Funeral Procession on the Banks of the Yangtze



It wasn’t long ago that I burned with a freshly-stoked fire, all the time.  It was piss and vinegar in equal parts.  Rave and rage, rave and rage; in my early thirties I was still writing poems about the horrible old days with too much booze and darkened rooms, and long screeds about our destructive system and the persistent search for personal authenticity.  I burned for the world.

I still burn for the world, of course, but now it’s more of a smoldering, smoking thing.  Now it’s more about vintage photographs and war documentaries and less about poems called “Labia”.  It seems to be an evolution of calming that all but the most robust must go through.  For every Iggy Pop there’s a dozen Dennis Learys, their shouts quieting to quaint heartwarming television shows about firefighters before their 50th birthday.  Where does the hot blue flame go?  Why must it?  What is the fuel inside us that burns off?


Fifteen years ago:

The Duck Pond, the actual name of which is Children’s Lake, is a shallow, man-made lake in the scenic town of Boiling Springs.  It is about fifty feet across, and perhaps four-hundred feet long.  At it’s deepest point, it is perhaps five feet deep.  Large, multi-colored, boulder-sized rocks line its bottom.  It attracts a wide array of wildlife: ducks, geese, swans, turtles, beavers.  There are manicured walkways all the way around it, red park benches at regular intervals, and little vending machines that dispense corn, in case you may want to feed the ducks.  You are not supposed to go there at night, although I often have.

I make myself a fresh gin and coke in the huge plastic McDonalds cup.  Someone retrieves a few beers from the trunk.  We all make sure we have our cigarettes.  We set off, to walk around the Duck Pond.

At night, you can hear the ducks, the geese, out on the water, but you can’t see them.  They aren’t very active at night, but every now and then, you hear a splash, the flap of a wing against the heavy air, a short quick quack.  It is melancholy in that worst way: dreary foreboding.

There is a place where the path kind of ends, and you are left to walk through grass for a bit, and under the canopy of some Willows.  In the sunshine, this part of the lake is the most beautiful.  At night, it’s majesty is lost.  You can feel the grass, and perhaps the spray of the dew against your shins, but the willows are lost in the night.  The copse has disappeared.

If you were standing at this spot during the day, you would see that a narrow cement platform has been constructed, extending about fifteen feet into the lake.  This is like a small concrete dock, which serve as a place for the birds to hang out without being in direct contact with human passers-by.  During the day, this concrete dock is covered by birds; squaking, flapping, quacking birds.  During the night, it is abandoned, and is covered only in bird shit.  But it is truly covered in bird shit, like some foul Pollock.

As a group, we stop here.  We are mostly silent.  We are smoking, drinking, thinking.  I start to take my pants off.

Someone asks me, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to run down that cement dock and jump in.”

They try to tell me not to.  They warn me that the water is very shallow here, and that the concrete dock is awash in bird shit.  I wave off their warnings.  Have these guys stopped wanting to see how far they can go?

I take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, my underwear.  I’m a naked man at the Duck Pond.  The guys have warned me, so they are no longer worried.  They are watching, smiling, ready to laugh and tell me they told me so.

I take a long sip of my drink.

I start running, down through the grass and then suddenly my feet hit concrete.  It is terribly slippery, and even while I am running, I can feel the bird shit sticking to my heels, squishing between my toes.  It is a gross feeling.

In this light, it’s not easy to see where the platform ends.  Just in time, I realize I can see the moon’s reflection in the water; I use this as a guide.

At the end of the platform, I jump hard and high, as if from a diving board.  I pull my legs up under my ass and clasp my hands under my shins: the cannonball position.

And I freeze there; I hover.  Time seemingly stands still.  See me from the back: my shaggy, rarely groomed brown hair, my pimpled back, a bit of flabby belly spilling over into view, my two half-moon ghost-white butt cheeks, and directly below that, the soles of my feet.  And in front of me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me, as if you were a movie camera.  Stop when you are beside me, at my profile.  My mouth, wide like Pac-Man, my ample gut, spilling forth like a sack of oatmeal, the curve of my haunches, my arms flung below me, seeming to hold me in place, to levitate me.  And behind me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me further.  Stop when you are in front of me.  See that look on my face?  That excruciating yawp of desperate living, desperate to feel these moony waters; see that fat, oatmealy belly, my hairy, caveman chest, nipples erect by the night wind, the pale fronts of my wobbly knees, my black overgrown nest of pubics, my dangling penis reduced to a nub by a run through the darkness.  Now look behind me: look at those guys standing there, their faces frozen in various forms of laughter, disbelief, worry, apathy.  Look at those guys!  Oh, they are probably worried about so many things; I am sure they are worried that I am about to hurt myself.  Also, looking at the set of their mouths and the glint in their eyes, I’m willing to wager they’re worried about drowning in a ferry accident with two-hundred strangers in icy cold water somewhere, or whether they’ll ever get to walk the length of South America, or what they’d do if they found a dead body in a hotel hallway, or if they’ll keep having that dream where they show up to the wrong building for a college final exam, or if they have syphilis, or if they’ll ever be the father they want to be, or marry a woman as great as their mother, and in there somewhere are the realizations, too, the realizations we are having every moment of every day: the lines of morality and sanity we keep drawing and moving and drawing again with everything we observe, and the list of Hopes and Dreams that is under constant revision without us knowing, the importance of breath and bras and bicycles all neatly ordered and the smells we love so much like old books and stale cake and the things we know we’ll never do like fly a jumbo jet or hide in a refrigerator to scare the crap out of somebody and oh look at the list of regrets written all over these guys faces the women they wanted to fuck the cars they wanted to buy the movies they wanted to see as though they were already dead as though their whole story had been told but that’s not the truth now is it we lived, we were burning to live, we were burning to live!



