Nine­teen sev­enty-one isn’t the first time in the his­tory of pussy and po­etry that the two have been linked like the el­e­ments in an equa­tion, but only re­cently has that link­age been brought to my at­ten­tion in a dis­cus­sion with a friend. Now the rea­son I bust ass over a blank sheet of paper is that it’s my ticket into the King­dom of Oh-My God-Yes, the Heaven of Cock-Say-Hello-to-Coochie. For every atom be­long­ing to me—is Irish, and the Irish don’t mind work­ing for what oth­ers are gifted with. They don’t mind wait­ing, as long as what they’re wait­ing for is a sure thing—in my case, it’s what I imag­ine to be a look from that first girl about to give up a world-class fuck. What­ever that turns out to be.

I’m no Bob Dylan, but words have al­ways ef­fected me.  Words like hal­lu­ci­na­tory will leave me jazzed quicker than thoughts of sex. I think a lot about the fe­male anatomy, I sup­pose. I’m 17. How­ever, my poems have lit­tle or noth­ing to do with that.  The six­teen-line fart-in-a-Mid­west-wind­storm I’ve strug­gled with for the past few weeks takes place in the Af­ter­life and is, more or less, about what a prick God is. Go fig­ure.

It’s a cou­ple of hours after mid­night, the sum­mer be­tween my ju­nior and se­nior year of high school, and me and Chance Gold, my best friend, are about to be good and ka-zonked since we’ve in­gested LSD. This, on top of the reefer we huffed ear­lier—and the maybe-speed scored from a hitch­hiker claim­ing to be a mem­ber of the Weather Un­der­ground and in­volved in the bomb­ing of the Men’s Room of the Sen­ate-wing of the Capi­tol Build­ing that March, some guy who left us a tablet we halved on the front bench seat of my mother’s Ford Galaxie 500.

I’m whis­per-read­ing to Chance: “Only so much room,” the man says, then ush­ers you through what you judge to be in­fi­nite space. He points out a rab­ble jig­ging in death clothes; he asks you to for­give the epic stench, the sep­a­ra­tion from pleas­ant breezes. A spi­der­ing nexus of roads and foot­paths brims with a heady fecal smell, the walk­ing new-dead—who are a plain­tive wind­ing flow of, mostly, sol­diers. The uni­forms are bri­ared by the light-play  from over­hang­ing trees…”  

I look up, but Chance just shrugs. “And?” he says. “Is that it?”

“Fuck no. There’s more,” I say and start in again: “You’re not sure this ‘He’ is the big He, the Almighty. Maybe it’s the Devil be­cause he gos­sips about a cross­ing-guard priest who laughs with a brown-shoul­dered pros­ti­tute. Who­ever it is, his eyes are like bad neigh­bor­hoods: they turn in upon them­selves like the eyes of the poor. The place is a panel in a trip­tych for an em­pire of wail­ing—pal­isades are a rap­ture of ru­ined blos­soms, graf­fiti, spray-painted mes­sages in Viet­namese and Eng­lish—“

“That’s too cool—that the graf­fiti is in two lan­guages,” Chance in­ter­rupts. Then, in a whis­per, he says: “Read to me, Jimmy Mann. Read to me.

I con­tinue: “Step­wise win­dows carry the dark­some weight of crypts and mau­soleums, pud­dled fields and  un­marked mass graves. Black-winged an­gels sen­try the ram­parts, grip­ping great stones. Fronds of fern bi­sect an ex­cla­ma­tion point of stairs. Thou­sands of fiery blow­ing ropes of bloom give off an un­fil­tered scent of laven­der and sick­rooms. There’s much you want to ask as perime­ter flames scroll be­fore reach­ing al­most to heaven…

Chance’s ex­pres­sion says there’s a great deal about what I’ve writ­ten that works. But I wait for him to say some­thing.   In­stead, he gets up from where he’s sit­ting on my sin­gle-bed. He puts on a record. The record drops, the tone arm swings into place and, pop-hiss, the nee­dle finds the first groove on the spin­ning record. A gui­tar and a man’s voice over­come the crackle of sta­tic from scratches in the vinyl. I drop my note­book on the floor be­side the bed.

I’m not sure when wak­ing life be­came a “lucid dream,” a term I re­call from Mr. Bow­ers’ 8th Grade hon­ors class, but I see the vi­brat­ing “wild world” Cat Stevens is singing about shift focus then blur like a bee’s wings, a ris­ing up­roar, until I think I might be look­ing through the lens of a cam­era. A 60-watt light bulb glows above a white string as I sing. The drug we took, the Or­ange Sun­shine, is be­gin­ning to flush Chance’s face, pink­ing the skin around his eyes.

I rock my shoul­ders. I guess it’s like I’m help­ing Cat Stevens make a point about the wreck of the world. Pussy is the far­thest thing from my mind as Henry Kissinger and a frizzy-haired Art Gar­funkel take turns flash­ing be­fore my eyes in a psy­che­delic stage­play of The CBS Evening News with Wal­ter Cronkite.

If pressed to de­scribe Chance, I’d point to the Granny glasses and thick head of curly hair. I’d reel off, lick­ety-fuck­ing-split, that Chance has worked as a pa­per­boy for years now and has the work ethic of a first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant; he’s de­voted to his fam­ily, though I sus­pect his de­vo­tion isn’t for the usual rea­son—that their ex­is­tence has brought about his own—but be­cause the act of that de­vo­tion el­e­vates Chance above his fam­ily’s “con­di­tion” among the work­ing poor. Freud said analy­sis is wasted on the Irish. I’d add, after being Chance’s friend, that the Pol­ish don’t ben­e­fit much from it, ei­ther.

To Chance, aware­ness cou­pled with ac­tion is an ad­van­tage when it comes to being car­ried along by the waves of your life, or so he ex­plained once at the mom-and-pop cor­po­rate restau­rant, in town, where the class of ’72 hangs out on week­ends—I think he said some­thing, con­spir­a­to­r­ial, para­noid, like that this was the sort of de­tail that oth­ers might use to ridicule him.

Chance is pretty close to his mother Peggy. And Peggy Gold’s se­r­ial mi­graines and de­vo­tion to her hub­bie Lou are why, I guess, Chance silently crosses him­self sev­eral—make that beau­coup—times a day. I once snapped a Po­laroid of Chance: We were hors­ing around in the Kaiser Alu­minum field in back of my house at the end of my street, Lucky Av­enue.

I raised my cam­era and snapped and caught Chance in mid-ges­ture.

“Do I do that a lot?” he asked me, look­ing at the de­vel­op­ing pho­to­graph in my hand. I re­call him say­ing, “If you lived in a house like mine, you’d make the Sign of the Cross, too—”

I know that the Manns, my fam­ily, are noth­ing like the Golds and that I’ve got some­thing Chance can only dream of—a lit­tle god­damn pri­vacy. My por­tion of the base­ment-floor space is squared off with a hang­ing ta­pes­try and a worn-out bed sheet. Look there—both squares of fab­ric flut­ter as the fur­nace kicks on.

I bite off the last word of the Cat Stevens’ song—“baby”—which I chew like food. On the drug, this word tastes like a tongue—fa­mil­iar, fleshy, vaguely metal­lic—or what I imag­ine a tongue would taste like. But I can’t be sure I’m not loop­ing some part of the ques­tion back on it­self, the brain being a mas­ter­work of con­tra­dic­tion and fini­cal path­ways. Maybe the only thing I am sure of, come to think of it, is that Chance is some­one I can trust. I know it like the fact that music comes from a spin­ning near-per­fect-cir­cle and a Christ­mas-gift J.C. Pen­ney turntable that may or may not have a buf­falo-head nickel taped to its tone arm.

I reach over and lift the nee­dle from the spin­ning record.

Chance says, “That was amaz­ing.” He tells me he’s get­ting off.

“You think?” I say, mock­ingly. “What was your first clue?”

I’m struck by a rush and start gig­gling. And fall the fuck off the bed.

When a head ap­pears over the edge of the bed, like a fleshy sun, I push my fist into my mouth and bite the hell down to quiet my­self.

I lis­ten for foot­steps from my par­ents’ bed­room over­head. Noth­ing.

“Did I ever tell you about the rooster we had?” Chance asks, af­fect­ing the chicken-neck pose we both refer to as the Lizard, since a flicked-out tongue of­ten­times ac­com­pa­nies the ex­ag­ger­ated pos­ture. And there it is, the tongue-flick. I break up, laugh­ing. I know from re­cent shouts of Go to sleep, boys! and Jimmy! Shut the fuck up! that not only can my mom hear what’s going on but she may be about to give up the shout­ing and march down the stairs. My dad, on the other hand, can sleep through any­thing. He’s not my worry, she is.

Chance helps me back onto the bed. “Damn, you’re loud,” he says.

