Tag Archives: small towns

Small Towns: ode (Keatsian)

For what it’s worth, most places on a map
merely exist as clots in highway veins:
mere wisps of web for speed or tourist traps,
perhaps historic, where that sense remains.
At thirty thousand feet that’s how they look:
just blips on distant radar, single grains
of sand on beaches that in recent books
rate just almost a star; not worth the pains.
But down here, where the highway meets the chrome,
a place takes on dimension. It retains
some spark, and for those souls that call it home,
an energy that tourists feed upon:
a tilting match between living and death.

The ebb and flow is more or less a tide:
a feast and famine cycle that repeats
quite often at so slow a speed, the ride
seems dull, not worth the ticket price for seats.
At other times, the fulcrum tilts so fast
there seems no forward motion or retreat,
just wearing down what once seemed built to last,
a winner’s gait slowed down to shuffling feet
that struggle two steps forward, one step back,
and finally collapse in a bar seat,
where like an aged and rusted Cadillac,
their owner basks in golden yesterdays
and stares out at new flowers every spring.

Sometimes, influx of new blood fills the streets,
its holy and exuberant refrains
erasing painful memories of defeat
and adding camouflage to ancient stains;
for a brief hour or two, time is forgot,
and with it all self-loathing and distain.
The shiny, feverish fish won’t know it’s caught
until the hook reminds it once again
from whence it came, and how its future runs:
a circumscribing series of events,
monotonous once they’ve just half begun,
and covered with the dust of drawn out days
as soon as the car’s headlights fade from sight.

7 APR 2017

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One Horse Town

Lucky it’s a one-horse town: it cuts down on the horse-shit;
but watch your walk, you’re bound to step in some.
And any fool can tell you there’s no trick to finding trouble;
it comes up on you ugly, mean and dumb.

The world ain’t too much different from one small place to the next;
you get around enough, you learn just what you can expect.
It really doesn’t matter how you think things ought to be;
they’re usually off target, more or less, to some degree.

Lucky it’s a one-horse town. It keeps the sidewalks cleaner;
but folks avoid the middle of the road.
They walk the straight and narrow down their own side of the street
and don’t wander out beyond the status quo.

But it’s not too much different, this place, from all of the rest;
it’s the absence of comparison that makes it seem the best.
It really doesn’t matter what they think, or if they even care;
so long as you sit here, and they stay far off over there.

Lucky it’s a one-horse town, it simplifies the transit:
there’s only one road out to anywhere.
And you don’t have to worry over what to pack for traveling;
you just need shoes, so bring an extra pair.

The grass is not much greener there than it grows right here;
it’s just different fertilizer and new kinds of smoke and mirrors.
You know, it really doesn’t matter where you think you’re gonna go;
different day, the same old horse-shit piling up along the road.

29 NOV 2007

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This Place

Everything about this place just tends to bring me down;
I look into the mirror and see one more hopeless clown.
The people on the street have a sad tendency to frown
and no one wants to be the only soul left hanging ’round
this little bit of nowhere that some joker named a town,
who’s happier to be long gone and six feet under ground.

Everything about this place was meant to be just so:
straight white picket fences and fake shutters in a row,
with people shut up inside watching television shows.
Nobody wants to be outside and watch the flowers grow
along the winding street that follows where the river flows
but still seems to get nowhere, and why, no one really knows.

Everything about this place is waiting to expire;
folks waiting for apocalypse or when they can retire.
The people on the street seem unimpressed and uninspired;
nobody wants to tell the truth or cross beyond the wire.
It doesn’t seem to matter much who’s honest or a liar —
either way you’re wasting air trying to light a fire.

Everything about this place is tied up in the past,
secured in little boxes tied with string and stitched up fast,
going through the motions like bad actors in the cast
of a show still in re-runs, like a flag flown at half mast
in praise of some great compromise that ends the war at last
with an uneasy silence interrupting the broadcast.

Everything about this place falls down around my ears
in echoes of an irony that will not disappear:
sad people on the street seem to accept heartache and fear;
nobody wants to be the only one left when it clears
and leaves each of us naked with our ledgers in arrears
as the sad charade is ending and the day of judgment nears.

Everything about this place just makes me more depressed.
I look into the mirror and admit I’m not impressed:
can’t stand my sad expression and can’t stand the way I’m dressed,
but thinking about changing only gives me added stress;
and anyway, it really doesn’t matter, I confess,
’cause everywhere is nowhere in it’s own way, more or less.

