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Buzzed on Chlorine / New Freckles

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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The night before my dad left town again my body returned something to me and my nose bled uncontrollably in the middle of the night. I slept through it. My face was streaked with dried deep red brush strokes as if painted for war when I woke up. I only noticed it in the mirror when I went to brush my teeth in the morning. A shock. New wet blood on the freshly washed pillowcases, I coughed up big chunks of it into the sink.

I dreamed that night that I was very, very thirsty and riding a long, old-fashioned train, long, thing clouds of billowing steam. The low rolling hills of California passed me on the right. The train pulled into a station and I only had a few minutes to run to a vending machine and purchase a bottle of water to slake my unbelievable thirst. Nothing else mattered in this moment, I required cool water, in my need for it I could imagine the give of the plastic bottle as I squeezed it, I could imagine the light pop of the cap twisting off, I could imagine the liquid filling and expanding my stomach. I have never been so thirsty in my life. But I tried and I tried but the machine wouldn’t take my dollar bills, too wrinkly, spitting them out, more and more agitated with each attempt, and I woke up when I heard the train whistle, knowing I had just missed my train. It was dark in my room, in my bed, and I didn't know where I was but the thirst remained, the thirst oriented me, a landmark. I filled my new purple nalgene in the sink and gulped at it greedily, as a toddler does, standing in the middle of my green rug in my underwear, drops of water splashing from my chin down to my chest and stomach. I went back to bed and still I was thirsty, I felt a low, electrical hum at the back of my throat.

I have seen the flame as it consumes the crests of the hills, I have seen it devouring highways whole, I have seen the fire advance in columns, taking unpredictable and unbelievable shapes, an uncontainable cavalry, the scorching hoofs. I have thrust, time and again, my whole bare fist within the fire, hoping to alight. Instead I feel only feeling a distant warmth, the echo of combustion. As if wet wood. I have seen this. I have rolled the names under my tongue. I have seen Yo La Tengo singing with the Blind Boys of Alabama. I have seen Rufus Wainwright performing in a sequin vest. I have seen Yo La Tengo performing with Alvin Lucier, both their works and his, the four of them standing in a row whispering secrets into yellow balloons. I have seen Yo La Tengo free improvising for an hour in a shopping mall on Wall Street. I have seen Dolly Parton in the freezing cold performing live and outside for the Today Show, we waited in line at 4am and she mimed playing a tiny toy saxophone, we all screamed in delight, there was a lady with an airbrushed denim jacket, homemade. I have seen the band Why? open for Yo La Tengo in New Haven, Connecticut and I drove my friend's Prius home alone with the headlights off on dark wooded highways. I have seen Laraaji play as the sun rose behind him over the Hudson River, I’ve seen him in a church, I’ve seen him at my favorite place to dance. I have seen Jonathan Richman play on at least seven occasions - once I sat cross legged at his feet, another time I pointed him to the restroom, another time he turned off the air conditioning at the Bowery Ballroom. I have seen Cindi Lauper perform to an open air crowd outside of Torino, she said “I know you don’t understand me but I have something to say” but I understood her, then she played a zither and sang time after time, just her and the sound of the strings, I got lost on the bus on the way there and walked on streets without any sidewalks following the sound of her voice in the dark. I've seen Caribou twice at Webster Hall. I have seen Caribou performing with Marshall Allen and Four Tet at a run down borscht belt country club. I have seen Four Tet DJ while so gone on psychedelics that I could not find the exit, I stood stock still on the dance floor surrounded by flashing lights. I have seen the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen in a movie theater in Times Square, I’ve seen them in a backyard bar in the afternoon right before my own show. I have seen St. Vincent covering Big Black with members of the Dirty Projectors, I have seen Titus Andronicus covering the Replacements, I have seen Dan Deacon covering the Butthole Surfers, all at one show that I talked my way into without a ticket. I have spent my last 20 dollarsI have seen Beach House play in an empty room before they got big on a stage flaked by inflatable palm trees. I have seen Bill Callahan in a church basement completely slicked with sweat, I’ve seems Bill Callahan play acoustic before a wall of ash trays twice. I have seen Stars of the Lid and Winged Victory for the Sullen in two churches. I have seen the Boredoms lead 88 drummers in an outdoor improvisation outside the La Brea Tat Pits. I have seen the Flaming Lips at a horse race track. I have seen Diarrhea Planet, Majical Cloudz, Parquet Courts, Lightning Bolt at venues that don’t exist anymore. I saw Kath Bloom play to five people under a skylight in the early afternoon. I have seen Nathan Bowles and Jake Fussell play in an open air barn on a farm in North Carolina with a belly full of freshly slaughtered cow raised in the adjacent pasture. I have seen Tom Waits pirouette under a fist flung rain of confetti at a theater in Atlanta. I have seen Jandek in a black box theater in Denver, Colorado, a terrifying nightmare cowboy of a man, he shook the rivets loose. I have seen Prince from three stories up in the absolute last row of the Staples Center. I have seen Battles - they of the preposterously high crash cymbal - in Central Park. I have seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers opening for Parliament Funkadelic, Tower of Power opening for Al Green, and the Roots opening for Wilco all at the same outdoor amphitheater in Hollywood. I have seen Brian Wilson perform all of Pet Sounds at a masonic theater in San Francisco - he didn’t sing the high notes himself and he kept having to sit down at inopportune moments but it didn’t matter, I got chills when they did love and mercy at the end. I have seen Elvis Costello open for Neil Young who performed all of interminable Greendale but I still loved it, got high off the second hand smoke, high for the first time, my mom and I ate crackers in our kitchen afterwards. I have seen Patti Smith open for Neil Young in an arena, she like a birch tree struck by lightning screaming into the dark, the tightest 25 minute set I have ever seen, Neil did howling loud feedback for 20 straight minutes in the middle of his set. I have seen Cake opening for DEVO at the Orange County Fair. I have seen the Get Up Kids opening for Weezer, I have seen Dashboard Confessional and Tenacious D opening for Weezer. I have seen Alkaline Trio and the Bouncing Souls. My girlfriend in high school won us tickets to see Gang of Four and Morningwood off the radio, it was terrible but the old british men played their melodica with such conviction. I have seen the Walkmen, Ted Leo, and GWAR all at the same dinner theater venue in Santa Ana. I have seen Midtown opening for Blink-182 in a private box at the Pond of Anaheim, unlimited buffet hot dogs and Blink performing in front of flaming, ten-foot-tall letters spelling “FUCK.” I have seen Bob Mould playing the songs of Hüsker Dü backed by No Age. I have seen No Age in a summer basement in Chicago and survived the flood. I have seen the water advancing toward me. I have seen Neil Diamond. I have seen the fire as it is breathed by the eaters of annihilation, the scorchers and sorcerers. And though I try and so tragically want I have yet to see myself burn.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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