alchemy and astrology learn to get along
dancing among the stars,
your fate mapped out
in orbits and constellations,
consistency and security.
in its crudest form,
in the attempt
but i remained
schedules and science
improv and magic
until magic and science
both of us
occupying the space
to be more
under the glow
of the stars
even lead can
The Grand Ole Opry
I made it out of Vietnam for this moment. To play on the greatest stage in the world; The Grand Ole Opry. My stetson boots tapped to the rhythm of my guitar, as I finger picked honkey-tonk tunes by Stonewall Jackson, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and God rest his soul, Cowboy Copas, while waiting for the curtain to open.
Sgt. Johnson told me to give up these dreams while we were humping through the Mekong Delta in 68 not long after the Tet Offensive.
“We ain’t getting out of here alive, Rusty. The quicker you come to peace with that, the better soldier you’ll be. Your sorry ass was born at the wrong time to be a goddamn Honky-tonker, son.”
Johnson was only a couple years my senior, but he was on his third tour when I was still in my grunt diapers. Meaning I was still in my stumbling phase, where the heat, the weight of my rucksack, and my general unfamiliarity with this new world I had been drafted into made me look like an infant compared to those who had adapted.
And in Nam, two years’ difference might as well have been 50 back in civilization. Any soldier who made it through a tour, let alone two, was a man you listened to, because that man was a survivor. Every grunt in Nam wanted a platoon leader like Johnson, and in 68, they were few and far between.
Johnson was right so much that when he told me Vietnam was the end of the line for us grunts, I believed him without a shred of doubt. But the Sgt. wasn’t saying this to deflate morale. It was, in fact, the reverse. He just wanted us to have a clear understanding and acceptance about what it was we were doing there, and to push forward despite it.
He didn’t want us crying and begging for our mothers in the middle of a search and destroy mission, where silence was the difference between life and death. He wanted us mad, not scared. And with acceptance, we could drop that fear like dead skin and become killing machines.
I understood that and became a harder soldier because of it. But it didn’t stop me from picking the guitar up on evenings when fireworks didn’t light up the South-East Asian sky, and dreaming of glory. There was a part of me, no matter how small, that always whispered, “Rusty, you’re going to play on that stage, boy, and the world will never be the same.”
I’d think about the Grand Ole Opry, and a smile would stretch wide across my face. Standing there, alone with a guitar, stripping myself and barring my soul for an audience who was about to be mystified. Telling them through melodic poetry, the troubles I’d seen, the troubles I’d survived, and how if the war didn’t kill me, hell, then I must be immortal.
In my head, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, throughout most of my tour. The boys thought I was crazy, but I thought they were crazy for not having a dream. Or if they did, letting the heat, the jungle, and the VC strip them of it.
“Oh, Wheeler was a dealer at his old general store. It was a trading post for traveling cowboys and widows of the war. Wheeler watched the goings-on in a valley in the west. And if you tried to rob ole Wheeler, boy in a wooden casket, you would rest.”
I’d sing old tongue in cheek western songs I’d written for the grunts in Firebase Lorraine. Smack dab in the heart of A Shau Valley. They’d laugh, smoke cigarettes and pot, while staring at me with the eyes of those who’d seen too much to ever be kids again. I’m sure I was looking back with those same vacant eyes, despite my best efforts.
In December of 68, about a month shy of my DERO(Date of expected return from overseas,) I began feeling these premonitions that things were going to go to hell in a handbasket, and that I was going to die. You feel that at the beginning of your tour, and somewhere in the middle, you think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it out alive. But the last month or so is filled with stone dread, as though the heavens themselves have opened up just to laugh at you for ever having hope.
You are washed with the rains of absolute certainty that you were kidding yourself if you ever thought you were going back home. Your maker was in the jungle. That’s where you’d meet, and Sgt. Johnson would be there as the world faded to black.
A week later, my premonition reared its ugly head as we were ordered to run a search and destroy mission deep in A Shau Valley. Heading down Armageddon Lane in rattlesnake formation, through trails that had brought about the deaths of many soldiers in recent months.
There was VC movement about four miles in from the firebase. Platoon after platoon had been sent in to kill them and destroy whatever supply nest they had. We followed orders and not even two miles in; we were ambushed. Our point man Anderson was decimated by a claymore and then, beyond the valley of green, hellfire rained down upon us. I hit the ground and began blindly firing back.
I was back at the Grand Ole Opry, standing behind the red curtain. It opened slowly, and a spotlight flashed in my eyes, revealing the crowd that awaited me. They were all soldiers. Dead soldiers.
Jamie Dickson, the nineteen-year-old who I foolishly befriended during my stumbling phase, clapped in the front row with half his face missing. Gomez whistled with the thumb and middle finger of his left hand, the whole right side of his body gone. Madrid, the Spanish-American radio operator of my unit, stood up and cheered. “My honky tonk brother, Rust-ayyy, yo, Rust-ayyy,” he went to clap, but looked down at two stumps where his hands used to be, then shrugged his shoulders and said, “There it is. There it is.”
