Junk: The Prince Tambourine

Tommy Pico is an incredible poet who just published his third book called Junk. His previous collection, Nature Poem, is one of my favorite poetry books in the last 5-10 years, easy. His work is shocking, delicate, whip-smart, and bursting with unforgettable imagery. I find myself pressing a hand to my chest at least once a page while reading his poetry. He's also one of the fascinating hosts of Food 4 Thot, a podcast about sex, relationships, race, identity, and literature.

To celebrate the release of Junk, Tommy asked me and 5 other writers to participate in a kind of literary show and tell. We had to bring in a piece of junk and read something about it. This was my first time reading in New York. I've done live shows for Thirst Aid Kit and Another Round, of course, but tonight's reading was something altogether different. 

Anyway. Buy Tommy's poetry. Look for the work of the other writers who read: Matt Ortile, Bukem Reitmayer, Max Steele, Natalie Eilbert, and Chris Campanioni. 

Here's what I read:


Junk: The Prince Tambourine

I guess it was around 2005, maybe even 2004. I was dating a man who didn’t believe in titles but gave a mutual friend a stern talking to when that guy once sat a little too close to me, for a little too long. You know how it is when you have something you probably should give away but you can’t stand the idea of someone else with it.

Whatever year it was, I was a member of an online message board and learned that someone local, a major Prince fan, was selling a room full of memorabilia. I immediately checked my checking and savings accounts. I had a 9-5 job as an administrative assistant at a DC high school then. My living room wasn’t filled with gold coins I could swim in, but I could splurge on someone’s old Prince stuff if given the chance, and here it was.

I withdrew a certain amount from the ATM so I wouldn’t go overboard and took my non-boyfriend with me to this woman’s house. Let’s call her Vicki. I think she’d like that.

Vicki took us through room after room after room, and it became clear that she lived at home with her parents. It was a house for upper middle class retired parents: beige, gold, and black in every room, pops of slate grey, his and her La-Z-Boys in matching brown leather (hers had the cream crocheted blanket folded neatly on its back; his with the tv tray, newspapers, and pill bottles next to it). We finally made it to Vicki’s room and it was...

You ever watch a documentary about ancient ruins and how they’re carefully dismantled and shipped to a whole new world, removed of their context, then reassembled in hopes that people will learn more about how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same?

That was Vicki’s room: its walls shellacked with the dreams of a 70s teenager obsessed with an 80s Prince. Yet every decade of the artist was represented in the memorabilia. Every surface was covered with him: buttons, magazines, posters, albums, unauthorized biographies, ticket stubs, alleged sweat towels, concert shirts. The bed was hidden beneath the big stuff: record store cut-outs, presumably fake framed gold albums, jackets. I remember thinking the bed was twin-sized and feeling a little sad at the idea of this woman sacrificing comfort for the sake of someone else’s stuff, but then I looked at my non-boyfriend, his eyes the size of hubcaps as he stroked a guitar, and I swallowed my judgment.

I don’t know if the memory of the bed’s size is real, or if the guitar was really owned by Prince. Vicki’s attempts to possess little pieces of him outsized everything. When I went to college, I opened a savings account for the express purpose of buying Prince tickets. He would announce concerts randomly, within days of showtime, leaving me frustrated and resentful, so I thought I’d wise up. Then college life really took a hold, and I thought, “I’m not gonna starve just to be prepared for the whim of some man!” So I took out some money and treated myself to this cute little restaurant around the corner from campus called The Italian Pie.

Vicki’s room made me wonder if she had starved herself. It wasn’t just a shrine where all her Prince stuff went. This was where she slept. It was where she retired every night with hundreds of Prince’s eyes watching her. She wouldn’t meet mine when I asked why she was selling everything. She clutched a button with a purple banana in her fist.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Guess I just need to get rid of all this junk.”

I nodded and looked at my non-boyfriend who was still tracing the strings of that guitar. We communicated wordlessly, his eyes shifting to the guitar in hope, my mouth pursing in NOPE.

I chose a tambourine, some buttons, a couple of albums, and some posters. As I was handing her the cash and she was about to wrap the tambourine up for me, her father shuffled into the room, his body bent so sharply, his head barely met my shoulders, a portable oxygen canister rolling by his side.

“You getting some good deals in here, ain’t you?” he asked us, his eyes covered in a film of  cataracts that matched the slate grey of the very clean kitchen.

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Thank you.”

He nodded and turned away. The tambourine jangled harshly before Vicki mumbled a shaky “thank you” back to me.

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