• the day janis joplin joined the 27 club i prayed for my brother's soul

    Touchstones: UVU's Journal for Literature and Art — 1st Place Poetry Spring 2019

    in the spring of 1968, mama, tracy, dennis, and i moved from phoenix, arizona to orange county, california / mama said we wouldn’t have to worry about keeping a patchy lawn alive / and it wouldn’t be so hot by the ocean / except there was smog, and sure, the yard was green / but mrs. chavez on the first floor yelled at me and tracy when we ran through the sprinklers
    when i told mama i wanted to go back to arizona and the melting ice cream sidewalks, she shook her head and rubbed the bruises on her arms / then i remembered pa lived in arizona, so i stopped complaining
    the walls in the apartment were thin, we could hear the couple next door arguing / it was in spanish, so i didn’t care / it always stopped after the loud crash / the sink dripped, too, so mama called the maintenance man / he didn’t know how to fix the dripping, but said she could pay him for more pleasurable services / no thank you, mama said / the maintenance man knocked into me on the way out, and i caught the scent of pa / mama fixed the faucet by herself
    dennis watched tracy and me whenever mama worked the night shift / when she’d shut and lock the door, dennis grabbed the cigarettes from under mama’s bathroom cabinet / and the LSD stuffed in his pillow / he was catatonic within thirty minutes / me and tracy snuck into his room once and played his records / while he talked with the walls and clawed his skin, we listened to janis joplin’s primal growl, jimi hendrix’ electric solos / tracy said all the good musicians started with a j / i said that’s pretty stupid, though i couldn’t name a single one who didn’t / when dennis sobered he punched us over it, so tracy never went back to play the records / but i did
    i went home early from school, made sure i was alone, and spun them / lit a cigarette on the fire escape, the windows thrown open, janis’ soulful screams ricocheting down mason street / as i stared at the smog and apartment blocks sprawling all the way to the ocean, my mind burst into a thousand different colors / i never understood why dennis needed acid when the music was far more psychedelic
    well / i wait around the train station / waitin’ for that train / take me home / yeah / from this lonesome place
    mama found dennis’ stash in the spring of 1970 / it sparked an h-bomb in the living room / she called him good for nothing, twenty seven years old and not a damn thing to show for it / not a job, no money, just a bag of psychoactive drugs / he said awful things back and slammed the door, taking his record player with him
    take it / take another piece of my heart now baby
    i saw dennis one time after, across the street on my way to school / fancy clothes, bulging pocket, his arm around a pregnant girl / laughing, probably high / though memories of scars he gave me ached deep in my mind, i didn’t wish any evil on him / because he seemed so happy
    that september, jimi hendrix choked on his own vomit / that october, janis joplin overdosed on heroin / both twenty seven, forever young / so i prayed to god and to the music posters to let dennis make it to twenty eight, prayed he’d never be frozen in youth and ignorance
    on his birthday, mama let him in the door / asked no questions about the red in his eyes or the money he slid into her purse / he gave tracy some joni mitchell vinyls and handed me his old record player / we sat on the fire escape and watched the smoggy sunset / neither of us spoke, we just stayed there listening to the voices of the dead / i thanked the posters for keeping him alive / he didn’t say a word when he left
    i think you got good intentions too / they don’t manage to show through
    mrs. chavez found him the next morning / in his car, with his girlfriend / shattered windshield, bloody seats / and i realized being one year older doesn’t save you from gang members / and owed debts / and the past catching up to you and putting a bullet in your chest / so i went into his room, took down the posters, and cried / because janis’ brother still had her growl / and jimi’s friends had his guitar / but all i had was the old record player and an endless stretch of ocean
    a broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life / somewhere a queen is weeping / somewhere a king has no wife / and the wind it cries
    i go back every year, on his birthday / they tore down the apartment complex and put in a parking lot for an aquarium, but i still stop the car where he died / and turn the radio all the way up
    excuse me while i kiss the sky