Said and Done Before

salt smells and faded baseball cap

like whiskey by the water

loose blue t-shirt and cutoff jean shorts

and torn up boating shoes no socks

too much hair and skin for one human

no technology thank god

just a newspaper clipping all crumpled

and gray the lights at the 24 hour pharmacy

are intangible

walk with me thru the aisles because

everything is bright and melting cancer

love comes from out west

even though we’ve never been

from Los Angeles on out

all there is are signals signals signals

we’re trapped

in discarded images

A Vignette of Rocky

The puppet man of Camden

sings and dances for the children.

Beyond tie-dye t-shirts lies

a heart of wonder.

His prostate supplement bottle

now holds a memory stick

filled with leaves of grass  ̶

filled with poetry and pain;

hidden lives of loved ones gone

are remembered through flowers

or football. His joy, contagious

even considering everything lost  ̶

a baby brother, parents, a lover.

To live for him is to be aware.

To breathe and bask in each moment.

How he’s grown innocent with age.

How he looks young with a white beard.

Burial Ground

How penetrating are the ends of days in autumn! Oh! Penetrating to the point of grief! For there are certain delicious sensations whose vagueness does not exclude intensity; and no point is sharper than that of the Infinite.   

-Charles Baudelaire, “The Confiteor of the Artist”

Eliza and I stepped out of the oblong metal box and into an expansive gray wasteland. Construction material littered the ground between pillars where walls should have been. The upper floors were supposed to be living spaces for humans, but when the recession hit the owner stopped paying for the building’s manufacture. We were standing on top of a tiny skyscraper looking over Rittenhouse Square. She was more than just my roommate and co-worker, but I didn’t know what I was to her.

While I was on break at work we had snuck into the maintenance area from the basement and took the freight elevator straight up. I was biting my nails inside the rickety machine. She giggled quietly at my nervousness and looked up at me with her bright ice blue eyes and freckles that matched her curly deep burgundy hair. My responses were bashful at best. At that time Eliza was twenty four and I was twenty one and wholly intimidated by her, even though she was almost half my size. We listened to the pulleys scream. Each floor took half a minute to reach, and because it was mostly out of service the machine would stall at every other number. By the time we found the roof access door I was craving fresh air, which while opening I realized was an insatiable desire in Philadelphia’s polluted atmosphere. At least the outdoors weren’t so closely filled with carcinogens and dust.

The late September sky was also gray and it didn’t smell like autumn yet at all. Actually, it never smells like fall on Walnut Street, although some of the trees were starting to change. So was Eliza. Her oven had become third-trimester-huge. As I turned to look at her admiring the skyline I felt guilt for worrying about my breathing when Eliza’s lungs had to work for two. You need to stop feeling so responsible for her, I thought.

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled, after coming to from gazing off at the park below. She was leaning over the ledge, looking down a twelve story drop. Her belly was tucked under the short wall, but her torso was precariously bent over the almost abyss. Eliza laughed while I gently yet firmly grabbed her.

 “Relax John. I’m okay, really.”

I pulled her back anyway and lingered for an instant while holding her hips. The baby inside her wasn’t mine, although I put my hand on her stomach as if it, she, was, and smiled back at her belatedly. My girlfriend Selena had introduced us when I used to sell weed. Selena was fiercely jealous of my friendship with Eliza.

“Why are you looking at me like that you creep,” she said, teasing.

I told her I was sorry in a sarcastic tone. We stared at the specks of people. It was then that she told me about all the horses buried under Rittenhouse Square.

“Do their ghosts trot through the park?” I laughed as I asked, but she was serious for once.

“It’s just horrible that there’s no memorial for them,” she said.

“Their corpses must be why the trees are so big,” I replied.

She seemed sad, and I wondered if her baby felt emotions in tandem with her, then I smelled her hair while she wouldn’t notice. It was beautiful. There were memories in the ether. The various branches swayed in the distance below. We didn’t matter, although all meaning was within us. Gusts of wind kept picking up, so I ended up lying on the hard roof, mostly out of fear, but also because I wanted to experience the world in a different way. Each building was a different color even though they were all generally made of the same kind of glass, steel, and stone. I checked my cellphone for the time.

