A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

Cliffton Price

Something to Write Home About

          It’s a known fact these days that you got E Street Radio, courtesy of Sirius XM Satellite, pumping through your office at the university pretty much continuously.  You tell your writing students when you talk about music—and you’re always talking about music—that for you Springsteen’s a safe bet: There’s nowhere he can go, no song he can sing, that will take you someplace you don’t want to go.  You know every memory every one of his songs will conjure for you, and you’re fine with them; you can handle them; there’s nothing E Street Radio can play that’ll hit you with a low blow and bring you to your knees.  “Are you running from your past or something?” one student asks.  “Something like that,” you reply.  What you don’t say is she’s too young to understand what you’re talking about, that she hasn’t experienced the kind of pain you’ve experienced—yet.  Which could be bullshit, but maybe not.  Anyway, so when you leave your office you leave Springsteen behind, and when you return the Boss welcomes you.  He’s like the cat that’s not yours you’ve kind of adopted in your new living quarters: always there, waiting, never asking anything more of you than a little attention.  And when it comes to Bruce, you’ve always got attention to spare.              

          So one day you’re walking from your classroom to your office and you start singing Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,” the one that begins with “I’ve got a ’69 Chevy with a 396/Fuelie Heads and a Hurst on the floor….”  It’s bleak and hungry and totally Bruce.  You climb the stairs to the second floor, walk down the hall to your office, put the key in the door and turn the knob, singing all the while.  And lo and behold, “Racing in the Streets” is not only coming from your mouth but from your computer as well, and the line you’re singing is the same line Bruce is singing, the word you’re on the same he is on, and you think, “What are the chances?”  Close to 300 songs, including covers, in his catalogue, probably 20 to 30 lines per song, anywhere from 5 to 15 words per line, or something like 75,000 words and then some total, any one of which Springsteen could be singing at any given time during the day or night, and yet he and you are singing the same one at the same time.  You guess it was bound to happen someday, but now that it has, it’s still something to write home about.  Or at least something to climb the stairs to the third floor and tell the woman you’ve been flirting with for a month or so about.  She seems as amazed as you are by what you’ve just experienced, and you think she’s digging you as much as you’re digging her but you can’t be sure, so you keep to your program of frequent visits to her office and the occasional witty email.                       

          And then a week or two later, on the 59th anniversary of the Boss’s birth, you’re again walking back to your office from class, this time singing Springsteen’s “The Price You Pay,” and what do you know, when you enter your office the same song is playing from your computer.  Not the same verse, line, and word this time, but still the same song, causing the same spine-tingling feeling and giving you yet another excuse to go and see the woman upstairs, the pretty, funny woman upstairs, with her dark hair and her dark skin and her dark eyes framed by signature red frames.  In her office, you continue your now customary dance of wit and jests, of compliments and calling one another out, laughing louder than perhaps any two individuals who have been through the shit you both recently had been through have a right to do, until she can’t take it anymore and brushes the hair out of her eyes and looks at you and smiles and declares, “We either have to fight or make out.”  You don’t skip a beat.  “Which do you want to do first?” you ask.

Cliffton Price's work has appeared in Literary OrphansGingerbread House, The Barnstormer, Little Patuxent Review, Lunch TicketWaccamawRio Grande Review, and elsewhere.