Coffee Table Iron Man

by Serge Bielanko

That Morning.

Henry is standing at the coffee table with his tongue poking through lips as he draws Iron Man. He's got the big Ziploc of crayons and markers out and he's got the Iron Man action figure his grandma bought him down the shore stood up there on the ratty table. Iron Man standing right there in pretty much the exact same spot where I usually plop my one cold beer every evening after I finally get the kids to bed if I have them with me that night. I watch my son from out in the kitchen. I try and focus on the dude, letting his small body seep into my face like art, like a painting on a museum wall or something.

I don't know what happens to me whenever I manage to take a break out of my day and stare at my own kids' bodies. It's a real mind fuck. Their skin, their miniature arms poking out of their Walmart t-shirts, the flashes of toe I catch out the breath holes in their Crocs or their sport sandals, it's all too much sometimes in a way.

There he is right now. Henry. He's 4 and change and he's got his own identity now, his penchant for sweet moments of radical love peppered with his tendency to grump out when he's even the slightest bit tired or crashing down hard off a sugar high.

Him standing there with his tongue popping out his mouth as he tries to draw the Iron Man poised on the edge of his piece of white typing paper, it slams a million things into me at once.

I see his mom. I see us. I see a high school kid and I hope he's doing alright. I see him standing there beside my shitty hospital bed when I'm dying someday. I feel his hand in mine when we walk across dangerous grocery store parking lots and I feel his hand in mine while I'm slipping away from him forever, or at least until we meet again if that's what goes down, I dunno.

"Dad!," he starts talking at me.

"What?" I say.

"You gotta see this Iron Man I'm drawing you! But not yet! You can't look yet! I will show you when I'm done DWAWING him."

He says certain words with emphasis, this time it's that word: drawing. But he says it with his own little guy mouth and the jumbling of sounds and pronunciations and all that comes along with that and so he says it better than I've heard the word said in a while.

DWAWING. He says that. But with real emphasis, you know? I fucking stare at him hard and I want to grab him in my arms and cry. How is any of this happening to me? What is happening to me?

Am I happy, dude, or am I really sad? Is any of this normal? Am I fucking going crazy? Am I dreaming?


That Afternoon.

The guitar in my hands is this whole other thing. It's been a while since I held one as often as I'm holding one these days and there is power shooting back up into my arms from that. My brother, Dave, lights a smoke and finds me a couple of chords to plug into my electric tuner as Christine fiddles around with her keyboard, getting the thing powered up and switching around through some different sounds til she lands where she wants to land.

We smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. The four-o-clock summer sun is here in beams, deliberate/concise, three basketball court poles ripped out of the blacktop and slammed through the wall. Mark lowers his bass around his body and stands there looking out the front door at the road. Cars will rip by but it's a tiny village where we are, the middle of nowhere really. That road out there is a means to an end, but unless you're like maybe one of a hundred people or so, the end ain't here in this town. You fly right through it. From one end to the other takes maybe 25 seconds if you're speeding like everybody else. A little more if you're driving like Jesus would.

Me returning to music in some way has never been some kind of inevitable thing. I could have easily let it continue to slide away from me, probably now more than ever. There has to be reasons I walked away from it all and never looked back for years now, never touching a guitar, never tempting myself to just pluck out one of the songs I wrote over almost 14 years of my life doing nothing but the band. It says something about me that I went that route, I guess, but it can't be anything good, I don't imagine, so what's the difference.

I don't dwell on it. I don't sit around thinking too hard about what I missed out on when I wasn't playing music, when I just fucked it all off in exchange for other things to do with my time. The past hates me and I know it. I never get to look back on it all and smile in her eyes and sigh and say gentle shit like "Thanks for everything, you beautiful thing you." I turn around to take a whiff of some yesterday or another and I get fistful of gravel flung in my eyes. It ain't worth it for me. Fuck the past.

And yet, here I am right?

Here I am standing tucked in between my brother tuning up his acoustic guitar and this drum kit he keeps in the middle of his dining room where most people would have their stupid big dinner table where they only eat at Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever. I'm not here with any new material, man. I'm not dragging a bunch of new songs into the mix, exploring my inner alleys with a new pen and some new inspired flashlight. Hells no. I'm here holding this guitar, the same one I used to strap on years ago/night after night/gig after gig/city after city/ just to play the songs me and Dave wrote together when the music was all we had. Back when the music was what defined me the same way it still defines him.