Fifteen minutes ago:

I took a long walk this afternoon.  From my house, I went west down Jackson, all the way to Broad, where I stopped in a coffee shop for a huge iced coffee, which I then drank luxuriously slowly as I made my way south down Broad to Oregon, where I turned east and headed back home.  This is a journey of about two miles, at the end of a satisfying, long day.

You pass a lot of interesting people and places on this trek.  As I neared home (still on Oregon, though) I started seeing numerous dogs and their owners, almost all small dogs.  Dachshunds, Yorkies, that sort of thing.  They were all so nice and polite, the dogs as well as the owners.  Here we were, almost as south as you can get in the city of Philadelphia—a place with a reputation, and we’re all just smiling, saying hi, waving at little dogs.  It was nice.

I was listening to Glenn Miller on my headphones, that kind of sentimental Hallmark music with just enough swing to get your feet moving.  The trombones were sliding under the trumpets, and the stand-up bass was standing up while the guitars were laying it down in a lively rendition of “Johnson Rag”.  The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the brick row-homes, the intense angle beaming those cosmic particles onto the scruff of my neck, making me hot, hot.

At the corner of Oregon and 3rd I stopped and turned around, let the sun hit my face, felt the glory of the universe, et cetera, et cetera.  It was odd, facing that direction and the long, close-cropped street stretching out before me, how difficult it was to make out what I was seeing, with the sun directly in my eyes.  I knew I had just passed an old man on a lawn chair with a dachshund and a beer bottle at his feet, as well as a Korean Laundromat and a Little Caesars pizza joint, but the buildings and the wires and the cars, so backlit like that, could have been almost anything; one moment it was Oregon Avenue, the next, enormous Easter Island statue heads, bowing in unison, and then it was Oregon Avenue again, with the little dogs, then the sun dropped another millimeter, and I could have sworn for a fleeting moment I was standing on the ancient banks of the Yangtze, 7,000 years ago, watching a slow funeral procession walking along the shore.  Who are these people, the Hemudu?  They look so sad, so weighed-down.




First House

You can recreate the view from the balcony,
looking at the brown gray neighbor’s house
an arm’s length away.
You can recreate the slanting afternoon light
through the thin-paned windows
coated in dog-nose-snot.
You can recreate the padding dog feet
on hardwood floors,
the paisley relief-map kitchen wallpaper,
the cave-like musty humid basement,
the smell of oatmeal and warm sugar.
But you’ll never recreate (or even remember)
how you got from one room to the next,
or what order you kept things in
in that closet, or desk drawer,
or how many times you fell asleep
on the cold living room floor.
And no one will ever quite know
where that little figurine of the Asian-looking man
came from (the one next to the sink,
looking at the fridge.)



One Response to “Funeral Procession on the Banks of the Yangtze”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Right off the bat I want to apologize for being the tub of terrible that I am for taking so damn long to get to this and the two posts that follow this. I’d go into detail as to why, but I’ll save it for my own blog. Once again your writing has inspired my own writing.

    As I read this I totally remembered the original post you wrote about jumping off the dock. There should be a name for the sensation of being reminded of something you haven’t thought of in years and in an instant you remember it vividly. Whatever that is called, I experienced it. The description of the duck shit on your bare feet, the 360 camera as you’re hanging frozen over the pond, and for some reason the details of your crotch stayed with me too!

    Were these all reposts? If so I’d say it’s far from lazy. It’s a nice compilation and a creative way to bring them back to our memories. If they’re not reposts but simply re-telling of stories we’ve heard before I’d say that’s an even grander idea! I think that should be a thing too. Like, we all know we’ve, “heard this one before” but it’d be interesting to see how revisionist history and an evolved writing style changes things.

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