William James

working class poetry // punk rock performance


In the summertime
the town was ours,
but when the leaves started falling
they brought with them

another wave of arrogant
college boys, with Greek on their chests
and their collars turned up,

so all us misfit toys
would take our songs
and our stories with us

then split for another
part of town
more welcoming to outcasts
such as ourselves –

there was 15 Shady,
with its walls covered in
flattened cans of PBR,
egg cartons we stole from
the grocery store dumpster,

foam from the cushion
after another couch
had met its untimely demise,

where the punk kids
could gather for a show
in the living room – at least
until the cops showed up
to shut us down –

a brief moment of respite
from our shit jobs,
our dead-end homes,
the scorn heaped on us
in spades by the normal ones,

escape from the waves of
college boys reeking of Jameson
and cheap cologne,
who pumped more money
than most of us made in a week
into every jukebox in town,
until the streets would ring
with drunks

singing Jimmy Buffett tunes
or pop-country songs
sung by city boys with soft skin
and shell necklaces,

singing with an affected twang
their agent told them would
make them more relatable
to the working man
about the various joys tequila
had to offer.

The living room
where Clint and Squid
on-again-off-again puppy dog eye'd each other
through their camera scopes
in between sips of cheap beer,

where Joel and Ryan
blew out the fuses every week
being more rockstar
than the house could handle,
so we waited in the heat
for the show to start – hours late,
because punks are never good at time –

and when it did
it was like we'd all found religion
at once, everybody singing along
even if you didn't know the words.

If you tried to hide in the back,
if you tried to get away
with staying quiet, Jamie
would slap his bear-paw hands

around your shoulders,
pulling you up to the front,
and somehow that would be enough
to unleash the ghosts from your throat,

and we'd all sing together
'til we believed that
not even God could
shut us down.

When Shady was unavailable,
we had the Foxhole,
a $30-per-night basement 

of a pizza joint
paneled in fake wood grain,
still hazy from the smoke
of BINGO games gone by,

the final resting place
for broken pool tables
bowing in the middle,

like dying elephants
covered in moss.

where we'd fill the seats upstairs,
15 or 20 of us at a time
sharing the cheapest
single-topping pizza
with waters all around,

which would piss off
the kids working behind the counter
    (for good reason)

but we were punks
all trying to be more punk
than each other

so we said we didn't care
and kept taking up space
until the show started,
or the owners chased us downstairs.

Sometimes bands would
roll through our small towns,
usually as a last resort
or on their way to something better.

Most of them
forgot us when they left,
but a few of them
became friends, came back
for every tour,

even when the door split
was close to zero
because everyone who showed up
that night
was either in a band,
or claimed they were with a band,

or the kid who'd booked the show
packed up early
and went home right away
to keep all the money to himself,

and no one ever
wrote about our scene
in AP, or RockSound, or AMP Magazine,
because they thought
we weren't punk enough to matter,

but you couldn't
have taken any of this
away from us,
no matter how hard
you tried.


[originally published in Young & Hungry Zine]

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