Allegheny, BC. Rodney DeCroo. Nightwood Editions. Gibsons, British Columbia. 2012.
Today's book of poetry is ambling back in time a few years to bring you this crackerjack from 2012. We here at Today's book of poetry firmly believe that books remain new until you've read them, and in that spirit we are happy to look at Rodney DeCroo's Allegheny, BC.
DeCroo is probably better known as a musician but Allegheny, BC makes it clear that DeCroo has a fully fledged set of poetry chops. Most of this poetry is from the school of hard knocks and Saint Charles of Bukowski but DeCroo is more than a shadow boxer. These poems burn with sufficient intensity, they show DeCroo has the coup de gras.
She ran a boarding house on Doman Street
in South Vancouver. The boarders, all men,
lived in the basement, two to a room. My father
had moved up north and I'd come to the city
alone on a bus from Cranbrook.
I found her ad in the classifieds and took
a cab straight from the station to her house.
I had enough money to cover the first month's
rent and moved in that afternoon
with my belongings stuffed in a bag.
She was a large woman with a red face
and dyed hair. Her husband had been
a master sergeant, but died a year
after he retired. When she asked my age
I told her I was twenty-one, but she
laughed and said, Don't lie to me honey
or you can find somewhere else to live.
So I told her the truth, that my dad
had left me to go up north and I'd
quit school to come to the city
to live on my own. The next day
she took me to the welfare office
and argued with a case worker
and a supervisor until they
agreed to pay my room and board
if I went back to school. Mount Baker
had been a semester school
and there were two in the Lower Mainland.
Mrs. Tobin took me to them both that day.
Magee was for the city's rich kids
and turned me away, but New West Secondary
said I could start classes the next morning.
That evening, my new roommate Ken
took me to the Cobalt to watch strippers
and to have some beers. Before we
left the house he showed me a baseball
card, perfectly preserved, from 1967.
It featured a young Ken, in a Detroit Tigers
uniform standing on the dugout steps
with a bat resting on his shoulder, a huge grin
spread across his broad face. I played
two seasons until I broke my back
in a motorcycle accident. I couldn't play
after that. I've got arthritis now.
It hurts all the time. But fuck it
eh? I'm lucky to be alive, so ain't no point
in bitching. Ken was on disability
and three or four times a year
got paid to carry cocaine in a backpack
via bus to Montreal or Toronto. He
had a gambling problem and spent
his meagre winnings on prostitutes,
but Mrs. Tobin liked him and he
always paid his rent. At the bar Ken
walked me past the bouncers
who nodded their heads as we
passed. He called a waitress by name
and ordered a pitcher of draft. When she
left he said, I got you in, so you can buy the drinks.
Okay? I nodded my head and paid
the waitress when she returned. Three hours
later I was throwing up in a urinal. A man
shoved me as I swayed towards the sinks
to wash my face. I slipped and fell
against the filthy tiles sleek with piss
and water. I got up and puked again into a sink.
At the table Ken was gone and so were
our drinks. I sat down and watched
the stripper. A power ballad
began to blare through the speakers.
She was nude and her breasts
hung and gleamed with sweat
as she bent over to pick up a folded quilt
at the edge of the stage. She flung it
outwards and dropped it open on the floor.
She walked a slow circle around it,
grinding her hips. I was drawn
to the perfect blankness of her face.
I stood up and walked toward
the stage. I felt I was the only person
there besides her. The singer's voice
peaked at the chorus of the song, but no words
were being sung, there were only sounds
that moved across her like the stage lights
that pulsed and crisscrossed against her
body. She laid her belly against the quilt,
and began to grind her hips into the floor.
Her hand flickered between her legs
like a small trapped bird as she
mocked playing with herself. On her
left ankle I saw a blue tattoo of a heart
with wings. I reached out to touch it.
Her body whipped away from me
the instant my fingers touched her skin.
I saw a garter snake I had tapped
lightly with a stick behind my uncle's barn.
It shivered then flashed into a hole
beneath the faded boards of the wall.
She was standing, her dark hair
wild against her face. She was
pointing at me. I look at her eyes
and she screamed Don't touch me
you fucking freak! You don't touch
the fucking dancers! Get the fuck
out of here! A deep warm voice
spoke into my ear, it made me
think of the murky water we
would dive into off the banks
of the river. Okay, buddy, it's time
to go. Come on. A hand gripped
my arm just above the elbow
and guided me between the tables
toward the bouncer at the front door.
He pushed it open and pushed me
through it onto the sidewalk.
Go home pal, you're covered
in puke, he said and pulled the door
shut. The air was a thin drizzle
of rain against my face, headlights
slid like the blurred tails of comets
through the dark. I reached
into my pockets but they were empty.
I lowered my head and stepped
off the edge of the world.
