about mark flanigan

Cincinnati native Mark Flanigan has been writing and performing for over 14 years....Works from his collections Wrong-Way Poems For One-Way Streets, Not Necessarily God Stories and Next to Nothing have appeared in a variety of independent publications and, along with his performances, have garnered critical acclaim. He has also co-written a screenplay (“Midway,” with Brian Keizer), edited a literary publication (omnibscure) and worked to develop, produce and curate various gallery shows and performance readings -- notably, VOLK/c.s.p.i. and Intermedia Series readings at the Contemporary Arts Center and the Weston art gallery. Flanigan’s monthly column, “Exiled on Main Street,” appeared for over three years, first in x-ray, and upon his resignation there, at semantikon.com. Performances of his can be found on “the Volk/c.s.p.i. spoken word series CD (2001),” which he co-produced, and on the CD “One Night Only" (2002).   To learn more about his work, read his blog, review some of the works mentioned above, and listen to additional audio tracks:

Visit markflanigan.com

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mark flanigan exiled from archives

October 2007: The Dance

June 2007: Cake
May 2007: Special Edition "Light Travel" Mark Flanigan and Steve Proctor
April 2007: Zero Hour
March 2007: Prelude to a Kiss-Off
Jan 2007: State Of The Disunion Address 
Nov 2006: Youngblood
Oct 2006: How I Spent My Summer Vacation
exiled on main street archives

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Exiled from Main Street 6: Out of the Nest...

DECEMBER 1997 CINCINNATI, OH
APRIL 1993 SAN FRANCISCO, CA
APRIL 2005 CINCINNATI, OH
JUNE 1990 ABOVE THE CLOUDS
NOVEMBER 1990 LOS ANGELES, CA
MAY 1992 SAN FRANCISCO, CA
DECEMBER 1997 CINCINNATI, OH
APRIL 2005 CINCINNATI, OH
MAY 2005 ABOVE THE CLOUDS

     DECEMBER 1997 CINCINNATI, OH

      I was a model inmate: quiet, humble, and amenable. After all, I simply wanted out....
     That’s also why, night after night, Ricardo would stretch both of our pillows across his forehead and over his ears, as I reached for an emery board. He had laughed at me early on, my cellmate had, and the first night I remember turning to him and asking, “What? You never saw ‘Escape from Alcatraz?’”
     But that was three months ago. And at least twice as long since my swinging out of bed to pick patiently at the concrete made anyone but me laugh....If only because I was getting there.

APRIL 1993 SAN FRANCISCO, CA

     I had had enough. The romantic life looked good on paper, but the reality of it I now recognized as being a tremendous pain in the ass. I couldn't deny this any longer, and the youthful exuberance that I had brought with me to California had been replaced with exhaustion and a sharp need to hibernate.
     I was tired of working for five dollars an hour while paying six hundred dollars rent. Tired of going to college in my “spare time.” Tired, in some sense of the word, of snorting crystal meth daily because it was more prevalent than food, too.
     Besides, regardless of how exciting it was at times, there were indubitably some severe flaws with our relationship. I, for one, was only twenty-two: immature, confused, and selfish to the core. She, on the other hand, had those issues specific to growing up too fast in California. Either way, things were winding down between us; we knew it without saying as much.
     Nonetheless, as I drove our sole vehicle to work, her head remained in my lap, her right hand spiraling about my neck. “I don’t even know where I’ll be in ten years,” she sighed at one point. “And what’s worse, I don’t even know where I want to be.” We sat at an intersection. Not knowing how to respond, I did the safe thing and asked, “Well, where do you think I will be in ten years?”
      She didn’t answer at first, so I repeated myself....
     “I heard you,” she snapped, “just gimme’ a minute to think it over.”
     The light turned and we crossed the intersection. Then another. Then another. My sudden restlessness increasing with each of them.
     “Okay,” she spoke slowly, methodically, “I say you’ll end up back in Cincinnati. Where you’ll probably marry, have a couple ‘a kids. You’re writing will go well for you, I think, and you might even have some degree of fame. Other than that, I’m not sure; I guess you’ll pretty much remain a vegetarian, although you most probably will succumb to dairy sooner or later.”
     And then: “Oh yeah, and you’ll drive a truck for your dad’s company.”

