The summer I bought Pet Sounds at G.C. Murphy’s, I hadn’t gone a block from the store when on impulse I smashed the album, still in the sleeve,
against a lamp post in Girard Park between the make-out benches and the box wood bushes.
I was out five bucks but felt possessed by relief—from Nam worry, MIRV terror, all that left me helpless—and shook the sleeve just to hear the vinyl rattle.
A lost year later, I was stopped by a panhandler in Chicago
in the Greyhound station. Buzzed, he said he needed to tell me how he had lost his best Army buddy in one of our recent fake wars
and I was a ringer for the guy, so I handed him my last dollar and felt the same uncanny relief
but I was broke now, so I thumbed two rides on two trucks, the radio still filled with news of the Pueblo and Otis Redding, eight-hundred plus miles of bulletins and grief,
and the whole way I kept thinking about Rachel Wagner, who kissed me outside an electrified pig fence on her family farm,
while her mother did dishes and her father milked cows,
and how she sang, “If you should ever leave me, / life would still go on, believe me,” then sucked the warm breath out of me.
Thought of her all truck-ride long, snacking corn clucking and rattling in my pocket, God only knows
how many buzzards mantling their kill and ravens settling on fences and how many breaths of how many cows doing pirouettes on their gray Ohio muzzles.
Who needs vinyl! I blurted, and the guy at the wheel, who had no idea, shot me this look,
but I could care less. I was ecstatic, guilt-free again, inspired by my vision of crumbled vinyl and shattered rock ‘n roll, filled with insight
into how my last dollar looked better in his hand than mine, at how much better the Beach Boys sounded when Ray sang
even though Ray couldn’t sing, and how she breathed her breath into me, breathed me back into my body
and we left each other breathless as the livestock looked on.
- J.T. Barbarese’s collection True Does Nothing (Plume) is forthcoming in spring 2018, along with a selection of translations of Jacques Prévert.