I started playing and realized that the guitar was out of tune. Although I could swear that I tuned it before the curtain opened. Then my fingers forgot how to strum and pick, and my brain acted like it had never played the damn guitar before.
The crowd of dead soldiers had the smiles wiped from their faces as they began to boo and scream obscenities. One of them threw their helmet at the stage, right next to my feet, or at least where my feet used to be. FTA (Fuck the Army) written on the front. I went to pick it up and noticed a hole in my midsection.
“What is going on?”
I looked out, and again saw Madrid shrugging his shoulders.
“There it is. There it is."
Then the Opry got hot, so goddamn hot.
“Rusty, are you awake?”
I heard the voice of Sgt. Johnson. The smell of tobacco on his breath brought me back to A Shau Valley like smelling salts. Johnson was on his knees, while the medic wrapped my midsection in gauze.
“What’s uh, what’s going on? I was just at the Grand Ole Opry,” I said weakly. Johnson looked at me with solemn eyes.
“I’m sorry, kid. I told you, you were born at the wrong time to be a honky-tonker, but not at the wrong time to be a hero.”
He held on to my hand as I slipped out of the valley for the last time.
That was the day that Rusty the honky-tonker died.
Saint Patrick’s day; now it can be told
when king Derwin demandad
that oobbleck should fall,
'stead of snow and rain,
and hailstones and all,
a convention a meeting
of druids and wizards,
discussing the weather,
the sought out green blizzard,
and true to their trade,
though it was a doozy
the oobleck the crafted,
and then they got boozy,
it poured and it gooped,
straight down from the sky,
a greenish creation
not wet and not dry,
a syrup it wasn't
like glue, it was sticky,
a fallout adhesive,
that was turquoise and tricky,
the farmlands, the sheep,
the rooftops were covered
and even the flies and the bees,
as they hovered.
a polymer mess,
that cemented the fishes,
so it befell,
by king Derwin's wishes,
but there was one who could see,
that this stuff can't go on,
he begged and implored,
his struggle was drawn.
but Derwin the wise ,
he did not relent,
in love with the oobleck
had poor bartholomew sent,
to a dungeon so deep,
to the dark oubliette.
and so gloried he with oobleck
king Derwin on throne
the country in a viscous flood,
of enerald , the tone.
and stayed like this for many years,
as people squished and schlooped
and fought so hard to break away,
when rained down the green goop.
till Patrick came along and cast ,
king derwin , with the snakes
and had the tired weather-bringers,
converge upon a lake.
and held they all , there by the Loch
to cast the oobleck hence,
to fall no more from verdant skies
as the damage was immense.
since then , the skies rain snow and hail,
and often fog or sleet,
and celebrate we all with beer,
thats green yet bittersweet.
Hill Country Gazette
-Booger Hollow, AR
It is with heavy hearts that this publication must bring news of the passing from this earth of the singular and greatest celebrity in the rich history of the Hill Country area.
Rusty Carr, famed guitar, banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, piano, tuba, harmonica, and juice harp player and singer, whose life was cut short Saturday night as he performed before a record crowd of more than thirty people in the illustrious Smoked Ham Tavern in Booger Hollow Arkansas.
Mr. Carr, also known as The Honky Tonk Player, had been in rare form performing such hits as, The Night My Cousin Left Me, Pass the Damn Jug, and Teardrops For My Beagle before tragedy struck. Approximately half way through the concert, a shine jug being used as a stage rigging weight broke free from above, crushing the beloved Rusty Carr's cranium.
A patron who was witness to the horrible event, known only to me as Joe Jack, described the frightening scene, "At sanger uz jus runnin around all over the place, jus a pickin an a strangin an a hellufashow. All sudden I seen this white blur come from tha ceilin. At thang hit Rusty right in top a tha head. I seen blood hit Vicky Sue standin in front a tha stage. She uz cryin an screamin, 'My hair! My hair!'. Yep, at jug damn near split his head down the middle."
Booger Hollow chief of police, Jim Bob White, was willing to give an official statement to the Hill Country Gazette. "At this time, we believe death was instantaneous and Mr. Carr suffered no pain in his passing. However, those blood stains ain't coming out of that banjo no time soon."
A short time later, a band member who wished to remain anonymous told me, "That police man gave me a great idea fer a song, Bloodstains On The Banjo".
Mr. Carr's body will be transported back to Hill Country where he will be laid to rest in his family cemetery.
#s 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 & 20
the lottery numbering
that in this or any
in and of themselves
are construed to Mean...
nothing more than sixteen;
or 7 if calculated in numerology
to the sole mathematical ending
in idle addition of each whole
numeral as given
God bless the randii
look up at us
dead and safe
on the gambling
Table of Life
with all Its chairs
set as shadow players
I pull the square root
of the Median;
and take a seat.
My turn to deal.
Topics of randomness challenge @batmaninwuhan