The Quotable


—for Jim Fusco

After six years of forgetting, I’ve found you playing drums for a country band in our small town’s local Italian restaurant, a job you’d call a gig covering Cash, Nelson, and Yoakam, songs in which the bass pops fifths and quarter-note walks steady as the pistons on a homebound train, as a Fender twangs out blue-note leads and a slide guitar off to the side sheds a smooth, tinny ambiance that settles behind every instrument. Real honky-tonk stuff.

Your snare rolls ache to explore the toms, to let loose those soaring John Bonham fills from “Rock n’ Roll” or “No Quarter” or to churn the triplets of “Immigrant Song.” Your wrists contemplate Ringo Starr syncopation as those straight simple eighth-note beats lock them into place. Your bones creak like machinery Roger Waters has welcomed you to like a son, shoulders cracking at a hundred twenty beats-per-minute beneath the weight of a life of fleeting obligations and the soil you’ve been unable to cast upon your only son’s coffin. Here in this dim, bustling restaurant, there is no Led Zeppelin, no Beatles, no Pink Floyd to cast a shadow on an unhappiness that is burning bright across your face, not even blues to play as I know you must have played on a handmade acoustic guitar in that lifeless bedroom in a house you no longer inhabit.

Divorced janitor, one-time firefighter, father of my dead friend, you’ve traded in and separated yourself from so much since I had reason to know you.

I can occasionally make out your thinning hair and frameless glasses behind a Pearl five-piece from across a roomful of occupied tables and a dance floor riddled with gray-haired, leather-booted patrons engaged in a fixed, rotating monotony both fluid and stilted that I can only assume to be that phenomenon known as the square dance. As I wait for you and your band to take a break, I go over in my head what I shouldn’t ask you about:

  1. The illicit substances I’ve heard you’d taken to in some excess
  2. The job you downgraded to for reasons unknown
  3. Your daughter, Lauren, because I can’t be sure if you’re still close to her
  4. Patti, your ex-wife, who remarried less than a year after your split, which came only a year after Nick’s Chevy Lumina taught our town a lesson in terminating physics
  5. Of course Nick, the one unspoken connection we have, which in separating has forced an equally unspoken distance to settle

When the amps click off, the rest of the band disperses, filling their beers, sitting with family, or both, but you stay behind to tune your drums, avoid the no one you have to sit with, or both.

We’re already shaking hands before I can tell that my face has fully registered in your memory. I tell you that it’s good to see you and you say the same. Your voice is chain-linked.

I say the choice of musical style is a bit out of place and you smile and say Nick would have laughed his ass off if he were here, and I agree, though I’m barely able to say so, as if by the saying of his name my pretext is ruined, the void between us now named.

I learn you’re still doing the same job at the same elementary school, that you’re likely about to remarry, that Lauren is going on to Florida State on scholarship to study meteorology, that you’re sick of playing this music every Saturday and most Fridays because you’re tired after work. You learn the customary from me: that I substitute teach in Orlando and am in town for Spring Break, that I’ve graduated, that I don’t hang around with the old crew much these days.

You point out my mom in the back and remark that her hair is short. I tell you slowly about her chemo, trying to let you fill in my response by implication until you nod your head and say Ah… and I say she and my dad are doing well, though I leave out his ruptured appendix.

When I start to leave you seem reluctant, asking how long I’ll be in town and saying after me as I turn away that you don’t know when you’ll see me again. I don’t know what to do, so I shake your hand again and hug you, a grown man I barely know anymore, a good four inches shorter than me. As we pat each other’s backs in our masculine embrace, I want to quote Neil Young for you, someone we can equally understand.

I want to say Old man, I’m a lot like you.

I want to say My my, hey hey. Rock and roll is here to stay.

I want to say Once you’re gone, you can never come back.

I want to say Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.

Love lost, such a cost, give me things that won’t get tossed.

Rust never sleeps.

He is gone, but he’s not forgotten.

One look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.

I leave without saying what I want to say to you, that even now I can’t stop writing poems about your son. I want to tell you that if the various embers that comprise your life can’t seem to ignite a greater fire, then know that you have produced this one spark that I have not stopped warming myself by in six years of winter, that there is a ghost that I cannot yet exorcise because I know now that it needs to haunt, that as I write this all out later tonight I will weep again for the first time in two years, and that I will wonder if you did too, you who I know are still as haunted as I am by unburying.


Bryce Emley served as an editorial assistant for The Florida Review from 2009 to 2012 and is Managing Editor of 12:51 in Orlando, FL, where he also freelances. His writing can be found in The Pinch, Hawai’i Review, Yemassee, Measure, Ruminate, Pleiades, and other places.

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