BILLY'S POETRY & JOURNALISM
I want to tell you a story.
A while back, a long while, I had finished up 15 months in CB 8, an Isolation Unit in Florence. Two guards came out to the exercise dog kennel, cuffed me up and took me down to a guard in a tie at a desk. He checked off a few boxes, told me that I was done here and that I'd finish up my bit in Mojave unit, a high medium near Auga Prietta. I would see the parole board in five to six months, contingent upon the absence of any further infractions.
"Well, that'll do 'er," he said.
I went up to the parole board some seven months later. My mom, dad and my wife all made the drive to show that unlike most I had a support system, and maybe to reach inside me to encourage any last hope still hanging 'round.
The Board was a group of sullen pedestrians chained to statutes, numbers, and the shelf life of felons. They were short on listening, long on a hundred ways to say "denied".
I went up for parole one, two, three times. Each time they moved papers around, looked up at my visitors at the appropriate moments. But it was a done deal as they drug out nine years of my write-ups, verdicts from court proceedings, I&I investigations, gang involvement, descriptive notes of my wife's Q&A while trying to visit me, necessary strip search of wife and a female friend, violence, drug abuse, and a Class 3 felony of promoting prison contraband. Needless to say, it was overkill, but it did prevent any further outside intrusions from my diminished support system.
Six months later I went before them again. The faces changed but they were all too familiar and my wife seemed almost relieved when they apologetically concurred: "No".
It was in those late afternoons when walking back to my bunk that I noticed the world outside had become abstract, a satellite speeding round a planet I had compartmentalized, at least the friends, family, and relationships, and only now did I accept the miscue, that I held no key back in.
It takes what it takes. For some, I could guess a year might do it; for others, well, maybe they'd never fall off the edge of the world. It didn't matter which world, just that most flipped a switch.
For me it was just a sign of things to come.
Another Christmas, a riot, heroin, more. My body was tight. If I took the edge off, it wasn't enough - I felt as if my ligaments and calf muscles had been stuffed inside a smaller frame.
A man, a friend, had run up his tab with the border brothers. Maybe he had lost his alarm for trepidation, danger. He stood 6 foot something', but wasn't a bully. Anyhow they moved him back up to the walls, people droppin' kites, C/Is, rats - it never stopped.
I'd had my share. It was just one more step backwards into a vacuum that had no end.
Then an exit appeared like I was fucking Houdini.
The loudspeakers draped on poles crackled on a Friday morning just after count. "Sedlmayr 63888 report to Parole Board in Re-class building on North Yard".
Shit. I had just fixed and was cleaning the outfit when the ese keeping watch whistled: cell block cop was coming my way to give me a pass to get across the yard. I was good n' loaded. He wished me good luck. I washed my face, threw on a work-shirt and lit up a cigarette as I walked slow, keeping to the right of a crowd.
Jesus, the chow hall smelled like rotten vegetables.
I made eye contact with men I knew, went through a quick pat down, wand, knocked on the door, another wand.
"Open your mouth," he spoke, "Stick out your tongue. You just wake up?"
"Yup," I said, "Just woke up."
It was a good hour and some before they called my number. I slowly took a chair. I was dead calm, I didn't give a shit. No one there to disappoint, I laughed quietly, it was all a charade. Fixed.
I answered the same questions.
"Can you speak up?"
"Oh yea, sure, sure."
I couldn't find one authentic word in them or in me. It was static, like on a little AM radio from when I was a kid.
I didn't tell them how sorry I was for this, that and the other thing. I wasn't, not to this day. When I stepped out for the final approach, all I thought about was that I had a ball of that shit in the broken light fixture on my run.
It took less than 10 minutes this time.
"Shit," the guard laughed, "Whatcha do to tick them off?"
"Nothin', Boss, whole bunch of nothing."
He stopped laughing and stood near me as they read their decision. It took a second to get inside my head.
"You have served over 85% of both your sentences and we grant you parole. Of course, its intensive."
"Of course," I mumbled back, but I felt nothing, no different, and that was why I was ready to go. I understood that much.
I was asked to sign some paperwork and I could almost feel the empty vessel that had carried a child's body and now gave it up to the darkening of the light for good.
We took April and drove it onto open road,
collapsed into each other,
one more betrayal, an admission I paid for and bought outright.
Love can deceive and still be love.
We took possession of the bandstand,
held on for dear life in a Denny’s
an saw the great balloon pitch ostrich by ostrich
into the impaling fence.
It was before noon when I followed the birds.
- from Rain Shadow Review
A Dangerous Place
The kid couldn't shut up, endless war stories her must've picked up along the way.
