Hang up the phone
Be silent
Stare at the air
Stare at the walls
Look into the mirror
Look away quickly
See an old packet of photographs
Reach toward them
Touch them
Draw back
Do not look at the photos
Look at anything but the photos
Look at the floor
Look at the ceiling
Look hard at the ceiling
Watch the ceiling blur
Blink faster
Watch the ceiling blur
Whisper "No"
Whisper it again
Be silent

The news hits like venom into the heart
ice into the veins
The end of my world has arrived
on the solemn, black-garbed wings
of the briefest of phone calls
The news stands before me now
silent as the harvester himself
face averted from my horror
My last symbol of human love and goodness
has been destroyed
My hope and faith have deserted me
She is dead.

I will pray
I will pray first for her soul
that she has passed the unknown tests
that she now brightens the stars above
I know that to be true
I will accept no other possibility
I will pray first for her soul
but then I shall rant and accuse
I shall demand answers of the sky
I shall cry for justice and shriek for fear
I shall bellow for resignations
I shall blaspheme
and then I will beg for relief
for release
for death
When there is nothing left to pray for
I will pray for death
Please do not fail me this time

I reel through a few pointless days
Work cannot distract
Sleep is no escape
for I dream
Bourbon amplifies the dreams
to the point of pain
For the first time ever
blues cannot help
The greatest musicians come close to the truth
but they fall short
I spend my spare time
screaming rage at bare walls
wailing like a lost baby
slamming my fists into doors, walls, tables
floors, desks, pillows
I play with matches
I play with knives
The walls continue to interest my vision
Food? I'm not hungry
Everything is empty

At last, I touch the photos
old photos
but new as yesterday
Photographs snapped by my happy, drunken hand
Forgotten friends cavort again
raise mugs in tribute
make good-naturedly obscene gestures to the camera
She is among those photographed that night
Her grinning face stares unseeingly into mine
from a half-dozen pictures
Smiling with the happiness of being surrounded by friends
of being loved
Her joyful green eyes never dreaming her fate
And all the while, my rickety little camera,
so rarely competent,
expertly sliced away posed moments of time
for tearful perusal years later
Tousled blond hair
the sultry, optimistic eyes
the nonstop electric smile

I greeted the first big storm of the season
I stood on the front porch
a glass of bourbon in one hand
and watched the thick black clouds roll in
bellies flashing with lightning
thunder whispering hoarsely on the distant wind
ozone swirling in the air
I was there for the first icy drop of water
for the downpour
for the full shrieking fury of the storm
I accepted the storm's rage
I welcomed the sizzling bolts and deafening blasts
I let the rain soak me
and fill my emptied glass
I was gone the next day

Quest for the Grail:
After twelve hours of driving
I am on a narrow road in New Mexico
The dull asphalt is cracked and pitted
scorched by decades of sun and wind
Altitude is slowly rising
Brush is growing thicker
The rough scrub has sprouted into squat round bushes
and then into tired, stunted trees
Yucca crawls across the scenery
The sky stretches from horizon to horizon
Every cassette I brought along
has been overplayed
so I listen to the mindless static of my radio
to the constant drone of my punished engine
I listen to the miles blow by at 60 mph
I listen for a hint of meaning

At a small convenience store outside Santa Rosa
I stop to buy gas
check the oil
grab a soda
I buy a new cassette
to relieve the wearying silence of my car
I pay a fat old woman with a crooked smile
She asks where I am going
Before I can answer, she says,
"Going to visit her grave, are you?"
After I escape to my car
I play my new Steppenwolf tape
As the opening chord of
"Cradle of Love" blasts from my speakers
I drive down the road

