D. Boon (4/1/58 – 12/22/85)
Wherever else it ends America
ends at San Pedro, where
the Harbor Freeway quits
at (you guessed it) the harbor,
at docks so vast and cluttered
with noise the ocean is an
afterthought. The continent
drifts by offshore, a slow glide
to absence somewhere north
and west of Point Reyes.
And the blue sea beyond
the breakwater, beyond
the wrack of pleasure boats
and cranes, tankers full of oil
and boxcars . . . the sea is a word so old there’s no way
to sing it fast, no punk rock
synonym, though we can feel
a wind of words now
and then as we load the van,
a wet wind whispering in
a foreign language. We’re
heading east because there isn’t
any west left, no highways
over water, no toll roads on the sea.
If you drive 55 it takes ten hours
to reach Phoenix, another eight
to Albuquerque, six more
to Amarillo. Every town
has an Odd Fellows Lodge,
a roller skating rink, a Taco Bell-
gone-bust with a stage where
the counter used to be.
And sometimes it’s just
singing through spit,
ducking bottles and shoes
but who cares? If you’re me
you bleed as well as you sing.
If you’re me your name
is D. Boon and I never knew you
unless you felt as lame as I did
in high school, climbing trees
long after the other guys
dusted off their jeans
and moved on: to football
and washing cars every
Friday afternoon, to calling girls
they’d known for years but
never noticed: cars and girls,
sweet wine after the game,
parking high in the hills and
getting high with a view
of the harbor, getting laid
if the stars aligned.
I never washed that car, called
that girl, watched the stars slip
their constellations and point me
toward bliss. I climbed down
at last and ate corn dogs on the road,
yelled at half-empty halls
with Mike Watt on bass, George
Hurley behind the drums.
When no one listened we played
louder, yells into screams. We drove
and drove never knowing we knew
America, gummed the highways
with tar dragged all the way
from the end, where west turns
into water and water fills with
what’s left: dust and the light
sifted from ruined air, from whatever
seeps into the earth just to leak
loose and flow into rivers, all
the blue leavings, the mold
and mercury, the mutterings
of the wrecked and discarded
who wander west from the terraced
slums of Other, America, lost children
of the gods, whose sisters are Angels.
O, lovely Los Angeles.
Your gentry stares at the sea
wondering what now.
Your endlessly recovering populace
lives alone together, three million
angels-in-waiting waiting for the bell.
If I am D. Boon I have never
said anything this scared
and littered with syllables, with
lies. I lived in San Pedro, edge
of America, and every Fourth
of July I faced east and listened
to the fireworks fall and sizzle
behind me in the harbor.
I turned around and let the sky
darken in my eyes, dreamt
of boarding my father’s
boat all teak and polished brass,
of sailing past Catalina, past
San Clemente and San Nicolas,
of sailing the blue freeway to the last
true end, where Cimmerians and a few
of my drunkest uncles compare
scars and wait for whatever
stumbles up from the bars of Erebus.
I died and my mother lives, who tries
to hug me every night in the wet
harbor breeze cooling her patio.
And sure, I slip her arms like any
good ghost. My name is D. Boon.
I sang with Mike Watt. We lived
from gig to gig, we played for
beer and gas money, played our way
across America, open-all-night-
America, lived on road dust
and microwave burritos at 7-Elevens
and am/pms and Stop ’n Gos
and Dairy Marts, lived for
those lovely green signs:
gas-food-lodging, though we
drove our own lodging.
And we always came home
to San Pedro until the one time
I stayed gone, but that’s another story,
how America rewards industry
and self-reliance unless you sleep
at the wheel. “The sun sank
and the road of the world grew dark.”
And when I reached for the headlights
I found my hand on the volume,
my song so far to the left of the dial
I fell off the earth singing.
James Harms is the author of seven books of poetry including Comet Scar, to be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. He is a recipient of an nea fellowship, the pen/Revson fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes, among other honors. A Professor of English at West Virginia University, he also directs the low-residency mfa program in poetry at New England College.