“We gotta’ get going,” I said.

Our way back down was easier than the way up. Eliza got done work early. After taking orders from greedy childish adults for several more hours, a slight exhaustion set in, but I still didn’t want to go straight home so I walked across the street to the park. Eliza and her boyfriend, Ricardo, were sitting on a bench at the northeast corner. Ricardo looked agitated, and didn’t say hello.

 “Hey, we’ve been waiting around for you after shopping. Look what I got for the baby.” She showed me the clothes and whatever else that was in her bags. I feigned interest. She asked if I was heading home, and if I wanted to walk with them.

“I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got some things to do,” I said.

She looked at me strangely, then they were gone. I could tell that Ricardo didn’t want me around. He was tired from working so much, saving up money for the coming child. Eliza knew that I had no cash nor subway tokens left, and felt bad that I had a long walk alone ahead of me. There was something about that evening though, a foreboding feeling and I needed to be by myself. Selena had texted me multiple times, so I turned my phone off then went to sit on the public lawn. Not just the sky but the air itself was orange. It looked like everything was combustible.

With legs crossed sitting in the wet grass I pulled out my small crimson sketchbook from my back pocket and tried drawing what was in the present, without any contextual interference. Leaves were changing with the atmosphere. Bark falling onto the broken, dirty soil. Most of the environment had been overtaken by the artificial. I imagined all of the invisible energy pulsing through my body, all of the radiation soaking everything. Humans began to look monster-like in appearance. I saw flesh falling off the many homeless people in the park. Walking skeletons crept behind bushes, smoking and coughing incessantly. Rotting teeth fell out of casually passing pedestrians’ mouths. Before then I felt alone, but the lack of nature made me realize how clustered we all were. I was one with the crowd. Eliza was bringing another human into this claustrophobic world.

My fingers gripped the pencil, but I couldn’t draw anything substantial. Just lines, twigs and leaves overlapping one another until they looked like wires tangled, like something so unnatural. The animal corpses underneath me did nothing but nurture the roots of those trees; their bones were barely left. Life had sucked death dry. Inanimate languages fell upon deaf ears. I looked around for their spirits and found none. Having lost my duel with creative expression, I put away the pencil and paper, and just sat there, breathing in nothingness.

Getting home was long and boring. We lived in North Philly, a far walk, but usually not too bad while drunk. I was looking forward to drinking whatever booze left in the fridge at the house, if Ricardo and his friends hadn’t drank it all already. I’d hoped not. The neon lights of Chinatown pierced through my skull. Chewing nicotine gum didn’t help either. My teeth were yellow and practically rotting. Sewage ran along the sides of the streets because of flooding from weeks of almost non-stop rain. Selena is going to be pissed, I thought.

On the southern corner of Seventh and Spring Garden I waited for the light to turn green then realized that there wasn’t any traffic anyway, so I just walked right through until coming upon a black metal fence on the other side. A nineteenth century red brick building loomed in front of me. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t really paid attention to it until then, when I lived only a few blocks away. It’s a national historic landmark. What struck me was the woman in white tending the garden. Her dress was more like a gown, and I could have sworn there was no dirt on it, though nighttime had settled in, and the streetlights were dimly flickering. She would lean over with a spade and strike the earth, then crouch down to plant seeds.

“Why the hell is she doing that in autumn?” I whispered to my still self.

I took the cellphone out of my pocket and turned it on. When I looked back up she had appeared several feet closer and was facing me, but bent forward. My heart fluttered. The screen said “LOW BATTERY” so I put it back. A gurgling sound came from the sodden soil. Vegetables and plants crawled about in the dirt before me. She altered as my face was pressed against cold iron. Her skeleton reverberated as she wheezed and hacked up phlegm all over the stems and flowers. That only made them grow faster. My hands searched around for pencil and paper to no avail.