Me?” I shoot back. I sup­pose that much of what daz­zles the eye-on-drugs blooms in the bio­chem­i­cal equiv­a­lent of going from black-and-white to Tech­ni­color, from a Lawrence Welk Show-pre­dictable world to one of cir­cus won­der on the order of feel­ing up a neigh­bor girl who likes it and says your name in a tone that det­o­nates some­where in your rep­til­ian brain and hi­jacks both your fu­tures.   On the LSD, Chance’s head looks like a melon then like the planet Sat­urn with rings en­cir­cling the starlight-bounce of his hair. I see the head of my stoned friend as a pais­ley-pat­terned bowl­ing ball at the pre­cise mo­ment I hear the record-player tone arm and nee­dle drop onto the album and a gui­tar rift erupt at the deci­bel level of an ant’s whis­per. I hear, in a wrapped-in-gauze whis­per, the words Snot run­ning down his nose as Chance re­turns to the bed where we’ll sit, him and me, until first light leaks in through one or all of the rec­tan­gu­lar win­dows at ground level above our heads.

I crane my neck to hear Aqualung, don’t you start away un­easy…

At the edge of the bed Chance sings, softly, to him­self.

I’m wait­ing until Chance is ready to speak of what might be more im­por­tant than the voice that seems, some fuck­ing how, to come from deep within the walls. I reach to the floor for my note­book, open to the piece of scrib­bling, and it oc­curs to me that I may have a title. A pretty good one.

I de­cide I’ll call it “Hell’s One-walled and Lovely Hang­ing Gar­den”—after the Hang­ing Gar­dens of Baby­lon I learned about in his­tory class. The hell part is, of course, my own; the metaphor of a gar­den in the mid­dle of hell is Amer­ica.


Jim Mor­ri­son had been dead a month when I took the job wash­ing dishes at Car­los’ Steak House.  It’s a time of war, and zip­pered body bags and tele­vised Death rooster-strut­ting across the TV screen like Mick Jag­ger. I don’t give a shit if I die, I don’t give it a thought. I trust that the long-shot odds of my heart fail­ing are be­yond know­ing, the same as Nixon telling the truth. As a con­se­quence of my not giv­ing a rat’s ass whether I live or die, once a week, with­out fail, me and Chance shell out for a hit of LSD.

Which the two of us then halve and eat.

To me, who wouldn’t want to hear Joplin’s ballsy ver­sion of “Me & Bobby McGee”—Free­dom’s just an­other word for noth­ing left to lose / Noth­ing ain’t worth noth­ing but it’s free—while the sealer-green walls of your base­ment bed­room breathe? Get­ting blazed-to-the-be­je­sus is as sane a move as is pos­si­ble, given that I’ll be el­i­gi­ble for the moth­er­humpin’ Draft in Jan­u­ary. Not to men­tion, the ab­solute drought and un­bro­ken-string of no-pussy days. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

Once, I swal­lowed a tab and went to work at the steak house. High as a kite in a hur­ri­cane. Noises echoed, re­ver­ber­ated. Dish­wa­ter reeled off grav­ity-be-damned salta­tions in the ol’ synapses. The car­toon at in­ter­mis­sion, on break: the Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice in Fan­ta­sia.  In the sink, is­lands of beef and but­ter and A-1 mapped out Lake Eries and 88-county replica Ohios com­plete with roads; on the grill, smoke-his­to­ries of the dead rose. That day, the owner of the steak house, Car­los, sniffed my glass and made a face and asked, “You been drink­ing, have you?” I said I hadn’t.

Not a drop, which was true.

What gave me away, it turns out, was watch­ing a steak singe and darken on the grill until I saw what I guess you might call “the world that flies above this one.”

I imag­ine that world to be a place with­out the Draft, with pussy in abun­dance, sweet and glo­ri­ous abun­dance; a world about to place a wafer of Grace on my ine­bri­ate tongue. Of course I stood there, think­ing, I’d trade all of my to­mor­rows for one sin­gle yes­ter­day. Like that song by Kristof­fer­son says, a song that Janis has made her own.

Star­ing at a medium-well Porter­house steak says you ain’t right or sober.

No one, not even Car­los, cares that much about steak. But he didn’t fire me. Car­los is like that, fair. He just or­dered his “best dish­washer” home after a fairy-tale ex­cuse about tak­ing over-the-counter cold med­i­cine on an empty stom­ach—a lie I sold with, “I guess lard asses gets loopy on Con­tact, huh?”


Woody Allen is on The Dick Cavett Show.  He looks like Bozo the Clown, only thin. He’s plug­ging his new movie Ba­nanas, say­ing how hos­til­ity is the en­gine of humor, when my mother comes into the room and asks whether I’m fin­ished mop­ping the base­ment. She’s a woman given to drop­ping the ep­i­thet “kike,” my mother, but she doesn’t seem to know yet that Woody Allen is Jew­ish, or she’s sim­ply more in­ter­ested in the cross­word puz­zle she con­tin­ues to work while wait­ing for me to an­swer.

