Out of my own dark world, I have moved to the frontiers of human civilization; yet still it is dark.
When men become gods, this is what they will look like. They will wail like BB King and Tracy Chapman, knowing indeed that the thrill is gone. The thrill is gone. Nothing to hear but the staccato of my own worn out voice. I sat in a field, jazzed up, young and lonely, knowing that the thrill was, indeed, gone. How can one tell a love story in a strange land, is it not where love stories belong?
Florida wasn’t clear. Florida was a haze, and what men did with it, jazz.
I wish I could feel a little life again in this marshy land of white sands, alligators, talking trees, and palms. I wish I could hear the wailing of my ancestors trumpeting the sound of my existence in this part of the world. Florida high life, high land, high love, high, high, high.
I sat on the grass breathing, watching, feeling everything moving into reality and existence and being and love. I was empty. Naked. Sometimes the world seemed too beautiful and so unreal, like the colors of a dying petal. A butterfly perched on my shoulder, flapped its wings, and journeyed into the wild. I ignored a million mosquitos feeding from my flesh, which was what I paid for at the park. The price of beauty is steeped, and Zika was on the menu, too.
I was no god, neither was I beautiful. I was just a man, transiting. Reminiscing. Friends gone and friends to come. Friends on the brink of death, and friends facing the horrors of existence. One called me that he was weary and tired of living, and I didn’t know what to say. Go on, play some jazz. Go on, live some more. Go on and dance naked in an empty field. Feeling comes from the sound of timbre. Timbre made from timber, or from the voice of gods in the halls of Valhalla, forging ordinary men into warriors. Life locks you. It’s never easy.
I had been on this road before, unable to make sense of my being. I seemed lost, and what remained was a scream down my hollowed self; perhaps, more like a belch. A house. A space. Woman. Emptiness.
Scrambled words on a paper. Dead men’s puzzle. Chess. The face of a girl before me. The face of love. Tattoos on ivory skin. A skin, flawless. A steady breath. Then BB King playing in our tiny hotel room. I stared at her and everything consumed me. A striking smile. A love for jazz and obscure things down on the dingy bed without frames. A shattering glass dropping each time we looked at the floor. On the first night, the rug was already stained with red wine. We were too drunk. Remember? A shattering glass, dropping. Looping, over and over.
She wasn’t petty, she wasn’t pretty, and she was just a painter. A painter with the flow of rhythms and a touch of love. A painter with art, and hope, and love, and love, and so much love. And BB King playing in the background, and Tracy Chapman dropping it low like a rain of God. When men become gods, they love. They sing, they dance on the ocean floor, and rise with the tide and drink beer and watch Florida as it’s skinned alive by tourists. A state bearing the torch of capitalism. Seeking to sink you. And jazz and men frolicking at the ocean drive.
She was always there, always by the ocean and the breeze and jazz and men seasick and drunk. Thelonious Monk blaring downtown Fort Lauderdale, by the museum, and there she was by me. Smiling. All teeth. All love. In skimpy red shorts and face painted beautifully. Kissing me down to the throat, and when I looked away, it seemed as if I was shy. A little shy in a broken scene. A little shy by the sea port. A little shy at home playing chess, making dangerous moves, lying on the bed, fucking. A little shy, watching her face. A little shy holding her hand while standing by the wallpaper of a rocking steam boat in the Everglades on its way to Nirvana. A little shy when the lights of Key West beamed on my face and fish swam in a grove across milky blue sea. Dying blue sea. Drum. Heaving sets of drums clattering in the large emptiness of my mind. She took away my loneliness, and I felt like the strings of a guitar in Jimi Hendrix’s hands.
My heart melted when the car radio beamed with Georgia on My Mind, and my good old soul mate Ray Charles calmed my heart of many seas. The highway looked holy and well preserved. The light house stood in front of us like a beacon of hope. The white sands of a city built by the sweat of seekers. Merrier with love and sea sickness and sailing and arms of beauty sucking us in until we anchored in the historical city of St. Augustine, and all the ghosts stared back at us. Alpha Blondy stepped it down, a dew in a cold morning. Her arms gripped the steering hard and her face filled with a smile. A smile I couldn’t forget. The kind that sticks inside forever. The kind I have fought to let out, yet it stayed, like cancer in the blood. The blue sky began to wail and nearly touched the beach. Canons, forts, boats, military strategies, iron, heaters, trees, John Coltrane, and the blood of men flowing down the beach. Then her face by my side, and that smile again. Scrambled city in the middle of the ocean. Lucile hanging in all the visible corners of the city screaming, bleating, shouting from the master’s tongue. My lover held my head in the middle of a restaurant built in 1886. Birds flew overhead and perched on nearby trees. Forks, sharp knives, ketchup bottles, and a table covered with a fancy tablecloth. A bird popped onto our table at O.C White. A fine restaurant owned by an Italian family. Right there, it smelled heavenly, and a tiny drop of olive oil down our throats made us happy. Pork fried rice, Tiramisu, lasagna and so much laughter.
My lover kissed me. She kissed me. When a man becomes a god, he is kissed more often. The soft guitar strings bleated across the city of rails and tour guides and nice old men retiring in the cityscape that spilled black blood, blood of merchants, blood of soldiers, and blood of invaders. The image of a rusty iron dragged through the esophagus kept reappearing in my head as I stared at the ford below a castle. Boats rowing. Stains of blood and jazz. The American dream has been packed and sold, sold and packed. The sun striking our faces turned us towards the hollowed side of the city, where black men marched into the unknown in want of their own freedom. Unknown graves are never marked.
Our hotel was musky and deep. Our night was sweet. Our sleep was easy, and filled with love, and trees, and owls, and screaming jazz down by the university. In broad day light, a southern boy pitched his tent and played country music by the college lawn, and our hearts melted. Melted slowly. The iron rail fence, the red brick walls, glorious medieval hallways, citadel of learning, evergreen, evergreen. I took each step boldly around the fountain, like it was the founder’s first day, dreaming, planning, and turning marsh and wasteland into paradise.
Our cameras flashed by the metal chairs and flowers and gate and kisses and kisses, and Florida felt like something stashed in our pockets. St. Augustine owned us, took us down the slopes of it, lush landing among merchants and wealthy bloodlines. The old man stood on his porch massaging his beard, smirked. Smirked. I knew black bodies once dangled from trees here and his face showed it.
When we walked past the cemetery, all the ghosts screamed their stories through a crack in the stone. We kept walking towards the arms of the sea, and old rail roads, light rails, locomotives of the twenty first century still making their circular journey round the southern trade routes. The elderly tour guide as old as the passengers kept repeating the same thing over and over.
“Here, a man was hanged. Here, black bodies were burned to death. Here, the soldiers fought till the last man. Here, in front of this store, the bloody soldiers made their last stand and their comrades watched them die from the other side of the sea. Here, here, the Indians took their final stand and fell.”
Here and there, the sound of locomotives and the smell of fumes, rotten eggs, fish dancing in the body of the water, and my lover digesting a plate of spaghetti. When men become gods, they eat spaghetti in expensive restaurants founded on the day of invasion. A place as old as the first invader. When men becomes gods, everything turns to jazz. And this city, St. Augustine, would never be the same after meeting jazz. My lover, long gone, long loved, loved over the long winter that never came. Still loved. Still dancing in the sun on the beaches of southern Florida.