By Campbell McGrath
Let’s get drunk and drive someplace, way too fast and loving it. Let’s get drunk and listen to the radiator hiss. Let’s get drunk and toss important stuff out the window—there goes the toaster, there goes a lamp. Let’s get drunk and go see the Replacements, already on stage and torching the amps with flamethrower guitars and Paul Westerberg’s broken heart, oh gee whiz, worth living and dying for, worth working in salt mines or harvesting asteroids whose metal- lic cores might be smelted into alloys from which to fashion a robot able to invent a language in which we could speak of such music without diminish- ing it. Break. And after intermission they’re so messed up they can hardly play “Unsatisfied” or even their ironically riveting versions of “Angel of the Morning” and TV theme songs and commercial jingles from childhood as we crowd forward on the dancefloor shouting “Free Bird!” but Westerberg won’t sing it, even when fifty people have taken up the chant, even as they’re winding down, discordant, stumbling and complicit, and then a quick encore—“Left of the Dial”—honey-drenched, magnificent—before we’re back out in the cold streets drinking cans of beer ensleeved in paper bags as so many are, were, and ever after shall be.
Surely this is the form and the body of the world I have known,
and surely America’s golden dreams shall yield to the sober and diminished light of dawn, all the bars of the Twin Cities arrayed like Nehi bottlecaps on a checkered tablecloth, bars of the lost or damaged, bars of the utterly glorious in failure, pickled eggs and smeared lipstick, cornsilk and taxi-smoke over- flowing the gutters, the avenues and arteries,
a highway we think of as a river of molten tar,
wanting to get right down and bathe in it, partake of its stench and plenitude, such is the nature of that grief, such the love for its wild aortal rush. And if you could harness all that, if you could mainline it or hook it to a turbine, you could power the world, you could live forever and rule the planet, you could flip the switch on the immensity we’ve created, jack up the volume on the damage we have wrought, blow the amps, fuck them all, every follicle, every corpuscle of their folly. Let the world eat the dust in the wake of our wicked ride, let them beg us for mercy, for succor or salvation, for the cuds of chaw or spent rifle shells we deign to bestow as they chase the shadows of our horses through empty streets, like the dusty Mexican children at the end of the movie, calling out Oye, Caballero, Mr. Cowboy, come back!
Campbell McGrath is the author of many books of poetry, including Shannon, Seven Notebooks, Capitalism, American Noise, and Spring Comes to Chicago. His awards include the Kingsley Tufts Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami.
Originally appeared in NOR 8.