April Bernard

I was 24, he barely older but seemed
ancient as a glamour changeling,

an alien dropped into the city who knew
it all, and since everyone loved him,

I was no exception—besotted like you
when your second cousin careened into

the driveway in a muscle car and
taught you how to drink bourbon

with beer back, like that—only
his secrets were Kafka, and Burroughs,

Colette, Artaud, Jack Smith, and a first-name
acquaintance with the Bowery Boys

because all history is in the present tense.
In his hands, I became

another trove of detail: he itemized
French lips and clever words,

yellow rain boots, brave soprano,
a knack for fixing broken things,

and put me in his pantheon.  A coterie
of appreciation tracked his distinctive

gait; bouncing on his toes like a curator
of the world anxious not to mar

what he explores, he loped
the streets of the city wolfishly surveying,

pausing to roll another Gauloise. Film-
makers and painters and musicians

sought the perfect pitch of his advice, he
meanwhile tormented by inanition

as if in Poe’s collapsing iron room of fire—
and yet when it was all too much,

had almost gone too far, he could produce—
enough words to defy the demons,

proving again he was all of that.
Everyone wanted to protect

him, protecting what one idolizes
a necessary feature of worship,

though they did not guess
what he thought of them, or said

he did. Rage and envy unhinged
his deep late hours. — But still

I wish I could make you hear
his wry day-time reads on

the world, the deep laconic voice
of an old-timey movie star,

its own clarion No
becoming, with time, a version of

Yes, laughing darkly.  Whatever
delusions he was prey to

he made half-real, at least. Perhaps
after all, “nutrition” is a scam; perhaps

the mummy in the tomb is still
alive after three thousand years, all

photographs are deliberate lies, and
the desire to fuck a leg wound, like in

J. G. Ballard’s Crash, has useful meaning.
Maybe it does.  Such things

sometimes still seem plausible. Not yet
fully mad, in his un-wounded skin,

he smelled like the dusky pine needles and
wood-stove smoke of my childhood

by the lake—home, only more so.