Kentucky Wastelander
Kentucky Wastelander's Notebook

Come, duende. Upwelling of soul, convulsive vision, gypsy haunting,
roar from the burning center of the earth. Come.

I hate the travel. Hate the airport. Hate
the traffic. Hate the Security, the jostle,
hate the haste. Hate the wait. Hate the noise of
voices, the stink. Hate the bad
and overpriced food. Hate that they take away
your toothpaste, then
once you're though the terror-ckeckpoint, they
allow you to buy a motel-sized
tube of Aquafresh for $4.99. Hate the
chemically-crisped "fresh" veggies in the
cunning cardboard serving box you get from
the hallway cooler for $8.98. Hate the swamp
of oozing sandwich with "Tuscan chicken" and
that you eat off your knee because all tables and surfaces
are taken and the grandma next to you eating her
yogurt parfait and granola and latte mochalatta
chingalatta extra grande acts like you're trying
to steal her purse as you both gaze at the
notice board at the gate to see how late
you'll be this time but both
of you have such bad eyesight you can't read it.
And when you take your jacket off
you notice your shirt smells like mildew and you didn't know it
but it's too late to do anything about it
but sit there radiating stink and the other people
around you who hate the airport as much as you do are saying,
"What's that frigging pig's big problem, man!"

This trip's for love
and poetry.
Going to kentucky to see my dear amigo,
Frank X Walker, author
of scorching real poetry, my brother! X! America's


all along

the airport's


"Security!? It din't
have nothin' to DO with
They're jus' freakin'

"...freak. Freak show. I
had this medical emergency
in the seat right next to me. This guy.
You wouldn't believe
the freak--"

"We're gonna
I don't
what coulda
gotten screwed up

"You gon' hook me up
with at least a Diet Coke
after I stood in line for twenty minutes
waiting for you to get back here
and give me some service?"


Old woman: BELCH.
Old man beside her: Cover yourself!


Going to Frank, doing his battle in Kentucky,
mentor and guiding light of the
Affrilachian poets ("Affrilachia" finally getting into
the big dictionaries!)--going to try to do
some healing work. I want to shout:

Only through poetry!
Because these days
it's too obvious--
words can kill.

So I'm on my way to Affrilachia;
an old Chinese woman sits beside me murmuring
into a cell phone;
a Korean guy beside me is tapping
on his computer;
a family from India
across from me
talks to the children
with that lovely accent that sounds like they are
tasting the letter "R" and it's made
out of butterscotch.

A blind Arab man in a wheelchair,
being pushed by an African American airline rep,
his head-scarved wife walking
behind them, being watched by
a man in a turban.



Lexington airport
10:00 pm
the five travelers out on the empty
sidewalk are ambushed by
the unbelievably loud and freakish squalls
of a giant bird. Nobody's ever
heard a bird like that. It's a demon.
That screamin' sumbitch
must be six foot tall.

My cabbie, from Zaire, cannot stop laughing.
"Is not a bird!" he cries. (Beerd.) "Is a
robot bird! Is a recording to scare
the real birds away! You thought it was a bird!
It was not, I am telling you,
a BIRD!"

We laugh for miles.

"The robot bird fool you!"

Then, in a more somber moment,
he warns me:
"The world
is come
to end."

He says:

"God not happy
with men.

God decide
what he do, and we
must wait and see."

I love the cabbie
from Zaire
and we wish each other
good fortune in the coming

I walk into the hotel
oddly uplifted by our doom.

I hit my bed and sleep
like a saint.


Pouring rain and cold in Kentucky.
Hard freeze in Georgia and the Carolinas.
Snow in Chicago.
Spring time.
The world is come to end.

Brunch at the Gratz Park Inn
is eerie--I'm the only one in here: it's elegant,
all set with white linen and silver, as if a convention
of wraiths had a date to come across
from the underworld for a charity ball.
Swing and big band music from the 20's and 30's
plays disconsolately over invisible speakers.
This is The Shining with
fried green tomatoes.

11:40. Dawdling over coffee.
One of those stops on the Perpetual Tour
where you don't know anyone, don't know know the hotel,
the town, or the state. Don't know what the schedule is
or how to contact your hosts. The theory and practice
of trust.
My constant message from the Beyond.

