I HEART DENIS JOHNSON
Michael A. FitzGerald

Four gutted deer hung from an elm tree out in front of the motel. On the inside of our bathroom door a bumper sticker read “Troy, a drinking town with a logging habit.” At 1,888 feet above sea level, Troy (pop. 943) is the lowest town in Montana. It sits only fourteen miles from the Idaho border, and in black marker on the lime-green shower wall someone had written “Idaho, the Second to Last Best Place.” We dropped our bags and drove over to the Club Bar for the annual Troy Poetry Slam.

Children flew around the bar in a fierce game of tag. In between cheesy posters of old stars like Dean, Monroe, and Elvis, glass-eyed dead animals hung on the wall. There were heads of elk, moose, at least one Montana lynx, a diorama of a bobcat taking down a fawn, and a seven-foot shellacked marlin. Near a septic tank that had been re-welded into a massive wood-burning stove, Tony Brown, the Club Bar proprietor and, along with Denis Johnson, co-instigator of the Poetry Slam, doled out mountain lion brisket stew on hamburger buns from an electric crockpot. Two women were selling deer jerky, dried morels, and jars of pickles and preserves on a card table near the entrance. Mel, Tony’s super cute, out-of-state niece, who was taking a semester off from Michigan State to get her act together, was behind the 96 foot-long mahogany bar, which had been shipped and railroaded in from France 100 years before during a gold boom. This, a young attractive educated woman behind a bar in Troy, anywhere within 400 miles of Troy, was an oddity akin to Gwen Ifel falling from the sky to serve us drinks.

There were four Big Shot Male Fiction Writers in the bar: Rick Bass, Larry Brown, Kevin Canty, and Denis Johnson. And there were five or six poets from Missoula and another handful of them from Eastern Washington State University. The rest of the crowd consisted of Troy and Yaak residents.

My friends, Mark Lane and Eric Springer, and I had ingested a mess of bong hits and most of a case of beer on the three-hour drive up from Missoula where we were fiction students in the MFA program. None of us would admit to ever having written a poem. We had no intentions of participating in the Slam. We were there to glean some of the BSMFWs’ magic and drink. We were there to party with and be liked, and ultimately encouraged in our writing. But as we sat at the bar, watching people go up onto the plywood stage, it was becoming clear that no one was going to notice us, never mind be impressed by us, unless, we imagined, we drank more.

 

You can read I Heart Denis Johnson in its entirety in issue 2 of Swink.

Michael A. FitzGerald lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, Catherine Jones, and their preternaturally gifted one-year-old, Ignatius. He has work appearing in the next Massachusetts Review. His novel, Does Anyone Know You’ve Gone This Way?, needs a publisher.

 

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