The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Aaron Fischer

Venice

 

Like most dreams this one is best

approached by water, the flat-bottomed boat

drawing no more wake than a gondola, the rusty outboard

killed to a cough and whisper, a pennant of blue smoke,

Caton Ave. brimming with glassy shadows and light,

as if it were the Grand Canal, as if Brooklyn were Venice.

 

I’m looking for you, Katya,

but you’re not waiting for me

at one of the off-balance white wicker tables

in front of Rudy’s Authentic New York Pizza, wearing

your coppery hair in a French braid, 

French inhaling a cigarette because it gives Angelo

the busboy a hard-on.

 

You’re not shoplifting 45s at the Record Riot

in a poodle skirt and Doc Martens, counting on the manager

to pay more attention to your legs

than the Ray Charles single tucked in your bag,

and laughing when he throws you out.

 

You’re not scoring a dime bag of smack from Chilly Willy,

teasing him about the diamond in his tooth,

showing him where you pierced your nose

one night with a needle and an ice cube

to make you look more gypsy than Jew.

 

****

 

We were going to Venice you announced —

hair turbaned in a damp towel —

waving a National Geographic stolen from the library

where the woman at the circulation desk had a crush on you.

 

Once a year, we learned, the city marries the sea,

the ceremony half Mardi Gras, half high mass,

the serried, double-prowed gondolas, an old man

with the face of a tipsy bureaucrat dressed

in brocade and red silk like a Renaissance pope.

 

You loved ritual and mystery — laying out the tarot,

Death and The Lovers, the tenebrous

interiors and rose windows in the churches

along Albemarle and Linden.

 

****

 

The first time you OD’d

I slid an ice cube up your ass, ran a tub of cold, rusty water

and kept you from drowning.

 

The last time I saw you we rode the D train all night,

both of us junk-sick, your arms tattooed with bruises.

I begged you to go to rehab.

 

The dream knows more than the dreamer
you told me in a dream. I’ve given up
listening for the harsh bray of your laughter,
more crow than queen, you said.

 

When you married the ocean,
when your gilded funeral barque
set out in the choppy mouth of the
Adriatic

did the gondoliers balance the long blades
of their oars straight up and down in tribute?

 

 

Aaron Fischer

Link Wray: One-Hit Wonder

 

one


Because he wanted his guitar to sound dirtier
than Elvis, dirtier than jazz or country and western,
dirtier than a grinding, slow dance at a record hop —
the boys’ jeans bulging with ass-pocket pints of whisky,
the girls sweating Shalimar and Chantilly, cigarettes
tucked behind their ears like orchids, 
because nothing matched the jagged, fuzz-toned
music in his head, this full-blooded Shawnee, 
who lost a year and his left lung to TB in the “death house,”
who knelt before Jesus as Fred Lincoln and rose up Link Wray — 
punched pencil holes in the cone of his cheap amp
and delivered “Rumble” and “Switchblade,” 
“Crowbar” and “Jack the Ripper,” each distorted note
nimbus-shrouded in noise.
 
two

“Rumble” sells 4 million copies, charts at No. 14.
Link buys his mother a house with linoleum floors,
buys a two-toned leather jacket and matching penny loafers
mail order from Sears, buys a dinged and dented
’59 caddie limo — shark-finned and black —
so the band can arrive at gigs in appropriate splendor: 
opening a drive-in movie in Altoona, a ribbon cutting
at a shopping center in Daytona, bunting and red and white balloons,
where Link previews “Fatback,”
a dark tunnel of power chords that gets the kids dancing, 
until the mayor tells him to shut it down,
crisscrossing the bony ridge of the East Coast
to play bars and frat parties, clubs and county fairs,
Link selling albums from the trunk of the Wray-Mobile,
the record companies with names like condoms
— Trident, Superior, Scepter — going belly up. 
Their big break: getting signed by a rock & roll revival,
20 minutes between Bill Haley and The Dixie Cups. 
They play “Rumble” twice a night,
with an afternoon show on Sunday.
 
three

Link writes a song every day,
wrapped around his black and red Telecaster, bought on time, 
in the caddie’s deep back seat: throwaways and novelty numbers
like “Run, Chicken, Run” and “Summer Dream,” 
his reverb-drenched homage to surf music.
He tries gospel, but even the Christian radio stations
won’t give airtime to “Fire and Brimstone,”
where the guitar and drums march lockstep
through hell, with Link chanting “fire, fire, fire” on the chorus.
The Wray-Men take a gig as the house band
at DC’s 1023 Club, a squat cinderblock cave
built into the side of a hill, 
just until they get their chops back.
One night he waves them silent, tells the scant crowd, 
“I was playing rock & roll 10 years before it had a name.”
A few bikers and GIs who come for the cheap beer
hoot and whistle through their fingers.
“Play ‘Rumble,’” someone shouts.

 

 

 

AARON FISCHER's career in technology journalism extends from the rise of the PC to the building of the Internet. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in After Happy Hour, Briar Cliff Review, Hudson Review, Naugatuck Review, Sow’s Ear, Tishman Review, and other magazines. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is the author of Ted Berrigan: An Annotated Checklist. His chapbook, Black Stars of Blood: The Weegee Poems, will appear this summer. 

 

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