If you write poetry you are haunted by faces. And, I am haunted by faces. If you write poetry you are haunted by the faces of both the living and the dead poets. Allen Ginsberg talking to d. a. levy. Ed Dorn all cowboyed up looking a little like Gunslinger. Charles Bukowski drinking a beer while he wanders aimlessly down some Los Angeles boulevard. Tony Moffeit right in the middle of belting out his own gravelly rendition of Give Me The Night. Kell Robertson walking around with a big drink in one hand and a big revolver in the other. John Macker summoning a bone duende just before reading from ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE. Alex Gildzen holding a single black dahlia.
If you write poetry you are haunted by voices. And, I am haunted by voices. I am haunted by the voice of Leo Connellan reading CROSSING AMERICA. I am haunted by Dave Church reading poetry with his tough taxi cab voice. I am haunted by the Okie voice of Mark Weber reading from PLAIN OLD BOOGIE LONG DIVISION. I am haunted by the wise guy voice of S. A. Griffin reading out of the heart and the night of Los Angeles. I am haunted by the voice of Lonnie Sherman reading about Rita. If you write poetry you are haunted by voices, you drunk with the voices, you swimming with all the electric the outlaw voices.
And, all the electric outlaw voices somehow meet and merge in John Dillinger. Some nights I can see them come together and join and entwine in the blood and muscle and bone nexus of John Dillinger. But it isn’t just nights. It’s mornings, afternoons, evenings and smack in the middle of the outlaw night. Because I am and have been obsessed by Dillinger since 1976. I am obsessed with Dillinger the way that Mark Twain had to have been obsessed with Huckleberry Finn. The way that F. Scott Fitzgerald had to have been obsessed with Jay Gatsby. Gatsby was there waiting in all of Fitzgerald’s blackest and drunkest of nights. The way that Charles Olson had to have been obsessed with Maximus. The way that Cormac McCarthy had to have been and maybe still is obsessed with Judge Holden. For all that McCarthy knows the Judge remains out there in the Valley of Fire, still waits out there along the Jornado del Muerte, still sits out there on some ten thousand year old scorched black obelisk hoping to ambush the author for one more night of lightning burnt talking.
I see Dillinger everywhere. I see him standing on streetcorners, I see him waiting outside pool halls and bars, I see him hanging around alleys, I see him buying a ticket to a movie, I see him drinking a beer in a good seat behind home plate at the local ballpark, I see him with a blonde on his arm at the kind of casino where you could lose your soul. The thing is I always see him. He’s part of the air I breathe. In fact, he is the air.
And, no matter what other poems I write, it’s doesn’t matter if I write a novel or an essay that isn’t really about Dillinger, the problem is it’s always about Dillinger, somewhere down in the heart and guts of the text. Just as every poem, every novel, every short story that Bukowski ever wrote was really about Chinaski. Chinaski was Bukowski’s true self and you can never shake off or lose that true self no matter how hard you try.
Just as Huck Finn was Mark Twain’s truest and darkest self, just as Billy the Kid is Tony Moffeit’s truest self, a self he can never deny, can never shake. Just as Melville could never deny, never completely rid himself of Ahab. And, even though Ahab is lashed to the white whale and they go down into the depths of the ocean together, somehow Melville has to understand that Ahab is still down there, that his rage causes the ocean to
tornado back into itself.
I’m sitting in a diner that never closes. The joint is almost empty. It’s three in the morning. Maybe it’s the Edward Hopper Night Hawks joint. It’s one of a thousand dives I’ve been in and out of for most of my life. The walls are almost too red to look at. And, instead of sitting at the counter, I’m sitting at a booth having an ice tea and a slab of blueberry pie. Dillinger is sitting across from me. He’s drinking the blackest coffee I’ve ever seen. It looks like death syrup. Right now, he’s quiet. But, I can feel the stories moving around inside him, they feel like dark green storms with funnel clouds in them. He never talks about that but he doesn’t have to. His storms talk to me.
After awhile Dillinger takes his hat off, slides a 45 auto underneath it so the counterman won’t see, and pushes it across the table toward me. We sit like that for awhile. Dillinger is smiling, waiting for me to stick my hand underneath his hat, and pull the 45 out. I wait for the counterman to turn his back before I remove the automatic and hold it underneath the table. The pistol is heavy. It’s heavier than I thought it would be. It’s loaded with Dillinger’s dark american dreams, his longing, his bank robbery dreams his rolling murder. He says, How does it feel? Okay, I tell him, hefting it a few times. Finally, he reaches under the table and takes it back.
Later, on our way out, Dillinger smiles at the counterman, points a gunfinger at him and says, Bang. The counterman smiles and uses his gunfinger to return the sign. Outside, Dillinger whistles up a black taxi cab with yellow stripes on the side. When he gets in I get a good look at the driver. It’s Death. The way Death says hello is he clicks two bones together, then hits the gas.
I’m having lunch with a skinwalker. I know that I am having a dream but at the same time I know there is the outside possibility this could be real because the light coming through the restaurant’s window is extra heavy with sunlight. The air sags with all that bright gold. The skinwalker looks like he could be a friend of mine but at the same time I know he is not. He resembles one or two gangsters I knew in the past. He says, You are not going to get away with this. I say, What are you talking about? He says, Dillinger. I say, What about Dillinger? The skinwalker leans way back in the booth and says, You’ve opened a door you no longer have any control over. I start to say something, he puts his hand up and says, Nobody gets to play with this kind of energy without paying the price. His eyes appear normal but when I try to look into them it feels like I am burning. I look away for a few seconds and then decide to look back and make a wisecrack but by then he’s gone. The air where he was sitting is a little bit scorched.
I’m driving. Dillinger is sitting in the suicide seat. He says, What did that guy tell you? What guy, I ask, pretending not to know what he is talking about. The guy, the guy, don’t fuck with me. I wait a couple of seconds just to the black air settle. Finally I say, He said I was going to pay the price.
Dillinger stares out the car window for several seconds, then says, We all pay the price. It doesn’t matter if you open the door or don’t open the door. You pay just the same. So, you may as well open the door and let everything out.