Let’s begin in Duluth and see
where my insane brain will take us.
We start on a dock by a lake
at the bottom of huge hill
with the sound of distant foghorns
filling the ears of a young man.
A kid, really … only 20.
He turns and walks towards the shoreline
heading for a Triumph Tiger
– a scarlet and silver bullet
built for speed and dangerous curves.
Mounting the bike, he turns the key,
guns the motor and takes off quick.
He cruises up streets with no name,
dark sunglasses tight on his face
to protect his icy blue eyes
from the equally frigid wind
and the specks of white within it.
Up at the summit, the young man
stops and, like Lot’s wife, turns around,
but no pillar of salt is he
and sulfur is not raining down.
In fact, Duluth seems quite pleasant
wrapped in Jack Frost’s favorite present
which, in case you don’t know, is snow.
Snow on rooftops and church steeples.
Snow for miles, keeping people
indoors. Frozen families snuggle
closer and closer to keep warm
making idle conversation
as they gather around fires
and wrought-iron, wood-burning stoves,
rubbing their icicle fingers
together. Why? To feel feelings.
Sensations. Emotions. Pains and
pleasures, but ecstasy’s not a
pill to be swallowed by folks like
the young man on the motorbike.
For one moment and one only
he allows the melancholy
knowledge of life as a loner
to overtake him and he weeps
because he knows he can’t be one
of them, content with four plain walls
and a chamber pot to piss in.
He knows his true love is out there
and he’s going to find her.
The funny thing is, this someone?
She’s not a girl. She’s an idea.
She’s his version of perfection.
His one. His Goddess. His Isis.
His Ishtar. Astrid. Ashtoreth.
Pick one. The name doesn’t matter.
In fact, here are three more for you:
Madonna. Mary. Joan of Arc.
Not a mother, Freud. The Mother.
As in Nature. You know … nature?
This guy’s in love with that being
– the she who lives inside his mind.
He has that Dante vibe to him.
Living in both past and present
makes the kid peripatetic
and very pathetic. “So what?”
he mutters, revving the engine
and glaring into the night sky.
“It’s better than being a slave.
– a cow, whose sole purpose is milk
– a pig, wallowing in its shit
wondering why no one listens
to its desperate, shrieking oinks.”
He laughs loudly and flicks his wrist.
The Triumph zooms down the pavement
headed southwest at fifty-five
and won’t slow down or stop until
the rider sees a sign saying
Chisholm is one mile away.
Almost home, just one town to go
he taps the brake, locking the wheel
and goes flying head over heels
into a soft pile of snow.
Standing and dusting himself off
he lifts his legs and moves his toes
thanking God he’s not paralyzed
or dead. That’d be a real drag.
See, this kid’s on his way to see
the echo of a girl he knew
long ago. We’ve been over this.
He thinks she’s real. He recalls her
sapphire eyes, her joyous laugh,
her blond hair held up with pencils
and her skill with harmonicas.
“Oh, how my girl uses her mouth
when she blows the harmonica,”
he says, drool dripping like a dog.
“She blows and sucks and blows and that
damn harp wheezes like a freight train
going around the bend and into
a deep, moist, cavernous tunnel
in the middle of a mountain.
Scratch that. Two mountains. Two massive–”
“Move, bitch! Get out the way!” yells an
angry trucker from the window
of a passing 18-wheeler,
shattering the holy moment
and bringing the kid back to Earth.
Standing there in the dirty slush
the steam from his inhale-exhale
makes him long for a cigarette.
He whips out a pack of Camels,
pulls one from the little green box,
lights the business end and smokes up.
He thinks he looks like a rock star
out there on the highway, smoking
and looking vaguely cool, but the
salt stains on his black leather pants
and his bloodstained white pirate shirt
say otherwise. He’s been battered,
bruised and beaten. Almost broken.
This young man is 20 years old
and he doesn’t know a damned thing
about life or how to live it,
at least according to his dad.
He does know one thing for certain:
he loves the girl one town over
and he prays she feels the same way.
It’s time for a spoiler alert.
That girl? She’s not in love with him.
Tragic? Yes, but most of us know
the one you love rarely loves you.
If they did, there’d be much less art
in a world that allows the pain
so we can recognize good times
when they come back around again.
If this kid possessed that wisdom
he would be much better off, but
he doesn’t. He is smart, yes, but
intelligence means so little
without experience in life.
He’s back on the motorbike now,
riding along route 38
past a massive metal statue
and a small black plaque announcing
this is the famed Mesabi Range.
Land of Giants and Iron Ore.
Home of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham,
a Song and Dance Man called Zimmy,
and Roger Maris – 61
home runs in ‘61. He’s the
antithesis of Archie Graham.
The kid enters downtown Chisholm,
pulls next to a parking meter
and almost runs the thing over.
“Whoa,” he says. “Gotta watch for those.
Don’t want to end up like poor Luke.”
Beneath the warm glow of street lamps
he dismounts the chrome and crimson
horse and steps onto the cold pavement
boot heels going click-clack as he
mutters small talk about blue hats
and short women who wear them well
to the brick walls near him. No one
else hears his pitiful lament.
Down the road, an old cinema
marquee glows in the dark, reading:
The Godfather: I, II & III.
The kid spits on the ground and sighs.
“Without Fredo it’s not the same,”
he says with Corleone remorse.
Turning away from the marquee
he stands on the cracked sidewalk as
the falling snow absorbs all sound.
The lamp lights reflect the small flakes
turning the nighttime into day
and all other sorts of clichés.
Right now Chisholm is deserted.
