Hazel sent a CD of herself
playing Christmas carols on mandolin.
Larry says she chose the material,
arranged the songs, played them, recorded them,
and burned the CD, in her studio, at home.
That's what I'm doing with my pamphlets.
I write, lay out, produce, and distribute.
Bluegrass Unlimited, in "Life's Highways," says,
Potter Brown, 54, of Santa Rosa Beach,
Fla., passed away November 10, 1999
in his home. Potter spent 30 years
playing lead guitar and singing tenor
in his band the Old Truck.
He auditioned one time as lead guitarist
for Bill Monroe and was offered the position
but declined, believing he would rather not
"live my life on a bus."
Somehow, to me, those three items
are related. Maybe I should have done
what Gloria Jahoda told me to.
Crawl on my knees to Samarkand
if her agent suggested I do so.
On the other hand, if I'd done that,
we wouldn't have the pamphlets
Taint, and Potter's Ashes.
Which would you rather have, sports fans?
Gerald and Lowell took care
of getting Potter cremated.
The death certificate.
He was under a doctor's care,
so an autopsy was not required.
The remains weren't ready
in time for the memorial service,
so a separate function was scheduled
New Year's Day. The joke was
the undertaker would lose money doing Potter.
From all the fuel he'd have to use.
$100,000 worth of fine dining, as Suzette says.
Suzette helped the paramedics get him down,
from the deck, outside (he wouldn't fit
on the spiral staircase horizontal),
showing them the gate where Potter
used to push the trash off. They lowered the body
with an A-frame hoist, two come-alongs, and a winch.
An engine block for a counterweight.
If they'd dropped him he would have split open
like Zero Zilenski's kingfish.
There was a Captain Zilenski once
at Boynton Inlet docks, and yankees
would charter him because his home port,
painted on the stern, was in New Jersey.
Like he would know the local waters
better than a hick. He never caught any fish.
One time a charter caught a large kingfish.
A fish belongs to the person who caught him,
but he told the man that all fish stay with the boat.
Every day, he'd back up to the dock, haul the fish
out of the live bait well, and plop it up on the concrete.
The tourists would ooh and aah. Retirees from Kings Point
and Century Village. The Red Buttons place.
One day he threw it up on the dock and it split open
like a ripe papaya. Like Mr. Creosote, in The Meaning of Life,
when he ate the after-dinner mint.
Nobody Makes The King Look Bad
I ended SILENCE with Cousin Harley, the Pork Rind King,
doing a little hop, on stage, landing, and shitting himself.
Poor sphincter muscle tone, from all the drinking. Picture
the buzzard rookery at Fisheating Creek, or in the movie
Vernon, Florida. White streams of buzzard droppings
down the cypress trees. Potter had a BOYS FROM INDIANA
bumper sticker on his guitar case. Man, that case was raggedy.
Been there and back. Not living on a band bus, but living in
a hippie van at the Navarre Campground, boiling water in a coffee can.
A lot of shit metaphors, death and taxes, gout. Cuba. Navy missiles
taking out a marijuana field in the Blackwater River State Forest
by accident, classify it Top Secret, Eyes Only, NOFORN.
Blame it on the Y2K. Muslim terrorists coming in from Canada.
Tulipmania.com. Long bull market in high-tech stocks.
Duke used to play with Elvis.
Nobody makes The King look bad.
Franco plays washboard. And armpit.
Owen played with them, and Potter,
at the Red Bar, in Grayton Beach.
Old Dogs and New Tricks.
They were at Suzette's house, with their wives,
when Potter died, or at the memorial service,
at Uncle Ed's dock, Parker Bayou, and the Friendship,
behind the makeshift altar, under the live oak trees.
Three Mikes. Nicky and Sparrow. Norman.
Macon and Jennifer. Jerry Richards.
Walter and Judith. Joe Bell, a son and daughter.
Mike Jones's daughter, too. Pretty Michelle and Mack.
Kids growing up, grown-ups getting old. Or dying.
One of them natural cycles, like the seasons.
Songs passed down through folk tradition.
John M. Bennett called my poems fishing stories.
We used to go over to eat with Potter and Suzette.
Pork-by-the-Sea, Balder said. Perhaps he said porc-with-a-c.
Owen would fix his famous trash fish étouffée. Just before
you take it up, you add a stick of butter. Not the American
Heart Association diet. Shucked oysters on the deck.
Music, wine. Stories. Paul Bowles said the old men
in Morocco used to sit in cafés and tell stories.
Now they sit in cafés and watch television.
What's wrong with this picture? A culture that doesn't
read good books has no advantage over
a culture that cannot read.
We've traded poetry for MTV.
The novelist for the movie star.
The truth for advertising.
Nelson Algren said it used to be,
if a writer went Hollywood, he had sold out,
but now, if you write what New York wants
you have sold out. New York is Hollywood.
New York is Hollywood, the writer is a movie star,
the bookstore in the mall is the Gap,
and the Internet is the bookstore in the mall.
Self-published pamphlets is where it's at.
