Ode to Van Gogh's Ear and Rimbaud's Tear

When yer mind gets lost
When yer back is a breakin
When you pay more than the cost and yer atrophied muscles start achin
When you can’t keep yer balance on this tightrope yer walkin
And can’t neither keep pace with all o yer talkin
When the world starts a tiltin til it’s all uphill
And though yer feet are planted firm on the ground
You start rollin backward, start rollin down
Til yer flippin and spinnin and twistin around
And as you fall down, the sunset goes up
And yer compass points south
And all o yer water falls out yer split cup
And all o yer words flow back in yer mouth
And the sun’s perched on the horizon
And you start to wave
But you can’t tell if it’s comin or goin
Can’t tell to say goodbye or hey
Can’t tell to sleep or wake
So you crawl back under the covers where yer lover is laid
But that double barreled beauty just shoots off her mouth
And blows you off and outta yer house
And as she leaves you to leave her she roars out a snore
But she switched out the light ‘fore you could find the door
So you strike yer last match to light up the way
But the flame licks yer fingers so you throw it away
And you grasp for a doorknob to twist
Just hopin it’ll open up on somethin you ain’t seen before
Or somethin you missed
Or somethin you glimpsed but overlooked a million times or more
But it’s just the same hallway you seen every day
And yer feet carry you down all the same streets
With all the same strangers walkin em that you’ll never meet
Under the same archipelagos of stars
Next to the same rusted shrapnel smog spewin cars
Racin off to another same place down the way
Where all the same players play the same game
Wearin their poker faces 24 hours a day
Tryin to gamble and deal and cheat and maim
To see if they’re able to get tomorrow’s meat on the table
And they ask you to ante but you ain’t got no chips
And you just wanna quit and fold and throw in yer cards
But you sit still and hold on to em hard
Waitin for a king and a queen and a jack and an ace
That you know you won’t ever find in this place
And you wanna throw in the towel
And get outta the race
But yer shiverin and soaked through with sweat
So you tell yerself “Soon, but not just yet”
And they keep pourin cool-aid to the tip o yer cup
And chantin and rantin and ravin “Drink it up!”

And you search and you stare for some reason to stay
For one colored girl in this black and white world
For one fruit on yer family tree that ain’t rotten or eaten or plucked and forgotten
For one woman worthy o bein yer wife
For one leadin actor that don’t follow no script in this stage o yer life
That ignores the director and all o his blockin
That don’t work for no audiences applaudin
But all those that don’t get no standin ovation
Are let loose to follow some other vocation
And all those few that you know
Those that hand you yer cues
Those that are forever locked up in their changin rooms
Those that only ever wear their costumes
Those that stand offstage and hold up the booms
Those that change the sets and broom the floors
Are nothin but extras
And nothin but whores
Cuz even the best actor can never play god
So you nod or you bow one last time to the crowd
And go off in search o someplace where clappin ain’t even allowed
Someplace where you wanna be a pirate but don’t want no ship
Someplace where you wanna scratch but don’t wanna itch
Someplace where you wanna be rich but don’t wanna beg
Someplace where you want a hookhand and pegleg but don’t wanna pay an arm and a leg
Someplace where you want an eyepatch but still wanna see
Someplace where you wanna sail the seven seas but don’t wanna get scurvy

So you try to buy yer way outta skid row
Get yer ticket for the slow train goin nowhere
The red-rimmed and red-lined eyed cashier says “That’ll be four”
But you hand him a fiver and ask “Will you take more?”
And you run to the train where it’s safe and it’s warm
As outside jagged lightning forms
And thunderheads storm
And paid prophets warn
And metal locusts swarm
Til yer eyes are torn from the recedin platform
To the new ones yer meetin
But they’re the same as the old
Or too cold or too hot
Or too sold or too bought
Or too rich or too not
So you keep headin east
On the train in the rain
At least for now
Til east becomes west
And you end up back where yer from
And swear “It’s for the best”

