A Bunch of Volunteers
By Gabriel Ricard
He was the main event
that no one knew about
until long after he had gotten there.
One of those great criminals
you could spot in any group photo
from any decade where the rest
of the crowd sticks way out
like a thumb that’s gone black
from being sore for so long.
He came in around nine o’clock,
when it was just a few of us
having an argument over whether
or not we had already had an argument.
The old cigarette machine
was still charging three bucks more
than any other place in town.
Just for the experience.
The jukebox kept playing the only
classic top-ten countdown
that any of us would dare to face.
I don’t even know
what happened after that.
I know he ordered a beer,
and I know fifteen minutes later
I was wheezing from laughing more
right there than I had in the last ten years.
And I didn’t want it to stop.
Same for my old buddies.
A lot of whom
aren’t around anymore.
When an hour had gone by,
we had twenty or thirty people
around that I had never seen
before in my time there.
Which is also the same way
as saying in most of my life.
It was all on this guy.
The way he leaned against
the bar and faced everyone
who was interested in everything
he had to say and every story
that he felt like telling.
Three hours went by,
and he had five phone numbers.
Five hours went by,
and he had pushed last call
to two o’clock in the morning.
And all he did was tell
a lot of really interesting stories
while throwing out the kind
of one-liners that most of us
only think about when we’re alone.
I shook his hand when he left.
I swear to God I did.
The next night,
a bunch of us waited for him to come in.
A quiet buzzing of anticipation
that was even more impressive
because none of us were used to it.
But he never showed.
And then a cop friend of mine told me
that he was one of the guys
who died in that metallic genocide
of a car crash disaster in the Waste District.
I didn’t believe him then,
and I don’t believe him now.
And it’s not because I’m just
another one of those quiet sinners
who could have died twenty years ago
and not missed a whole lot of life
between then and now.
It’s my opinion
that guy like that either never dies
or died so long ago that he doesn’t
have to worry about it anymore.
I intend to continue
keeping an eye out for him.
He’s got this one story
that he never got around to finishing,
and it’s been kind of driving me nuts.
Matador of Shame
By Gabriel Ricard
Appreciation is all that springs to mind
when I think how tomorrow night
will be the last time we ever sit in that motel room
and wait for the ceiling to cave in.
I love the rumor that it’s money
someone slipped under a mattress with plans
to slip the whole thing into Heaven on Tuesday.
There’s three floors,
and we’ve been chewing on bad intentions
down on the first for six years.
So I guess if it’s true, then you could say
the desperate philanthropist above us is halfway there.
The other rumor involves an autopsy
on the heaviest extraterrestrial to come our way
since 1924, but I don’t believe that for a second.
Whatever it is we’re not sticking around to find out.
You’ve packed the car with homemade rotgut
and six out-of-date dresses for every possibility.
From a wedding that becomes essential
when the fire glues our back tires to the highway,
to a parole hearing destined to go down
at the gas station on Liberty Drive.
We’ve cleared our calendar for the next forty years
or sixty million miles,
whichever one comes first.
I’m banking on the former.
Your charm stands to outlive my OCD and inability
to leave well enough alone.
You might say I’m the greatest unintentional troublemaker
in the history of everything we’ve ever dragged into the light.
It’s also been set in stone between us
that you’re a better dancer, a better lover
and vastly superior sarcastic optimist,
when those cards are hiding your cold lips
instead of staying close to your chest.
You’re a whirlwind visible from every angle
and infuriating on every front.
You just laugh when I mention this
and tighten the handcuffs,
when there’s hundreds of people around us taking pictures
and making snide jokes about my gut.
You just grin and remind me
that we’ve almost saved up enough
to blow this town out of the puddle
and into the Pacific.
I just wonder how long it’s going to take
to find a town that will put up
with our kind of straightforward nonsense.
It might take forty-one years
or seventy million miles.
Language Barriers from Hell
By Gabriel Ricard
Fatigue is going to finish me off any day now.
When it does I’d like to just drop where I’m standing
and sleep with those apprehension guns blazing.
Instead of getting a cheap laugh
from tripping on those acid flashback stairs
that go on forever and break all those promises
to have a couch and a working water fountain at the top.
I’ve never really trusted physical comedy to begin with.
It’s a lot like falling in love with a beautiful woman
who works in a cafeteria and is compelled to feel blessed
every time she walks past something that halfway resembles a cross.
Don’t ask me where that image comes from.
It’s a long story. It’s even longer than the one that starts
with the punch line and ends with reaching for her hand
from the other side of the bed.
Only to find out there is no bed,
and I’m actually standing on the sidewalk of a street
with movie palaces and jewelry stores where the road into the mountains
used to be.
I know I’m supposed to be looking for someone,
but I can’t remember anything about them
except that it sure as hell isn’t someone who might save my soul for cheap.
As soon as I change into some nicer clothes I’ll tell you another one.
Talking is a lot easier
than juggling Coke bottles full of lightning
in order to prove a point.
I can’t do it anymore.
My back can’t take those homework assignments
from the creative writing class I wasn’t even invited to.
I’m breezing through three packs a day,
and I’ve been spending a lot more free time
at the diner that gives away a pitcher of beer
every hour you stay longer than the manager.
As a result I can’t really run away
from any get-togethers that turn ugly
and expect to stick around and be an innocent bystander
who can finish a sentence in spite of how blurry everything looks.
I can’t hack it these days.
Starting tomorrow or next Christmas
I’m only going to be risking life and limb
twenty or thirty times a week.
I’m going to be passionately cautious about falling in love
unless I feel warm hands on my face
when that exhaustion kicks in.
This not open to a polite screaming match.