So what's that all about, you know? It's a thud of a question but it keeps coming back at me so I figure it's legit.

I smoke the ass end of my cigarette and I wonder if this is all some kind of throwback move on my part. Am I fronting? Am I trying to relive the past against every fiber in my consciousness? Is this mid life crisis in real time?

We kick into a song, just the four of us, a burst of energy in a sleepy town on a humid summer afternoon.

I fumble around for the chords, but I find them. They're still there. They never go anywhere. I do.

Am I doing this for someone else?

For my bro?

For people who loved our music?

My sound is tinny and fucked up because I'm hooked up directly through the old PA head Dave has sitting on the organ against the wall. Who cares. I like it. I like the clean sheen I'm moving through right now. I whack the tremolo a bunch of times just because the sustain of the chord  I'm playing in the moment sounds way cool, kind of 50's-ish, wrapped up in an unusual sound for me any guitar I ever played onstage before. I sound sharp/dirtless/ping-y. It's a rock-n-roll guitar sound before they discovered the distortion thing.

No one does that anymore. No one wants to play clean when they don't have to. But right now I kind of have to and look at that: I sound amazing.

I'm amazing.

I'm not doing this for anyone else. No one gives a shit about me/I know that.

We end the first song of the afternoon. It's one I remember writing when I lived with Claire on Passyunk in South Philly. I'd spend whole days sitting on our couch back then, writing my face off trying to come up with just one or two things that my brother would listen to me play for the very first time in his tiny trinity over at 10th and Catherine. And when I'd gotten it right, when I'd landed right where I'd been hoping like hell to land, he'd just sit there when I was done, not saying anything, just sitting there smoking his cigarette in this one particular way that he did/does when inside of himself he is overjoyed by what has just come down into his world. But he wouldn't want to overreact or react at all really, you know? Because maybe he's afraid that if he reacts right away someone will snatch the fucking thing away from him and hurt him. Caution comes with time. But some people end up relying on it to get them through. If he heard the song and loved it and then somehow it went away from him right away: that'll rip his bloody veins out of his heart like worms and maybe kill him. I can't be sure. But then again, yes I can.

"My Heart is the Bums On the Street": that's the name of the tune.

We end it and I take a swig of my cooled coffee and I don't meet anyone's eye because I'm too happy about all this and I don't need anybody smiling at me when I'm all happy and shit. I wouldn't know what to do with that. That's not me, that's not us. I come from internalness. I was born out of my mom, splashed out into the open, and then I climbed right back up into life's steaming hot pussy hole and I ain't never come out much since.

Rock-n-roll stages though, I came out of my hiding spot for them. That was the place. It didn't atke me long to know that I could walk out on them and make shit happen for me, up in my insides, that I couldn't make happen anywhere else, no way/no how.

I'm not the only one either. I'm surrounded by people like that here in my brother's house this afternoon, I think.

I'm grateful as hell. I'm thankful as shit. I'm in up to ankles and maybe that's all I'll ever be again but I'm feeling the cool lap me up after years of long heat and I will take it because I fucking earned it in all the years I slammed my own heart up against every mic stand and drunk dude and freak-sex-crusted Super 8 bed sheet across like 12,000 miles, man.

I love everybody. The past is the past.

I'm doing this for me.

I need to say that and to understand that it's alright.

I'm playing rock/roll for me.

I need it.

Give it to me.

Gimme it.


That night.

The electric guitar case has this spot I made for it alongside the acoustic guitar case and Charlie's highchair. They all three fit perfectly together in this spot in the kitchen underneath the window. When they're all there, you can't budge any of them an inch. The fix is airtight. There's no wobble, no room to roam.

When one of the three is missing though, it's a wall with a hole in it. Simple as that.

I pop the electric case back in it's slot, back where it lives when it's not filled with the electricity I'm feeding it more and more these days.

I turn around feeling charged up. I feel alive/I feel young/I feel shaken up/bubbling/I'm a dropped bottle of 7-Up/I'm fizzing/I'm exploding inside/the music feels good to me now/I don't know what else to say.

I'm not used to this feeling lately. It's been years maybe.

I feel fuckable.

But I'm standing there in my kitchen underneath the slow silent whir of the ceiling fan and no one else is standing there giving me eyes. I feel fuckable but I have to put it down tonight. That's what goes so bad, so wrong with musicians sometimes. There's no one around to kiss at the exact moment that they need to kiss someone.