The specific details of DeCroo's Allegheny, BC are far less important than his travelling towards some deeper understanding only to realize that it is all a journey, destination is over-rated, it is always further down the road.
Rodney DeCroo's Allegheny, BC is a coming of age road trip that dips into the complicated world of sons and fathers. These poems the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our past, the stories we need to believe in so that we can believe in ourselves. This is hard-scrabble stuff by DeCroo takes it all on with admirable panache.
He'd been stealing my letters from the front desk.
The woman who cleaned the rooms found them
when she emptied the garbage from his room.
He'd written all over them in red ink
slut, whore, cunt. I didn't know why he did it.
I was seventeen and living in the Tudor House
Hotel in Cranbrook. He and I would snort
coke together in my room so we could drink
all night. Sometimes men shouted in the hallway,
kicked a body down the stairs, we'd do a line,
turn the radio up and pretend not to hear.
I didn't know why he did it and I didn't care
to know. She'd been sick for months
and wasn't going to get better. He knew
what the letters meant to me. I went into the bar
and asked if he wanted to smoke a joint.
It was January and the parking lot was ice
and hardpacked snow. When he took the joint
and put it in his mouth I hit him as hard
as I could. His head snapped, the joint
flew and he went down. I rushed to kick him,
but he didn't try to get up. He curled into a ball
and covered his face with his arms. I screamed
Get up and fight! but he just lay there. It was quiet
and I could hear the low buzz of the streetlight.
It sounded like a woman humming a song to herself.
That's when the crying started. I kicked him
but he wouldn't get back up and fight.
This morning's read was a little subdued. Milo and Kathryn, our head tech and our Jr. Editor, went on a tequila exploration project last night and never quite made it home in one piece. Which is why I am happy to report that we have been blasting Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass out of the office speakers since the two of them crawled through the door. It may also explain why I am dancing around their desks in a sombrero and a hopping set of maracas.
Eventually reason prevailed, Max dragged his sagging carcass out of his cavernous dark and insisted I relent and turn down the music. Then, thesaurus in hand, egressed his way back into his library/office and slammed the door. Milo and Kathryn quit holding their tequila lubricated heads and I put down the maracas. We did turn off the music to read DeCroo's Allegheny, BC. You could see the poetry soon sobered the cactus right out of Milo and Kathryn.
Strong, raw and real. This poetry is peppered, tempered, hammered out of some genuine drama. DeCroo tells one hell of a story.
Days Like This
We stand inside a doorway to share
a cigarette. The rain comes straight
down: long strands of blown glass
shattering against the concrete.
I tell you this, how the rain appears
to me, and you say no, the street is a face
and the drops are not shards of shattering
glass but tears from a blind god's eyes.
In this darkness I can almost not see
the sores on your face, how your hand
shakes as you lift the cigarette to your lips,
how your eyes shatter with each glance.
You tell me about the landlord who stole
your cheque and threw you out of your room,
how I must believe you, as I watch
you looking for someone to silence
the rat tearing at your stomach, to calm
your fingers picking at the scabs on your skin,
the blood crusted under your eaten nails.
You will died on this street in the rain,
or in a doorway or half-naked in an alley.
You hand the cigarette back to me and our
fingers touch. You smile and for a moment
we are walking through the rain-mist
and pink petals of cherry blossoms.
You take my arm and pull me to you.
You tell me that days like this are proof
we live forever. I smell the spring rain
damp in your hair. Your breath leaves you
as easily as the rain falls to the street
to shatter like broken glass. Days like this
are proof of what we will have to lose.
Today's book of poetry is enthused about the poems of Rodney DeCroo. Best poetry Rodney we've seen since Rodney Jones.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rodney DeCroo is a Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and poet. Born and raised in a small coal mining town just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he has called Vancouver home for years now. He has released a previous collection of poetry, Allegheny, BC (Nightwood, 2012) and seven music albums that have received critical acclaim in Canada, the USA and Europe. Music critics have named him one of Canada's best folk/alt-country songwriters. Next Door to the Butcher Shop is his latest collection of poetry.
BLURBS"From boyhood memories to middle age, the poems in Rodney DeCroo’s debut collection chart a journey across several landscapes: the polluted industrial outskirts of Pittsburgh, the oil towns of northeast B.C., and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The glimpses of these worlds are compelling, the poems laden with grief, remorse, and longing, yet never with sentimentality or self-pity."
-The Malahat Review
"The gritty, Americana-tinged music of Rodney DeCroo has always had a powerful lyrical side, both mesmerizing and wrenching...So the shift to the role of poet is a natural one."
-Brian Lynch, The Georgia Straight
"Although the book is autobiographical, and therefore personal, it's easy to read as well as identify from your own experiences something similar to what DeCroo remembers - old pathways, old haunts, old relatives. Drinking, fighting, travelling."
-Tom Harrison, The Province
On The Night Of My First Breath
Video courtesy Rodney DeCroo
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