The Talent of Knowing
by Linda Nemec Foster
“My life hasn’t run out yet.”
— Keith Richards
I’m watching Mick Jagger’s jagged face—as big as a five-story
tenement building—at an IMAX theater showing Scorsese’s film,
Shine a Light. And I get tired just watching this guy—
older than me—methodically strut around the stage and dry
hump the audience. Back and forth, back and forth.
And that’s when I think of you, dear friend, who’s been dead
for over twenty years. Not as long as Brian Jones, but hey,
the years are creeping up on all of us. And I remember
your bigger-than-life-size poster of Mick by your bed. His thin,
tense body on stage, wrapped in sweat. Almost nothing else.
You envied that look of defiance, the petulant lips. Blasted
“You Can’t Always Get Want You Want” so loud, you swore
the vinyl almost buckled from the sound waves as you mouthed
the gritty lyrics about the woman, the bleeding man,
the deception, the blood stains on her hands. You know the rest.
Another paradigm for the ex-wife, you told me in a noisy bar.
But as much as you craved Mick’s swagger, it was the silent,
elusive, almost invisible Charlie Watts you really wanted
to channel. The way he looks at Jagger on stage.
The almost sarcastic grimace that says: I know that you know
that I know you’re a fake. Nothing more than a bloke
who let his classes at the London School of Economics
go to his head. And now look at you. You’re nothing but
fucking Mick Jagger—that’s all. That’s what you tell me
Charlie Watts is really thinking when he’s banging on the drums,
sitting there, lips pursed, behind Mick and the boys.
When Scorsese’s movie cuts from the 2006 concert stage to old
black and white film clips of the Stones in their early days,
it’s the interview with a young Charlie Watts that I know
you’d love. When asked what he’d do if he wasn’t in the band,
he said he’d be a designer—not an artist—a designer because
he’s “not versed in the talent of knowing.” A polite way to say:
a failure of the intellect, a failure of the imagination.
As if he was mouthing your words in 1974, after the wife left
with your best friend. (“How could I not see it coming? How
did I miss that?” you said. “I must be totally devoid of imagination.”)
Jagger’s poster your only bedtime companion. The black neighbors
in the upstairs apartment pounding on their floor, your ceiling,
almost keeping rhythm with Charlie. Yelling, TURN OFF
THAT LOUSY WHITE MUSIC, WHITE BOY. IT’S DAMN CRAZY.
You couldn’t turn it off then and you couldn’t turn it off now.
The movie and soundtrack. Jagger and his constant gyrations.
Watts and his fixed stares. The nuance of every song memorized.
Your life finally abandoned in the glow of back lighting.
“This poem was inspired by my friend, Richard, who was the first person to encourage me when I began writing poetry in the early 1970s. I met him at a community poetry workshop sponsored by an independent bookstore and, at that time, didn’t take my writing seriously. Dick changed all that when he challenged me to write in a wide range of poetic styles to find my own voice. He suggested I apply to graduate programs. In 1977, I was accepted by Goddard’s low-residency MFA Program, and I never looked back. However, Dick remained a part of my life. He was a dear friend but battled demons and substance abuse. Once he told me the music of The Rolling Stones was the soundtrack of his life and their song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ was his personal anthem. He’s been dead for over twenty years—I still miss him.”
Linda Nemec Foster is the author of nine collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk (LSU Press) and Talking Diamonds (New Issues Press). Her work has been published in numerous magazines such as The Georgia Review, Nimrod, North American Review, and New American Writing. She has received awards from the Arts Foundation of Michigan, National Writers’ Voice, and the Academy of American Poets. Foster founded the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI).