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tearing the rag off the bush again
New Work by Scott Bailey PDF E-mail
Scott is looking for a job teaching his art



I find my boyfriend, not in the future tense, but the one

I’m dating on a porn site, asking for private photos,

poppers and bondage sex, so I jump the gray dog to visit

Mama who’s sure to console me with her casseroles 

and cakes, plus I’m a sucker for discipline and told-you-so’s,

whatever it takes for me to write these experiences

up firsthand. I wish I were on that bus that overturned

on an exit ramp and slid into a field, killing three cows,

a deadbeat father and a penniless addict. According

to a survivor in a chat room, one paramedic,

remarking about the fast-food wrappers and lottery

tickets, said, “Chicken nuggets and gambling’s a bad

combination.” But now, my fellow thrill-seeker, look at

this guy who’s wearing a cap with bold letters: “My inner

child needs a spanking.” I wonder if he reads Wordsworth,

but before I ask, I’m interrupted.  “Don’t talk to him,”

the Goth girl next to me in platform boots, whispers,

“I know you just got on, like, and I don’t want to scare you,

like, but I’ve been on this bus all night, like, and it’s like,

ahhh, like a mother-fucking, like, end-of-time movie.

And Roberta, like, behind us, like, is on her way to see

her aunt who believes we’re already, like, dead.” I turn around,

expecting to see a woman bearing henna tattoos and sitting

in the lotus position, but she’s pulling a french fry

from between her gorilla titties and humming “Wild Thing.”

But she’s not as gassy as the horse-faced man in front of us,

quoting Cheech and Chong as if they’re a part of God’s plan.

When I thought he couldn’t go on, he stands up and screams,

“I’m a paramedic,” after a woman with untidy, gray-streaked

hair collapses in the aisle, her hand clutching a photo

of a man wearing overalls and holding a Shih Tzu over

a birthday cake. It’s clear that he doesn’t have any training. 

Not the dog, but this man saying, “Work with me, work with me.”

I’m reminded of a church service when Brother Roy Ulmer

faints in the spirit, shits too, during a testimony. My cousin

Sybil, a real paramedic, and the only one to go to college

in my church, well, my entire family, says, “This ain’t good.

He ain’t breathing.” If you look up death and excretion,

and you get a page error, you need faster cable or you

have to reset your browser. Apparently, Brother Roy

Ulmer has a good connection. After God jumps into Sybil

and tells her to do what she’s been trained to do—perform

CPR—he comes back to life only to live one week longer,

enough time to finish refurbishing the pine pews with velvet,

and to tell his daughter that she isn’t his daughter. Luckily,

we’re a few miles from the Mobile terminal. While watching

this lady’s body carried off the bus, I smoke a cigarette.

A man walks up to me, shakes his head, and says, “What a shame.

Surely is, but he’s not talking about this lady: he’s complaining

about the chicken basket he bought in the station deli.

“Shit, look at her,” he says, holding up a potato log, “Ain’t this

the most droopiest thang you ever saw?”  Well, I say, I suppose

you don’t know Tony, but before I finish, we’re told to board.

An army cadet sits next to me, and says, “Hell, it’s about to be

nuts to butts up in here.” Sounds terrible, I say, What’s your name?

He’s Sam from Arkansas, and he believes in destiny,

but also the choice to fuck it up. He tells me a bedtime story:

while watching Thriller at his friend’s house, his friend told his dad

to pour his own whiskey, so his dad pulled down his friend’s pants

and whipped his hairy butt with a clothes hanger. I’m shameful,

I think, for beating my ex-boyfriend like a dog, and telling him

that I could care less if he died, but I’m devastated after he throws

himself in front of an eighteen-wheeler. Years later, Sam visited

that old man being fed through a tube. “You’re making the right

choice,” Sam says, patting my shoulder, when I throw my

cigarettes out the window, my only friends who don’t talk back.



Ordered to do breath tests, I dial a number,

listen to a recording, each morning, for six months.

If I hear Bailey, Bravo, or B as in Busted,

my ass struts to the big house where a guard

shakes my hand on the way in, on the way out a scanner,

his middle finger joy-riding my palm,

a similar shake from an old man called Tater Head

who hung out at the store across from my house,

buying me jerky and spicy nuts, inviting me to his trailer

any time I want. I decline his offer, I’m six, he’s sixty,

I feel too welcomed, if you know what I’m saying,

but I groove with this receptionist slash breath-tester lady

sporting acrylic pink nails with diamond tips.