Tract writing is a bully pulpit. Philippics,
jeremiads, and pasquinades. A satirical verse
posted in a public place. Like on a statue in
the public square. State park laundromats.
Diogenes with his lantern, looking for
an honest man. A venerable tradition.
Cacoëthes Scribendi Had a Restless Urge To Write
Brew drove around the tri-states
leaving pamphlets, broadsides, and
Vernacular Writer business cards
out of his musette bag in state park
laundromats, like Johnny Potsherd
sowing sherds in Indian sites.
The Greek word for ostracize
is from potsherd. Used in the balloting.
Ostracism tantamount to death,
in primitive societies. And no bed of roses
in the Mall Builder culture. The Censor
was the Roman magistrate who took the census.
There is thus a normative component
to what is banned. And what is a success.
It's a goddamned popularity contest. The subject of EXILE.
No, CUNNING. After awhile, the books all run together.
Brew's stack stood in towering rebuke to the work of his contemporaries.
Sometimes he called it his Potsherd-Tower. By analogy with Kurt Schwitters'
Schwitters-Column. The statue he built in his house in Hanover.
His merzbau, or Cathedral of Erotic Misery.
Destroyed by allied bombing in World War II.
Schwitters fled to Norway, then to England,
where he painted the side of a barn. His merzbarn.
Melville left Billy Budd in a tin box, Brew would leave his stack
in a tin outbuilding, or shed. The Sepulchers of Gulf County.
Too massive to keep in an apartment, too valuable to throw away.
Brew hoped it didn't end up like Potter's DD-214.
An ammo box full of yellow confetti.
Potter had an application in
for a disability pension, from Social Security.
When Granny Brown died, intestate, her sons,
and daughters, inherited the house in Parker.
Because Potter owned 1/7 of that place--
worth exactly nothing, with one contentious heir
refusing to sign a quitclaim deed, cooperate--
they disallowed his claim. Then, this month,
reversed themselves and gave him $800 a month.
Enough for guitar strings and cigarettes.
That is, they shit on Potter in his grave.
The Food Wars
When Balder and I moved into the trailer,
Granny Brown and Uncle Wayne courted us,
each of them cooking enough food,
each day, to feed Coxe's Army.
It kept me busy shopping, washing dishes,
and burying pots of leftover dried beans and rice.
I was like a gangster, looking for a spot
to dig, in the desert outside Las Vegas,
that wouldn't hit a buried body.
New Year's Eve
I used to go to bed at 10:00 on New Year's Eve.
Even when I drank, I mean. Muttering, "Goddamn amateurs."
CarMax had my car ready at 5:00. They performed an oil system dye test,
replaced the valve cover gaskets, the oil pan gasket, and a rear main seal--
all covered under my 30-day warranty. Brenda and I ate supper at
a pasta grill, and had dessert. On the way home, I bought five loaves of bread--
Lowell is making a seafood gumbo--and a spiral-cut honey-glazed Smithfield ham.
I made tapes of Bluegrass Rules!, by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder,
an unmixed CD of Mountain Heart, Beethoven's five piano concertos,
and Mozart's five violin concertos. For Christmas, Balder got me and Brenda
cushions for our folding, high-backed lawn chairs. I have my new point-and-shoot
35mm camera and two extra rolls of film, a composition book to write my poems in.
Potter says you can tell a musician, because when you put an instrument in his hands,
he drools on it. I go into withdrawal, away from my small, desktop computer.
But I am ready to be sociable. Begin the new year making small talk, overhearing
other people's conversations. Smiling, relaxed, not tensed-up, jaws rigid.
New Year's resolutions. I'll be ill, pronounced eel, by midday.
The Sexual Life of Savages
Potter and I were talking about dirty jokes,
how stupid they were, how crude--I mean,
they're prima facie sexist, and often
racist or homophobic, to boot--
and he asked me what was the worst one
I knew. The most offensive.
"A fat woman," I said. "Perhaps an African-American.
Had a boil on her taint. She asked a man to suck it."
Potter knew the taint was the perineum.
"Sizing up the physics, the man decided
he would lay down, and have her squat on him.
He wondered whether it would be better
to stick his nose up her asshole or her pussy."
Potter hadn't started laughing yet.
"Because her cunt looked chancred,
he decided on the rectum."
Potter nodded wisely. Wouldn't you?
"He was sucking away, when the woman cut
a rancid fart. `Jesus Christ,' he cried.
`Are you trying--'"
"`To make me sick,'" Potter said.
He had heard it. The male possum
has a forked dick, and fucks the female
in the nose. When she is ready to deliver
her babies, she snorts them in her pouch.
A marsupial. Kangaroo bifid penis envy.
See Bruno Bettelheim's discussion of
Australian subincision ceremonies
in Symbolic Wounds.
This Just In
I got up and turned my computer on. It worked.
I wrote a poem about the sky falling in, Y2K,
but nothing happened. Film all day.
Grandpa and Grandma Cason
used to drive from Delray Beach
to Gerton, North Carolina, where they had
a cabin (Bear Wallow Creek),
to spend the summer. Grandma would get up
at 5:00 a.m. and fry a chicken.
