“Serenade: The Goods on Me” by Justin Vicari

Justin Vicari


Once I destroyed a man’s idea of himself,
to have him.
—Frank O’Hara

I guess it might be tough to see,
now that I have
been an outcast for so long,

but I was serenaded one evening
on the violin
in a classy restaurant
by a sweet young lady
who was in love with me.

She took me out for my 20th birthday.
Secret plans had been made.
She had gone to the restaurant earlier 
to give her violin to the maitre d’,
so he could surprise me
during our meal.

My baby-fat paunch now
larger with the years,
my beard
that reeked and reeks of weed,
my denim jacket hanging on the rack,
the fleece-lined one my family gave me
long ago to exalt my promise
and which I lost years ago,
my whole small-town heart
sitting there on display
should have broken then
(I sensed)
with the whole classy restaurant looking on
as witnesses to this odd event,
which nothing came of, by the way.
Odd, because the town already
had the goods on me,
and did not hesitate, and because
I never denied it.

She played her instrument
proudly for me
and my princeliness,
such as it was.
But I felt embarrassed for the girl,
standing there plump as a donut
in her lavender dress,
making her violin almost sob
(she could really play),
because I knew what she did not,
that I had already tried twice with guys
and knew I would do it again. 

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Justin Vicari: “I found out in middle age that I have Asperger’s, because no one looked for that diagnosis when I was growing up. High-functioning autistic people were invisible in the 1980s and ’90s, and did our suffering in silence, often written off as odd, ostracized, and given empty lives. Realizing that I am on the autistic spectrum gave me context for the stubborn, stupid antisocialness that has marked all the phases of my life and for the almost complete void of other people throughout my life. My Asperger’s seemed most severe in my adolescence and throughout my twenties. I found that I could barely speak to other people. The thoughts that formed in my mind as I listened to other people talking never led to any vocalizable sentences of my own. This was worst in groups, but even one-on-one I struggled. Every conversation passed me by, my inner life once again refusing or unable to make any kind of leap into the real world. I learned to extrovertly listen, with a lot of facial reactions and heavy breathing, always as if I was on the verge of adding something. But no, I communicated mainly through rock songs (pretty, sinister), which I would catalogue obsessively and put on mix-tapes for people, which I now view as somewhat creepy. I could also communicate with one or two people through post-structuralist discourse, though in those days I would have been mostly bullshitting. And I drank a lot in my twenties. When I was drunk, there was an excuse for me being withdrawn, non-communicative, sullen, and generally disappointing socially. It was a way of keeping people away. And of course there was always my writing, my poetry, where I struggled and was at that time often blocked. My Asperger’s affected my writing to an intense degree. I would either be almost completely blocked, taken up with fussily lineating and re-lineating found texts and translating sometimes freely, or I would struggle to produce a coherent poem that didn’t seem coy and false and artificial. What I could get down on the page felt cut off from me, alien and inauthentic. I didn’t realize that my autism made it hard for me to access myself when I needed to, even within the landscape of my own mind. Almost as if I had no self. People who saw me in those days saw an affectless fool stumbling drunkenly, numbly, toward the next bad bet. Even when alone I had to sort of get up and walk across the room and shake hands with myself and remind myself that I was doing more than occupying space. Like I wasn’t completely in my own life. As a result, I never was able to really bond with anyone I met. My friend Melissa asked me, aghast, ‘Didn’t you ever just meet someone and go home with them and stay up all night talking about everything?’ Needless to say I hadn’t. But that sounded like hell to me, or at least something I doubted I could do. Now I just don’t give a fuck.”

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