06 NOV 2007

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The World is a Small Town

Don’t want much, but that’s all right
Nothing much happens here on Saturday night
Get laid, get drunk, get in a fight
Maybe all three
Maybe at the same time

Don’t need nothing, but that’s OK
Nothing much here to speak of, anyway,
Get up, get old, collect your pay
Maybe all three
Maybe if the sun shines

This little town can sure get you down
Hard to find a reason to keep hanging around
Sure ain’t no doubt the old rural route
is not the quickest way if you’re hellbent to get out
Little town dreams, and little town schemes
keep us separated, too much space in between
But don’t let the welcome sign turn you around
The world is a small town.

Don’t say much, but that’s just fine;
Nobody really listens to me, most of the time;
Get riled, get hot, get out of line
Maybe all three
Maybe if I’m tipsy

Don’t ask much – that’s just as well;
Nothing doing here – it’s either flood or a dry spell.
Get set, get wet, give yourself hell
Maybe all three
Maybe the way it should be

This little town can sure get you down
Hard to find a reason to keep hanging around
Sure ain’t no doubt the old rural route
is not the quickest way if you’re hellbent to get out
Little town dreams, and little town schemes
keep us separated, too much space in between
But don’t let the welcome sign turn you around
The world is a small town.

22 DEC 2006

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Stretched at the Seams

I’m living in a small, rural town again. It may have a university campus smack dab in the middle of it, but face it: Natchitoches, Lousiana is not a center of urban sprawl.

I’ve lived in small rural towns before. Hell, I spent 2nd through 8th grade 15 miles outside of one with a population of less than 8,000 (and even had the audacity, at 36, to move back). I like living in the middle of nowhere, geography-wise, and privacy-wise. But I have to tell you, if I were using either John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town” and Jason Aldean’s “Hick Town” to describe my experience, I’d be a stone-cold liar — although there is a grain of truth in both of these paeans to Smallville. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is a lot closer to my truth. Closer even than Springsteen’s “Nebraska”. Maybe country living has changed, though. I said the other day that Aldean’s song seemed to be missing anything about putting M-80’s in mailboxes and tipping cows. And it certainly doesn’t speak to my experience with tractor training, 4H and FFA.

I guess the difference is living outside a small town, versus living in it. There was always a big difference between the country kids (like me) and the townies. Inside the city limits, any borough can seem confining, structured, staid, stilted, stuffy … a place where young people feel limited by the expectations placed on them by their elders and peers. On the farm, I never really had too much time for that kind of contemplation — there were chores, long bus rides, acres and barns to explore, fish to catch.

Of course, a lot of people I know who are from small towns have never set foot more than 50 miles from where they were born. And often, that natural insulation (and isolation) from the rest of the world is cemented and augmented by the institutions in which so many of us are indoctrinated from birth — churches, schools, social clubs. A lot of folks, in that kind of environment, do grow up to be on the outside just like their parents, just like their neighbors. Some of ’em are happy doing it. Many, though, it seems to me, are only happy on the outside. You can tell it in the way they talk about the government. Or foreigners. Or even just people from the next town over.

But I reckon it’s not just a small town thing. It’s a people thing. You either take responsibility for your own life, and get busy living it, or you are, quite bluntly, just killing time waiting to die. Most folks choose the former, and become wonderful parents, friends, spouses, lovers and business partners. But a few seem resigned to, and even rejoice in, their unhappiness — they say, “what this town (or country, or world) really needs is a …” and wonder why somebody else hasn’t done it. They’re starving for change, for growth, for individuality and a life outside the box, and simply don’t feel it’s their place to change, grow or step outside the establishment’s door. Granted, there are repercussions for those brave souls who do challenge the status quo, even in the smallest of ways. You do get talked about behind your back. You will get worse service at the grocery store. You may not get a decent table at restaurants. You may even have bricks thrown through your window, or crosses burnt on your lawn. You certainly will be going to Hell, one way or another — at least that will be the consensus of opinion, even among your own relatives.

