This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Constantine Jones. 


The Gut


It was a spot back in my hometown we used to go.


This is back in Tennessee.


Somebody always knew how to get there.


That person sat shotgun.


Somebody else drove.


Me I was usually in the backseat somewhere saying Have you heard the new Lady Gaga album to a carful a heavy metal or synthpop.


Which is what Lady Gaga was heavy metal & synthpop.


We used to draw dollar signs on our hands with sharpie.


Used to climb through storm drains too.


Til the water got too high.


To the bluffs regardless a the PRIVATE PROPERTY sign.


Til somebody fell off the freight rails above the Tennessee River downtown.


( They didn’t make it out the water.
Big floodlights by the banks ever since. )


To the Poison Lawn that place somehow where they did noise bands in their house they must a soundproofed it but still it was smack in the middle a the neighborhood & by neighborhood I mean it was a collection a sticks they sold PBR tallboys for $2 out their own fridge I remember taking a boy to the bathroom there once but the Virgen Maria de Guadalupe painted in oils on the toilet seat cover just spoiled the whole mood.


Til it closed down.


Not sure why.


We used to make furniture.


One a my friends Louise we call her Lou now she was making windows when she burned through the bottom a her computer cause she left it on a hot stove eye that must a been the Bacon & Beer party we were making bacon. &  beer.


She makes stained glass now lives down on Merchants Drive which if you asked our parents they’d tell you to stay away from there.


I kissed Dallas for the first time at the top a the rich neighborhood.


This was before the other houses.


You could still look out & see the rest a the town.


The whole town all lit up.


Trees & telephone poles & the new movie theater’s skylight & the clouds.




We used to go down to the other tracks by the lake.


This side a town.


It was a little cemetery there & you could cross the tracks on foot.


Get to the water.


We used to.


Get to the water we used to go down & see what washed up.


One a the parks it’s mostly not there anymore on account a the weather.


Still ducks though.


Lakeshore’s gone too.


A sanitarium it was back in the day now it’s a huge facility for elderly folks & a big center for mental health they have a cemetery there too all the little white gravestones lined up in a row & a walking path you can do a couple miles there if you wanted to it’s right by the church too the Greek Orthodox church I grew up in it burned down last year on Easter Sunday on account a the organ overheated during the overnight service before but that’s.


Not the point.


Point is there were 2 abandoned buildings in Lakeshore.


The gym / cafeteria / general lounge facilities those were pretty nasty & almost certainly fulla asbestos & mold & murky water running through the plaster coming up out the taps & yes it looked straight out the horror movies we used to watch together in somebody’s basement Session 9 or 28 Days Later even Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner but it didn’t feel haunted.


It’s a shot in Blade Runner around the end where it’s just a closeup on the wall & the water is trickling down the plaster in the abandoned housing complex moving clear across the blue everything is bluelit wet liquid saturated the sounds the water trickling heavy & loud in yer ear & that howling droning empty sound that moan this is right before the last Nexus 6 pulls Deckard’s hand through the wall breaks his fingers gives him back  his gun gives him a headstart I think about that shot a lot actually.


Sometimes I feel more like that shot a the trickling water than a boy.


Does that.


Course it doesn’t.


Make sense I mean a course it doesn’t.


Anyway that was the first building a little nasty but nothing scary about it.


The dormitory on the other hand.


I crawled in through the window one time.


Opened the door for Ali.


Ali now she goes by Jake I wonder how he’s doing I really do.


We decided to try filming there you know that kind a found footage movie no other movie after Blair Witch ever really got right well we had it in our heads to do one a those to bring back some kind a evidence.


In the basement it was just hissing cockroaches.


But the hallways.


You could feel the people lived there.


I don’t mean in a spooky bullshit way I mean you could really.


Feel them I mean.


One room at the end a the hallway couldn’t nobody walk into.


Didn’t feel right.


Not cause we felt threatened no actually the opposite.


Like we were intruding.


That was the night we got caught too.


Security guard flashlight what are you kids doing go on home now y’hear git.


That was the end a that.


Bulldozed it later that year the whole lot totally just tore it down.


Now the best thing to do back home is just.


Drive around.


Smoke a bowl get a bottle a wine listen to the new Emancipator real loud.


My idea a fun it was to go over to Amanda’s place do some laundry sit on her floor a while maybe putz around the grocery store together.


The new Kroger’s is open 24 hours it’s called the Kroger Marketplace they sell jewelry there now furniture too clothes toys a pharmacy it was a town holiday when the law finally made it to where they could carry wine.


It’s still there too the old Kroger’s across the street.


Just been empty for years now.


The bar next door closed.


Liquor store too.


Irish Times: gone.


Th’ Katch ( that gentleman’s club off the side a the I-40 ) it was a boat supply warehouse now I think it’s just a warehouse.


Toyama the little Japanese place & Miss Helen always coming up to you in her orange eyeliner yer food in her hand saying I love you.


& you know she did.


Love you I mean.


After it went under they made it a Krispy Kreme then a Dairy Queen.


Now I think it’s a bank.


Maybe the cleaner’s still there, who knows.


Kissed my first boyfriend in the parking lot around the corner from the old Kroger in his car I was 16 he was 21 It’s just parking all on its own he said.


At the time I thought that was funny.


Thought it was sweet.


It was a game we used to play out behind the school in 1st grade.


When the weather turned.


There were slugs in the mud behind the music room they were so fat so juicy we would pick up rocks throw em down as hard as we could make up points depending how far out the guts flung.


Whole lifetime ago that was & still I feel bad about it.


First time I ever went somewhere I shouldn’t of been it was the top floor a my elementary school there were workers up there big men in their heavy boots knocking down walls measuring spaces with that yellow tape that cuts yer fingers if you let it snap back too fast there were paint swatches on the walls metal beams poking through I couldn’t explain it back then only I knew it wasn’t right to see a building like that to look inside it to see its guts.


A house it’s supposed to be sturdy.


Used to be it was a big old willow behind the house I grew up in my sister & I we’d crawl up under it whenever it snowed we called it our secret fort turned  twigs into telephone wires that same house with the steep concrete stairs  from the backyard down into the basement I remember it always smelling not like moss but the whole wet Earth we used to play dodge the bullet in that basement with our dad it was a game we made up there were no rules
I miss that house.


I don’t think it’s there anymore.


Another scene I keep coming back to.


In Ridley Scott’s Alien it’s a shot where Jonesy the cat is looking straight at the camera out the shadows his eyes are that perfect shade a green.


Scene leading up to this shot it’s a crew member named Brett wanders into some distant part a the ship all alone looking for the cat he’s wearing a blue baseball cap somehow there is water falling from a white light at the top a the room like it’s raining inside the ship somehow there are chains dangling from the ceiling they twinkle like little windchimes it’s a little garden scene in space one a the strangest most peaceful moments Brett taking off his hat letting the spacerain hit his face he even catches some in his mouth this is right before the xenomorph drops from the ceiling pierces his gut.


Jonesy the cat he’s watching the whole thing that’s how come the shot.


Met a boy online one time who wanted to meet in person that same day.


Said he had this fantasy.


You know where Ebenezer runs by the Catholic School he said I said a course I do he said you should jog down it headed west take yer shirt off I’ll  pretend to pick you up he said wouldn’t that be hot.


He made me pay for a motel room even though he was a clean 13 years older.


Full-time job & everything.


It was a smoker’s room the parking lot was empty the middle a the day in June Oh no yer getting fucked he said when I changed my mind.


My sister calls our neighborhood the gut.


She said it to me first as a joke but I think she might be.


Right I mean I think she might be right.



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