That shit breeds darkness, yo. I don't care what anybody says, it does. Trust me.

I knife some peanut butter onto a stalk of celery and get ready to workout. I will workout now for two hours just so I can sweat my eyes out and feel connected to something else, some elusive kick or high instead of settling down to chill out but end up thinking back one of my hundred sad lanes of thought.

That's a weird sentence right there and I know it. Don't think you're the only one saying that that sentence I just wrote doesn't work right. I know that. It's supposed to be that way. I don't work right. Standing there in my kitchen between the music high and the exercise high I don't work right probably. So that's the point of the funky sentence, okay?

I work right enough though. I crunch my celery and I'm feeling good about life. My ears are amp-stung, ringing a little. I remember then subtle deaf sheen of nights of volume and I welcome it back into my world. The peanut butter hits my bloodstream and I feel comfortable in my own skin for a change.

It's been a strange year. A couple strange years.

I walk in the living room to grab my weights out from under the TV table when I see him standing there in the silence of the room. Iron Man, right where Henry left him this afternoon when I drug him away from his art to head back to his mom's house.her night/let's go, brutha I told him/put your shoes back on, I told him.


Iron Man is standing there alone on top the picture of Iron Man and the picture of Iron Man that Henry drew is heavier and more beautiful than anything and it knocks me back to Earth because Henry isn't here right now.

He's just not here. He's on the schedule. I'm on the schedule. The schedule is the fucking schedule. Henry is at his mom's. It's on the schedule.

I play my guitar according to the schedule.

I will walk out on stages according to the schedule.

I stare at Iron Man on the picture of Iron Man and I want to lay down on these shit rugs and die. I want to crawl back up into life's hot pussy and just die. I want to wake up from all this normal love and heartbreak and sadness and happiness and discover that I'm fine/it was all a dream/it was all a very fucked up dream and I'm fine and everything is lined up perfect and everyone can kiss my beautiful ass.

But I don't. I stick around. I smile hard at Iron Man standing on the picture of Iron Man. I flick off the ceiling fans so I will sweat harder, bleed more. All the answers I will ever need are living down in the throwaway instants between me closing my eyes as I hit the pillow and me drifting off to some other place.

Off I go.

Off we go, my friends.





There is Something to Be Said for All This Heat Coming Off My Bones

by Serge Bielanko

I drank a couple beers last night and that never gets me anywhere. I've past the point of a couple beers mostly. Nothing comes of it on my end. Anymore lately I drink one beer. I told my brother the other day that I've started to look at the whole thing like a cigar.

"I drink one beer, same as you might smoke one cigar. You don't smoke two cigars in a row. That's stupid."

He didn't say anything. A lot of times when I'm talking so much jive to him, trying to find my own rhythm in this world by bouncing random shit off his head, my brother doesn't respond. It's a beautiful thing too. Most people want to come back at you with their own incessant crap. People love to respond to things that you say by heaving their own stuff back at you. It gets so old so quick. I love the idea of the art of conversation, but I have to finally admit here at this point in my life that when it comes to the real thing, I just shove my head in the oven.

There are parts of me that think I might be done with talking all together. It'd be nice if I just shut up and I know it. It's exhausting to speak. Everything I say comes back to haunt me when I fall asleep at night. What the hell was I even saying to so-and-so? What were we trying to say to each other? All I remember of any of it is just blabbering on and on.

I know so-and-so would have shot me in the eye if they had seen a pistol just laying there on the table or whatever. I can't blame them either.

I probably would have put one in their neck if I'd seen the gun first.

My brother doesn't talk as much as me and I'm thankful for that. I tell him my whole beer idea, with the cigar thing thrown in and right away I can tell by the way he is dumping the coffee out of the can and into the top of the maker that he isn't paying me much attention.

It's a relief, to be honest. It feels good to talk to someone like him, someone who loves me and doesn't listen to me until he absolutely knows that it's probably the right thing to do, which is only ever like maybe 20 per cent of the time at best. The rest of the time I'm just making noise. The rest of the time I'm sixty central air units humming away back behind some skanky apartment complex somewhere.

I got home from the bar last night after my four beers and sat down at the kitchen island and got out the acoustic. It made me laugh even as I was doing it. Here I am, buzzed, getting out the acoustic. It's all a lark. It's all so comical after a while. I'm a little tipsy. I'm playing the guitar. It feels good because there is nothing going on here.

