Sunday Pages: "Post Apocalyptic To-Do List"
Poems from the spoken-word artist Rich Ferguson
Last week, I wrote about the online community at The Nervous Breakdown. Another of my TNB comrades, and the site’s poetry editor, was Rich Ferguson, a spoken-word artist from Los Angeles. We only knew what he looked like from his little square avatar, and that little square avatar looked so much like Johnny Depp that we all thought it was a photo of Johnny Depp. But no, it was really Rich—he and Depp have a similar fashion sense, it turns out. On the message boards, he was so positive and so nice that I assumed, cynic that I am, that this was part of the act. But no, that, too, is the real Rich.
I remember he dropped a YouTube video on us, still fairly novel at the time, featuring his spoken-word song “If I Were a Bond Girl.” It holds up:
His recent videos reflect the new, post-Trump reality:
But the live performance is where it’s at. When done well, spoken-word is one of the greatest art forms. I don’t pretend to know its origins, although I suspect it came of age in this country with the Beats. I had the pleasure of seeing Rich perform, when he came to New York to do a few shows. My friends and I were blown away by the earnest performance, his command of the room, the patient cadence crescendoing and de-crescendoing. He’s the real deal. Catch him if and when you can.
His collection, 8th& Agony, is out on Punk Hostage Press. Today’s “Sunday Pages” is a smattering of Rich’s poetry:
Post Apocalyptic To-Do List
Create heaping helpings
for my heebie-jeebies.
to bright May flowers
my June gloom.
into a hip,
nine-level, indie bookstore.
that duty-free bottle of calm
for my most troubled flights.
my nappy-headed worries
to get some
much-needed beauty sleep.
Give all my hogwash
a heaping dose of mouthwash.
Turn my quiet maladies
into a Bohemian Rhapsody.
Give my monkey wrench
the monkey business.
Turn this mortal coil into a Slinky.
Make maps of all my scars,
trace their path
back to the heart.
Another Day in L.A.
Early morning symphony of coffee brewing, babies burbling, truck gears grinding, industry wheezing. Blackbirds singing, barrio bus-stop benches creaking, emaciated mop-top rock-star palm trees rustling in the breeze. Those unheard: the sleeping, the dead, and stealthy coyotes lurking through Los Feliz neighborhoods, hunting down garbage scraps and stray pets.
Bankers, lawyers, gangbangers. Homemakers, social workers, and sexworkers. Everyone making deals: another fix, another fuck, another driveby. Another marriage abolished or saved. Deals being made in high-rises, hotel rooms, parked cars, courtrooms, and kitchens. Sleazy deals tattooed with diamonds and dollar signs. Honorable deals sealed with a handshake. Desperate deals gone so wrong, not even the shadows stuck around to witness all the dark that went down.
From Hollywood to Hawthorne, Watts to Woodland Hills: the circling and buzzing of police helicopters. Urban birds singing only the blues.
People rushing to jobs, gyms, malls and AA meetings. Everyone searching for, or escaping: demons, death, money, love, salvation. Hurry. It’s only seconds before someone pulls a trigger. Only seconds before someone plants the seeds of a kiss.
Promises flimsy as negligees. Dreams too big for a million hearts to hold. Become a star or slip through the cracks, dwell anonymously as dust. That aching feeling deep inside: an eviction notice being posted on your soul.
Car exhaust, factory pollution, byproducts from aerosol cans, and wildfire smoke crowd out the sky. Skull-and-crossbones breathing. Noxious and obnoxious breathing. At least some are comforted by the notion that all the poisons make for beautiful sunsets.
Evening injects meth, makes once-wished-upon stars edgy, chronically reaching for the burned-spoon moon. Beneath tweaked-out galaxies, people struggle for direction, meaning. Others who crave more faithful and comforting constellations visit the walk-of-fame stars on Hollywood Boulevard.
Bars that are more like churches, streetwalkers that are more like healers. Here, lives can be lost and saved in many ways.
The dutiful and the damned, the famous and freakish. Clergy members, counterfeiters, and cancer patients: all are blessed and unified in slumber. But once the bedside alarm rings, it’s half past one’s own version of heaven or hell.
Pushcart-nominated poet Rich Ferguson (@Versiferguson) has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Moby, and other esteemed poets and musicians. He is a featured performer in the film, What About Me? featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, and others. His poetry and award-winning spoken-word music videos have been widely anthologized, and he was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His poetry collection, 8th& Agony, is out on Punk Hostage Press, and his debut novel, New Jersey Me, has been released by Rare Bird Books. His newest poetry collection, Everything is Radiant Between the Hates, will be published in the Fall of 2020 by Moon Tide Press.
Photo credit: Cat Gwynn