APRIL 2005 CINCINNATI, OH

     I had been celebrating with a couple of co-workers. Watered-down beers at first, but then some Jameson chilled. After all, it was my celebration.
     Still, I did have to go back afterwards, to clean out my desk. That, and check in on my boys one last time.
     I had been working there, in different capacities, for over a decade. And, sure, I had left before. Once to travel Europe. Later, in a failed attempt to move to New York. But that had been seven years back, and in the meantime, I had gone from an eight dollar an hour warehouseman to nightshift supervisor to, the year before, co-owner....All this while I desired nothing more than to leave.
     For a great stretch, though, such a thing seemed impossible. Credit cards, bars, artistic and—more truly—recreational pursuits saw to it. All the same, the longest running joke in the joint was about to end. My dream of a writer’s life deferred far too long, all that remained now, really, was Goodbye....
     
JUNE 1990 ABOVE THE CLOUDS

     I had a few thousand dollars but very few plans. They numbered three, to be exact.
     First, I would visit my good friend and cousin, Kevin, who had a couch I could crash on, in Los Angeles. Following a few months there, I would then move to San Francisco, which at the time I believed to be a literary Mecca incapable of flourishing in full until my arrival....This despite the fact that I had written very few poems, and read probably even less.
     Last, and most importantly, I wouldn’t work for 365 consecutive days, regardless of what transpired in that time. No matter what. Like almost every other lower middle-class kid my age, I’d been riding on the school/work treadmill since the age of fourteen, and as such I attributed my puny literary output to this and one other fact; namely, that I lacked resolve and the willingness to sacrifice for my art.
     Thus, I’d earmark each day with at least one poem, again no matter what, and collect them under the umbrella of my first full-length book, which I tentatively (and not so creatively, I might add) titled 365. Not wasting a moment, I wrote the first of them on the plane, even:

Above the Clouds

it is blue.
just left behind
all the pools.

don’t know where I’m going
but sure know where I’ve been
and that wasn’t
that good.

