everything I could think of to get a wanted poster of John Dillinger off a kid called Keys Gunther but he wouldn’t budge. The second he showed it to me I wanted it, I wanted it so bad that I broke out in a sweat just thinking about it. Nights I’d go to bed trying to figure ways to get it away from him. Maybe he’d go for a switchblade. Maybe if I upped the ante to two switchblades that might do it. Every time I went over to his house I’d make him get it out. I never got tired of looking at it. He used to say you can look at it but you can’t touch it and all I really wanted to do was touch it, again and again. I wanted to hold it in my hand and run my fingers across Dillinger’s face for luck. Then Keys would add, this belongs to my old man and if he knew I was showing it off like this he’d kick my ass.
after that, Keys and his old man disappeared. Just skipped town without paying the room rent. My old man said they left a beaten up cardboard suitcase behind with a lot of waste paper inside and I asked if there was maybe a wanted poster mixed in with the junk and he said no but he did find a live 38 round that he gave me. He was tossing it in the air with one hand and catching it with the other when he said, I wish I had the gun this belongs to.
man always wanted the gun and the book. For as long as I’d known him he wanted it all. Once he told me he envied Hemingway but it wasn’t for his books. He was jealous of Hemingway for all the guns he owned. Especially that Thompson that Hemingway used to carry on board the Pilar when he went deep sea fishing. He said he’d seen pictures of it in some big time magazine, maybe Life, and he wanted one, too. I remember my old man fingering a stiff shot of whiskey when he said, if you have a gun like that and you have the book to end all books then you’ve done it, you’re at the top of the game.
to write a novel so bad that some nights I’d break out in a very cold sweat. I was twelve years old and I’d seen how thick my old man’s novel was and I wanted one that thick and that important and that magical. I wanted a novel that would knock everyone sideways. I wanted to write a novel that would make a million bucks and take us out of that fleabag hotel. I wanted a novel that I could sell to the movies. I wanted a novel that Humphrey Bogart might star in. I wanted a novel that would be the beginning and the end of all novels. I didn’t know who Faulkner was but if I had I would’ve wanted to knock him on his ass.
my old man take his novel down from a shelf. He kept the manuscript in a red folder that had strings on the sides and he’d untie the strings and lift the typewritten pages out and he’d let them spill across the table like they were cards from a lucky deck that he could shuffle and reshuffle and then he’d square the manuscript into a neat pile and sit down and study it, his cigaret half sprawling half dangling out of the corner of his mouth. And, he’d pull a bottle of Beam across the table almost casually, along with a shot glass and while he was pouring himself a shot he’d say, this is the one, this is numero uno, the number one baby. We’ll all make it big with this one. That never happened.
wanted to write a novel so bad that even during the day I could feel the heat and the sweat and the desire of that longing flash all the way through me like lightning my blood generated.And, when the dream of writing the novel went south, it got focused on the poem. I wanted to write that one monster mother fucker of a poem, I wanted to write something I didn’t know what but something and it wasn’t until I got Dillinger back that I thought there might just be a ghost of a ghost of a chance. You know the drill. All that underdog shit. That was my story. Maybe it still is.
Dillinger back was like getting that wanted poster back only this time it was a thousand times better because I didn’t need to have the wanted poster itself; I had that Dillinger face fried so deeply into my nerve endings and dreams I didn’t need the paper anymore. I could conjure it, I could call down whatever dark energy that Dillinger had and type it out on the page. Like molten lava, like nitro spilling across a sheet of paper before blowing. And, it was much better than all the second rate novels or screenplays swimming around in the culture because somehow I had cracked Dillinger’s voice straight out of the void and it was talking to me. And, it was every bit as good as HIGH SIERRA because it felt like I had hit some kind of raw tornout vein in the nightmare of america, I had hit the big one and it didn’t matter that most people don’t read poetry, this was still the bone on bone raw stuff that most poets don’t even come close to, except for maybe someone like Charles Bukowski.
I did hit it with DILLINGER, hit it meaning having the knowledge that I had lucked into something, I realized that there was no need to write a novel. Not after writing The Name Is Dillinger. Not after writing Dillinger’s Thompson. Not after writing The Sign Of The Gun. Not after writing Russian Roulette. Not after writing The Corpse Is Dreaming. Not after writing Night Chant In The Shooting Gallery. And, especially not after writing The Riddle Of The Wooden Gun. Each of those sections functions almost like a skeleton novel, a novel written entirely in codes. A novel with all the excess words blown away from the spine of the story. And, all that remains is the force and the essence of the story itself. Distilled from the void. The biggest shot in the dark ever.
essence of story is the blood of the poem and if you have that then you have the full force power of any poem. And, that is all I have ever been after. The blood and the magic and the power of the poem. If you don’t have that, then all the rest is just meat on meat, desperate noise, shit stuck in the throat.
at night. I’m writing The Riddle Of The Wooden Gun. The lines are coming fast. The words seem to be flying right off my fingers. Something I don’t know what is telling me that this is the novel I always wanted to write even though it isn’t a novel. And yet, it is still a novel. This is the kind of logic that flies against logic.
the end of Riddle where I have Hemingway asking Hammett just what the significance of the wooden gun is, Dillinger appears in the doorway of my office holding a Thompson sub machine gun. I almost ask him what he wants but realize he is waiting for me to finish Riddle. As though, something about this is mysteriously important to him. As though he is waiting for this version of Riddle to be played out.
after I got those last few lines down, Dillinger stepped into the room and handed my the Thompson. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. He just handed me the Thompson and then walked out and disappeared into the shadows of the hallway and I was left holding the machine gun. And then the machine gun got all mixed up with Riddle and blood and dreams and longing and when is a poem a novel and when is a nightmare a movie and I let the machine gun dream pure murder back into the heart of the song.