But you can’t deal with a place
Where when you look in their sunglass wearin eyes
You just see a smaller reflection o yer face
Where they all live in bullet proof glass homes
So they can cast all their stones
Where they all need mirrors to show who they are
Where they don’t dig no art, they just dig their graves
Where no one saves nothin but what they’re paid
Where nothin is made except for their beds
Where nothin is said but everyone talks
Where they all walk on eggs til the shells crack their legs
Where any words could be yer last
And the future’s already a thing o the past
Where there’s only so much room on the bull’s eye
Where they pray to hit their mark but miss their shot and sigh
Where more said leaves less to say
Where the road less traveled leads to the same place
Where they ask you the time cuz they don’t got no watch
Where they watch yer crotch like yer fly’s always undone
Where they peek from the shadows cuz they’re allergic to sun
So you try to run
But yer weighed down by yer boots and yer suede
And yer loot and yer name
And the clothes on yer back and yer front and yer top and yer bottom
So you tell yerself to tempt fate and hate contempt
That a penny spent is a penny used
To try to lose and you’ll always win
To try to sin so you’ll be a prodigal son
So you ditch yer car and burn yer house
And pitch yer tent and shred yer blouse
And shed yer suit and loose yer tie
And you finally fly free
Only to find yerself chained to the sky
And gravity gets you down
And the winds blow you around
And now yer naked and hopeless and hungry and homeless
And all you got are the thoughts on yer lips and the words in yer head
And eyes scourin and ears hearin and tongue sourin and fingers feelin and nostrils flarin
To be free
But free’s just a word
That maybe you read or you heard
Or that somebody said
And a word’s just some letters
No better or worse than any other four letter word
And a letter’s just some inkblotted dots
Dots strung together with a swoop and a swirl
Dots sung out with one sound inflected
Dots connected to draw out the meaning o choice
So you try to paint yer masterpiece
Yer own renditions o these words’ definitions
But yer brush just paints letters
So you trade for a pen
That can only write with the ink in yer veins
When it’s dipped in yer skin
And yer blood turns black
And is willingly spilled
And curdles as it dries on the sheet
But yer one thousand words
That spell out a million scenes
On a billion scraps o paper
Can’t draw a clear picture
So you keep carvin yer pen through yer wrists
So you can keep writin yer scripts never read
So you can keep signin yer name in red
Til yer inkwell runs dry and hollow
It’s only then that you’ll know what it’s like for Van Gogh or Rimbaud

Only when the words thought are all right
But the words said are all wrong
And no one gets what yer sayin
But they still sing along
Only when you think that you found it:
The perfect words to be writ
And let out a gasp
Cuz it’s sittin clenched in yer palm
But just outta grasp
Only when yer squintin eyes strain scourin for the unseen
Only when you turn a deaf ear to all alert for the unheard
Only when you sniff cyclones through yer red nose til it bled for a whiff o the unscented
Only when you lick yer dry tongue raw for the flavor o the tasteless
Only when you prod and you poke at the unfeelin til all ten o yer fingers are broke
Only when you strike all yer matches burnin to see the dark
Only when you unhinge some doors to asylums lookin for reason
Only when you scramble yer brains tryin to learn the unknown
It’s only then that you’ll know what it’s like for Van Gogh or Rimbaud

It’s only then

When yer wearin a blindfold and holdin a torch that scorches yer skin
Its only then

When yer eyes cataract starin straight at the sun
It’s only then

When yer nose clogs up smellin the roses
It’s only then

When yer tongue turns mute tastin the forbidden fruit
It’s only then

When yer fingers point jagged caressin the ragged
It’s only then

When yer mind of odds and ends fizzles out sizzling with white hot blindin light
It’s only then

When you lose yer ear hearin the siren’s song
It’s only then
When you disorder yer senses til it all looks and smells and tastes and sounds and feels unreal and wrong
It’s only then

When yer drownin in an ocean o woe

And you hitch a ride on a ship bound for the Congo
It’s only then that you’ll know

What it’s like for Van Gogh or Rimbaud

And it’s just my thought—
I don’t really know—
I may be right or not—
But you’ll find both Van Gogh and Rimbaud
In every dim lit bar and broken down car
And every cracked sidewalk on every project block
And you’ll see them peekin out o every broken glass window
If you ever finally pack up and go down
To skid row





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