Thirty miles later
I pull off the road
to stare at a metropolis
which has sprung up next to the highway
The primitive houses and towers shine
with yellow light
reflected in the sun
The streets bustle with parade-goers
thronging to behold a vision
The sign says "Welcome to Tontoneac"
I crawl through the barbed-wire fence
walk past the bored cattle
and enter the city
The racket of the cheering crowds is incredible
I stop a young Indian
with raven hair down to his waist
He wears blue jeans
cowboy boots
a Grateful Dead T-shirt
"What is this place?" I ask him
He laughs and shouts
"You've found Tontoneac, white man!"
"The largest and greatest of
the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola!"
He runs down the street
past a group of conquistadores giving
directions to a vanload of elderly Floridians
I join the crush
peering over heads
"What's going on?" I ask
"What's the big deal?"
No one answers
They stare ahead

I see the old woman from the convenience store
She's leaning out of one of the high windows
yelling and drinking a beer
A small boy sits on the ledge above her
I have not seen him since grade school
I run into two black men
One is dressed like a hippie
He has a shaggy afro and mustache
The second has short hair
and wears an old brown suit and fedora
Both carry guitars
They greet me warmly
I begin to ask my questions
but they shout and point
I turn
and it is her
floating over the cheering crowd
blessing the millions
smiling with the happiness of being surrounded by friends
of being loved
Her every pore was sunlight
I stare up goggle-eyed
as she slowly drifts over
She looks down at me and waves
I wave back
and then
She disappears with Tontoneac
After a minute, I walk back
past the nonchalant cows
through the barbed-wire fence
I get back in my car
and resume my pilgrimage

I make my arrival
I park the car outside the gates
and walk slowly through the cemetery
past Smiths and Joneses
past Van der Meeres and Rockefellers
past the fenced graves of infants
the stately crypts of wealthy families
the unmarked plots of beggars
Her place lies apart from the rest
The dirt of her grave is still bare of grass
Her stone is simple
just her name
her birthday
and her last day
The grave is littered
with flowers and ribbons
cards and a rag doll
photographs and diamond rings
I lay my roses
(long-stemmed, red)
on the grave
and stand back to watch
Time passes
"Are you there?" I ask
I get no answer
I let time pass again
"Can you hear me?" I ask
No answer
I touch her name
letter by letter
I peer into the clouding sky
I drop to my knees
touch the dirt
dig my fingers in
I cry hard
I cry like I haven't cried since I was a baby
A few small raindrops fall on her grave
"I love you" I shout into the dirt
"I love you"
There is no answer
Time passes
heartbeats like millennia
I rise
I cannot brush the dirt from my fingers
I walk back through the cemetery
past Washingtons and Lincolns
past Changs and Ybarras
I get in the car
I drive away

Let the musicians play
Let them all play together
Let them perform a requiem to shame death
Give Mozart and Zappa free rein
Bring Robert Johnson and B.B. King together
Let Hank and Patsy co-exist
with Jimi and Stevie Ray
Guns N' Roses and the Doors will perform the prelude
Muddy Waters and Melissa Ethridge will play with Rundgren and Clapton
Marvin Gaye and Elton John will follow
Metallica will play the new Beethoven-Vicious-Lennon collaboration
Freddie Mercury will sing with Led Zeppelin
Tribal drums will join with humbled philharmonics
The Navajo and Apache will dance together
Garage bands, gospel choirs and legends will unite to mourn
Zeus, Jehovah and Loki will sing back-up
while Coyote howls a mourning dirge with the Wolf
Ice-T and the Who
Latifah and Aretha
U2 and Chuck Berry
ZZ Top and the Crickets
Let everyone play
Violin with harmonica
Guitar with lute
Synthesizer with tuba
Gothic organ over it all
Rappers and screechers together
Let a billion bands play through all time
They can shake the earth
raise the thunder
rip the sky
The closing jam session can shatter the stars, if they want
but I will not care
I will not listen
I will not laugh
She is dead
but I live on

The years will ripen into decades
and from there to centuries
Grass will grow on the earthen mound
The presents at the tombstone
will diminish
and disappear
The marble stone will age and crack
Her mourners will join her in death
They will acquire mourners of their own
Each passing generation will
tell less of her story
until her name is no more than
a notation in ancient records
and a decaying stamp on a gravestone
And in time
records can rot
stone can crumble
She will be forgotten
That cycle can never change