She reminds me of my sister who tight-rolls her jeans,

paints her face like Tammy Faye, mine too,

when I tag along on a secret date, too young to stay alone:

Mom’s in the hospital, Dad’s preaching at Sweet Water Church,

two counties away, both of them unaware of us

speeding down a dirt road in this sinner’s truck

nearly turning over after missing a cow, him shifting gears

between my legs stinking of spilled beer,

his husky voice, “Dumb heifer liked to kill us,”

his cassette player blaring Def Leppard’s “Love Bites.” 

If you play this tape backwards, you’ll hear “Jesus,

Christ of Nazareth, can go to Hell.”  Terrified,

I want to go home, they want to screw, do the nasty,

he wants up in her guts, so they drop me off

at Grandma and Grandpa’s, during a storm.

No one’s home, the doors locked, the windows

nailed shut, so I run to the barn where a mule’s stomping a snake,

not testing this snake’s behavior, not waiting for venom

to prove itself. Out of breath, hungry, cold, and horny,

I take a disco nap in a hay loft, my hard-on jumping with thunder

trotting on a tin roof, my dreams so big, my chest may burst,

give in to hope, swelling. Half awake, I wonder, what if a mother ship

dropped me off for kicks and giggles, in rural Mississippi?

What if I’m a crossbreed in a fundamentalist experiment? 

“What a riot,” they say, watching the video feed,

“That fuckin’ faggot is trying to speak in tongues,

trying to prove himself to others, that he’s human.” 

What if the world has ended, the righteous on that escalator

to Jesus, and I didn’t make the cut, didn’t make it?

I can either prove my faith, die a martyr, or burn in a lake of fire, forever.

That was then, this is now:  Feeling the vapors of my past,

this present, I say “Thanks” to the receptionist           

who says, “That will be five dollars,” after I breathe into a tube,

humming a certain octave.  Proven sober, I walk home,

weighing my actions, pissed off at the world, at myself,

yet eager to prove myself to the powers-that-be

dehydrating my goat, harassing my chicken, stalking my spirit.

I’ve dealt with challenges far more grave, more eternal than this,

so why rest easy, now, why stop breathing, unraveling that noise within?


God sends a friend to love me, but not the way I want it.

“Maybe that’s best,” Mom says, “He’s straight, he’s a dog with problems.”

I know—he can’t forget his divorce, how he wants full custody

after she broke his nose when he said her pussy’s like a wet paper bag.


All of which is no wonder, she’s a gold digger, and his life’s hard, sister.

I can’t help him. Only he can, but I doubt it. He feels sorry for himself,


ruling his nest like a cock, pecking chicks out of line.

I can listen, but Jesus, I have limits. If I hear one more


goddamn word about his father’s colostomy bag, his sister’s

single breast, his other sister on a breathing machine, in a coma,


I may punch him.  I’m not insensitive. I’m a hopeless romantic,  

lonely and sexually frustrated.  O only if he loved me, perhaps


I’d put up with his bullshit. “Not ever and not today,”

Mom says, “Plus he don’t deserve you, he’ll fuck a jackass if somebody’d hold it still.”


Now I have yet another issue, like making bail. Dad’s the only landline number I know,

he comes through, but I must wait, he’s in another state,


and it’s so freaking uncomfortable and unpleasant in a cell with twenty guys.

I’m wearing Leon County underwear, for Mary’s sake.


Lo, damnation, just when I finish counting from seven hundred backwards over and over,

nine hours in, my falling-asleep method, they move me to a stained leather chair


facing a camera, a television broadcasting a court room, a judge dressed like an upright crow

with a You-fucked-up face. I’m asked if I’m who they think I am.


I say, “Yes sir. I hope so, sir,” and I’m pushed through a door where guys

pace back and forth, holding their balls, proudly pushing them up,


proudly letting them fall, bragging about what they done. I’m thinking, “It’s do or get done.”

No chance of bail, they don’t care. They know the ropes, and they share:

if you take a piss test, dip your hand in bleach. When in the bathroom, the officer watching,

hold your dick and piss on your fingers, wiping all that junk right out. 


