Kamby Bolongo Mean River named one of 25 Important Books of the 2000s by HTML Giant

KBMR was named one of 25 Important Books of the decade by HTML Giant. And was a Page One selection of New & Noteworthy Books by Poets & Writers Magazine.

Monday, January 16, 2012

No news today - Guest Post - Daniel Long

The smoking truck beside the fruit stand says “organic.” My wallet is shot, and I don’t got that kind of money for preserves. What I’ve got is a landlord upstairs who will slip the classifieds under my door the first of every morning, scrawled with minor sidebars about eviction and how my darned-up socks are really stinking it up about now. The ads are wet from a shellfish or a gruel, some immigrant soup of the day, and my whole life is framed beneath that stark, fragrant message.

All the dummy work has packed up and dug a hole to China, but my landlord has his time of the month, and it’s the first. I don’t hold it against him. A man without work is nothing but slow songs and time—part nostalgia, part harmonica, with a dusty can of tuna stowed back for rations. You haven’t lived until you’re ducking rent and living out of a can, until you’re wearing the kind of clothes that smell like what you’re about. Until you pace around the house smoking cigarettes in your overcoat, trying to restate the main points of yourself. So here mine go.

I know that in some ways my mother must have been just like any other woman. In the end, I don’t recall even one of those ways. There was a rattle and a crib, sweet milk upon the hour. Jesus was like a lamb chop, and the turning leaves were like flecked salmon, but my mother was like my mother. Let’s leave it at that.
My father spent twenty years sweating over the same forty acres hoping to own it proper. He toiled and slogged, toiled and prayed. He put in his time and did all the things, labored and toiled and collected his chits, but when the winds rolled through and leveled the field, the bank cashed in and took it all away. Broke, broker, broken, sure…but maybe life don’t conjugate so easy. There’s flesh and blood and little bits of hope tucked here or there. Give us this day our daily bread. Or weekly bread. Or monthly. Give me a fair sum of bread per annum, and we’ve got a deal.

What I mean is, could you spare some old bread about now?

What I mean is, we’re fighting the dust.

We’re fighting the dust, and by God I will keep something for myself. You let me up in a card game, and I’ll bring the whole house down. You give me an inch, and I’ll take it all. What I’m about to do is shoot my way out like the Old West, roving and killing and bursting out hearts, and if God don’t forgive me, he’s not a working man. Scramble the posse and tack up the posters, hoist up the planks like a gallows. Fix the needles and give me the chair—trap me in the soliloquy of indelible hours, long nights spent in one-bunk cells with solitaire and a harmonica and the old, feeble prison guard snoozing beyond care.

One night I dreamed I sold my heart back to Jesus. But there was trouble with the receipt, and all the original parts were not there.
I miss East Coast/West Coast rap battles. I miss cornrowed brothers who would kill in cold blood for their art. I miss death-row madrigals in prison tats and gold chains, hardknock motherfuckers spinning rhymes out of bullet holes because there’s jungle in my blood, and I’ve got that ching-ching-ching like old money. A wanted poster looks the same as any folded bill, given proportions and linear perspective and if all the soft lighting is there.

They say a singer works the same as any other man. He hammers and scrapes and copies the rhythms of his greatest lovers. He is a riveter rutting himself against the double-iron back of time, spilling his seed into the dark places where the mold can’t grow and the dust can’t reach, hoping to trap the world in his stain. I saw the best minds of my generation die in my own head—but now that’s done. Stick around. They said, “A puncher’s chance is the poor man’s trick, so set your feet and make it a gorgeous one.” And I’m engorged. I’m shooting in you now. My dreams will be your babies.

Sometimes I forget what it was like to grow up on the outskirts of a wilting country town. I forget the coyotes mewling hungry outside the chicken coop, my little brother wheezing in the other room. This was back before my brother got screwed up with a kid and before I punched my mother over young love…back before my old man got prattled on drugs and went to take it easy in a sanitarium. This was before that war that got turned into a ribbon and before that girl I kissed at last call—back before my little sister got forgotten for doing everything right.

This is one last song for my road dogs, Buck and Wee-Wee and Prefontaine. This is one last shout-out for Big Mick and Pettybone, O-Jeff and Chicken George, singing and living off white bread in the old county jail. Can you hear me, old Gordon? My beard has gone gray, and my hair is so thin, and I’m typing and typing and
why don’t you love me by now?

There are crawdads snapping dark tunes deep into the creek bottoms. There’s a whole bucket full of stars spinning and decaying up there in the manner of cold angels, goldfish set loose on a silver pond to bloat up and burst upon the sound. The whole universe is hatching an escape plan out of the sky as it shoots itself past Pluto, but what we say is I’ll survive because the soup is cooling off and my old overcoat is hanging up at home.

There are statements about no news and its relative merits. There are wives’ tales about mermaids and fishwives and the fish that got away. Well I guess I don’t give a damn about that.
What I care about is the landlord’s feet against my ceiling, the smell of his dinner wafting down as my old stomach growls. I care about songs and hunger and what I remember in the meat of my bones: the rattle of my old father’s truck skidding across the dust in the somber yellow of early evening, wending through the cutbacks of a dark country road. I miss that song of the revving engine, the barking dogs, the rattling of tools. The dust of the road billowing behind as he returned from the farm, cresting the final hill pulling diesel and pesticides…and my little sister in her sundress would get up from her sandbox. And my mother would look up from the window. And I would see my brother in her arms. And all the dogs were happy in their steps and made their magic circles and did follow along. This was before the coyotes were awake and all honest people had gone to bed.

We changed our shirts and washed our hands. We said our prayers, and with trembling we came to the table. There was chicken and gravy and lots of potatoes. Collard greens with bacon and lots of preservatives. We were stuffing our mouths with cornmeal and nitrates, but what we hoped was that some taste of it all would rot on our tongues like forever. Our blood swelled with poisons and heartbreak and the great Midwestern diabetes and we were killing ourselves with each bite, but what we hoped was that some bit of ourselves would hold and metastasize, would petrify our intestines against the dust for a thousand years. We crawled into our father’s lap as the setting sun burned its slow hole deep into the west, organs grinding to a halt beneath our skin. The music was playing. And the landlord was at bay. And we laughed. We told stories. We hunched in front of the television box, chewing our toxic meal, and we were all very happy.

Daniel Long is an Oklahoman living in New York. His fiction has appeared.