In The Reverb Of Emergency
Editor's Note: "In The Reverb Of Emergency" is part of Michael Juliani's poetic series, "From Young Rooms."
I. “I have beaten out my exile.” —Ezra Pound
Baudelaire compares the Poet to the Albatross—tied to a boat, to land, by man (“he cannot walk because of his great wings”). While Baudelaire believes himself damned, it is much easier to feel doomed. During lunch, I read him in this noble volume featuring a watercolor of flowers on the cover. Nobody here eats alone. A white-haired man with short, yellow teeth has his hand shaking as he drinks ice water. His daughter winces and tilts the glass for him. The young women are dressed the same as always: prim, slim and smart. The city newspapers have front-page photos of debutantes in white dresses holding rose bouquets. I wonder if you could see Baudelaire’s anger, if it steamed like a suburban father’s, or if it rose and fell, inflicting the man with his wet-eyed stare. He was a man who would not fit in a place like this, like I somehow do, even though I do not care to anymore—but it is home, even if it’s also exile.
II. Cinematography for Your Childhood Home
This morning, “The Tree of Life” was on TV. I saw this film a year ago with my mother in a small theater. She left halfway through to get my sister from a friend’s house, so I finished watching with a different filter. It’s the last movie, and the only one I can remember, that’s made me cry. Coming home, I stared at the Pasadena city lights. Malick’s favorite tone, magic hour—the blend of day and night—draining down at the end of Colorado Boulevard. In my room, I sat at my desk, turned on the desk lamp and felt as singed as the cinematography of the film. The camera had careened through the rooms and windows of the house like memory—the scenes where the boy’s playing ball in the street at dusk and he sees his father yelling at his mother through the curtains of their bedroom. The camera could jolt through the summer stillness of my home, starting in my room, at the figure of my hand along my jaw, the sum of it all. It’s a fantasy of the perspective that I crave: someone else’s moving frames from my story of unmediated love. I cried. “The Tree of Life” showed in the living room this morning. I was transfixed, as my family filed out the front door behind me, and again it was the same feeling.
The Gaze (In a Dive Bar):
Downtown is like one big still factory at night, orange lights contained by the height of the buildings. Riffraff and women in mini-dresses stamping the streets. To stay simple, I always ask for “something light,” except on 4th Street where I’m comfortable with the bartender, a chick who looks like a ghost wearing black. A sticker on the mirror says: "Don’t Be A Dick." She snaps open beer cans with a spatula-type device to avoid touching the rims where customers will soon put their lips. The caps stand vertical. You bend them down before your first gulp. Up and back the length of the bar she goes, lifting untouched cans to check for empties, stepping outside every half hour to smoke cigarettes lit by dipping her mouth toward a candle flame at an empty spot near the door. Scanning us with her eyes, she yawns, looks at the time, takes a nip off a sugar-free Red Bull behind the cash register. She expects us to stare at the point of her cleavage where her lace top concludes at a tiny pink bow, like lingerie. We only disturb her when we disregard the wet-soft coasters set before us—the bar top must not get ravaged.
From certain streets in Los Angeles, at certain turns, you can see the spread of fireworks from a dozen suburbs on the Fourth of July. Caesar Chavez Avenue, for instance, as you pass Union Station, roll under a bridge and come up by the jail—the largest in the world. All times of day, men walk across to the bus stop after being released, their belongings knotted in bags. At 10 o’clock on the Fourth this year, a guy got released from jail. It’s like what you hear in bars when the lights come up at two: “You don’t have to go home, you just gotta get the hell out of here!” He didn’t walk across the long street when his light was green. He stood there trying to comprehend further navigation.
People set off fireworks from their backyards and from the middle of their narrow streets. They’re sold at stands in the parking lot of Ralphs and are advertised with signs along Huntington Drive. I said what my family has always said: “Emergency rooms will be full tonight.” I drove through El Sereno, Lincoln Heights and Alhambra like an officer navigating a Jeep through dark territory, with flak exploding all around in the air. My grandfather dozed in the passenger seat. It felt like driving an injured soldier to the depot. My grandfather 50 pounds less than what he used to weigh. Paws for hands. Old rings on his fingers. Sitting calm as an iguana. The fireworks unrelenting—“Bombs bursting in air…”. I may never have to fight in any war. While we marvel at representations of America’s victories in the sky, every veteran's trauma gets rankled. My grandfather says, at the end of the ride, to the women and me: “Now you know the tiniest bit about warfare.” No, I know only what we’re left with.