a close up of a sheet of music

Life as Music by Joe Barton

Spirit of Punk

     I am young, wild, and reckless. I am an anarchist. God save my family from the terrible little boy named Joe. The youngest and only boy of four and the child my parents wanted the most. My mother told me that she had two other boys… but they died. She also told me if the first boy would have lived my sisters would never have been born. So for a time I was the miracle I guess. Well, that is, until I started walking and talking. Never knowing what I wanted but knowing how to get it, if that meant breaking a few things along the way the better.

     My big sister Shahidah hated babysitting. Some of that was my fault, I guess. Running outside buck—naked several times would get on anyone nerves. I like to think my actions back then were not that ridiculous. But thinking about it now….how many other three-year-olds tried to burn the house down?  Twice? It became a common thing for me to be beaten by my father. But no matter how many hour long beatings I endured, or how many days I would spend alone in my room, I was still hell-bent on doing or saying whatever I wanted.

 Real Folk Blues

     I’m a teenager. I wanna die. How sad is it when every day you fight the urge to not off yourself? They say things will get better, but I’m not seeing it. It’s easy for a good looking, well—off person to say that to a nobody like me. If only they knew the daily bullshit I go through, maybe they would understand. Maybe I am being too dramatic, maybe it will get better. I don’t know. It would just be nice if I had someone who could understand me.

     My sisters abandon me, my parents are tired, and my friends just don’t get it. Only the shadows understand me. They’re good listeners, but they never have much feedback. They never call me or make fun of my speech problem. It would be cool if they could wipe away my tears. 

     A year past, and I still fight the urge at 15. Every day is a struggle, until I meet her. I don’t know if heaven is real, but if it is, she smells like it. Her smile lights up the darkest of rooms. With her, I’m not lonely or insecure. In fact, she instills in me a great confidence. I don’t care about what they say about me or how they see me. She puts that “fuck it” in my system. She even brings my sisters and my friends together. Mary Jane saved me.

Hair Metal Alchemist

     I’m legal. I’m a soldier, and I don’t need nothing for a good time. Airborne all the way is what they us. Working and jumping that’s the life I chose to be. I had to divorce Mary Jane, she knew I had to leave Memphis. But damn these 82nd guys are on some other shit. Work us to the bone and treat us like dirt, no wonder Fort Bragg is number one in DUIs and suicide. My motivation is fading away. Bad dreams and toxic leadership are driving me crazy. My battles find peace and rest at the bottom of a bottle. Bacardi 151 is the ugly girl that bonds us together. She doesn’t like me very much though. She whispers to me that I’m worthless and no one will miss me. I almost listened, but my wisdom teeth saved me.

     Having my wisdom teeth pulled saved me from myself. The docs prescribed my new best friends, percocet and tramadol. The first time we met, the world became so much more bearable. The Staff Sergeants, who threw young soldiers under the bus, didn’t faze me. Work was more enjoyable, even if we were in the field for a month. I was more sociable at clubs and brought home many women. My hoe-ness knew no bounds. Work hard and play hard was the 82nd way. And when the prescription ran out, I met Mary Jane’s cousin, Spice. It was the golden age at Bragg. No one knew about Spice but everyone was doing her. 

     On weekends, the barracks became rock-and-roll hotels. Bodies of stoned and drunk soldiers laid in the rubble of trashed barrack rooms. When Monday morning came, it was back to business as usual. The 1SGs ran us like cowboys on steel horses. Sweat poured from our body and smelt of vodka. We worked and jumped until our bodies moaned, but once we were free, the party raged once more.

Country Line Road

     I am older. I am wiser. I’m on the road again. Behind me is the past, and I have to stop looking back. The man of constant sorrow can’t find any peace back there anyhow. Twenty-five years I’ve lived and there is only one person I can trust. And that is the black pavement, the tattoos of Mother Earth. With her, I see the true beauty of this world. The lush green farmlands of Kansas and the quiet back roads of Arkansas both share their stories and secrets. As I pass the signs that point to Texas, I think of my exes. The Heathers, the Jennifers, the Adris, the Kay-Kays, the Constances, and Camerias keep me company with warm memories. Always on my mind are the what-if’s, but then the sun rises. The snow covered Rockies of Colorado greet me and whisper “let go.” A new beginning awaits me with triumph and heartbreak. At least I know the road will be always there with me, hugging me at every turn.