Everything changed when Dillinger arrived. Nobody noticed, at least not at first, the change was so subtle. Everything changed when Dillinger arrived. The black hex sign on the Murphy barn somehow got slicker and brighter with its midnight shine. And, the cracks in the sidewalks got filled in with the night. Nobody noticed that everything changed when Dillinger arrived except the waitress at the Sundown Café who claimed that when she accidentally dropped a paring knife into a pot of coffee, the darkness dissolved it, ate it in the fury of an impossible oblivion.
Everything changed when Dillinger arrived. I was going to write a long poem about Harry Houdini, but Dillinger, who was sitting on the floor in the corner of the room where I was writing said, Forget about Houdini. You’re going to write about me. It was the damndest conversation I ever had. Then, when I asked him who he was he pulled a 45 auto out of his coat and played with it the way a kid would play with a toy and said, The Name’s Dillinger, and that was the moment I knew I had a key line to a poem I had to write and it wasn’t going to be just any poem. It was going to be a very big poem.
Everything changes when Dillinger arrives because he has that power, that fuck you up mojo. I have seen clouds right at the horizon go a deep bruised tornado green black and all Dillinger did was get out of his car. I have seen a bonfire jump a little higher and all Dillinger did was walk toward the heat. I have seen the rain on the sidewalk flame into his shadow, that magic place where the wolf of all wolves continually sleeps. Everything changes when Dillinger arrives. We think everything stays the same, the catfish lunging river, the hundred year old oak tree where the lynch rope still flops, the hundred thousand year old night that never leaves the mountain. These are the primal love affairs of longing and dream. Still, everything changes when Dillinger arrives.
The blood has a way of flowing against itself and according to dream. The breath has a way of folding back into itself, piling so far back into its dark nest of muscle and bone that it feels more like a lightning bolt getting ready to come out instead of a word. And, when that word does appear, it rushes out into mangled and mutilated pieces. It dives out of the fury of its unrepentant darkness into the unabsolved, into the unforgiven air.
When I started to write The Name Is Dillinger I thought I was writing about a man but by the time I finished the poem I realized I was writing about a man who was also a myth with some history and some mystery mixed in on the side. You can’t write about Dillinger without dealing with his myth. Or, to turn that around, you can’t write about Dillinger without his myth somehow dealing with you. It’s like trying to write about Billy the Kid or Pretty Boy Floyd or Jesse James. The myth is as much a part of the man as his blood and if you try to subtract that kind of blood from the story of his breath you are done for.
Everything changes when Dillinger arrives. And, the one thing that changes most is the way that poems get dreamed. You don’t notice it much at first. But, little by little you realize that your dreams have all gone outlaw on you. You didn’t mean to have them go that way. They just do. And, you realize that when I say you in relation to Dillinger I am talking about me. But maybe I am also talking a little bit about you. Maybe I am talking about the way that poetry has grown stale. And, this is not in the last few years. This is in the last generation. I could mention all the great poets of the 20th century and the poems they’ve written but I’ve done that so many times before. All I really have to say is why are poems so boring now. So, goddam lifeless, so corpselike. I open half a dozen poetry magazines and scour the pages looking for something, anything. Maybe a translation of Neruda will do it or something of Lorca’s has got all the best stuff.
What I’m looking for is a poem to grab hold of my shirt front, slap my face half a dozen times, and shake me so hard I know a great poem is on the verge of hijacking me into its dream.
The way a few poets can. John Macker’s ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE along with his new book WOMAN OF THE DISTURBED EARTH, Tony Moffeit’s BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID, Kell Robertson’s just re-issued BEAR CROSSING, Ron Androla’s POET HEAD, S. A. Griffin’s NUMBSKULL SUTRA, Mark Weber’s PLAIN OLD BOOGIE LONG DIVISION, John Dorsey’s THE GRATEFUL DEAD, Scott Wannberg’s STROTHER MARTIN IS MY GOD, Joe Pachinko’s THE URINALS OF HELL. Misti Rainwater-Lites’ DANGEROUS HAIR, Raindog Armstrong’s FIRE AND RAIN, Christopher Robin’s FREAKY MUMBLER’S MANIFESTO, or any poem by John Yamrus. Any one will do. If you are looking for the Outlaw Poem, you’ll find it here. If you are looking for the places where Dillinger has changed things, you will find them here.
Everything changes when Dillinger arrives. Some nights in a dream I go somewhere to see him. It’s like a nightmare park overlooking a big black river. I sit down at a picnic table and wait for him to come. He takes his time getting there though in dreams there really is never any waiting. This isn’t a Kafka story where a man waits for a door to open for him and then at the end of the story is told that the door was always open for him to go in. Nothing like that. And, it isn’t a Beckett play where two characters wait for someone called Godot to arrive and he never shows. Or, Waiting For The Barbarians by Cavafy where the Romans wait for the barbarians to come and sack their city but they somehow never get there.
The one thing I can say about Dillinger is he always arrives and when he does everything changes. When I say change I don’t necessarily mean political change, though we could use a healthy dose of that. And, I don’t mean environmental change though we also could use a positive dose of that. What I am talking about is a change in the way that we see things. A change in the way that we look at and write about poetry. A change in the elitist way that some poets in this country are celebrated while others are almost totally forgotten. And, when I say elitist here I mean that all the way through the blood.
But let’s get back to meeting Dillinger in that nightmare park. He never says anything but he really doesn’t have to. He puts a Thompson submachine gun out on the table. And, even though this is at night and in the dream darkness, I can see every detail of it and I can feel it vibrate and I can hear its nighttalk and I know it is magic. He pats the gun a couple of times, winks at me, then gets up and walks away. I know I can only keep the gun as long as the dream lasts. But, I also know that something from that machine gun, something from that spirit gun lasts from the dream and then I am writing and all of that magic and electricity is pouring into me and it stays with me all the way through the poem and then for a little while afterward. It’s my own personal fire, it’s the way that I burn.