cigarettes crowded at the back of the passive
classrooms of the skull. Will there be coffee
on the other side? Will there be ladies to walk up to you
on a plain old shit-for-brains day and ask you of Washington
Square Park, “Why is this on the map?” I like it when people
cock their heads a little when you talk. Seems elegant.
I tell them I’m not sure, but Henry James wrote something
complicated about it. Then these nice ladies with a telling lack
of accent move along into non-history and the bulk of our hours
waiting without a mind for restitution. I would surrender
our moist telephone calls and arthritic tribes of entitlement
if I knew who to give them up to. I never go anywhere
or do anything slow because revision is only a function
of doubt. Well okay, maybe doubt and shame. Actually,
it’s just shame. Revision is a function of shame. But enough
of these dead people, we must rise like blood in April! Instead
here I am peeling seconds off the end of my life,
glass of water, frown on face, notebook open to the parade
of minutes and obvious as a daisycutter in the desert.
No more nights in the kitchen or bowls of macaroni,
no more misdemeanors with the microwave or blue orbs
whistling into my ear, no more cats meowing
at the television, no cigarettes on the patio, no more
blessings in drag. My schedule is totally blank this afternoon.
ON BEING A CARPET INSTALLER
By James S. Proffitt
I hate looking up at everyone in this world from my tired, aching knees,
the way there are crooks and creaks in my joints and my spine and my mind.
How rough music and the Bob & Tom Show blares on the hard rock station
other installers tune into, and smoke rolling seat to seat, brain to brain
in the big van we pile into every morning six long days a week.
I like marijuana too, but at home writing poems and listening to John Lee Hooker.
I’d never have written a story like this with me in it, not thirty-six. Not ever.
I hate the term Mexican space shuttle: the portable toilets standing in mud,
and Mexican speed wrench: a hammer. The Mexicans I see seem to work hard
laying brick, pouring concrete and hanging drywall but speak a language
which quickly irritates stoned, hung-over carpet installers eager for lunch.
No one ever seems to know where we’re going—what city or town, state.
I want another life, like being a professor or scientist or independently wealthy.
I’ve thought a lot about such things, how my days would interact with the universe.
Walking through an orchard or a campus contemplating subjects larger than life.
Perusing grant applications I will consider from charities I might support.
Taking cabs or walking in rainstorms bar to bar in Manhattan with playwrights
and some poets or geniuses maybe, hoping a little might rub off on me.
Hoping I catch a break somewhere, meeting a person not asking if we do side-jobs.
Someone not looking down at me or ignoring me or telling me the glue smells
like shit, the new carpet’s giving them a headache, could I please work more quietly.
But the money’s good and the poems don’t pay any bills and bills, well, bills.
"Sam Baker didn’t start writing music until he’d come very close to the other side. In 1986, he was on a train in Peru, en route to Machu Picchu, when a bomb planted by the Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path exploded in the luggage rack above him. The people he was sitting with were killed. His body was torn apart. He had a brain injury and severe hearing loss, and he required more than 15 reconstructive surgeries.
Somehow during his long recovery, songs started coming to him. Several of them are related directly to the attack and his near-death experience, while others are like short stories, written in the voices of characters. Some of his most beautiful songs are like hymns…”
MAN ON THE FLOOR
By Jack Powers
I remember my thirteen-year-old self walking through my
sister’s freshman dorm as the girls yelled, “Man on the
Man on the floor!” and I, not yet a man but hoping, looked
for any excuse to fetch forgotten items from the car
or just stand in that hallway soaking in that mix of fear,
annoyance and flirtation. My idea of a man then was
probably my father’s
paycheck-earning, pipe-smoking, golf-ball-whacking,
bourbon-swilling silence or James Bond’s unstirred cool.
No, it was probably
just playing football, basketball—and baseball until someone
learned to throw a curve. And girls—Courtney Carron, in
particular that fall,
and dreams of getting a hand under her tight shirt. Even over
the bra would have had me standing taller for a week.
