Muddy Waters: Whooooooooa, yeah. (Pause). Whoa, yeah.
Johnny Winter: Whooo!
Muddy Waters: Everything. (Pause). Everything. (Pause). Everything gonna be alright this morning.
Johnny Winter: Yes and No! (?)
Muddy Waters: Ohhh yeah.
Johnny Winter: Yeah.
Muddy Waters: WHEW!
— Muddy Waters, Mannish Boy (1979)
From down the road and across the seven seas, they come. First arrivals crying tears of joy, tears of pain, their too-big-dicks tucked up between their legs, their whiplash scabs scraped open once again by the topsy turnin’ of so much hard travelin’/ their blood lured out to the fresh morning breeze by the relentless coaxing of another brand new day.
Women holding babies that have been dead for years.
Men walking out in front of their women acting bold with puffed out chests and yet fearing for their lives because someone close by wants to kill them sure enough. People of the same sex kissing each other as the lightning strikes. School kids smelling like school hallways, their voices banging off the walls with the aluminum echo of pastel colored lockers slamming into the smell of baking cafeteria meat.
From deep in the bush and high on the ridge: they show up with cremation dust in their dirty hair. Some look 1000 years old even as they sign their name on the dotted line/ even as they swear on their mama’s grave that they’ve not even been born yet.
Staggering out of shady woods/ stumbling out of dank caves and four-alarm trailers/ out of mansions and condos/ out of office park Starbucks and out of huts held together by chicken breath spit. By mud born from dog shit and cat piss and pig cum and melted summer hail tap-dancing down off the corrugated roof.
A vampire holds the door open for an old lady with a mustache and a tiny gambling piston hidden down in her floppy tits.
An empty bag of bar-b-que chips clacks up against a limbless child. The kid makes a face but no sound comes out. He’s lying there like a free couch on the curb. Soon they’ll crush him beneath their bare feet/ and he’s gonna squish and die like ripe berries/ like a bag of custard stomped/ goodbye.
From high-country plains, they move slow/ proud/ leather fruit-rollup skin/ tiny horizons around their eyes/ breathing in the used-up breaths of the ones marching out in front. A heaving mass/ tilting the world/ messing with time by spinning things quicker/ seals on a beachball/ barking for mullet.
Deep head wounds look fake when they’re real. Hatchets popping out of skulls. Painty blood. Shiny bone. Flash of backstage/ flash of blue brains. Bamboo stick wiggling out a chest. Tough guys brought to their knees by a cruelty even they never thought possible.
Gods lie dead in the gutter.
Rats eat their tongues and it sounds like Rice Krispies.
Boats pulling into the dock filled with skinny refugees/ dark black skin. Boats pulling into the dock filled with pinkish honkeys/ lookin’ made out of cold cut ham/ sweating dollops of Scotch/ breathing through their lips/ they are wild-eyed and desperate for help/ pissing in their suit pants/ screaming out who they are/ who they were back when such things mattered.
A grenade floats out of the haze and it appears as a bird might appear.
A miasma pigeon.
A sparrow with dynamite in her beak.
It blows one guy’s head clean off and I guess bone chips blind the rest of them because they are laying on the floor of the boat crying. Shitting themselves. Burning alive as their briefcases catch fire. It’s a mess. It’s not nice at all.
Graduation gowns as battle flags.
A little girl with a sword with another kid’s head on it.
Jars of dirty money. Crates of hot cancer. Barrels full of bad, bad blood. The Lost & Found is run by teenagers with machine guns and missing eyeballs. They are tattoo’d with the names of their people. All gone. All washed away in the night when the storms came. When the car flipped out on the midnight highway. Or when the baby showed up quiet and blue. Entire skies made of unstoppable sadness. Entire landscapes caught in your neighbor’s throat. They choke fast/ die quick. You pass them sprawled out by a burning food truck on your way to check in.
The loudspeakers spew propaganda messages, over and over and over.
“You must lift yourself up by your bootstraps,” a lady’s voice says.
“You must persevere even though you have been hurt so much.”
Her words are formal, tinny, dry, and cold. It is a recording. She probably passed long ago.
I see you at the gates.
We spot each other in the last seconds before we head inside one last time.
I try to smile and I can tell that you do too.
A tribe of warriors weeps as we move through them/ our eyes locked on one another/ their tears leaking into our Vans/ our Vans sloshing through some stranger’s regret. It happens every time.
It happens every time we head out the door into this fucking shit show, don’t it?
We lay sprawled out, side by side, breathing heavy in the Christmas light glow. We do it like kids/ like teenagers/ drunk on cheap wine/ buzzed on Miller Lite and fruity vodka. I stare at the ceiling and she stares at the ceiling and we stare at the ceiling together/ trying to breathe/ trying to cool the motors/ bottle the fizz.
It leaks away slowly. But it goes, same as always. And we touch hands because we’re tired. Because we are done for the day.
I reach over to unplug the lights.
I see the dust on the floor by the surge protector. Sudden and swift. A flash of a life.
My life with her.
Then all is darkness across the land.
I squeeze the rainbow trout pillow and touch her foot with my toes.
Goodbye for now.
To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.
• • •
Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.