Claimed his dad rode for the angels back in So.Cal and that his uncle had been an origninal member of the Doobie Brothers.
He kept a secret recipe for kitchen speed folded up and hid inside his legal work along with a perfumed letter that held a single pubic hair from a girl he'd known on the streets.
Looking back, perhaps he just needed a place to unwind, he was ahead of his own shadow, he didn't sit on the fence, hell, he slept on it.
Awkward, playin' chicken with strangers, unblinking eyes and 'Hey Bro, you gonna finish everything on that tray?”
Like the whole mess, system, was just some giant self-improvement class with concertino wire.
He was wrong, of course, it was far more sinister than that.
Mark was ten days and a wake-up from leaving it all behind.
A November morning, he was woring on the heavy bag. Twack, twack, foom, his pocket radio cranked up, tiny earplugs sending the signal through, feet moving and again, twack, twack, thwack. A horse, nostrils flared, clipped bursts of air, meeting fists against the bag, eyes wet, alive, and breathing hard.
A wind moving cross the yard, detonation of future sin.
It took twelve AA's tied up in a sock to get his head right. From behind it was like fly fishing in mud.
Rifle tower, cameras on each post, guards in pairs choking walkie-talkies.
A flash, and he broke through the skull, pulsating adrenaline and if there had been orders to stop, he could not.
A branchless trunk collapsed to the ground, grass splashed with liquid.
Standing above, hollowed out with wicked interpretation.
The young man dropped the bloodied sock and raised his hands straight up. These children, once angels, we brought them to you.
Check out the archive of Billy Sedlmayr's writing for the Tucson Weekly here
or browse a curated selction of his articles below.
"Richard did something more than make tools of writing available to groups of flawed men. I think he let us retrieve something true in ourselves that could not be eroded or beaten out of us. The sound and scratch of pen to paper that would stand alone, harbor the individual, and keep some kind of humanity alive in us."
"Thunders was the guy nailed into the barrel, pushed slight into the current and down Niagara Falls to bash wildly against wood. The power of the descent hitting the bottom where you split apart or pop back up to the top. Applause—the winning hand— skill, fearless, in a thousand shitty clubs, where the hand turns the amplifier up further still, and the other half is only here to invite a room full of strangers to watch you destroy the attributes whose balance is self-consuming, drowned in the iconic orphan junkie."
"Repeated listenings of Harvest gave me a lesson that in the structure of a record, the more space the better. So much was being crammed into our lives, into the world, that this love of music brought the listener and the artist closer. "
Image credit: Gary Burden
On Rainer Ptacek and the Giant Sandworms first-ever gig
"Recently, I found an old box of cassette tapes—things even I couldn't destroy. I came upon a green TDK with the words 'Giant Sandworms 1st Gig' scrolled on it. A neighbor still owned a tape deck—the old kind. I took it home and ran a pencil through the spools to loosen up 30-some years, sat down, switched off the light, pushed play, and for a second, I could almost make out the faces ..."
"There has been nothing like them before or since...
Those boys were meant to shine."
"This band looks forward in a world so scary, one can't help but daydream of the past and reap nostalgia's reward. it's where nothing can hurt you, nothing can stand in your way."
"This was Mayfield's music, his label, and his vision. From the first song to the last, the album provokes conversation. It’s trashcan fires, tenements and crime, black on black. This is urban renewal, welcome to it."
"And I play that song and smoke two or three Lucky Strikes and won’t let go, can’t, 'cause these are the ones, the very reason we ascribe to rock ’n’ roll."
"The yearning and distress in Elton’s voice and melody, from the time I first heard it in 7th grade to right now, to me, is testimony to his truest talent."
"'Honky Tonk' finds Billy Cobham cutting the tempo, half-digging into his hi-hat and kickdrum, and percussionist Airto Moreira is rubbing his hands over skin, bending the air
with wooden birds and howler monkey sounds. Hancock's theme moves in and out of air holes ... Man, Miles must've laughed to himself, mumbling, 'Tropical baby, pretty fuckin' Tropical.'"
"Nyro’s original stuns the listener with melody, piano and insight that is fresh right now, right this very moment Mister or Misses President. "Come on people/Come on children/Come on down to the glory river/Gonna wash you up/Gonna wash you down/Gonna lay that Devil down … “In my mind I can't study war no more/Save the children/Save the country now …”"
"Louise chipping away at her Les Paul Jr. as she begins a narration of a lover’s ups and downs, free of metaphor or apology. Harmonies come strong and large behind her words, an amalgamation of Billy Sherrill’s production sound adjoining some sharp lost Byrds track when Gene Clark was burning up songs like cigarettes."