Days like this have the same mornings: up in the am feeling groggy
and confused; turn on CNN to see if the worl has, in fact,
come to end yet; check the cell phone--yes, the ringer's on LOUD;
collect USA Today from under your front door; hit the head;
check the celly again in case you missed a message; take a shower with the
celly on the eldge in case anybody calls; wish you'd brought
a Stephen White mystery to read; check the room phone;
iron your shirt--sniff it to make sure it isn't mildewy too;
head down to the restaurant.
Wry, brilliant, collegiate waitresses with Boticelli hair
hip and unconvinced in Kentucky just like they are in Chi,
take your order and peek, just like Chi,
to see what you're scribbling
in your book.
Do they see what is written here
about themselves?

Long-dead flappers and dandies croon
as you study your "Southern Eggs
Benedict" (there's those freid green tomatoes)
like powdery ghosts--
When you're up to your neck in hot water,
Be like the kettle and sing!


I feel only slightly guilty that, once I see that the day
is going to be spent in isolation and meditation,
I enjoy it. Me and the duende wrestling in silence.

Lorca, Lorca, Lorca!

Elevated by Art!

Assaulted by Art!

Art, and the ironing board.


Thursday Night, aftermath.

Hundreds Do Not Appear!

Frank X showed up at 3:00 w/ his boy,
my own kids' best pal, DVan. Who is now
6"2'. We sat in the lobby
and chatted with Lee, my colleague from Peoria,
for an hour or two. Piled in the car,
drove thru pretty Lexington. Even
drove thru unpretty Lexington.
To the amazingly named Transylvania U.
People in town called it Tranny U.

We walked into the theater--four writers
plus Frank. No audience.

It's a bad sign when you enter and meet
the book seller for the event exiting
with the dolly full of books and a sour
look on her face.
A classic Oh-Oh moment.

I'm not sure what the vibe was at the Mighty Tranny.
Here was the last in the Affrilachian series--a Puerto Rican poet,
and Asian American poet, an African American writer, et moi.
The Rainbow Coalition!
So, the theater manager sweetly informed Frank X that she had
given the green room to a group of students so they could use it for a
read-thru of a play. We could go to an unused room and sit. Frank said no.
After providing things like water for previous readers, she did not give us
water. Frank had to run across campus to buy it for us.
I'm not paranoid, yet: Hmmmm.
The English and Creative Writing faculties declined the invitations
to have me visit their classes. They also declined the invitation
to send their students to the reading. They also declined to attend it themselves.

So we marched out onstage and
there were 11 people in the audience.
Plus DVan, that made 12. Frank and a student
did intors for us, so that was 6 of us onstage.
It was a stand-off. However, 3 of the audience
got up and walked out as we read.

And one of the remaining public
was a reporter.

I read my Hummingbird stuff.
To dead
Though the dean did come up and shake
my hand and I was thinking: The dean! Oh no,
man! Don't offer me a job like every dean does
when I do a reading!
I am not strong enough
to do battle like the Affrilachians!

Frank said, "It's a good thing
these writers aren't paid by the number
of folks in the audience."

As we left, the smirky theater manager called to Frank,
"Hey, thanks for coming!" Tee-hee.
"Hey," Frank said, "thanks for having us!" in the same
exact false-cheery tone of voice.
Petards were flashing! Cutlasses whistling
in the air like hornets!

Oh, well, we went to supper
full of love and nobody said anything about
fucking Tranny U, and I got the best
slice of sugar free pie I ever ate.

Hugs all around and head for home.



Southern gothic morning, and perhaps the very
weird duende scenes I was brought here
to see.

