The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

James O. Ferrugia

Paint it Black

 

It makes me crazy if I think about it too much.
We were best of buds in high school.
Yeah, we were gonna be seniors forever.
Nobody tighter than Bobbie, Will, Slink and me.

We were best of buds in high school
and everybody called us the Quad Squad,
together forever, Bobbie, Will, Slink, and me.
We played football and wore our letter jackets

and everybody called us the Quad Squad.
It was 1966 and we made fun of queers.
We played football and wore our letter jackets,
and we never put it together about Bobbie

back in '66 when we made fun of queers.
Our coach was an ex-Marine, tough as a boot,
and he never put it together about Bobbie.
Coach smoked camels and yelled, "suck it up ladies."

He was our ideal of an ex-Marine, tough as a boot.
We cruised nights, radio up windows down,
smoked camels, yelled "suck up ladies" like Coach,
talked about Miss Sims, the hot new math teacher.

One night cruising, radio up windows down,
Bobbie told me, 'cause he knew I'd keep his secret.
Will and Slink talked hot on Miss Sims the math teacher
who had hair like Cher and played a six-string,

but I was rattled by the secret Bobbie told me,
and by my girlfriend, two weeks late on her period.
Miss Sims had hair like Cher and was hot on higher ed,
but college wasn't in the cards for the Quad Squad.

When my girlfriend got her period back
I enlisted in the Marine Corps, together with my buds,
'cause we knew college wasn't in the cards for us.
The four of us hit the road for New Orleans

the day after the Marine recruiter enlisted us together.
We got stupid drunk, airtight and bulletproof
for our last hurrah, a road trip to New Orleans.
That's when Slink drove his Chevy deep in a ditch.

We were stupid drunk, airtight and bulletproof,
listening to the Stones' Paint it Black on the radio.
That's when Slink drove his Chevy deep in a ditch.
We hugged the rear bumper and pushed like hell.

The Stones were painting it black on the radio
and we were headed for head-banging hangovers.
We hugged the rear bumper and pushed like hell.
I felt something pop and pinch hard in my groin.

We had head-banging hangovers at our induction exam.
My buds made the cut and shipped out to Parris Island,
but that pop and hard pinch I felt in my groin
was a hernia that didn't pass muster with the Marines.

My buds shipped out for boot camp at Parris Island
where Bobbie got outed by a hard-ass drill instructor.
My hernia didn't pass muster so I wasn't there for him
when he drank a can of brass polish and died in the squad bay,

outed and humiliated by that hard-ass drill instructor.
Slink lost both legs to a mortar round in Nam nine months
after Bobbie drank brass polish and died alone in the squad bay.
Will made it back but drank and drugged himself to death.

When Slink lost his legs to that mortar round, I lost it, too.
Yeah, we were gonna be seniors forever.
And when Will drank and drugged himself to death, well...
it makes me crazy if I think about it too much.

 

 

James O. Ferrugia

A Balancing Act Wherein the Crowd Fesses Up

 
                         "Life is on the wire.
                           The rest is just waiting."
                                       -Karl Wallenda

 

Was it us, or the brothers Ringling,
or someone, or something else
that drew you back to the wire the night
after that night in Detroit when
the pyramid’s front man faltered and fell?
Two perished one paralyzed, and still

you felt like a dead man down here,
handled the grief better up there,
up where our voices were murmurs,
our foreheads headlights tilted skyward,
nostrils gaped open like rain gauges, where
your bird's-eye spied our hearts and handbills

fluttering in anticipation, not (you surely knew)
of your godlike feats, but of the inevitable.
Maybe not that day, or the next day, but every day
knowing we came secretly hoping for that someday
your aged body would not fly, that last climb
of the rungs heavenward at a three-ring one-night-only

show in Oakland or Omaha or somewhere
where we would not turn away, the only sound
our collective gasp and the taut naked wire humming
high overhead that moments before carried you out
across the white hot spotlights, solid as an interstate.

 

 

 

JAMES O. FERRUGIA lives in Silver Spring, MD. His poems have appeared in Solo Novo, Big Muddy, and The New Verse News; his original songs have been published and recorded on the 3-CD compilation, This is My America, and the Rand Bishop CD, Big Emotions.

 

 

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