Life Inside Liquid

I have vomited blood

and bright gray mushrooms

whole

pristine

unaltered mushrooms

floating in a sea

of pulpy orange

tossing and turning

in a tumult of bile

the former contents

of my body lain before my eyes

in a perpetual state of vulgar imagery

waves of decomposition coalescing

swirling

but only for an infinitesimal period

although becoming almost infinite

thru the passage of thoughts via the corridors

of neurotransmitters

this movement has reflected the excrement

of a busted brain

and the hopes of beyond trillions of versions

of a human have been wasted

in a bowl of porcelain

Philadelphia Psychosis Part 2

Later that night, while walking back home from work, Dave decided to venture the extra four blocks to the beer store on the corner of 9th and Washington even though he was exhausted. He made up his mind that he would purchase a six pack of PBR pounders and a 32 ounce bottle of Yuengling Premium instead of what he would usually get, which was just a six pack of Yuengling Lager, which, as a native Philadelphian, he simply referred to as “lager”. His legs felt kind of numb but mostly a little weak from all of the standing and walking that he did that day.

Dave used to think that the young black guy in the white t-shirt and white do-rag in front of the beer store was actually a police officer, because he carried a badge and a gun, but eventually realized that he was just some kind of security guard. Although his badge still said “Officer Benjamin Davis.” Dave had figured out that the man’s getup was absolutely necessary fairly quickly after first becoming a regular at the beer store (while still a teenager) because it wasn’t actually just a beer store, but an elaborately organized, old-fashioned and notorious saloon. He had often heard other residents of the neighborhood, known as Bella Vista, call the beer store “The Stabbing Grounds”. This wasn’t an over-exaggeration either, as Dave had witnessed one stabbing at the saloon, and had heard talk about many more.

The inside was split between the walk-up beer store on the right side, and the sit-down, rowdy saloon on the left side with the two sectioned off by a four foot tall concrete wall topped with just-as-tall stained plexiglass. From Dave’s experience, the beer store was oftentimes filled with inner city punks, former suburban hipsters, and out-of-town crusties, while the left side was populated with moody-looking druggy white trash couples, groups of laughing and yelling Mexicans/Central Americans, and African American loner-con-men. When Dave opened the glass door half covered with Latino music advertisements he immediately smirked at the sound of a regular eccentric skillfully making music by slapping two spoons together. The security guard approached Dave with his hand out, using the universal sign to hold up.

“Yo, what’s up?” Said Dave.

“Oh, my bad man, we’ve been havin’ some trouble tonight. There was this punk-ass kid who looked kinda like you fuckin’ with customers.”

“Oh, word. How you been B, haven’t seen you in a minute.”

“Chillin’ man what’s good? Yo, that chick you was with the other night, she had a fat ass. I was like damn, you hittin’ that?” The security guard laughed, then amicably slapped Dave on the back.

Dave liked Officer Ben, whom he called “B”, especially because he reminded him of John Malkovich’s character in the play True West. B gave off a somewhat similar kind of wildcard vibe, except ironically being even more wildcard by being in a position of authority with a gun. B also had a significant gap in his tooth, the result of which was a slightly effeminate-sounding voice that foiled his tough-guy exterior. Dave had played that same character in an acting class once. His professor claimed to have worked with Sam Shepard. Thinking about John Malkovich momentarily made Dave depressed.

“Thanks. I know, right?” Dave said.

“She your girl?”

“Yeah, B, you knew that man.”

“Word. Ight man, I see you.”

“Take it easy.”

“You too.”

Dave waited in line behind two Mexicans and a white girl whose behavior and skin marks exhibited that she was addicted to meth. She was trying to convince the two men to come back with her to wherever she came from, but they just kept shaking their heads and laughing at how brazenly fucked up she was.

It was Dave’s turn to order, but he had forgotten what he wanted.

“Yuengling bottles?”

Out of habit Dave said “yeah” to the Asian guy behind the counter. The clerk started asking Dave this question whenever he came in after a couple of months of him ordering the same thing all of the time. He spontaneously ordered a shot of Jack Daniels as well. The Asian guy smirked.

“Shot of Jack?”

Dave informed the man of this phrase a few months before when he had ordered a shot of Jack and the guy didn’t understand what he meant. Dave swiftly placed a twenty on the counter underneath the shoddy bulletproof glass. He downed the whiskey, turned around, nodded at B, then headed out the door. He closed his eyes, tilted his chin upwards, and breathed through his nose while drowning out the sound of bums arguing with each other a few feet away.