They stopped at a concrete picnic table
on the Indian River, in Eau Gallie,
and ate. The river smelled like rotten eggs.
I think of Zora Neale Hurston, sitting under
a chinaberry tree, a fice dog at her feet.
Buried in a pauper's grave. In Fort Pierce,
the county seat. Two kinds of Florida natives
with entirely different fates. I feel closer to her
than I do to them. Alice Walker might not agree.
I didn't say I felt close to her.
Mules and Men is universal.
The Color Purple is tendentious.
So is Art Brew's Odyssey, I suppose.
Strewing Potter's Ashes
We went straight to the dock.
Eddie Parker, Stanley's son, drove the boat.
Gerald recited Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar."
We steamed out to the pass.
Donny opened a small white box
containing Potter's ashes, and dumped them
overboard. The women cried.
Coming back, two porpoises followed us,
and a bird flew by, scavenging.
I wrote a poem once, that said,
Potter tells about
walking out on deck in his shorts.
It is dawn.
He went to cut a fart
and shit a brown stream down his leg
like a seagull.
This is the life, he thought.
Is that you up there, Old Pod?
At Janice's, the core group consisted of Janice,
Lowell, Balder, Jimmy Legette, Larry Miller,
Macon Richards. Joan on harp. Glen Tyson.
Owen came and went. Mike brought oysters.
So did Gerald. We brought a ham and bread.
Lowell made a seafood gumbo, and rice.
Austin brought collard greens. I think he might
have stewed some oysters. The pickers from Marianna
formed a separate jam session in the back.
Danny went out and got ice. Got up firewood
for a bonfire for the young-uns.
Balder sang Jimmy Rodgers' "T. B. Blues,"
and yodeled. He sang Potter's song about Crooked Island.
Some Leon Redbone. He sure sounded like the lead
guitar player/tenor singer for Old Truck, recently deceased.
People started leaving at midnight.
We left at 1:00 a.m., and drove to Dothan.
Stayed in a Holiday Inn. I got up
and went out for coffee at a McDonald's
on the fringes of a shopping center.
A grocery store, a video rental outlet,
a dry cleaner. Radio Shack. Get your Y2K batteries
plus one. A sweeper swept confetti up.
A ticker-tape parade. Home town of.
Jack Saunders Day. Into the new millennium, world-besotted
traveler. The Pope. Maoris in New Zealand.
The story is, the preparations worked. Not, it was hysteria.
The victor writes the history. Apparatchiks give each other
grants and prizes, exclude outsiders. The motel has
a complimentary buffet bar for breakfast, and the Interstate
is socked in with ground fog, so what's the hurry?
What difference does it make? Brenda watches television
and I write. The year begins, much like
the last year ended.
The year begins, much like the last year
ended. As you sow, so do you reap.
This is it, the full magnolia.
Family, and friends. A sense of humor.
Tommy Decker called a crème brulet a pudding,
and was corrected by the chef.
"Looks like a pudding to me," he said.
Highway 98 counts as a street,
so it's two blocks to 3rd Street,
not three. A person ties his guitar to his side
and takes it along with him. Not just with.
Potter's song about Crooked Island might have
Sweety in the title. I might have gotten
some names wrong. Places. Dates.
As Henry Miller says, the biographers
will get it straight.
Roger Suggs had a nervous breakdown
in the 6th grade. He was examined by
a psychiatrist, who prescribed two things:
his parents buy him a motor scooter
and he be assigned to the same 7th grade class
at Everett Junior High as Potter--his best friend.
That was the first year they segregated groups
by IQ. The two of them were put
in a slower bunch, and cut up all year long.
The alternative would have been Florence Stetson,
Brenda's mother's double-first-cousin,
who had a wart on her chin and a black mustache.
A fate worse than death. Everyone who ever had her
hated it. Now, they'd pump Suggs full of Ritalin
and make him do what the computer said.
No exceptions, based on common sense,
or anecdotal evidence.
Red, White, and Bluegrass
When ABC wanted to do a special,
one 4th of July, on the country's enduring values,
they went to a bluegrass festival,
and ignored the bands on stage,
and filmed, then interviewed the pickers
in the parking lot, zeroing in on the jam session
Potter Brown was playing in. He had that kind of presence.
They winnowed Americana down to him. Of course,
it was a special. The more usual fare is a glimpse
of Jennifer Anniston's thigh on Jay Leno,
muscular from exercising.
Sell them FUBAR jogging clothes.
Potter Brown. Bandleader, raconteur,
third mate on a head boat. Boulevardier-clochard.
High school graduate. Vietnam veteran, U. S. Navy.
Up there waiting to play baseball with Fidel.
Singing "Heaven." Hit mought 'n' hit moughtn't,
William Faulkner says. Telling stories about horses.
The cook gets an extra share. I'll see your DD-214
and raise you a pension. Close only counts
in hand grenades and horseshoes.
He almost, he nearly, but he didn't want
to live on a bus. Wherever he was, life was.
Incomparable and difficult.
Done with grace.
Crazy like a fox.
In a rat race.
Daybreak in Dixie.
He fought, he lived,
he lost, he won.
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