Country or city, it seems like the most frequent thing you hear is “don’t get above the roots of your raisin’.” That’s like getting too big for your britches, I guess. But it seems to me that if all a plant ever has is roots, if it never breaks the soil and stretches out for the sun and makes, heaven forbid, a statement of its own potential — and that potential may be as a fruit, nut or vegetable (LOL) — then no matter how good the roots are, they haven’t done their job. They’re the foundation, and the source of nourishment and balance, but they are NOT the end product. Each vine and branch have their own path to follow, their own song to sing.

All that being said, I wouldn’t trade small rural town living for the metropolis. I’ve seen enough of big cities (on both coasts and in foreign countries) to know that urban existence is not natural. It leads to thinking that oranges come from trucks, and funds studies to prove that mother’s milk is the best food for infants, or that cheese is the best bait for a mousetrap. It creates country music that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the flyover land between the Holland Tunnel and the San Andreas fault. It’s proud that only 5% of its population has to actually touch dirt for a living.

The friends that I’ve made in small towns are closer friends than those I’ve made in the city. Sometimes I wonder about their ambitions to get out to the “big town”, though. I don’t fault them for that dream, but have to filter it through my own experience. It ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, than a wee little minnow in the ocean that is big city living. Give me the limitations of small town reality over the lunatic fantasy of the big city any day. I know ya’ll ain’t gonna believe me, if ya haven’t lived it yourself, but life under the Hollywood sign ain’t all that and a bag of chips.

Peace, ya’ll.

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Undertown

There’s nothing much that’s happening
here in Undertown
since they closed the old refinery
and sent those pink slips ’round;
Down at Cheaters they’re still drinking,
but the jukebox plays the sound of old frustrations.

It’s been fourteen years and odd days
I’ve been working here;
no advancement but the worry
and lost time etched in mirror,
watching everything around me
but my memories disappear down at the station.

And all the boys still thinking of winning,
but the girls just want to dance;
we’re all waiting for the times to change
so we can take our chance.
Me, I’m holding on to nothing
and it keeps bringing me down
See, there’s quite a lot of nothing to go round
here in Undertown.

Before the cops cracked down
on heavy drinking in the square
You could sit watching the girls
pretending that you weren’t there
With a sixer and a dime bag
and a half a pack of Kools, what did you care?

But Billy Dean got himself married
and you won’t see him around
And Carlton Healy got religion
when a crusade came to town

Me, I’ve got a wife and daughter
and just look like some old clown hanging down there

And all the boys think they’re important,
but the girls don’t go for that
We’re all waiting for some action,
sitting here and getting fat
Me, I’m holding out for something
and it keeps me coming ’round
Trying to get something from nothing in this town.

There’s nothing much that goes on
here in Undertown
Since they closed the swimming pool
when Eddie Franklin went and drowned
Down at Cheater’s they’re still drinking,
cursing fate but too far gone to try to blame it

It’s been fourteen years since I came back
and found another rut
The façade keeps getting older
while it’s holding in its gut
And the paint is cracked and peeling,
but there’s still no telling what is going to change it

Yeah, all the boys think they mean business
but the girls know it’s a lie
We’re all wanting firewater
but the well has long run dry
Me, I’m holding on to anything
to keep from going down
See, there’s lot’s of time to lose it in this town.

1999

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Just One More Night

Leaning out the doorway with a joint in my hand
Holding up the wall so the illusion can stand
The ground it never comes up on you just the way you plan
But it’s all right, sometimes

Looking out the window through a crack in the glass
Waiting for the minutes in this hour to pass
Could be one more day and then I’m out on my ass
But it’s all right, just fine

It don’t get no easier with time
There’s just so much here to occupy my mind
While I’m waiting for the imminent decline
Without a fight … just one more night.

Giving it the gas so that the engine won’t stall
Waiting in a line to make a long distance call
Makes you stand up straighter when your back’s to the wall
But it’s all right by me

Hanging in a backroom filled with rusty old nails
Wishing in the one hand and it just never fails
Could be a train a’coming you can tell by the rails
But it’s all right, you’ll see

Standing on the corner as the traffic goes by
Watching as the debutantes dissemble and cry
The future’s never certain and you never know why
But it’s all right, yeah, all right

Working on the road gang and I’m standing in the ditch
Waiting for the light to change, my finger on the switch
One more opportunity to hang around and bitch
But it’s all right, no need to get uptight

It don’t get much easier with time
There’s just so much here to occupy my mind
While I’m trying to figure out the bottom line
You’ll see I’m right … it’s just one more night.

Summer 1998

And here’s the MP3 demo.

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