The Year in Punk

Russel Swensen

The year punk left me at the pier clenching my fists until they bled
-and why you left you never said.  The year the radio said wanna
be a victim, ready for abduction.  Year of the pierced labret and the bruised
divan, girls drowning themselves in honey, they never felt sweet, blue
-green hair pulled from the vats or wrapped in foil, leaking dye on the
bathroom tile, girls laughing, from the next room, always from the next
room over, as you wandered through the party, in your ripped out jeans,
and cocaine sleeves, in your jacket of gravel, in your Expression of Grave
Concern, polished to rough, like new skin beneath a sunburn, rubbed
absently off, your face which shone, though you never knew, no
one told, no one ever does, year of masquerade and ox, that goth club,
the one you were afraid to visit, year of “casual head,” year of playing dead,
instead of attention, insouciant in her mary janes, Rachael checking your hair
for signs of the wound, Rachael saying “I’m sorry, he’s not there,” fading
into Sugarhouse Thrift, never seen again, or never noticed, one day, punk rock
walked into the river with her pockets full of stones, singing “ain’t it fun
when you get so high that you just can’t come,” and she never looked
back, the year punk taught you to pop the steering column and said, 
“you’re on your own, I can’t help you, I can’t help you now,” hurrying
back into Denny’s, his pony tail bouncing softly on his denim jacket, Year
of Anything Off a Mirror, with nothing up your sleeve, using nothing but
your depression, (and several handfuls of clonezapam), you blocked out the sun,
stole into the night, stole away, carrying nothing but the pocket in your life
that nothing really filled, her hand in yours, as you drove, using an ink blot
instead of a map, going nowhere, together, her disinterested hand in yours,
until you let it slip,  and she pretended not to notice, Kate’s violet eyes and
fugue, perhaps you should have stopped that car, perhaps you should
have talked, I never knew how, never learned,  there there, it doesn’t matter now, 
night swelling shut, a punched out eye, the year punk rock took a curtain call,
backstage, staring at her hands, “nothing matters to me, nothing matters to me
now,” year of the total job, of fucking in canyons, fucking in cars, or trying to,
drunk to your very fingertips, someone in the next room, listening in, writing
in their diary, “what if after all I am consumed,” night that opens to slit,
coarse fabric curved to your hand, laughter in the next room, or in the snow,
falling silently, in Salt Lake City, you were fifteen or you were twenty seven,
“what happened,” and glass strewn over the passenger seat, foxes playing
in the snow and someone, always someone, saying “those aren’t foxes, that’s
your blood,” It was… year of the snow-bank (in which you kept every cent),
year of the drift, the year punk took you under its single lice ridden wing
and said, “you won’t have to worry about a thing, ever again,” though even
then, you did, worrying at your sleeves on a rotting futon, watching your father
throw knives, did he hit or miss I never knew, who can say, year
of the comical gang sign and the girl who kissed you in the bird refuge
like it’s okay baby it’s okay you never learned how to fly, “it’s ok you
never learned how to kiss, we can practice,” though you never did, year of the one
take, someone in the engineering room, laughing softly, gone before you ever
arrived, year of red rock opium and Jon’s impossibly white hands, holding a
plastic cup with strands of lime across the lip, year of the dry erased sky,  Manic
Panic, my own Lisa saying “what happened,” holding her torn underwear in her hands,
“I was only gone for a moment,” Dave taking a long walk, in the back of the bar,
at the end of the line, the longest line, year of the torn septum and the stolen cart,
the clubhouse we burned down, year of automatic refills, Sadie Sadly, “wearing
nothing but her disappointment,” year of wrists, show me your wrists, let me kiss
your torn out wrists, until I can see through them, the year punk rock put her hand
over my mouth until they'd passed, “it’s safe to come out now,” though it never was,
the injury inexact but permanent,  the ultrasound revealing a hole in the world, “you’d
think we would have noticed,” our parents in the next room laughing, as they
took away our dice, stole our vinyl shine, no, they gave it back but no it never sounded
the same, neither did we, the year punk rock led me around the back of the house
and came back alone,  shaking her head sadly, “no one else is coming, you can go
home now, please go” year of kohl lined eyes, sitting in the car with the engine
running, “it’s been whatever,” a relationship consisting of unfiltered cigarettes and
no vested interests, year we cared, very much, about all of us but also, about none us
in particular, writing FUGAZI in black magic marker on mismatched shoes, (no socks),
or thinking about it, Nirvana playing on a dirt floor at a livestock show, what happened,
a nest of glass on the passenger seat, Ashley in the red rock apartment off of Franklin,
Good Dog Comics, everything filled in with black crayon, “do you understand now” she
said, and faded, back into the Akbar’s array of soiled whiskeys and the roaches moving
between them like lovers beneath the trees, Year of the Permanent Grin, year of sexting
and  frustration, year you lay armfuls of begonias in her lap, year you folded her hands
across yours, she did not give them to you, though they remained for some time, as the feel
itself remained as you died on Mulholland Drive, for only the first or second time, Danica
brushing the stars from your hair, “there’s been an accident,” and there had been, “there has
been nothing but,” you almost said, almost, but you never said much, or you said it with
cigarettes, you said it on the guest list, you said it with your absence, you said “year of the
RE-MIX,” and the cold in Houston came up through the floorboards to remind you of
every place you’d been, and what’s become of them, year of “yes but never again” and her
hair pulled back, year of the nineteen year old, the thigh gap, the generation gap, snapchat,
hazmat, tell me, where did you think you were going, what did you think you were doing,
licking the hesitation from her, but it’s still there, it remained, as she did not, disappearing into
the crowd, into the boarding house of the calendar, already, even then, A House On Fire,
a fall, isn’t it possible, you dropped the ball, you should have taken the call, “adding it up”
with your mortar and pestle, have you learned nothing, nothing at all, Our Lady of Whatever
saying “I’m sorry, I am so sorry doe,” in her feast day clothes, in her Day of the Dead and
sulk, smoke curling up from the poem why, oh why did you put her here, all of them here,
I had nowhere else,  how can you be sure, I can’t, you never could, “hlp hlp said the starling,”
screaming beat me out of me in the recovery room, I can’t stand it, then don’t,  I can’t stop,
little one, you did.