Waiting for the cab in the lobby, wondering where it is,
checking my watch, worrying about my flight,
I hear the walkie-talkies spit and hiss and
suddenly a woman's voice:
"Tom! Tom! Come in Tom!
I have an emergency! Come right now, Tom!"
No Tom.
The woman appears
in the lobby. Her voice is hot and sharp:
"Where's Tom!"
"Dunno," the desk man says.
She hits the cell phone, fortunately for me, set on Speaker:
"Tom! Tom! I need Tom! In dry storage. Immediately!
There's an emergency!"
Tom's voice appears now, unhurried:
"Uhyeah I'mhere."
"Tom! I need you in dry storage
now! There is an emergency! Bring
a blanket!"
"YuhI'min 318. That'sa onethreeeight."
"Dry storage!
"Own mah way."
She runs out of the lobby.

Three minute pause. Now I'm hoping
the cab won't show up yet.

She's back! Has a folded blanket in her arms.
Marches thru the room, calling out:
"I've got an emergency!
Reach me on my cell phone!"
Trots out the door.
Then Tom wanders out
of dry storage with a ball cap on his head
and steps out into the parking lot to watch her
speed away in her mini-van.
He comes in and joins the other workers
saying: "What was this emergency,


Cab driver pulls up.
The saddest cab driver in America.
Pale white skin, tousled hair, stubble.
"Where to?"
"Airport?" he replies, as if baffled by this exotic destination.
We drive off, Slowly.
He turns left.
"I don't know why I turned," he says. "I didn't want
to turn here.
Are you
in a hurry?"

Guess not.

He talks slow, in a low baritone.

We drive to a gas station.
"Mind if I stop?"

Guess not.

He pumps about five dollars' worth into the tank.
Sticks his head in the door. "You want me to get you somethin'?"
He nods toward the food mini-mart. "You want me to get you
somethin'? A soda or somethin'? It'll cost you
three dollars th the airport."
Oh! Hey! Thanks a lot,
man! But I'm fine!
"Arright then."

When he gets back in the cab, he says,
"I just paid
all in quarters.
Had a lady
pay me all in quarters
and now I took her quarters
and paid the guy all in quarters."

I enthuse.

"You from here?"
No, just visiting.
"Where from?"
I was giving a talk at
good ol' Tranny.
"Hope you wasn't
talkin' about global warming."
Ha ha! I laugh. Not me!
It's snowing in Chicago!
"Snowed here.
Killed everything.
But why
were you talking? I mean,
what about?"
I'm a writer.
"Real writer?"
I hope so.
Oh yes.
"You rich?"
Not yet, but, you know, ha ha, doin' all right!
"I'm a writer.
Try to write.
I wanna be a novelist, write
speculative fiction and
fantasy. But I can't write novels.
Guess that'll make it hard to be a novelist,
if I can't get it done.
Write stories.
Write plays.
Had a play produced.
It was terrible.
I write songs, mostly.
Songs are dumb. Songs
are easier than stories.
I start lots of things. Oh, I can start
anything. Can't finish nothin'.
I make CDs of my songs, you know?
Mostly voice and guitar, some piano.
I can't finish stories.
Can't finish nothin'.
Not since my divorce.
I got divorced.
She left me.
I slept through it.
I woke up and
the house was empty.
She took it all.
Goin' on five years now.
We were married twenty years.
She won't talk to me now.
I made her a CD. All those songs I wrote.
She didn't answer.
She hates me.
Got kids, too.
They hate me.
They won't talk to me

Suddenly, a helicopter is hovering above the cab.
We're at a red light, and the chopper comes down and batters us with its
down-draft; he cranes up and stares at it, only about fifty feet
above our roof.
"Hey," he says, "a helicopter."

We drive on,
horse farms all around us
throbbing green as emeralds melting
in the mist, white rail fences
looking like fancy art photos.

'I know why," he says.
"They hate me because I was an idiot.
That's why.
I figure once you've been married
for twenty years
there ought to be a contract
to make it permanent. A permanence clause.
I mean, twenty years,
too late for a change.
I don't chase skirts.
But when skirts
come by me,
I can't stay away.
That's why, right there.
That's why.
But I'm gonna wait
till she gets Alzheimers
and then when she can't
fight it,
I'm gonna go back
and take care
of her.
what's you name?
I want to
buy your book."

Weather delay.
The scary TSA woman
makes me throw away my $4.99 airport toothpaste.
The clouds settle upon us
like a heavy sigh.
The hills are cold today
in Kentucky.

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