This was the first time I ever saw POET etched into a gravestone, so it was a big deal for me.
I know there weren’t no money in it, Blaze. I know. Singing bare-chested to a cold, cold world, handing out poems you offered like wilted flowers for pennies to passers-by. I can hear the jingle of a few coins in your cup as you walk back to the corner and throw your change into an open guitar case. I can see it. I know the sadness don’t stop, Blaze. I know it don’t never go ‘til you pick up that guitar and sing, rolling out your tender heart bleeding from the sleeves.
I had to look up the plot number. 166. Checked the map. Section D. I don’t take cemeteries lightly. I prayed for permission to pass. Once, when I was 21, my friends and I drove from Lubbock to the cemetery in Lockney, Texas, my birthplace, late one night, I guess to be romantic, because I thought it’d be ‘cool.’ On the way there, yellow fires burned in the night across the fields, like bonfires, for miles and miles, on both sides of the highway. I remember thinking, this ain’t natural. This ain’t right. When we turned in and our headlights lit up the iron gates, I instantly regretted it. I got out, real stiff, and tried to play it cool. It was cold that night, and I could see my breath. I felt like my friends and I were trespassing into a spirit world. I had respect for the dead, but I was there for the wrong reasons. I’ve had anxiety ever since.
I rode quietly on my motorbike down the narrow road and turned left under the shade. I’m never quite sure how to carry myself at a burial ground, so I was nervous, out-of-place. But I was glad I went. I’ve been wanting to stop by ever since I heard Blaze was buried here. Menchaca on Twin Creeks Rd, very close to where I live. I never knew much about him, but I saw Ethan Hawke’s film, “Blaze,” and wanted to know more. He’s most known for the song “If I Could Only Fly,” covered by Merle Haggard, and was one of Townes Van Zandt’s best friends.
There’s a story that Van Zandt and some other guys dug up his grave after the funeral to find the pawn ticket tucked in his coat pocket for a guitar that was in hock.
I know all about diggin’ up. I visited my father’s grave in Lubbock this year for the first time since he was buried there 16 years ago. My daddy’s picture is on the gravestone, holding his acoustic guitar, a guitar that now sits in my living room. That very guitar had several stints in pawn shops itself, after my parents split up. I remember every time my momma kicked him out of the house, Daddy left in cowboy boots carrying his guitar and case on the way out. He died young, at 50, and so did Blaze. He was only 39 years old.
From what I’m told, Blaze had polio as a child and walked all his life with a limp, dragging his leg a bit. 6-foot-4 with a limp. Said his casket was wrapped in duct tape because he used to repair his clothing the same way, and put it on his boots to mock those with steel-tip shoes. He always had something stitched together with tape. He died here in South Austin, stickin’ up for a friend. He was shot confronting a man he thought was stealing his friend’s veteran’s pension checks. Not too far from where I live.
There’s a story, too, that once, Townes couldn’t remember his lyrics during a show having just been released from a mental institution a few days earlier. Blaze walked on stage in the middle of the song, stood behind him, and took over, singing every line, word-for-word. He said Townes was the best, as all my friends growing up agreed. But as for me, I’m partial to Blaze, I think. He was just sad, you know, trapped inside his songs, the best place he could be. It can be hard to deal with real life if the only place you’re beautiful, the only place life is beautiful, is inside a song. But I could talk about that all day. I don’t think sad men are lost, they’re just sad, and that sadness has to bleed.
I paid my respects and walked away. I read some of the inscriptions on the other tombstones. And when I saw the husband and wife buried side-by-side, with the image of two wedding bands interlocked, etched in granite, I wept. “Married 56 years,” it read. Their son’s plot was right by their side. I dried my eyes, put on my shades and got on my bike.
For a couple of days after that, I felt sad, like I was slowly wrapping tape around a bleeding sleeve.
Moonlight shinin’ through the trees
Moonlight shinin’ down on me
Lights a way for lovers in the dark
Moonbeams dance on rain-drenched trees
Sparkle for our eyes to see
Moonlight shine on down and shine on me
-from ‘The Moonlight Song,’ Blaze Foley