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--- S T A N L E Y J E N K I N S
I. American Music
This story has no moral
--Jimmie Rodgers, "Frankie and Johnny"
You know, there's a tale to tell. But it is fading fast. And the gaslights--they're turning incandescent. And the smell of horses--into BMW exhaust fumes.
And the way a wire spring bed creaks under your weight. And virtue. Yeah, it's going. It's going, alright. I expect I'm dead. Expect I'm just one more ghost now. Forever fading. Just don't know enough to shut up.
Never was one to learn from my mistakes.
Frankie and Johnny was sweethearts
Frankie. She was not beautiful. But you know, man, water run downhill. I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. Lady of the redlight night.
She had a hunger. Woman was hungry.
"Ain't going nowhere, pretty lady."
"That's right. You *ain't* going nowhere."
"Do I know you?"
"No. And you won't know yourself after I'm through with you."
"You from around here?"
"I ain't got time for talk, rounder."
"You couldn't even imagine."
"I gotta good imagination."
She just smiled.
Ever slept with your little brother in the same bed when he got a fever? You get his dreams. Ugly shit. Fearful shit. But he's family. Cables stretched like guitar string too tight and you know it gonna snap and heavy hammer steam piston pump until you are half shattered, half exalted. Family.
I caught her fever. She was so hungry. Like family. I would have done anything for her. Take her dreams. This is my body, woman!
Let me tell you, she was something.
Where do these songs come from? There is a terror. But O ain't it sweet? You know what I'm talking about. In its own time everything is an aphrodisiac. I used to dream about a woman I called the Lady in Black. She was always floating outside my window and calling me to come out. In my dreams I lived several stories up. Her kisses were like candles extinguished.
I wanted to kiss her.
Sometimes in dreams she was wailing. And almost always there were crows. But the weird thing is that the crows weren't any different from the wailing. They flew about her like sorrow. She had sharp nails and she ripped at her own breasts. I wanted to comfort her. She lived underground, but floated outside my window.
I used to wake up with growing pains. I'd be sleeping and then I'd be yelling. Would wake up little brother. And I was just a kid growing up. And then after yelling I'd remember dreaming about the Lady in Black. Sometimes I didn't wake up until after I had come and the sheets were wet and cold.
Shit, my Daddy was killed six months after I was born. Shot by somebody's husband. Mama whup the shit outta me over them sheets.
Frankie went down to the corner
Now, Nellie was different. She, indeed, was a beautiful woman. But I did not love her. Could not see her. Her hips. And her breasts were shy. She was a good woman. I expect I was the great stab at courage. I may have been a no-account rounder--but I am an honest man: I know that I just ain't no good. But this woman. Man, she wanted me. And you know how it is. I was her great cherry springtime. Her one-time, only-half-serious lighting out. And I had a gun. "Pistol Packing Papa". You know that Jimmie Rodgers song? She had no business messing with me. I was. Her great shout.
Can't blame her though. It's hard being good. You gotta make a virtue out of never getting what you want. And then there be those boys who lean against walls on corners like untucked shirts--like keys to secrets--like don't give a damn about nothing at all.
Well, Nellie--she was a good woman--but she made her move.
"I don't want to cause you no trouble
What is it that makes you turn against your one true love? It's a bolt for freedom, don't you know. It's your last great chance. Love is the end. It's the end, man. And when you love. And when you finally live. Man, it means it's all over. It means you're gonna die.
You know what I'm talking about. Are you prepared to accept that this is it? That there just ain't anything else to expect?
Frankie looked over the transom
Or maybe it's the music. Sure, I ain't no different from you. My listeners of American music. I grew up in the country, just like you. And we all turned our backs on the land, didn't we? But man, I heard something you didn't. A sad certainty. I heard something you didn't until I played it for you. Sang it for you. I got calluses on my fingers. Blood on my guitar strings. And when I sang it for you, you knew that you had always been hearing it. And--don't tell a lie!--when you heard it, you knew it was your music. The music you make just being here--you child of clay, you creature of dust, you returner to dirt. The land is haunted. It has its own rhythms. I never wanted to be no farmer. No more than you did. Turned my back on the soil. Jesus! It's getting dark! But the land has its music. And we dance.
Frankie drew back her kimona
And Nellie. She did not cry. She did not scream. She moved away off cold metal cot like checking for crumbs on her white dress after social hour at church. It weren't none of her business.
And as for me. O but I'm singing like leaking land cuz it hurts so much. Frankie, you shot me down. I'm singing one last soil-soaked American tune--all my sweet sweet sad Americans. My rounders. My sad dancers.
And Frankie. She's singing too. She'll sing forever. She'll sing long after I stop remembering. Long after I've stopped forgetting that I been dead since 1929--cuz from the looks of it, it's nearly seventy years later. And Frankie be singing for a hundred years more. Oh my Frankie. Maybe this song never gonna end.