“Swallow me,” I said, without reason.

I just wanted to be inside of her, but I couldn’t get past the fence, so I pulled the sketchbook out of my pants then opened to a clean page and began to draw verdure the likes I’d never done before, although as I looked up she was gone, and all of the vegetation along with her. Cars sped down Spring Garden with radios blasting unfamiliar music. A foreign heart beat heavy in my chest.

Getting in the house took a minute with my dull and rusted key. Once I got through the threshold Selena was ready with fists clenched. All I saw was a blur, then my temple throbbed. I put my hands over my face. Her jet black wavy hair was everywhere. She looked sexy, all done up, but for a reason, because she was furious to the point of breaking.

“Where were you?”

I just looked at her, and felt sad.

“You know what, it’s not working out.”

Just like that she was gone, so I stumbled to the fridge but there was no beer. My head was killing me. I walked back to the living room and landed on the couch, not wanting to move a muscle. I turned the television on with the remote, but all I could see and hear was white noise. I sighed. The antenna was broken. That dressed-up woman in the garden wouldn’t leave my mind.

The couch consumed me. There was even more commotion upstairs. Ricardo and Eliza were fighting now. He sounded awful. The static continued in the foreground. Ricardo was getting violent and throwing things. Eliza’s screams gave me goose bumps. It must be really bad, better go up there, I thought, although I didn’t. I was immobilized, but not out of anything physical. She came down the stairs while crying silently.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

She didn’t answer. The television set hummed in abeyance. Eliza slammed the front door shut. I finally got up and looked out the window, but I couldn’t see where she went. Instead there were sanguine lit windows across the street, and shadows of figures embracing, which gave me newfound strength. Suddenly I was filled with anger, so I went upstairs to confront Ricardo, but once I made it to their room I found that he was passed out completely drunk and or high. Down the street I could hear a car honking.

Outside was dark, but I ran along Seventh Street nonstop while panting and sweating until catching up with Eliza. She was sitting on brick steps with her tummy sticking out and her head in her hands. I sat next to her.

“You know who lived here, right?”

I knew the answer, though I couldn’t speak just yet. It was such a simple, calm question; it took me off guard. I looked around.

“You see that statue over there, of the raven?”

I answered that time, “I see it.” She looked up at me with her drying cheeks.

Our bodies melded, and I felt warmth all over. In the distance the woman rose. Her pale face was all I could see, that faceless face I never saw.

“You don’t have to deal with that anymore,” I said.

“I know,” she said, “nevermore.”

We laughed together.

Burial Ground- Alexis Cabrera

A Poem For Now

You walk to the beach

I’ll walk to the bay

 

If only you knew

How to swim

 

We might cross paths

Again some day

 

No matter how long

It’s been

 

The television keeps

Going except

 

On different waves

Each year

 

We become obsolete

And never intercept

 

Although with hope

That our fear of death

 

May join us

Again in the end

 

No matter

What it will now

An Introduction

The following is the foreword to Rocky Wilson’s upcoming book of poetry, which will be published by Whirlwind Press. It was a pleasure editing and collating Rocky’s poems for this collection. Mr. Wilson has been a friend, mentor, and inspiration. His collection should be released by the end of this year.

The bus ride to Camden from the JFK Airport felt longer than I’d expected. The passing scenery of post-industrial New Jersey was depressing in contrast to the rolling green pastures of western Ireland that I’d grown used to in the past week. I owed a fellow traveler a couple hundred Euros borrowed out of desperation. I was to immediately head to an ATM as soon as we arrived at the Rutgers campus in Camden, and pay him back with even more borrowed money from my parents. Human Resources decided that I didn’t work enough hours to earn vacation pay.