May as well be 12:00 high.
In the distance a church bell tolls
and from a shadowy alley
an ancient man enters the scene
moving with a cane and purpose.
The kid sees the man and exclaims,
“Excuse me, are you Moonlight Graham?”
The old man turns. He smiles and his
bushy white eyebrows elevate.
He still looks like Burt Lancaster.
“Why yes,” the Doc says. “That’d be me.”
“All right,” the kid replies. “Listen
I don’t belong here, but I do
if you know what I mean
and I was wondering, Doctor,
if you’ll see fit to assist me.”
The old man furrows his eyebrows
and looks up at the dark night sky
wondering who this crazy kid
could be. He sure seems familiar.
It’s odd. There’s something about him
he can’t quite put his finger on.
Bells and a distant train whistle
break the silence. Both turn to check
the cause of the disruption. One
looks to the right, the other left,
but both seem to see the same thing.
“Ever listened to Stealer’s Wheel?”
the kid asks, pawing at his face
to remove the dark sunglasses
so he can meet the old man’s eye.
As he puts them in his pocket
Doctor Graham nods. “I’m a big fan,”
he says, the corners of his mouth
curling into the sad smile
of a proud, if absent, father.
The young man grins and laughs softly
then his face turns dead serious.
Eventually he sighs and says
“I don’t really know what to say.
Something’s happening, but I don’t…”
He lets the words hang in the air
hoping that old Moonlight will wink
and offer up some sage advice…
– about life and how to live it.
– about what this world is right now.
– about what it could be someday.
– about what all of that might mean.
Instead, the old man frowns and says,
“I hear you’re in the market for
a blue hat. Is that true, fella?”
The kid’s jaw drops and he nods.
The Doctor rubs his beardless chin
and ponders this for a moment.
“I believe I have one to spare,”
he says, fiddling with his cane.
“I’ve purchased so many hats for
my wife Alicia. Whenever
I see one I think she might like
I buy it. Hey, that’s commerce, right?”
The kid nods and the old man turns,
heading towards a red brick building
with an antique wood and glass door.
When he gets there he swings his cane,
delivering a forceful blow
to the see-through material.
Somehow it remains unshattered
and the kid is flabbergasted.
Moonlight taps the pane with his cane.
“Crystalline,” he quips with a grin.
“Crystal who? What’s that even mean?”
the kid asks, but the Doc just laughs.
“When you know, you will know,” he says
pulling out a skeleton key
to unlock the lock near the brass
knob on the right side of the door.
A tinkling, golden bell rings as
the door’s well-worn hinges complain
in their rusty, metallic way.
Doc flips a switch on the wall
filling his humble office with
the glow of 60-watt light bulbs.
“And the Lord said, ‘Let there be light,’”
the kid quotes, using his fingers
as quotation marks. “Don’t do that,”
Doc Graham says, waving with his hand,
“or I’ll have to cut off your arms.”
The kid glances over and laughs.
“You and the Pope of Uruk, mac,”
he says, barely hiding his smirk
with the back side of his right hand.
“That literally makes no sense,”
Doctor Graham deadpans with a sigh.
“I’ve read Gilgamesh too, you jerk.
In fact, look around at my walls.
Each one of them is a bookcase.
“There’s Virgil by his pal Horace.
Tennyson and Byron share space
on a shelf with Taylor Momsen
and her big book of poetry.
But that girl? She can sing better
than either of those two old fools.”
“Taylor who?” the kid yawns. “Mom’s son?
Is she a rock star or something?”
Doc Graham closes his eyes and sighs.
“Yes, kid, and she plays her guitar
much better than you ever did.
“Anyway, look right over there
and you’ll see Ulysses by Joyce
along with Hank Williams records
and a Tupac Shakur cd.
There on that shelf? Biggie. Jay Z.
Wu Tang Clan and Eric the Red.
“Did you know Vikings battle-rapped?
It’s true. They’d plunder and pillage,
then rap about the things they did
while the funeral pyres raged.
They were hard folks in a hard time,
wouldn’t you say?” The kid nods once
and taps his foot impatiently.
Doc ignores this and continues.
“These people I like to call They?
They made the world the way it is.
They discovered Minnesota.
They discovered America.
They put roller coasters in malls
and waterslides in San Dimas.
“They built skyscrapers, submarines,
The Titanic, flying machines
that take humans to outer space,
and timepieces so accurate
you know exactly when you are
just by looking down at your wrist.
“All you do is pluck on your axe
while keeping time with your left foot
and assaulting the microphone
in your nasal, sandpaper howl.
What have you done, compared to them?
What makes you so important, huh?”
Doc said, poking at the kid’s chest.
“I keep the masses entertained!”
the kid shouted, blue veins pulsing.
“I give them things to talk about
because I know all they want is
someone they can point to and say,
‘It’s his fault this place is fucked up.’
I’m basically just a scapegoat
like Joe Hill or Billy the Kid.
Stevie Nicks or Yoko Ono.
The list is long and distinguished.”
Doc smiles, ever-so-slightly.
“I know exactly what you mean.
Listen, young man. I am tired.
Do you want a blue hat or not?
You may have one for free and you
are free to choose the one you like,
but know this: she does not love you.
You’re wasting your time with this one.”
The kid’s spine straightens and he growls,
“Yeah, people keep telling me that,”
as he makes a move towards the door.
“Keep your hats, doc. I don’t need them.
Thanks for the conversation, though.
It was very enlightening.”
Doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham
smiles and waves like a grail knight
as the door bells tinkle once more
and the kid steps into the world
one giant leap closer to home.