“Young bull.”  A homeless man with an idiosyncratic gait approached Dave from the cluster of bums.

“Whatsup John.”

Dave instinctively pulled a pack of cigarettes out and handed the bum one. The man looked like a tramp, but really the opposite was true. John was a salesman of grocery bags in the Italian Market. He was always either in front of the beer store or at his spot in between stalls across the street. Although he never really had customers, John would stand by two shopping carts overflowing with brown paper bags and plastic bags all relatively organized and fairly new-looking. If a person had the compulsion to purchase bags at 25 cents each in order to shop at the vegetable and other various stalls in the outdoor market, he would be the man to go to, but that was rarely the case. John had told Dave many times of the travails of being a shopping bag salesman. Perhaps back in the seventies selling used bags was a legitimate business, when John had began his life-long career, and when the Italian Market was in its prime.

“Buncha’ assholes claiming I owe them, I don’t owe them shit, I’m an artist baby. You know that, you seen my drawings right?”

“Yeah man, they’re pretty good.”

“I know. Young bulls aint givin’ respect no more round here, ‘cept you man, what’s your name again pal?” John had a smooth, soulful but soft-spoken voice as if he always had an ulterior motive, even though he was a genuinely honest man.

“Dave, remember, I gave you a beer last night.”

“Aye man, I don’t owe you shit.”

“Nah you’re good.”

“Ight man, yo I ever tell you I was in Rocky?

“Yeah.”

“You see me in it?”

“Yeah man, when he runs through the market. I’ve seen you.”

“Yeah man, yeah. Don’t get recognized no more man, shit.”

The long light on Washington turned green. There wasn’t much traffic on a Friday nearing midnight, but the cars that were on the street would speed at about forty to sixty miles per hour, making it difficult to cross without getting stuck precariously in the narrow median. Dave used this as a mental excuse for himself in order to get away from John the bag salesman, not because he felt uneasy around him, but because the bum somehow emitted melancholia without ever seeming unhappy himself.

“Alright John I gotta’ get going, take it easy.”

“Peace man.”

Dave hadn’t actually seen John in Rocky, but he liked humoring him, and also felt bad because some of the younger guys who worked at the butcher would mess with him. They’d steal his boom box, which was his prized possession, as he lived for listening to soul and Motown. One time Dave felt horrible because he’d seen those guys cajoling John since he couldn’t jump high enough to grab a ten dollar bill that one of them was holding in the air above him. When Dave would stumble home from the dive bar at two am he would sometimes stop and stare at John sleeping while sitting on a milk crate not far from 9th and Washington. Dave would watch the old man sleep, listen to his congested snore, and admire him for living such a difficult and lonely life without outwardly showing any shame and even spreading a bit of joy via sparing loose change for candy from a nearby stall for children here and there.

Even though Dave was only on slightly cordial terms with John the grocery bag salesman, he felt a peculiar, inexplicable sense of camaraderie with him. Dave was aware that this feeling was somewhat due to naivety on his part, but it made him feel good anyway. He lit a cigarette and enjoyed the rush of wind against his face. Then he started walking back up 9th street.

He felt dizzy, not because of the whiskey, but because of the lingering soapy aftertaste from the under-the-counter double shot glass. He had become familiar with that uncomfortable feeling and grew to like it because it quickened the disorientation process that was necessary for him after a closing shift.

Dave put his hand in his back pocket and realized that he had left his keys in his room, so when he got to the house he pressed the buzzer and waited for someone to come to the door. He stood there for a while drinking a beer and looking at the bourgie people strutting into the Italian restaurant a couple of doors down. Dave would sometimes have a cigarette with the VIP parking guys during the day, but at night he disliked them out of an odd sort of temporary envy of their servile purposefulness.

Dave sat down on the stoop and pulled another bottle of beer out of the black plastic bag. He thought that the women in red and black dresses were sneering at him, so he considered chugging the whole beer in one big swig and throwing the bottle in their general direction. He imagined the glass bottle shattering into hundreds of pieces and flying into the pack of middle-aged women, cutting into their exposed legs like shrapnel from a roadside IED. He just chugged the beer and placed the empty bottle on the stoop. Someone that Dave barely knew opened the door to his house. He realized that his roommates were throwing a party.

He brushed past the person at the door and ignored everyone while heading to his room. He was tired of everyone around him coming from privileged households. He couldn’t believe that he had used the word household while thinking to himself. He put Cupid Come by My Bloody Valentine on and fell asleep while horizontally drinking lager. It felt wet inside his chest.