NOVEMBER 1990 LOS ANGELES, CA

     The mix of being away from home, knowing no one other than Kevin, and being unencumbered by work—sprinkled with a youthful hubris—allowed me to actually see through my first resolution ever. Not to mention the fact that, whatever its faults, one can’t deny L. A. as a treasure chest of stories.
     Besides, it was a cheap form of entertainment. One, I noticed, I got better at the more I practiced it. And before long, I found myself writing six or seven poems a day! My virility increasing exponentially, I then branched out to fiction, screenplays, novellas, even lyrics....You name it, I did it.
     Output became such that I had to find somewhere to put the damn things....As a result, I’d spend a couple of hours each day reading literary magazines and sending them submissions. Then, at night, it was off to the poetry readings....Where—a few weeks into it—I’d pick up a local zine and be both surprised and miffed to find that I was in it. At this rate, I began to believe, I’d need never work a real job again!
     Fact was, though, I was incredibly lonesome. My girlfriend back home having shit-canned me, I hadn’t so much as talked to a woman while in Los Angeles—at least not one that wasn’t charging me by the minute or hour—and I’d been living there for seven plus months now. There was a moment even, while at a bus stop, that I spied a pair of thong underwear in the gutter at my feet....I looked around, saw no one was in ear-shot, and actually struck up a conversation with it. That lonely.
     I would have escaped Los Angeles’ anonymity, too, if I could have. But shortly after my arrival, Kevin, who made a living as a motorcycle messenger, broke his wrist in an accident and was suddenly unemployable. He couldn’t pay the rent, so I did, in exchange for living there indefinitely, rent-free, so to speak. Until he could pay me back, of course. At which time I could jettison to Frisco.
     To make matters worse, the bastard got himself a girl and spent most of his time at her much more posh of a pad. I couldn’t blame him one bit. Not even when the phone was shut off. Nor the electricity, for that matter. I mean, how could I? When no one knew loneliness better than me.
     Things were rough, no doubt, but the poems and stories kept coming unabated, saw me through. I remember one particular night, while sitting under candlelight no less, I opened my mail to find that two of my poems had been accepted into The Quarterly, which at the time had the highest circulation of any literary publication, not to mention the fact that I actually liked that damn rag. Every plague fell away immediately, then, as I did a thanksgiving dance around the darkened kitchen table. Goddamn, I thought, there’s no stopping this train now!
     Enter Aundré.
     I knew her, barely, as the girl next door. Not by sight, or name even, as I had merely listened to her—and her boyfriend—fuck in the complex next to me on occasion. At first, there was a lot of spanking and things of that ilk, which excited me immensely, and so for a few months my sex life consisted of jerking off on the balcony whenever those sounds would be kind enough to drift in and beckon me. There was just the slightest of tears in their shade, too, so that one could see a spot of flesh every now and then. But, mostly it was a purely aural form of stimulation....
     For a while, anyway. Because not long after this introduction, things began to change. The woman’s moans turned into something much less arousing: shrieks, and screams. This while the man’s sweet nothings dipped down to, “I’ll kill you, you cunt!” Soon, what was at first a rare occurrence began to happen weekly, and even at that age I wasn’t too naive to guess what would be next: 24/7, the ante and concomitant violence escalating rapidly.
     I felt helpless, of course, but at this point I had yet to so much as lay eyes on either of them, not truly. And, anyway, after a few months of this crap, I wished that they’d just get it the hell over with and kill each other, you know? I mean, I’d be sitting there with my pen, trying to concentrate over the din, or forget what I had just heard, and even if I was successful, I couldn’t help but be confronted by my art’s sheer impotence. Suddenly, I had nothing. No heat, no friends, no light, no food, no fire.
     A few nights later, while sitting at the kitchen table, I happened to look over and realize that I wasn’t alone, that someone was watching me from their kitchen window: a woman, with dirty blonde hair, and a prettiness buried beneath her obvious distress.
     “Isn’t this the funniest?” she asked, smiling and tossing something onto my balcony. “I picked them up at the store, without looking at ‘em,” she explained, walking away from the window and out of view. I went to the balcony and picked it up. Was confused to discover it was just a roll of paper towels....I looked at them more closely and understood once I read the fine print: “Home Sweet Home,” they read.
     And that night, when the fighting started, I didn’t hesitate to pick up a large glass vase and chuck it through their kitchen window. With no idea of—or care for—the consequences, I stood on the balcony and listened. Was surprised to hear something approaching silence. And even more shocked by the sight, a few moments later, of a stringy-haired beanpole of a man charging out of his garage and speeding away on his Harley.
     We moved her in that night. And, as luck would have it, things didn’t work out between Kevin and his girl, so just like that there were three of us....He didn’t blame me, either. Even when, in retaliation, his windows got busted out.
     Besides, that was small potatoes compared to the number he did on Aundré’s car. He smashed her windshield in and slashed all four tires, effectively immobilizing her and solidifying her status as my new roommate. I implored her to fill out a police report and force some resolution. Once there, we found out that he had threatened to kill a cop while arguing on the phone; as a result, they wanted him, bad....They had me fill out a report as well, for the busted windows and as a witness to his abuse. And a few weeks later, exhausted by both his persistent knocks at the door and his ability to avoid the police, I had the honor of serving him up to them after pretending that I was his friend. He deserved it.
     The days dragged by and, just when you thought it would never happen, the night before his day in court arrived. Aundré, inexplicably, was experiencing a change in heart. She didn’t want to see him in jail, and thus was refusing to testify. Problem was, I still could. And, as such, while attempting to sweet talk me into letting bygones be bygones, I hit upon a compromise that I thought would satisfy all involved parties: I won’t testify, I told her, provided he pays me a thousand dollars before I board the bus tomorrow, in cash. Which he did, promptly.
     That next morning, in lieu of bus fare I bought a four hundred dollar car instead, off Kevin’s ex, no less. Then, I informed Aundré I was leaving for Frisco, after the weekend, as per my original intent. Hell or high water. My plan, if you could call it that, was to get a rooming house for as long as possible and finish my goddamn book. It was May, two months of my personal contract remained unfulfilled, and thus a job was still out of the question. An American in California, as I was now calling it, weighed in at a measly six hundred pages but was still in need of an ending. I’d do it from inside my new car, if need be.