Love kills. Love don't die.
"Bring out the rubber tot buggy
Yes, I think it is the music. My rounders. My dancers. My American singers. We are haunted in the music. All our ghosts speak in the music. And I think that it is the land that haunts us. The Lady in Black. She will not let us go. I see her now in her long black veil. And her cold clay kisses. And somehow along the way we ourselves became the voice of the haunting. We left the land and came to these our thousand cities--our bolt for freedom--our stab at courage--our jobs with Henry Ford and the great breweries of St. Louis--and the land is angry. She walks these hills in her long black veil. My Frankie. We are ghosts. We are dead. Land swallowed.
This story has no moral
II. The Hat
In an alley
Frank Hutchison, "Stackalee"
And I know about limits. And am something of an expert on limits. I know their inevitability. Their necessity. And I know that the dead do not really return. But neither do they ever really go away.
It is a brave man who can really want something. Really want something. Really want to be here.
A brave man for true sure.
My name is Billy Lyons and I never really wanted to be here.
Stackalee walked through the barroom
You're in an alley, Billy Lyons. And it is getting dark. You're in a dark alley and the road is narrowing like it did when you were a child and the trees over the road made a canopy and there was light. And the light was trapped in pockets in the trees. And you could not understand where the light was coming from. And how the trees held the light.
"Stackalee, O Stackalee
"God bless your children
You're in an alley. And it is dark. And it is like when you were a child. And there was nothing but a narrowing at the end of the road. Like it would go on forever. Like no matter how far along the road you came, at the end there would always be nothing but a narrowing. And the light forever trapped in trees. And you're in a dark alley. And Stack Lee, he got a gun. He gonna shoot you right through the head. And Stack Lee, he a mean sumbitch. Gonna kill you right dead. Over a misunderstanding. Over a mistake.
But you know there ain't no mistakes, Billy Lyons.
Stackalee turned to Billy Lyons
And I never really wanted to be here.
It was like this:
"Billy? Is that you?"
"Yeah. It's me."
"Where you been? It's late."
"At the office."
"All this time?"
"Been at the office."
"I've been waiting for you."
"Bought you a Victrola."
"You bought me a Victrola?"
"I bought you a Victrola."
"Billy, we already have a Victrola."
"Got you a new one."
"Where'd you get that?"
"Is that a John B.?"
"Musta picked up somebody's hat by mistake."
And like that.
You're in a dark alley. And you're pleading for your life. Always pleading for your life. A man with his hat forever in his hands. The light trapped in trees. And I have longed all the days of my life to pluck the fruit and bury my face in the juice. And there ain't no mistakes.
Stackalee said to the jailer
III. The Wind and the Rain
I'll tell you all a story
G.B. Grayson, "Omi Wise"
Don't know where you've been, my merry-eyed twin. Don't know where you've been. But I know where you'll go.
When a lass like yourself, goes seeking another life--a life beyond the piney wood. When a lass like yourself, leaves kith and kin--and grabs hold hard of a hope. I know where you'll go.
To the wind and the rain. To the wind and the rain.
He told her to meet him
It is one kind favor I ask of you. It is one kind favor I ask of you. See that my grave is swept clean.
For I was once like you. I wanted so bad to believe.
The wind and the rain. The wind and the rain.
It is not enough. O my merry-eyed twin. The wind and the rain.
It is a different cleaning we must seek.
She got up behind him
It is a sad thing in a man's eyes. It is a sad thing. He will tell you the world, my merry-eyed twin. He will tell you of dreams you never knew you had. And you, my sweet, will not believe him. And he will not be able to deliver. And you will see the sadness in his eyes and you will not believe him.
It is another cleaning we seek. A different cleansing. My merry-eyed twin.
And your not believing in him will weigh so heavily on him. His failure. And it is a sad thing--but my merry-eyed twin. He will shatter you.
They all want to kill the mirror. They all want to kill the mirror.
She threw her arms around him
I don't know where you been my merry-eyed twin. Don't know where you been. But I know where you'll go.
They will see your seeing through them. And they will see your denial of your seeing through them--until your very devotion--your false devotion--weighs heavy.
To the wind and the rain. To the wind and the rain.
My sweet merry-eyed twin. Your every desperate gesture. Your every panicked clinging. (How you needed to be his wife!) Your every lonesome need to believe. To the wind and the rain. To the wind and the rain.
But I will love you, my merry-eyed twin. For having loved. And I will love you for having loved enough to have lied about what you saw in his eyes. And I will love you for having hoped and dreamed. Because your lies were not wrong. Because your lies were not wrong.
And we shall be clean. My merry-eyed twin. And we shall be clean.
He threw her arms from 'round him
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