(This is a response I wrote to a poem called "Mother Nature's Trumpet" by Christopher Watson for the magazine "God Porn")
“Hey fella, you got a smoke?”
I flipped my head and saw a stubby man, mostly mustache, climb out of a syrupy shadow to motion me. It’s hard to say ‘no’ when you have one of the fuckers flaming between your lips chugging smoke across your eyes like spider webs. Besides, I was in a good mood having just finished writing something I felt had some spiff to it.
“Sure, man,” I croaked, fishing into my jacket pocket. When I looked up to hand him the nicotine, I noticed his eyes were blank and unfocussed like a dead fish’s. His breath crinkled angrily as he grabbed it from me and his chest heaved with hungry desperation. “You sure you want it, man? You’re wheezin’ pretty bad there…”
“Ya, I got asthma” he managed between squeaky huffs that had the sound of wet cellophane. He lit that damned cigarette like it was a trophy and didn’t thank me. Having earned my dork credentials with a spot of asthma myself, I couldn’t help but wince in empathy and quickly turn away.
I continued my trek to the corner store I’d affectionately nicknamed “J.J. Asswipes” kicking pebbles with my worn snake-skin boots frowning to myself…That asthma was pretty bad, I could tell. Had I just signed the poor bastard’s death warrant? I gave him a chance to back out…but should I have taken the smoke away from him? Does humanity need a parent? What would his mother think? What would my mother think? Does nature’s trumpet need music lessons? If the universe were a symphony how would we fit in? I don’t want to get kicked out the band…
As I approached the foothills of chez Asswipes, I spotted a body splayed uncomfortably over the edge of the curb just to the right of the entrance. A gaggle of young Moroccans burst out of the store engulfed in conversation without notice of the human lying three feet away. A flannel clad fat man grumbled his way up to the entrance and paused to stoop over the body for a moment before recommencing his laborious trek to the Asswipes’ potato chip aisle with a dismissive wave of the hand. I kept my eyes trained on the prone person and quickened my pace.
When I arrived at the threshold of Asswipes, I discovered that the body was a weathered skinned woman perhaps in her mid-forties with short filthy blonde hair like a bathing cap of old straw. She somehow reminded me of a parakeet and John Hurt at the same time and she had a line of blood caked on the corner of her mouth. I focused on her baggy brown shirt and saw it lift with breath…at least she wasn’t dead.
Being in the derelict days before my ownership of a cellphone, I made my way into the store and told the old Indian clerk something forceful and a bit stammering like, “you gotta call an ambulance, there’s a woman out there bleeding and unconscious,” though I can’t be sure as there was adrenalin in my ears by then. The clerk shrugged and said he had no phone either to which I replied (and I remember this for how inane it was) “Well, someone ought to do something”.
With no one else around to yammer to, I bought the stupid Arizona iced tea that I’d come for as fast as I could and rushed back outside to find that two women and a drunk guy had gathered around the unconscious lady. One of the women was on her cellphone frowning while the other wept gently and watched the unconscious human splayed across the curb like a fallen mast.
“I saw people just walk by and do nothing,” she murmured to me, pushing her sable bangs from her eyes to wipe a tear.
“I-I didn’t have a cellphone,” I managed continuing my streak of idiot one-liners.
The drunk guy, in a feeble attempt to be helpful, prodded the prone woman clumsily. “Hey,” he bellowed into her ear, poking her ribs with a doubtlessly stinky finger, “HEY! You Ok? You Ok? (She’s Ok, she’s Ok).”
Such buffoonery seemed about as appropriate to the situation as a guy dressed as Kissyfur arriving on the scene to give a lecture on post-modernism’s effect on the design of humidors. “She’s not deaf, man, leave her alone,” I barked. The drunk looked up at me and for a moment his gnarled whisky-worn face became childlike in its shame. He slunk away sheepishly, realizing his liquor-stained insight would be put to better use in a hearty piss behind a dumpster.
“An ambulance is coming,” said the weeping woman’s companion, decisively flipping her phone closed to cross her arms with nervous poise.
Feeling almost as useless as the booze-bedraggled poker, I babbled to the women about the lady’s vital signs for several minutes as we waited for the professionals. Oddly enough, a paramedic arrived on the scene before the ambulance to assure us it was on its way.
“Ya this woman’s been beat up pretty bad,” he announced in a voice worthy of a Super Friends character as he performed his medical fiddlings upon the woman.
I knelt down beside her and said, “You’re going to be alright,” strangely believing it myself for the moment, though seconds later I’d already returned to my mental swamp of powerless doubt.
I didn’t say goodbye to the women or paramedic. Somehow it seemed inappropriate to distract their attention even for that little courtesy.
I made my way back to my apartment in a daze, clutching my iced tea like it was a life preserver. Once at home, my throat began to tighten and something in my chest felt as if it was biting into a warm lemon. My face began to swell and redden as I looked down at my unopened iced tea with foggy eyes. Why had I paused to buy this cursed little luxury item? What kind of asshole would do that in such a situation? I threw it in the mountain of trash bags and pizza boxes that had seized control of our kitchen in a daring coup last weekend around Miller-time and went directly to bed.
I think back on this outing and wonder if all the noises of that evening could contain the truth of emotion, dilemma, failure, hope and comical idiocy that still reverberates in my head sometimes late at night as I stare at the dark corners of the ceiling and wonder who survived. The asthmatic cigarette addict’s grainy whisper of a voice like a flute filled with mud, the tinselly beat of pebbles ricocheting off my boot like a drumstick on drywall, the grumbling of the flannel clad fat ass like a gurgling maraca, the rhythmic sob of the weeping brunette like a cheesy little violin, the paramedic’s concerned announcements like a stalwart French horn and my own voice like a stumbling guitar lick…do they add up to anything? Will they ever add up to anything? What the fuck am I doing on this fucking space rock in this semi-hairless monkey costume?? How many times will I feel compelled to ask that question without hope for an answer?
The people of that day including myself remind me of pigeons, filthy and scavenging, crafty and hopeful, flawed and goofy…there’s got to be a song for us, for this world, that could fit into all the cracks of our incompletion…It seems if anything could do it, it’d be music. In a universe where the sudden flick of a finger can change the color of a lifetime or silence all meaning, I feel it is our duty to write that damned song. Someone ought to do something.