MAY 1992 SAN FRANCISCO, CA

     Aundré, at first, seemed to understand. She had never lived, as an adult, ten miles from Venice Beach, and her friends, whom of late she had made a point of seeing again, would be hard to replace. Then, as the day approached, she suggested that she come. Flattered, I nonetheless said no, reminding her that although I did care for her deeply, I wanted above all to see this thing through.
     The night before, she insisted. She could make it happen, comfortably, for both of us, she said. Her grandparents, who had raised her for much of her life and who were somewhat wealthy, would help her come up with the three months’ rent required, as well as the fourth that would be necessary for a dog deposit.
     We packed the car. Stayed at a hotel until we found a place....A beautiful—albeit expensive—place, on Blake St., just off Geary. Sure as shit, Aundré and her grandparents came through with the $3200 as advertised, and suddenly my book was heading in an altogether more fashionable direction. After June 21st, a year from the day I arrived in California, it was understood that I’d look for a job. A fact I did not mind one bit, especially if it meant keeping this, the most perfect apartment I had—then, as now—ever occupied....
     Perfect, I say, except for one nuance. Shortly after moving in, Aundré and I noticed that every few days there seemed to be a dead bird at our doorstep. A strange thing, really, as we never could find a nest anywhere nearby. It was if they just fell from the sky overhead. One by one, we’d sweep them up, often enough that soon it merely became part of our routine.
     One such time, after maybe two weeks of this, I had a broom and trash receptacle in hand ready to dispose of another carcass, only to glance down and see that the thing was attempting to move away from me. My heart jumpstarted with the realization of it! And the blood pumping through my veins bore testament to the fact that I had no idea what to do. Aundré was out looking for work, I thought of the neighbors but I didn’t know any of them yet. All I could think to do was sweep it up after all, closing the lid as I ran up the steps....
     Once inside, I lamented the fact that we didn’t have a phone. And putting the receptacle in our bedroom, away from the dog, I ran down the street to a pay phone. From there I called vet after vet until one, finally, suggested I visit the library.
     By the time Aundré returned home, I had already cleaned its wound, a puncture just under its right wing, with soap and water. That, and I had torn a pocket off a flannel shirt and wrapped it up. The poor thing moved only sluggishly, wiggling on its belly, while its heart raced at what must have been an unnatural rate. Aundré went out in search of worms, none of which it ate. That night, I couldn’t sleep; I just kept looking to my left at the strange box in the corner, wondering if it would still be alive come morning.
     Nor did I mind, once there, being awakened by the sound of its muffled mew of a chirp. I stayed with it while Aundré took off to the pet store, bringing back a birdcage. We hung it in the front window and hoped for the best.
     In the meantime, Aundré hunted for a job while I continued to concentrate on my poems. I had the better luck of the two. Frisco’s job market was fierce, apparently, and not having a phone probably didn’t help any. To make matters worse, Aundré, it seemed, had the propensity to drown her sorrows in either shopping or drugs....In fact, for her they usually went hand in hand, and as such, she always seemed to walk through the door with both.
     Truth be told, things were less than stellar between us. She had no friends besides me, and that guy was busy with his books. A fact that I felt little remorse about, as I thought that point had been made abundantly clear in advance....One day, as I stood marveling at our bird’s rapid recovery, she cried, “We’re not going to make it.”
     “What do you mean?” I asked.
     “ The rent’s due in a week. We don’t have it.”
     “You don’t? Well, how short are you?”
     “ All of it.”
     “What about my six hundred bucks?”
     “It’s gone. Look, I thought I’d have a job by now....”
     “I thought you didn’t need a job by now.”
     “It’s that goddamn dog’s fault, you know....800 bucks, don’t you find that fuckin’ ridiculous?”
     That next morning I bought a paper. Looking at the want ads, there seemed to be plenty of work to go around. In fact, by the end of the day I had filled out no less than twenty applications. And, by pawning my stereo, secured a phone. None of which, of course, excited me one bit. But our landlord was proving to be something of a loon, actually—Aundré had caught him peering through one of our windows and berated him for it, and shortly after that there seemed to be something amiss with our lease. No payment on this, just the second month of rent, would most certainly sink the ship.
     The phone didn’t prove to be too hot of an investment, either. So, out I went again, this time to the only cab company that would hire someone young as me. But sadly, I failed my written test, and thus it was on to various and sundry male strip clubs. I mean, men were hitting on me all the time, so I thought I’d have half of chance there....Insult added to injury, I didn’t get so much as an audition.
     Nor did I write much. And the few poems I did spit out were in a much different spirit than that which was wanted or anticipated. It was around this time that I decided to change the title, to Wrong-Way Poems For One-Way Streets.
     The only good thing going, really, was my feathered friend, whose health continued on its upward trajectory. To such an extent that, it became increasingly obvious, the thing resented being in its cage. At certain times, especially at night, you could hear it fluttering its wings wildly and darting at the cage. Truth was, regardless of the experience of having nursed something presumed dead back to health, there really was no rapport between the two of us. Thus, maybe, no need to give it a name.
     Finally, the phone did ring. For me. It was the Kabuki Hot Springs, wanting to know if I was still available. It was a bathhouse and massage parlor in need of someone to fold their towels. Pay was five dollars an hour, the lowest of all the jobs I had applied for, in fact. I would start my training tomorrow.
     That night, I wrote my first poem in some time:

A Prelude to Silence


winding down the
lullaby warped the
children stirring the
adults drifting the
badge revoked the
mirror empty the
night morning the
bird hoarse the
tenor without voice the
pen out of ink the
wick in wet wax the
music fading the
jack-in-the-box poised the
end of the beginning the
beginning of the
end

                              June 17, 1992
                              San Francisco, CA

     An unworthy one, at that, this last poem of my book, and the first in some time....The next wouldn’t arrive until much, much later.
     That following morning, I walked into the front room and stood in front of the bird’s cage. It spun, fluttering, and watched as I opened the window behind it. Standing on the couch, I held the cage with my left hand and, spinning it, I opened the door with my right. Held it like that in front of the open window. The only thing that moved on the bird was its head, questioningly.
     We remained like this for what seemed an interminable time. Then, I hung the cage back up, grabbed a shirt and gingerly covered him. As I brought him out, you could feel him fighting in there, the slight force of his wings testing my strength. I walked down the steps and, opening the door, I stood in the doorway, not two feet from where I had found him....
     I unwrapped the shirt and, voom, he darted off, up! Losing sight of him instantly, I stepped out onto the sidewalk and fought the sun off with my hand. Lord, there he was, flying like a goddamn daredevil mad man....Circle after circle after circle, each more joyful than the last! From the far side of the street, obscured a bit by a nearby tree, then back into view and cutting it close to the house, over and over....I watched through tears, hard-pressed to believe the sight. It was as if the little shit was thanking me, I tell you! I stood there, my hand shielding my eyes from the sun, and watched as it started yet another circle by the tree and, then, suddenly, disappeared....
     I ventured further out into street to see which direction he had gone, but with no luck. In any event, I was going to be late for my orientation if I didn’t hurry. The dog hadn’t been fed yet, so I went back inside, still mildly depressed despite everything. I mean, what in the hell could be so difficult about folding towels that I would need training? That’s what I was thinking, anyway, when I saw my dog sitting beneath the birdcage, and above her, the bird.
     I closed that door, first. And then the one behind me.
     Our lease, nullified, two weeks later.

DECEMBER 1997 CINCINNATI, OH

     ....When I finally broke free, to the plumbing beneath, I thought it strange there was no stench. I hugged the concave pipe with eyes closed and traversed the maze through memory. And, coming to the sewer plate that my father had someone loosen for me, I crawled aboveground and lay there waiting for my eyes to adjust to this, a lesser brand of darkness. I blinked them rapidly, giving them only as much light as they could handle, thus simultaneously easing and rushing them to sight.
     That accomplished, I put down the urge to run, choosing instead to walk quickly from bush to bush, stopping at each. At about the fifth one, though, I no longer moved any further. I bent down merely, and therein rubbed my fingers through the mulch at the base of the tree, searching for something....
     Finding it, I raised it up towards the night sky. Then watched, from my dream, as I clutched the baggie in one hand, turned around, then started that agonizing walk back to prison....As ever, out of the nest and straight into a cage.

APRIL 2005 CINCINNATI, OH

     Yes, all that remained was Goodbye....
     Would that I hadn’t gotten quite so drunk before having to say it. For, when I opened the walk-in door to the warehouse, the blinding lights caused me to take quick inventory: clammy hands, dry mouth, parched lips. I high-tailed it to the bathroom in a vain attempt to freshen-up.
     Afterwards, I called for the four men that I was leaving behind, four men with mouths to feed, hobbies to indulge, dreams of their very own. And thinking of that fact, for the first time perhaps, I grasped just how much they probably hated me at this moment, if only because I was leaving them behind for reasons that they didn’t understand.
     When I began to speak, the drink and my emotions started to overwhelm me. As a result, I figured it best to keep it brief. “Well guys,” I told them, “take pride in what you do. Here, and everywhere else.”
     Then I shook their hands, turned around and walked out the door....In typical fashion, having forgotten to clean out my desk.
     So, with five grand in the bank, an income check on the way, and whatever I might get from my unemployment, I was officially retired from the family business....Without once, mind you, ever driving a truck.
     Count on it. This time, things will be different. This time you won’t know where to find me....

MAY 2005 ABOVE THE CLOUDS


     
















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