August 20, 2015

Luke Bauerlein

1969

It’s just a shot away

I’ve reached the end of the film now. It’s just past sundown
on Altamont Speedway, and nobody seems to remember
what they came for—not the Stones, not the crew,
and definitely not the woman shoved naked
to the lip of the stage or that young girl
shaking with tears, certain she would give it all up,
become a stranger to her life
if she could only reach out and touch Mick—
The drugs have all worn off or turned,
and at center stage, they’ve stopped wondering
if anyone ever got that kid to the hospital, the kid
whose body cooked before them earlier like a live fish,
his eyes rolled back to next Tuesday, or Kansas,
or a ninth vision of the universe.
An hour before, in a fifty-cycle motorcade,
the Hell’s Angels opened a crack
in the crowd just large enough for the band
to pass through—300,000 people acquiescing
to their will in what you’d call a miracle
if the truth of it wasn’t so obvious.
To see their faces is to count their faces,
and while I’m counting, each one gets set aside
the next until they’re not so much a crowd
anymore but a numberless line reaching
farther back into the night than I can see.
That’s when the push comes.
Ten steps from the front a man is thrust forward.
He stumbles. People flood away,
and within the circle that’s briefly opened,
on that dead patch of grass, I see him wheel against an Angel
crashing upon him just before they’re swallowed
back into the surrounding bodies.
It happens fast, and when the directors
replay the footage for Mick
some six months into the future,
his twenty-six-year-old eyes fixed
to the past as it reels on a screen
they ported into the studio,
they slow it down,
so when the man emerges
from the crowd,
we can see it, the gun in his left hand
framed for an instant against a white skirt,
and when the Angel arrives,
it’s with a knife raised in mid-strike.
In that moment, I believe it might never come,
but of course it comes, is still coming in fact,
only it’s coming at me now, toward
that place set aside in my own heart
for destruction, where I never need to know
what happens to the kid, and I almost
understand the tears of that girl in her
terrible ecstasy. The crowd pulls back,
all faces recede to night, and the Stones
remain silent as Gods, locked, crimson
in the artificial light.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015

[download audio]

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Luke Bauerlein: “The year I turned seventeen my mom and I moved from big-city Chicago to a small Midwestern town. Boy, was I in for a real case of culture shock. Though I tried hard to fit in, I couldn’t believe I was living in a place where the city council had banned rock music and poetry! There was, however, one small pleasure: Ariel, a troubled but lovely blonde with a jealous boyfriend. Her father was a prominent minister in town and was also the man responsible for keeping the town poetry-free. A lot of my classmates wanted to do away with this ordinance, and so, with the national Poetry Out Loud competition looming, we started holding secret slams in an abandoned grain mill outside the town limits to practice. Through my slam prowess I was able to win Ariel’s heart and gain the respect of her father. Eventually, I worked up the courage to attend a city council meeting to abolish the outmoded ban and wound up revitalizing the spirit of the repressed townspeople with a full recitation of Milton’s Paradise Lost.” (website)