[Barnabas Collins steps through a secret panel]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From Book 2 of The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood)

Barnabas Collins steps through a secret
panel in the wall of Josette’s bedroom:

proof for me in 1968 that a vampire
lived inside the walls of my own house;

no matter how rationally my mother
explained that no living or undead

creatures could exist inside the inside of
our home, Dark Shadows made me believe

in a world of paranormal certainty
(as did her books on the Salem witch

trials); my natural supernaturalism
diminished slightly as I got older,

overwhelmed by the insistent claims
of reason, the same dull round of everything

we already know: my childhood city,
Erie, Pennsylvania, was a state of mind,

a malaise, a place where homes
did not come with secret panels,

all the factories were shutting down,
Welfare milk and cheese supplemented

our weekly groceries, and we swam
in a polluted Great Lake barely safer

than the fetid country ponds on the outskirts
of the city; to this day, I still feel a little dirty

when I go out to dinner with friends
(my family couldn’t afford to dine out,

though my first job was in a restaurant,
age 16; my boss, nicknamed Zorba,

later convicted with his brother, Larry,
of trying to kill Larry’s wife, Josie,

with the knife he showed off during
slow periods in the kitchen; when Zorba

attacked her, Josie ducked and was scalped
—her testimony sent them to prison):

if you grow up poor, you assume everyone
is watching for the inevitable moment
that reveals you’re a fraud—I expect
my fellow diners are waiting for me
to paw the food into my mouth with dirty
hands, slop it down in grunts and belches;
no surprise Erie’s on my mind, the decrepit
rust-belt city of my childhood, long undead
before I was even born: I inaugurated
this summer (June now in Chicago,
metallic fish odor of a different Great Lake
clinging to my t-shirt every time I come
back from jogging) with a trashy true crime tome,
Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s 
Most Shocking Bank Robbery
—any book
that sneaks the phrase “The Untold Story”
into its subtitle is pure candy—the tale
of Brian Wells, doomed Erie pizza delivery
driver who robbed a bank with a bomb
strapped to his neck and was blown up
before the bomb squad could rescue him
(bonus movie trivia: Erie provided several
location shots for the film adaptation
of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic
novel The Road—my squalid hometown
representing for audiences worldwide
what the end of civilization looks like).
Wednesday, January 15, 2014