Steve Lambert has had work appear both in print and electronic publications, most recently
in Durable Goods, Writers' Bloc and Word Riot (under pseudonym t.o. de burgh). He lives in
the uncool, unhistorical part of St. Augustine, FL, and works in a public library in Jacksonville.
We went just to go. It was the last time
we'd do irony together on a large scale.
I remember most of the trip: his grave,
the lone impersonator wondering
the premises who we decided was Elvis
in disguise as himself. We fought about
some now lost detail and were quiet for
the duration of the self guided tour through
the house. In a gift shop (Graceland is
nothing if not one big gift shop) you
bought a post card with a photo on it of
a very young Elvis wearing a turtleneck.
We agreed it was a good choice. We didn't
know whom to send it to. That night in
our unair-conditioned room at Admiral
Benbow's we drank from bowling-pin-sized
bottles of malt liquor and took Polaroids
of our glistening faces, fucked like harried
vermin and smoked cigarettes and talked
until three in the morning when it finally
became cool enough to sleep. A month or
so later, after we'd broken up, I got a post
card in the mail: young Elvis wearing a
turtleneck. On the back you'd written
"What a trip" just like that.
Two months into it we took our first road trip.
You had a Ford Tempo and daddy's gas card.
We took turns driving and got there quick. The
trees flanking the king's house were stark and
leafless and looked, you said, like paintings of
stark and leafless trees. A suspicious impersonator
(there's always an impersonator) skulked about.
The King's car room was magnificent, sincerely
kingly. The jets were presidential. "What a guy,"
I said. "He was fucking hot," you said. That night
it snowed and we took to the streets. Our Florida
clothes were not enough so we bought knit caps
and quilted flannels at a two-story hardware store
on Beale Street. It was my first snow. I called my
mom. We stayed at a Comfort Inn and drank cheap
red wine and played bastard versions of poker games.
Before we finally went to bed we walked outside.
The snow had stopped. "You're the only person I
know," you said, "who has been to Graceland twice."
We went to bed and quietly, like snow falling, made
love and nearly fell asleep connected.
The Oldest City from the Newest Suburb
We're so close you can almost smell
the fresh empanadas of St George
Street, hear the echo of 500 year old
cannon fire, the baying of Spanish
whores. Our cookie cutter house, built
in '05, is an insult to the ruggedness of history--
our neighborhood, a post-post-modern
graying next to all that rough and garish
beauty. The wholesale violence of conquest
next to the calculated violence of commerce.
At least the former is muscular, of consequence.
What McMansion could possibly outlast
El Castillo? Spanish sounds so familiar to me
that it's just a sexier, less straightforward,
kind of English. Even the drunks here
have impressive bloodlines. Old Europe
not New World. Our small gray home
wouldn't withstand a direct hit from a Cat 3.
But, still, I love it, and would fire cannons
from its rooftop and battle overland invaders
to secure the small fortress of this drab little life.
I'm building a ship in a bottle.
A study in frustration.
I'm called scatterbrained.
Presumably, there's no gun at my head.
This will not be an enlightening or enriching experience.
I'm doing this because doing nothing isn't a choice.
We were lazy. We were "bad kids,"
truants and druggies.
I don't remember much.
"You're just misguided knuckleheads,"
declared Mr. Ratley.
We all liked him, even Pete,
the tough kid of the class.
We all hoped he was right.
I need to linger for a moment.
I was short and chubby.
I studied Pete's clothes and his walk and his hair cut.
(This is the first time I've admitted this.)
I turned around and he said,
"If you don't have a different haircut tomorrow,
I'm going to kick your fucking ass."
Most kids are cruel, but some are mercenary.
Now I'm hairier and taller but that's all.
But I have not given up.
In Summer We Move Slowly
As a matter of survival. There's also
the sensual pleasure of sweaty slowness.
The word summer is deep down here.
Men name their daughters after it
like a character from the Bible.
Our family reunions are held during
the hottest month of the year, like a dare.
"I wouldn't hit a dog in the ass with that,"
said my uncle Royce (who is not my uncle)
in reference to something my mother
had cooked one year. We are cousins,
he and I. Our whole rednecked family
is once removed for three generations back.
We lean to the side. In her early 40s,
after three girls, my granny saved my dad
for last. My granddad, slowest of all,
walked like a wounded caveman.
He couldn't keep up. I barely remember him.
We are indigenous to this karst droop
of limestone, but not unique. Every land
carves a people. Marks them heavy like an
accent. Geography and weather whittle
you down. The real estate in Florida goes
up as you head south, and becomes less of this.
We're middling, me and my kin. In this
state's center we've swaggered through
Walking Water, Windermere, Frostproof
and Winter Haven. In counties named
after Conquistadores and Confederate
generals we've made our own dumb conquests,
have fought in woodrot bars and have been
arrested for petty crimes, have worked hard,
too, and shirked days away in palmetto
swamps and salt marshes. Have fished for
brim and catfish with cane pole in one hand
and sad, reliable everything else in the other.
It's hard to do an honest day's work under
the decaying contrails of spacecraft. Breathing
alone can seem a chore when the day's breath
is this dense. But deep in the humidity of our
genes is an immunity to real concerns.
Hurricanes aren't even cause for alarm, not
anymore. We've learned to distrust
meteorologists. Ever since Katrina, every
year is "above average," just to cover their asses.
Back to Front.