Getting Ditched In South Carolina

South Carolina night
motorcycle madness
The heat had been beatin’ on blacktop all day
and in the dusk’s dark the sun still rose
in waves from tar-drippin’ asphalt bubbles
I slowed the bike down on dope street
the man waved me over
flashing teeth from night-face
no dope in pocket gotta ride for it
creaking motorcycle shocks as big man gets on
feel his hands on my waist and I try to remember the face
behind me mustache comes to mind that’s all
had he passed me dope in the darkness
before this hot summer night
addiction only remembers what it needs
chasing dragons through misty mountains of the mind

I kick it through the gears and the red lights
there is no stopping us now
my addiction is talking to me
it whispers sweet shit into my ear
and I know this monkey is a liar
picking up speed
and the dope man’s hands tighten up on my waist
and he hisses at me to slow the fuck down as
I lean into the back road curve hard
scraping foot pegs on asphalt
sparks just like shooting stars
wink out into the night
like young men on dope-city streets
dancing to deadly drive-by rhythms
dark spots

Suddenly my engine freewheels
I can tell by the scream
the road pressure is gone
as pounding pistons freed from confining transmissions
fry their cylinders and boil oil
I snap the throttle back to idle
pull the clutch lever
dope man holding my waist tight and yelling in my ear
and I’m paying attention to nothing and everything
as I tap the shift lever down
and still nothing
my addiction is howling in anguish
as I shut the engine down
and roll the machine to the shoulder

The night is hot
and dark
I am sick and sweaty
with road dirt gritting on my face
the man wants to go
the man wants to stay
I want a flashlight
the clutch cable has broken loose
my disease has broken out in my mind
like a chattering monkey
beating on existential bars
in a prison of its own making

the man wants to go
the man wants to stay
I promise a quick fix
as I fumble the clutch cable between grease and sweat
and shaking fingers
and I know that I am a liar
but my addiction wants him to stay
he is the stellar connection
to blisters, pus, disease and denial
riding high on a dead white horse
chasing dragons that whisper lies to me
in the middle of the night
and I believe everything like a child
knowing his parents are lying again
but how can the world shake like that

the dope man is leaning down to see how I am doing
I am slipping the cable back into place
with aching fingers
and wondering what his face really looks like
in the light
my addiction shakes my head
the man wants to go
the man wants to stay
and his addiction makes him wait
and wait and wait and wait

My fingers are cable-torn
they slip again and again
I need to call my wife
I need to hurry up
I need to get some dope
I need to hook this up
why does this always happen to me
I need to call my wife
I need to get some dope
this is not real
and in my imagination only

I bend to my task
the man is yelling
my addiction is talking
and I am suddenly in the air

I am hearing the impact
what is that metal-tearing sound
I don’t know why I am flying
I feel the body-wrack pain
dull like a thud
and I am a bird that bounces
the world spins past and there are sounds
that defy my ears
and suddenly all is still.
In the heat’s silence dead engines
and deactivated metal ticks
time backwards
and I smell the grass and the earth
like me it has been freshly torn and wounded

The is how death comes
like lights in the night
bearing tidings of metal
pumped by oil and misruled by blood beings
I am afraid to move
I am afraid to think
I am afraid to die

Can I catch my breath
where has it gone
suddenly I can breathe
raw and hurting
but there is no hiss of air
and I laugh suddenly
for I remember about punctured lungs
and I know that the only thing going right
is my lungs are not hissing through rib-torn holes

And then I hear voices
and I am not alone
it is a man’s voice and he is saying
“tell them you were driving
tell them you were driving”
and then there is a woman’s voice
and she is saying
“Not this time
not this time
this man is dead
and that man is dying.
There is too much involved here.”
And I know that I am what is too much involved here
and I know that the dope man is “this man who is dead”
and I know that I am “that man who is dying”
and there is too much involved here.

And I want to get to them
and shake them and tell them
shake them and kill them
for caring so much
they don’t want to get in trouble
and I don’t want to die
not right now
but they are in trouble
and things are a little worse than that
for me and the dope man

And where has my addiction gone
while all this is happening
took the fuck off
and told me
“you’re in this one all by yourself”

and I try to get up
to tell that man
to tell that woman
all about ‘too much involved here’
and what all that shit really means

to me and the man who is dead
I have legs that shoot pain and fire
and will not work
and I know that other things
are not working well either.

A car stops
and someone comes running up to me
he tells me the ambulance is on the way
and that everything will be all right
and I know that what he is saying
is not exactly true
my addiction always fed me bullshit too
but she had a more convincing argument
and I never liked to be confused by facts anyhow.
A woman leaned over me and asked
if she could do anything for me
while we waited

I stopped and thought for a minute
while I listened to the driver of the pick-up
that had turned me to road kill
lie to the police
and say that we were in the middle of the road

I thought it would be a good idea
to smoke a cigarette
while I waited
for the ambulance
or to die
whichever came first
after all
my lungs were okay.

The woman pulled one out of my pocket
put it in my mouth
and lit it
I sucked in the smoke
the dope man was dead
I did not remember what he looked like
the man who hit us was drunk
he was worried about the trouble he was in
my motorcycle was wrecked
my wife was home
waiting for me to bring the dope
I remembered that I had been dope sick
as I took another drag on the cigarette
and I realized that I wasn’t in a hurry anymore.
I took another drag
this was the best cigarette
I had ever smoked.

This is the poem that Peddlar called my ‘major lead piece at the very least,’ and it happened to me in 1991 before I recovered from heroin addiction. This narrative piece was also written in story form and recorded by a jazz band for a CD by the Jeff Robinson Trio and was praised by an article in The Boston Globe.