Shaken Free from Catholic High
In our garage all of us in our twenties
spent hours playing songs the guitarist
fed through his Leslie speaker,
while my reckless hands on piano
built chords that collapsed.
Our singer was older and set up
painting a house for us,
but it was soon obvious
we couldn’t do much with paint brushes,
when the coat we painted
was little more than a dizzy maze.
Stepping back, we viewed the labyrinth.
Those splashes of color on the walls
didn’t matter. We gave it a sloppy
second coat. Next year we could be soldiers
grunting it out in Vietnam, we joked,
coming home in a body bag.
A tender moon in profile dipped lower,
as a boom box echoed through
the rooms while we madly slapped on gray.
Then stepping back again, we saw it: a beast
of our making caught in the coats,
ready to devour us behind
those intricate bars, where fire lit up the job,
gray as our lives, and we couldn’t stop
painting and complaining,
if we set our brushes down,
what might happen to us.
At Two A.M. the Jukebox Shaking With “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
He never misses a shot when the Stones
are rocking the mercurial minute
before closing time, Jagger singing,
“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane,”
while the Lysol lights flicker
just as Christopher blasts the eight ball
across a hallucination of so much green:
everyone’s loud voice tucked
into a whisper, after his chalked
blue kisses the smudged orb.
But they haven’t seen his slender hips
lean bumper-wise into the shot,
like a bleached-blonde girl
my high school friend nudges against
a pool table, or peer down the cue
sighting the Euclidean logic
of his taking aim and relying on
a difficult bank to beat the two
guys from the mine in their rust-stained
jeans and hooded sweatshirts.
It’s the Stones who provide him
with the steeled protection in his heart,
Jagger’s voice slurring to a purr
as chalk lips his cue tip,
my good high school friend
who played bass in our garage band,
like Brian Jones, whose dedicated riffs
were lifted from the blues, as he stood
blond and god-like on stage,
the dream of every teen girl’s pin-up.
Maybe nobody can beat us tonight,
sipping rum and drinking ghosts
from the past who never made it here,
jammed into a window well naked
and very dead, and our drummer long ago
who nearly died in a swimming pool at a party.
Summer’s circular time draws us
back to the faded green of phantasmagoria,
as they drain the rest of their beer,
understanding there was no way out
of him missing that pocket now.
They mime horror when they see the eight-
ball bank career into the hole
where they spend all their days,
digging for any excuse to crawl
into the disgusting daylight of a town
that can never clean itself up.
RUSSELL THORBURN is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry and the first poet laureate of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He grew up in the Detroit area, where he formed a garage band during high school. Wayne State University Press published Somewhere We’ll Leave the World in 2017, which documented his hard times in Detroit and the Upper Peninsula. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University in 1988.