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Long Beach, CA


Poetry Blog


Brandon Cook

His name was Ed, but I can’t remember or I never knew his last name
He was just Ed,
A walking whirlwind, rail-thin, with tired eyes and cheeks that dropped like wet socks, his face
worn haggard like rock long exposed, his life worn by some sorrow too deep to name,
But he rode the pain like that cowboy rode the bomb in Dr. Strangelove, waving his hat in the air,
running one step ahead of the train, downhill, mouth open, hands off the handlebars

One night not long after I met him,
By chance we stood, before our shift, looking out over the Blue Ridge from the careening hotel porch
Me, bright-eyed and moving on come fall (it’s easy to enjoy adventure when you know it’s only temporary, after all)
He, a careerist, traveling the resort circuit to snow in Utah, to sun somewhere in summer
He quickly, and with the ease of a gambler, divulged his desire to hit the new waitress hard
As he pumped his fist rhythmically, dissolving my confusion

He was a poet of the vulgar, a magician making innuendo disappear beneath a never- ending handkerchief of description
It was so strange and silly, though he used words I can’t write here, that my body floated out above the hills,
Finding no words to rejoin him, awkward like a musician who can’t find the beat, I just nodded and pursed my lips as if to say, “Alright, then”

Late that summer, the sun already honeyed by an early autumn, I woke up to hear
“You goddamn piece of shit!” ringing near my ear and
Scrambling to the window like the man in the cap, tearing open the sash,
Awake from my nap I watched Bruce, the bearded and burly owner of that mountain retreat, man-haul not presents down a chimney, but Ed himself, out of his sheets and out the door, whimpering like a dog-cussed pup, unable to muster a “Stop it!”
Just “Okay!” and “Jesus” and “Okay” again

I never knew the transgression
Perhaps, drunk, he’d missed his shift
Perhaps he’d grabbed the new waitress’s rear, as he’d so often promised, in much more florid terms
Probably some deeper sin long brewing between the two of them
Though I don’t know how a proprietor could saloon-slug an employee beyond the fear of a lawsuit
Some things just pass before men in a place beyond, with its own laws and understanding

When it was all over, Ed sat in the dirt, listless,
In the long sadness of life, he had found a metaphor, a picture of the sadness always hiding behind his eyes
And I sat there, debating if I should go to him,
But before I moved, he disappeared into the woods, a shame-faced mouse skittering away, though the shadow of the owl had passed

I remember, equally, from that good summer, another surprise:
The subtle manipulation of niceness
How the hosts and servers would lay hospitality on the table, then dog-cuss the guests as soon as the swinging doors closed behind us,
Concealing hidden truths behind closed panels
Unaware that all the things we hide come home to roost
And life always has some Bruce knocking on the door, to throw us for our loop
Which was why I didn’t laugh at Ed, or shake my head,
And lay in bed, as if crossing myself
Wondering what lay ahead in this strange, sad world