Bless the city of Saint Joseph
for its superlative squalor,
for its whiskey with a beer chaser,
dark bar on a rainy afternoon tawdriness,
for its dead rat on the railroad track ugliness,
for the way it tells you, "I don't care any more. Fuck it!"
Forget luminosity, blue air, shimmering lake water.
These wooden spools in the yard at Wire Rope,
this burned and abandoned Gilded Age mansion,
this Everything Must Go, Fifty Percent Off,
Going Out of Business junk shop dumpiness
is the Buddha.
Dooley says sin is any act of divided attention.
Today I am fully attentive to the city of Saint Joseph.
Today I am drawing the rusted, jagged top of an old can
which once held Depression Era government lard.
Today I am sketching a work boot without laces
which once carried a tobacco farmer's foot
across his hard-scrabble farm
behind his farting mule.
Crows and road kill!
Today I am writing this poem.
Funeral in Jotown
For Mike Swope, whose brother Earl
killed himself after being arrested for
writing a bad check.
The pure products of America
don't live in New York, don't live in
Washington D.C., don't live in L.A.
The pure products of America live here
and they're at this funeral
and they are dangerously beautiful
in their unawareness
of how beautiful they are
raw-boned and red clay beautiful,
rented trailer out on Amazonia Road beautiful,
low-down mean and dirty, God damn your eyes beautiful.
The spirit of the place is in these people
and I want to celebrate that spirit
because it's beautiful,
though that biker
with the kill-fags eyes
might bash me in the funeral home parking lot
and his buddies would get in some good licks, too,
behind their stoned-out black as death sunglasses.
But this is it, man.
You want Missouri, it's here:
the shit jobs, the hard ass struggle,
the pick-up truck held together with duct tape,
fishing for supper, the dream of a hundred-pound catfish,
loving your vulnerable kids and hating your minimum wage,
cutting wood for winter and a buck and eighty an hour
washing dishes at the truck stop,
and deer meat and pinto beans and Cheerios,
And it's hard, the poverty and the anger.
And it's cruel, the truck that falls apart,
not a damn thing you can do, can't replace it,
up to your ass in debt and Missouri mud,
and it's been raining for weeks
and nothing for it but to lean against a tree
and pound pound pound your fucked-up fist
into the wood and it's a shag-bark hickory
but who could give a shit?
And God don't it hurt, and God don't it hurt,
and God don't it hurt, and God don't it hurt?