A Taste of Hidden Culture in America’s Most Dangerous City

Camden_NJ_poverty

An almost completely abandoned block in Camden is not uncommon.

It’s 7 pm on a frigid Wednesday in November on 3rd street in downtown Camden. It’s dark and
the streets are mostly empty, but there’s a little bit of light and sound coming from the pizza shop
called Little Slice of New York. No, it’s not a bunch of rowdy Rutgers students on break from
partying in order to get their drunk-munchies fix, it’s a bunch of poets eating pizza, sipping on
wine, and singing along to classic folk and Bob Dylan songs. Many of the attendants are
baby-boomers or older, but there is a consistent influx of Rutgers students who come to read and
listen at this casual open-mic as well, both undergraduates and graduates.
Who is responsible for this outrageous display of, (could it possibly be?) culture in Camden?
The man’s name is Rocky Wilson, and he’s been the host of Pizza and Poetry for almost as long
as Little Slice of New York has been open. And the before and after photographs hanging on the
right-side wall of this small pizza parlor portray the two buildings that it now occupies,
previously boarded up and abandoned, now a thriving business. The same goes for the monthly
Pizza and Poetry event, in the seventies Camden’s movie theaters closed, along with many of the
other businesses and factories that made this city a bustling center of industry and culture in
South Jersey. The amount of success in the mayor’s agenda of supporting the universities and
medical centers in the city may be debatable, but the mission of a few Camden residents to
establish art and propagate peace has become undeniably more and more apparent in this city.
Mr. Rocky, (as his former students call him) was born at Cooper Hospital, but grew up in
Haddonfield. However, Rocky has been living in Camden for thirty some odd years, and his
house is appropriately situated on Penn street, right behind the Walt Whitman Center. Even
though Rocky’s business card reads “The Puppet Laureate of Camden”, he’s most well-known
for what he calls being a Walt Whitman interpreter. This means that he’s frequently invited to
events where he is called upon to dress up as America’s greatest poet and recite classic poems
such as “Song of Myself” and “I Sing the Body Electric” with stunning theatrics. Mr. Wilson is
also a formidable poet himself, and has had his poetry published in reputable journals, such as
Painted Bride Quarterly. His first poetry collection, much of it involving the desolation and
hidden beauty of Camden, will be published in the spring of 2014 by Whirlwind Press.

Rocky Wilson isn’t the only Camdenite who is responsible for a resurgence of culture in this
troubled city. Cassie MacDonald, a frequent attendee of Pizza and Poetry, hosts writing
workshops and spiritual healing meetings at her home in South Camden, which she calls Brigid’s
House. Her home is down the street from Sacred Heart Church, which is on the corner of
Broadway and Ferry, in a struggling neighborhood that these local artists call “SoBro” (south
Broadway). This run-down and dangerous part of Camden has benefited from Sacred Heart
Church and Father Michael Doyle’s mission to support the downtrodden community through art,
charity, and activism. Cassie MacDonald hosts an outdoors poetry reading and barbecue in the
summer months at what is known as “Peace Park,” a circle of stones on a well-kept triangular
field of grass on what used to be a vacant lot. MacDonald and the community have been slowly
transforming the park into a safe haven for locals, and next year plan to officially name the park
after the late nationally renowned poet and pacifist, William Stafford.
Close by, on the corner of Jasper and 4th Street, lies the South Camden Theatre Company, a
“nonprofit professional theatre company dedicated to helping revitalize the City of Camden,
New Jersey by producing meaningful, professional theater in the City’s Waterfront South
District.” The theater is in its ninth season, and has produced high quality plays that have caught
the attention of local and regional theater enthusiasts. Downtown Camden is just a short trip
north up Broadway, however, what lies in between Rutgers and “SoBro” will dishearten and
frighten anyone, as Camden’s rampant poverty and drug epidemic is absolutely evident even on
what’s supposed to be a main street of the city. Although another cultural event that is meant to
alleviate the despair of Camden, the 3rd Thursday Art Crawl, occurs every month at Gallery
Eleven One, Rutgers’ own Steadman Art Gallery, Filbert Studio, and other venues that can be
found on art11one.com.
It’s getting late on November 20th, and the host of Pizza and Poetry keeps humorously
reminding everyone that it’s a school night. The main themes of the night are the celebration of
two birthdays, that of Rocky’s childhood hero, Roy Rodgers, and Father Michael Doyle,
Camden’s real-life hero. A few poets read in tribute to the famous Irish Catholic priest and
activist, and Cassie MacDonald reads some of Father Doyle’s own poetry, which was published
in a book of poems and letters called “It’s a Terrible Day: Thanks be to God.” All of a sudden,
Michael Doyle himself makes a surprise appearance, and the priest (who’s known for being
among the Camden 28 Vietnam activists) ends the night by reading several moving poems and
expressing his gratitude in his gentle brogue to Rocky and company for helping to make Camden a
better place.