Once my dad,
after a hot afternoon of golf and a cart of cold beers, broke a
rib mowing the lawn when the mower overheated and
kicked back into his chest. I’d been hearing the mower roar
and stop, roar and stop, watching my father search
through the grass
before screwing something back in and restarting, but I didn’t
know until afterwards that the mower was out of oil.
So when my father tiptoed around the house, saying, “I’m
fine,” through gritted teeth, I wanted to shout, “Just say
it hurts” and
“Just say you’re an idiot.” Of all the things I’d sworn I’d do
differently than him, my ability to admit my idiocy has
I’ve learned to apologize, but—there’s always a “but” as I need
to explain why every stupid thing I’ve ever done
seemed like a good idea at the time and I wonder if the girls
were really yelling, “Idiot on the floor! Idiot on the floor!”
The first year I taught, I wore sneakers to school because I
didn’t have any adult shoes. My boss suggested I take
charge of the class more:
use a point system, assign seats and buy some shoes. But I
didn’t want to make the class any more oppressive than it
so I threw her a bone and bought semi-comfortable shoes that
weren’t too dorky. The shoes seemed like one more part
of the disguise I was sure they’d all figure out someday. They
say everyone feels powerless; the last to know they have
are those who have it. Is that true for the clueless as well?
What clues have I missed? I think of Edie years ago
calling me an asshole. I had to agree. “But,” I wanted to
explain, “I’d spent years dreaming of that night—
when we climbed into your parents’ car in that dark garage
and laid the seats flat, when I was finally inside you—
I wasn’t thinking about Kerry arriving from LA in a week—”
but Edie didn’t want to hear it. And I didn’t try to
explain. How could I?
The day before he died, my father awoke in his hospital bed
and said, “Everything in Springfield is just like it was—
Dreisen’s Fountain, McDougal’s Grocery. The whole street is
the same.” “Did you see anyone there?” I asked,
not sure if it was dream or dementia. But my father’s eyes had
turned to the wall. Sensing the end—hoping really,
because the next stop was a nursing home he’d made clear he
never wanted to see—I went to get my family from the
All I could hear was the squeak of my semi-adult shoes on
linoleum in that hospital hall. Stroke and dementia
had softened my father, made him kinder. He seemed to
appreciate us all more. “You’re a better father than I
he said one night after he’d watched me coach Will in some
peewee basketball game and if he wasn’t my father
I would have hugged him, but I needed a stroke myself to
break the habits of our long history. “Thanks” is all I
not “The rules have changed. You did your best.” In class, a
student said, “You forget 90% of your dreams
in the first ten minutes you’re awake.” What percent of my
dreams did I forget by age twenty? The list of failings
my thirteen-year-old self nurtures increases by one. Some
Septembers the freshmen boys’ attempts to saunter down
are so uncertain, it’s as if the ground is shifting. I want to
shout, “Man on the floor!” to embolden their strides
if only for a moment. I think of having yelled at my own son,
now probably back from school and rooted
to the couch and his computer, and I cringe at how much I
sounded like my own father: sarcastic, impatient,
wanting the problem solved now. When I open the door he’s
already glued to his laptop eating Chex Mix. “Sorry,” I
“What?” he says, trying to keep one eye on me and one on the
screen. “I’m an idiot,” I say. And he flips it shut
and says, “What?” Before I can say, “But …” the dog starts
barking and barking. I don’t know what he’s trying to
I kneel on the floor to calm him, but his barking grows more
frenzied, his furious tail sweeps magazines off the tables.
The dog picks up a toy and begins a high-pitched whine that
sounds like singing. My son is asking, “What are you
I shake my head. It doesn’t matter what I say, just what I do.
The dog keeps singing. My son’s brow furrows in
confusion and concern.
But I can only lay back on the floor, close my eyes and slow
my breath as if I could fall asleep and wake up and start
all over again.
[Courtesy of RATTLE]