I give her a “win­some look”—I pay at­ten­tion in Eng­lish class, so what?—that says I hope she won’t take of­fense. I say, “How ‘bout I do that after this?”

Sarah Mann, my mother, is one of those women you’ll hear other teens talk proudly of bed­ding: an older woman of in­tel­li­gence and charm, some­one car­ries her­self like she’d cut your legs out from under you for a laugh but would fuck you like your best wet dream of Sex—or that’s what a friend of mine says.

Mrs. Robin­son with bet­ter hair and a bright, Pep­so­dent smile.

I don’t think of my mother this way, sex­u­ally; how­ever, Chance has said how nice she looked just that morn­ing—when we came up to break­fast around noon. Tonight, Mom looks up from the re­cliner by the fire­place, then over at me like we’re both in line and she can’t be­lieve some­one has cut in front of us and then ob­jects to being called on it. Like her son might be an alien life-form since he cares what sort of bilge flies out of the mouth of bot­tom-dwellers like the one seated across from Dick Cavett.

“All right,” she says. “But I want you in bed be­fore 2, J.R.—you and that Chance were up aw­fully late last night. Gig­gling like school-girls.”

On the tv, Woody Allen tells Dick Cavett what it was like to play James Bond in a re­cent spy spoof. He ges­tures as though fir­ing a hand-gun.

My “hot mom” looks at the co­me­dian. She holds her folded news­pa­per out from her, ges­tures at the tele­vi­sion as if to shoo away flies.

After an­other minute, she quips: “Jew. Damn Jew.”

I get the joke: Bond, James Bond—Jew, Damn Jew. It isn’t funny, and I don’t want to get her started. I’m sure, now, that Woody Allen is right about the en­gine of humor and com­edy being hos­til­ity. And I’d like to fin­ish hear­ing the in­ter­view be­fore Dad drags in and com­man­deers the tv with that a-man’s-home-is-his-cas­tle crap of his or calls me Lard Ass, his fa­vorite name for yours truly.

“Maybe he’s queer,” she says. “What kind of a name is ‘Woody’?”

I might as well give it up. “I’ll go do the base­ment,” I say.

Head­ing down the stairs, I’m wish­ing I had a tv set of my own—the world above could be what­ever it wanted, could ooze Nixon and cor­rup­tion, Viet­nam and death, if I could watch Star Trek or The Dick Cavett Show or Twi­light Zone, once, with­out in­ter­rup­tion. The words cor­rup­tion and ooze send me off to write until the wee hours.


Near the end of my ju­nior year I read to some class­mates who were quiet just long enough for me to be heard over the hubub be­tween classes. The read­ing, such as it was, took place in a re­stroom. Above the noise, I read:

“Eter­nity Hotel—

So far the af­ter­life is damned an­noy­ing

A giddy riffraff in best rags ar­gues

as it de­vours the con­ti­nen­tal break­fast

They’re all lying about a legacy of good

and sneak­ing in a sur­rep­ti­tious swift kick

at a house dog who begs and says hello

Every­one is talk­ing at once in a crowd

that seems to await news of some­thing

House staff and maids are for­mer mod­els

Aloof and uni­formed in Mo­roc­can blue

they glide by like a mem­ory of eat­ing and

being fab­u­lously filled You rub shoul­ders

with a saint with a used-up look that says

it’s never enough  this ris­ing above one’s

an­i­mal na­ture  He nods as if re­demp­tion

were mostly a mat­ter of being rec­og­nized

and he had no more sub­stance than air

As if the soul were used to rented rooms…”

Every­thing was dif­fer­ent after those mo­ments in the boy’s re­stroom.

Chance and Matt Chatham, a friend of Chance’s, ap­plauded the poem.

While ap­plaud­ing, Matt slipped and fell into a half-wall uri­nal. He got his pants wet and started cussing. Chance and I were handed a de­ten­tion for being late to Mr. Sheen’s chem­istry class.

But my read­ing the poem was a start, and I walked out of that high-school re­stroom feel­ing like King Kong’s bad-ass older brother.


Even if what you write makes your friends sit up and take no­tice, it’s hard to be fat. Bury your nose in books and note­books and home­work and over­due li­brary books all you like, hitch your wagon to what­ever star of Irish or Welsh or Eng­lish or Amer­i­can lit­er­ary bril­liance, but what you want is a Raquel Welch-look­ing girlfriend. Some­one to make your wet dreams a re­al­ity, some­one who over­looks the fact that you’re bur­dened with ex­cess You. Some­one who, God for­bid, even likes that about you. Being fat draws the hos­til­ity out of oth­ers, like com­edy, and lights them up like a pin­ball ma­chine; it’s rare when any­one is even a lit­tle all right with me or my ap­pear­ance.

