Double Nickels on the Dime

D. Boon (4/1/58 – 12/22/85)

 

1.

 

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.

 

2.

 

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.

 

3.

 

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.

About James Harms:

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.