For a breath test: peanut butter. I offer my peanut butter sandwich to a crack head

who keeps saying, “Better in here than out there, son.”


I think that I’ll be eating fried chicken real soon. I end up in general population,

dressed in scrubs, starving. Over my shoulder:  a pillowcase with a towel,


bar of soap, toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, and that’s fucked up.  If I buy travel sizes,

I’m taking a trip, one more charming and aromatic than on the bunk I made myself.


“Look here, young buck. Stay calm,” the stranger below me says, “or I’ll whip

your ass in fifteen minutes. I don’t ask, but did love drive him over the edge?



I have one call, that’s

all, so I call Dad, who taught

me to floor it, ditch


the law on a dirt

road, but he’s out of state, so

he says, “Hold on, son.”


He calls my psychic

who can’t drive nor pay cab fare.

Call Matt, I tell her.


“I’ll take care of this,”

Dad says, calling my boyfriend.

“We all here?” Dad asks.


“Loud and clear,” then Mom

screaming, “What kind of psychic

are you? You said my


son would win millions,

nothing about jail,” so my

psychic says, “Your son


drank all day, left my 

house after he overloaded

my washing machine.”


I say, Excuse me.

I didn’t drink all day. I

took naps. “Let’s all calm


down,” Dad says, “Listen

to me, Matt, in times like these,

we can’t just turn to


Jesus, we have to

turn to the yellow pages.”

The first ad Matt turns


to is Emmanuel’s

Bail Bonds, and Dad says, “Call him,

God’s watching over my son?”




I’m reminded of when I was four and Doris had another devil in her.

Because I couldn’t speak in tongues, they sent me to the nursery

where I had to say Jesus over and over or her devil would jump into me,

and I wanted it. I wasn’t allowed to act like a fool in church.

I want it now. I can’t stop starring at this unsightly woman

with sunken cheekbones. I fear she may get the “can” again

after she proudly admits to smoking crack on the way

to her friend’s house. And what right did the officers have to arrest her?

Sure, she was driving, her license suspended, on the interstate,

but she kept her lawnmower on the side of the road,

only crossed the median once, minding her own damn business.

She thought she saw her cousin’s car pulled over, hazard lights on,

but it was some old lady in a tizzy, spanking her granddaughter

kicking and screaming in the back seat, and from what she gathered,

that girl deserved it. She could tell by her sassy-look, she has a daughter

just like that who won’t take a whooping like a grownup.

Honestly, if this crack head keeps this life up, she won’t live

much longer, something the next guy knows something about.

While he served his thirty days from drinking a Colt 45

and driving on a suspended license, his newborn baby died.

He needs to make bail, or he’ll lose his job, and he has three kids left to feed.

And his wife, well, she’s not fit to work after losing her legs

in an accident with a drunk driver, and she had the smoothest legs around town,

so he’s learned his lesson, he’s giving up drinking, he’s made arrangements

to get to work at the chicken plant, not the bus system, those routes

aren’t worth a dime in a quarter slot,  “But don’t you worry, your honor,

I’ll make good on my promise,” he says. Maybe the truth, maybe not,

but sounds damn good, so good he’s released. I should say I’m Mary

when I drink, and I like her attitude. She’s a responsible polygamist

who shares her Valtrex prescription, and because of her, your honor, I drink.

Would you like to have this woman in your head?

She won’t shut up, and did I mention that she’s bipolar? 

She’ll buy you a bottle of champagne, and before the night’s over,

she’ll throw a glass at you, but she doesn’t stop there, she’ll punch you,

she’ll throw a brick through your television, front door,

whatever she can break, and she loves to lie, she likes to cheat the system,

because the world owes her.  She was neglected as a child, as a human

who dreamed of being a beauty queen, but she couldn’t wear makeup,

much less buy a dress she couldn’t wear to church. I’d be a fool to say this. 

The judge may have a wife like her, well, an ex-wife who got his house

and Cadillac in a settlement, so I play it safe. I want this to be over now,

not six long months of probation, on a 12-Step program, pretending

to give it Jesus when Jesus has enough to deal with.  In the elevator,

I ask Matt, “How’s our third date?”  “Definitely different,” he says.








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