Alive on Arrival
Thirty, thirty-five years after
being called the next Dylan,
his debut album playing
on every FM radio station
and "Romeo's Tune" bulleting
up the Billboard charts, Steve
Forbert is pacing the dark stage
of a small club. He's plugging
in his own guitar, adjusting
the mic's height, strumming
a few chords and blowing
into the harmonica wired
around his neck. Almost
show time, I order an over-
priced flat bread pizza instead
of the tiny Angus sliders.
Forbert opens with 'Thinkin,'
a slinky shuffle tune telling us
not to spend too much time thinkin'
and thinkin' or you'll wind up
stranded behind. Tapping the table
to his easy rhythms and natural
melodies, I go down to Laurel
with him and his songs, spend
a week in January drinking
and driving with old home town
friends and end up sleeping
in his boyhood bed, listening
to church bells ring, wondering
what kind of guy am I really am.
Right now, I'm a guy who thinks
I'm sick of winter. I can't seem
to shake this week long cold
and I'm not in love with anyone
at the moment. I'm sitting
across from Rob and he's sipping
whiskey trying to forget he lost
his keys today, that it cost
two hundred dollars to change
the locks. My ex girl friend
in Vermont has been angry
since she found out I put
her name in my last book
of poems. We're not speaking
and I miss her son badly.
Between songs, the audience
can't help yelling out requests.
I resist the temptation to get
on my knees, beg for "I Blinked
Once," "Born Too Late." Tomorrow,
Rob will be riding the C train
to Fort Greene hoping to give
things with this young girl of his
another chance. I'm thinking
I'll send Helen another letter,
admit I messed up, apologize
again and hope she'll forgive me.
Forbert fills ninety minutes
plus two encores with a number
of instantly recognizable cuts
we all mouth the words to.
He covers Ray Davies, Jimmie
Rogers and Elton John, sprinkles
in a few album obscurities,
a bunch of new tunes he's clearly
dying to play. Maybe they won't
find their way to your car radio
or download into the ears
of all those hipsters crowded
onto the late night L train back
to Williamsburg, but Forbert
seems happy enough playing
guitar and singing his songs
while we clap, yell for more.
He stands at the bar, signs
old vinyl covers, talks, laughs
and poses for photographs
as he sells old and new CDs
until he finally says good night,
packs up his truck and heads
down the line to another joint.
And no, I'm not dreaming about
happy ever after, true true love
or even one quiet, snow falling
fireplace evening in Helen's arms
as I climb down subway stairs.
I'm thinking about the last time
I flew into Burlington, wandered
around the airport and heard
Jesse call my name. I'm thinking
I'd be happy enough to fall asleep
beneath a deep pile of blankets,
an electric heater at my feet
and wake up way too early
to that silly nonsense song
Jesse hums as he lies in bed,
gets ready for a new morning.