Photo by Colin Archer/Agency New Jersey.

Photo by Colin Archer/Agency New Jersey.

Numbers in the Air (first draft)

[Scene 1] –Interior, inner city, early twentieth century run-down brick building. Empty except for one patron, a young man whose dirty yet clean shaven face makes it look like he is ambivalent about his appearance. He’s slumped over on a stool, conscious, but barely. The lighting is dim; there is a clock on the back wall with frozen hands. There is also what must used to have been a small wooden bar along the back wall, but it looks empty of alcohol with apparently no one tending it. The young man, Patrick, straightens up and starts to hum vaguely.

Patrick- Ahh, the early afternoon light creeps in through rust covered bars behind ancient stained glass, but it’s not the rich man’s or religious kind. What are these shadows that form the shapes of Argive spears on a broken linoleum floor? Are they symbols? Revelations? Prophecies of imminent violence?

Patrick starts to look around the room slowly at first, but then begins to twirl in circles on his stool. His uncle walks in from behind the bar and leans against it, staring beyond Patrick in a tired, expressionless manner. 

Arnold- It’s your imagination.

Patrick- Everything is imagined Arnie-

Arnold- How about you give me some respect for once or I’ll throw you out of here and send you back to your reptile of a mother.

Patrick feigns getting up and leaving by zipping up his dirty bag.

Patrick- Alright, fine. Kick out your only customer Arnie. Your own flesh and blood!

Patrick laughs to himself. Arnold remains stoic, takes out two shot glasses, and pours a brownish liquid in them from an un-labelled bottle. The two stare at each other for a few seconds.

Arnold- Patrick, do you realize what’s going on out there?

They both simultaneously take shots. Patrick retains his light-hearted humor, but with a genuine, passionate intensity. Arnold is weary, and it’s obvious that the two have had this conversation many times before.

Patrick- I can handle myself on the streets uncle, you know that.

Arnold- No, I mean beyond the streets.

Patrick- What do you know about the outside world? We’ve been disconnected for months.

Arnold- Why do you think there’ve been no travelers through here? We’re cut off, and not just digitally. You have to be more careful Patrick. You hear me? Don’t associate yourself with them anymore.

Patrick- You act like you’re my father or something when we’re practically the same age. Besides, if it wasn’t for them, this place would’ve been burnt to the ground along with most of the other buildings on this block.

Arnold- Your friends can’t protect you forever. The riots might be over, but it’s still dangerous out there.

Patrick- You call those riots? That was revolution, uncle, and if you’re so disillusioned as to believe that we can’t create something better out of it, then what’s the point of going on and living at all anyway?

Arnold shakes his head and pours two more shots. They drink.

Arnold- The same as it ever was. This isn’t a post-anything situation Patrick. The government will be back. We’re just quarantined, and when the time comes everything that you and your friends have built will… Oh, it’s no use.

Patrick- You’re right Arnie. No use in pessimism when the world as you know it has changed irreparably, and for the better.

Arnold- Right. All that Krokodil makes this city such a better place.

Patrick gives Arnold a knowing smirk. 

Patrick- I better get going, let me get a smoke and a shot before I start patrol. When I get to the river I’ll let Bran know you need help with fixing this floor.

The uncle provides his nephew with what he asked for, then sits down and takes out a small, torn book, but looks up right before Patrick exits.

Arnold- Watch out for the fiends.

End of first scene.

Tracing Emptiness

Release trepidation

when crossing

splintered

wooden beams

spaced three feet apart

at the rusty

trestle bridging nowhere to never-ending

nowhere, in the small town I grew up in

next to the now abandoned city of my father,

at the site of a childhood

beating by an older boy with a 2 x 4.

 

Was it by chance that the nails protruding from the wood

were bent? Was it strange how I noticed, while raising

my bloodied hands in defense, how his weapon

matched the setting?

 

Years later,

the same splinters

tore through love

and fatherly flesh

via PCP disguised as weed.