Poetry

3 Portraits of the Artist in Tacoma

Photo: Public Domain Pictures. CC0/Public Domain license.

Ode to B Sharp
(for Dennis Ellis)

“They stole the Bukowski from
the lending library,” Dennis told me,
half sad, half indignant.
Well, no shit, I thought—
Bukowski and the Bible are the two most
shoplifted books in the world.
Hell, I would have taken your paperback copy
of Brion Gysin’s The Process,
except that I knew from William Burrough’s bio
it was totally fucking unreadable.
Also, it’s not worth anything on the internet.
But where else in Tacoma would you
even find the damn thing?
Nowhere but B Sharp Coffee House,
cavernous brick warehouse of
exposed wooden beams in
Historic Opera Alley, one block from City Hall,
which had bordellos still in operation
up until the 1970s—
Half Minton’s Playhouse, half Chicago gin joint,
Half geriatric center
(and those retirees can put away
the bottles of wine, let me tell you,
freed from the baleful eyes
of the rest home staff
and greedy kids resentful at seeing
their inheritance wasted on good times),
where saxophones and Stratocasters
cry out into the night
as if 1960 never happened,
where a drunken Kerouac could have
sat in with his wistful scat singing
without the sneering hippies’ scorn,
and Little Walter would have only
to walk four paces from his alley crap game
to the microphone to blow “Juke.”

History without irony.
That is why we had to kill it.

Still, in the horrible decades to come
will some little crackhead hear,
in the now condo-fied Alley,
the ghost strains of a strange sound
from a day long ago when reed instruments
played rock’n’roll—
Dennis Ellis wailing “Stagger Lee”
on baritone sax
To 4AM angels?…

***

TO T.H.

In the documentary film of
your life and art
(the world premiere was held
at Jazzbones—
I’ve forgotten the actual title,
but I refer to it mentally as
“Drinkin’ & Driving with Teddy”)
there is a scene at the beginning
(6AM, when the bars open)
where you sit on a stool
with a bowl full of
losing pull tabs,
which you call a
“Salad of Defeat.”
That remains possibly
the most poetic thing
I have ever
Heard.

***

Jesse Bernstein in Tacoma

Last night, I hosted
a free screening of
I Am Secretly An Important Man.
3 people showed up.
(Facebook had informed me that
31 were “going” and
208 were “interested”—
Thanks, Facebook!)
Two of them were a nice couple,
recently transplanted to Tacoma,
who had actually been to the
legendary Big Black show in Georgetown.
(This is music, asshole.”)
The other guy was
a battle-scarred veteran of the scene
who had come all the way from Seattle
to see the movie—
when it was over, he told us
that in the fall of ’91,
he saw what must have been
one of Bernstein’s last shows
at the O.K. Hotel
(an event, he informed us, that was just about as
ill-attended as the one we were presently at.)
Bernstein came on stage carrying
4 shopping bags, which he placed around him
during the reading.
When he was done, he spilled the contents
all over the stage and walked off.
The bags were filled with hundreds
of pill bottles, all prescribed to Bernstein—
psych meds for schizophrenia and
God knows what else.

The guy took one of the bottles,
which he saved for years
and then lost.

The rest were swept up into the garbage.