Twas the night he hit Bellevue, when all through the floor
no patients were stirring behind their locked door.
The doctors had readied, the nurse had prepared
to intake Wacko Jacko and administer his care.
The cocaine and booze had fucked with his head,
days on end with no sleep? Hallucinations, seeing red,
outbursts of violence, brutal fistfights of rage
landed him in the loony bin in a lithium cage.
But once upon a time he’d been
The Greatest Bass Player on Earth
On Fender Fretless Jazz ’66, the Bass of Doom,
doin’ groovin’est fluidity, a fusion infusion
in pure eulipion—a fave—
music inseparable from life, no other choice.
Charismatic, acrobatic, athletic
but, stamina for ostinato double-time.
With his massive ego and loose-cannon wishes,
I knew in a moment it must be The Catalyst.
More rapid than 64th notes in measures they came,
his intervalically created harmonics to claim.
Now true, now false, in now-wicked fast élan,
his active displacement and muted staccato mélange.
No circus act! Not bombed. No harsh disconnect—just
calculating intervals, counting the inclusive numbers of diatonic lust.
Between two notes, between two notes, so much I trust.
I am but my lines on this paean written
in the ancient spirit of tikkun olam by my pen,
fine tuning through this poem our voices for harmony
from overindulgence’s noise
of John Francis Anthony, once innocent, again repaired.
And then, in the twinkling, I heard calypso
and reggae, soul, pop, bossa nova.
So I reached out my hand, pulled him into these lines—
here, larger than life, The Warhead arrived.
He was clad in a white silken suit, faced painted black
après Mingus, Hendrix and Coltrane, soulmates gettin’ back.
Lo, those large hands, long fingers, double-jointed thumb,
an aberration of nature, beach bum become
improviser of hungry and beautiful animal wisdom,
of fearless, punky, brash, cocky style, flashing lonesome.
He could pick up an instrument, learn it
in three days, played some funky shit
nobody else was even think of, played his axe
with his teeth, played prankster magic.
From five Rotosound round wound strings
with a cleanliness of execution he flings
eternally here, between anguish and joy, between chaos
and control, as if swept away by some glossy
alien, purely delusional muse—into the atrophy of depression.
We now know: manic depression set in, took hold, and won.
Curled in a fetal position with war paint and mud
all over himself—on stage—he shed his spirit’s blood.
His was a Dadaist expression of sheer anger and existential outrage;
he was brilliant goods in a damaged package.
Ye though he was murdered by knife
(picture a seedy Fort Lauderdale strip mall, I bound him to my life.
You are Glorious-cum-Notorious Pastorius through and through.
Who loves ya, babe? you always said and I reply I do, I do.
Karla Linn Merrifield has had 1000+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies, including throughout the UK. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. She is currently at work on a poetry collection, My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists and their guitars; the book is slated to be published in December 2021 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series (Rochester, NY). Web site: https://www.karlalinnmerrifield.org/; blog at https://karlalinnmerrifeld.wordpress.com/; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.