Like Matt and Chance—they’re both swell friends. Matt and I be­came friends after I read that day in the re­stroom. Lately, him and Chance and me—we’re like the fuck­ing Three Muska­teers. (The Three Stooges, maybe, de­pend­ing on your point of view.) Matt Chatham and Chance Gold are an in­spi­ra­tion, no kid­ding, since they quit sports to write songs and sing. They’re both pretty se­ri­ous about learn­ing to play gui­tar. A lit­tle, they re­mind me of Lennon and Mc­Cart­ney. At some point, though, I fig­ure I’ll use what I can do—which is where the poems come in, where I get my ticket-to-ride punched.

I’ve got my eye on this neigh­bor girl—great hair. Straight-out-of-Play­boy blue eyes. A smile to make your dick hard enough that all the flick­ing of the head with your thumb and fore­fin­ger wouldn’t make it lie down and be­have.

Ann of the House Across from My House. Ann Long­ford.

Fast for­ward a month: Matt and Chance are busy, prac­tic­ing their music, doing some­thing. I get to­gether with Ann for, re­mark­ably, a bit of pet­ting. Which prompts this—I think it’s my best work—which I’ve yet to show her:

“The P-Word—

Mer­riam-Web­ster says the word is ‘usu­ally vul­gar’

and refers to the vulva—Old Norse puss pocket,

Low Ger­man puse vulva, Old Eng­lish pusa bag—

or ‘the fe­male part­ner in sex­ual in­ter­course.’

There’s a way words lock us in. This is one of those

times, one of those words that omit every­thing free­ing

and won­drous in favor of how the plumb­ing works.

The first I spent any time with scared me, left me

breath­less—rather, it changed my rate of res­pi­ra­tion

to some­thing way be­yond what’s nor­mal. I’m in

her liv­ing room, both par­ents are in the kitchen,

and they’re not ten quick-time steps from the couch.

And she’s got her Levis down to her knees. Black

bikini briefs read Sat­ur­day be­cause, it turns out,

there’s a multi-col­ored set of the un­der­wear—

“a rain­bow,” she says—and a prod­uct de­signer

some­where hav­ing a laugh at Mid­dle Amer­ica.

I won’t bore you with de­scrip­tions, names,

but I am in. Her open-mouth plea­sure cries—

like I said: both par­ents are in the kitchen—

the noises own me. Right out of the blocks.

I’m in my first re­la­tion­ship, though the word

re­la­tion­ship isn’t one I’d use. Maybe heaven

since I feel re­warded for some­thing I’m doing

well enough that she wants more of the same.

I’m not think­ing in words for once in my life,

and I know what we’re doing is more ex­cit­ing

than jack­ing off any day, or look­ing at Play­boy,

read­ing cer­tain pas­sages of The Car­pet­bag­gers,

watch­ing a fa­vorite cheer­leader do the splits.

“What about this?” I ask her. She whis­pers,

“Stop—and I’ll never speak to you again.”

I’m not sure Ann will like the poem, or that I’ve put pen to Big Chief tablet con­cern­ing our sex life, but I know it feels like some­thing of a break­through. I think it’s great, and I’m at least not writ­ing about the Af­ter­life. Now’s as good a time as any, I fig­ure: a Sun­day evening, both her folks at prayer ser­vices. (The Long­fords’ blue Chevy pulled out a few min­utes ago.) But I need to be sure every­one’s out of the house, just in case. The round phone-dial wheel spins like—what?—a Roulette wheel?

A voice an­swers. I say, “Ann?

“Jimmy?” She sounds like she’s been sleep­ing.

“Yeah, it’s Jimmy.” Sud­denly, I’m more awake my­self.

I say, “Ann, can I come over for a lit­tle while?”

There’s a pause. Then she says, “You can’t be in the house—my par­ents are gone—but, sure. We can sit on the front steps.” She tells me how what we did made her woozy, giddy-happy. How it’s been all she can think about.

I hang up. And it hits me like the ef­fects of a tab of acid: this is what it’s like, being a writer.  I pat my front shirt pocket. The poem’s folded like, well, like it’s the key to the house across the street. If the world’s what I think it is—like that novel we read in sopho­more Eng­lish, The Lord of the Flies—then three cheers for Pig­gie, for what­ever makes the cru­elty let up for a god­damn minute.

Hip, hip!—you get the pic­ture. I’m as happy as a kid with a bag of Oreos.