It was hot for early June. I was a sweaty mess. My mindset was in self-centered, pissed off at the world mode. As my friend and I got off the bus we encountered a bronze figure on a bicycle calling out in a high pitched voice to passer-bys while waving a monkey puppet. I smiled, but my creditor-companion had a look of mild concern on his face. I turned back and saw the figure approaching us while walking his bike. This man was darkly tanned with wavy gray hair, wearing a black tank top, shorts, and sandals. His bike basket was filled with fruit and miscellaneous items. He was dazing off at the Philadelphia skyline behind us.

“Rocky!”

“Sean! I thought you were in Ireland!”

We hugged each other.

“I just got back. You’re so tan.”

“I was in Atlantic City. Where’s my post card you promised?”

I apologized to Rocky for not being able to send it due to something called a “Bank Holiday.” I almost didn’t recognize him without one of his signature rainbow tie-dye shirts. We talked briefly about the Aran Islands and western Ireland, as he’d been there a few years earlier for a poetry festival. He said he stayed in the same house on Inishmore as John Synge. I asked him when the next Pizza and Poetry reading was taking place (the date changes every month, a reflection of Rocky’s mercurial personality). I told him that we’d have to meet up for a Blue Moon at The Victor beforehand, but that I had something I had to take care of at the moment with my friend. Rocky said hello and introduced himself, as well as Bongo, his monkey puppet, then they both took off toward the Delaware River.

My friend was baffled.

“Was that a hobo?”

“No. He’s a poet.”

“Oh…”

Serendipity allowed Rocky to welcome me back home, making me smile in the moment I needed it most. Rocky actually lives one block away from where we had stood, on Penn Street in Camden. His house is a beautiful three story brick row-home built over a century ago. This wasn’t the only time that I’d introduce Rocky to someone and they thought that he was an eccentric homeless person. This is because Rocky Wilson is the epitome of what it truly means to be anti-establishment. Although he grew up in comfortable Haddonfield, he’s far from a bourgeois poser. In the 70’s, Rocky felt the need to return to the decaying city of his birth, Camden, not to evangelize, but rather to spread enlightenment. And to Rocky that involves both poetry and puppetry.

“The puppet man” some people call him, he prefers to declare himself the Puppet Laureate of Camden. Why not? Rocky Wilson is one of the few who actually makes a difference in America’s most infamous city, along with priest and poet, Father Michael Doyle (famous for being one of the Camden 28). However, Rocky isn’t a grassroots activist. He’s much more than that. He is in the grass, one blade among many; he lives the pure life that the beatniks could’ve only wished to have led. Rocky brings joy to the hearts of strangers, especially children. As a substitute teacher in Camden, Rocky has built relationships with residents of the city that have endured for decades. It seems like every time I walk down Cooper Street with him someone calls out “Mr. Rocky! Where’s Bongo?” Rocky replies with heart-warming sincerity, a virtue which is present throughout his poetry as well.

At first glance Rocky Wilson’s poems could be dismissed as confessional or romantic. The former being over-killed by the beat poets of the last century, the latter even more so in the century before that and since. However, there’s something deeper here, a myriad collage based off of an awareness of all that has preceded it, but with a subtlety that does not explicitly acknowledge it like too many contemporary, “post-modern” poets do. The status quo has been stagnant for decades. In the age when Anne Carson is touted as the avant-garde of North American poetry, Rocky Wilson brings us back to our poetic roots. He does this in the spirit of Walt Whitman, which may seem trite to some, but it’s necessary in our fragmented and bewildered society.

Rocky Wilson proves that what’s needed isn’t art which reflects more confusion, but art which cures confusion. Rocky does this through recognizing subconscious pain stemming from a lost baby brother, bearing witness to natural beauty surviving in urban ruins, reflecting on the potentiality of love, observing camaraderie between whales, and in many more ways. These poems may seem more like stories at times, prosaic, narrative driven, and even conclusive. That’s because Rocky sees life as poetry, and vice versa. He does all of this and still manages to avoid cliché, which is one of the many remarkable yet simplistic traits that can be found in his poetry. This is what America needs.

-S. W. Lynch

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.