I played this David Allan Coe song called 'Revenge'. It's a good one. I played it like nine times in a row and pretended I was playing it in a coffee house or something like that. It was a small joint with a real attentive audience made up of pretty women out by themselves to wash away their recent heartache with a little does of whatever anybody hopes to find in a coffee shop at night. It felt electric to me at the time. But looking back now I have to assume that was the beer coursing through my system and nothing else. 

Whatever. I'd never go to a coffee shop at night, myself. I just don't give a rat's ass. But there I was playing in one last night.

I guess it was an open mic sort of deal because I only played the one tune. I don't know that I even played it all that well either. I'm sure I didn't. But I did play it nine times in a row, so I suppose it was a success. You don't get that many encores at an open mic night typically. Not unless you're really blowing the roof off the place. Well, that or it's a tragically slow Sunday evening.

After maybe the fourth version of the song I was feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole experience for some reason so I took out my phone and began to record me singing the song just in case people might want to watch a recording of me singing a song after I'd had a couple. I didn't get it at the time, I guess. I didn't grasp the fact that there was no one in the world who would want to waste three minutes of their time watching me do what I was doing.

But that's the rub, you see. Anymore, I crawl out of certain bar room conversations back into my cave and I forget all about the reality of things. I guess I end up pretending a lot of what is going on. Sometimes I pretend to eat entire meals that I haven't even eaten. Then later on I understand that the sharp hunger bolts shooting across the front of my head are there to remind me that a lot of this isn't pretend at all. And that I need to remember that even if it's a drag.

I recorded a bunch of versions and then I tried to upload one of them to Facebook but I don't where that ended up. More and more, I find that I try and post a video to Facebook and it shoots out into deep outer space, sometimes for a couple of days on end, until I forget about the whole damn thing. Then, boom, a few days later there it is, crashing back down out of nowhere onto my Facebook wall.

It'll probably show up one of these days. I'll delete it with the quickness.

I got hungry and put the guitar away and turned on the frying pan. I made some quesadillas and ate them at them at the coffee table with some olives and a bottle of beer.

I watched the TV. I watched Guy Fieri. A lot of people hate him but I don't care. Fuck them. I like Guy Fieri. I like liking him too.

I just played a song nine times in a row at my kitchen island and I am deeply alone at times and I am absolutely fine with that. I don't need anyone to tell me about Guy Fieri. I don't need anyone to tell me about anything at all. I need everyone out of here right now, is what I need. And I've got that too.

So I'm fine. I'm back to one beer a night, if that. I'm back to skipping the coffee shop gig and heading straight for the Diner. For the Drive-In. For the Dive. I'm writing a lot and I'm watching the rain fall as I water my hanging baskets out on the porch. I'm thinking about things. I'm celebrating the fact that there is so much left for me to figure out.

I am soaring through outer space, my face jammed up against the steamed glass of a runaway iPhone video racing across the stars. I'm singing David Allan Coe to twenty million Martians. I'm falling back to Earth in my own sweet way.

I'm falling back to Earth and I'm making good time.


Father's Day

by Serge Bielanko

Henry hardly ever stops moving while he's awake. He wastes nothing when it comes to muscle and bone. He uses it all, all the time, constantly in motion, until there's nothing left but the temporary paralysis that comes along when a four-year-old boy is entirely spent. Then he goes catatonic, his eyes on the TV/on the Sponge Bob or the Peppa Pig, his body still as a stone laid out there on the couch.

Right now though, the juices are flowing. And it's cracking me up. We're at the fair up the street from my house. It's the first night of the thing and the whole town is here tossing dimes at old coffee cups and ashtrays, throwing money at the fire company for the chance to pick up a plastic duck with a fat dot on the bottom or win a raffle prize like a $10 gift certificate to the small engine repair joint. Henry, though, is all whirled up in the fiddle.

Fiddle music will fuck your head up in all the right ways if you're up for it, you know. And because it's the kind of thing most of us don't hear coming down in real time too often, I think fiddle music, the real stuff, the bluegrassy/hillbilly/hoppin'/turkey-in-the-straw stuff, it has this ability to reach inside of your body, to slither it's gnarly Appalachian hands all up under your skin and wrap it's fingers around your liberty and to uncork that shit for a little while like almost nothing else in the world can do except maybe getting laid or taking that first sip of cold beer after you've just had that first bite of a damn good pizza.

Henry spins around maybe twelve times in a row as soon as the young kid up on stage breaks out his fiddle and starts sawing away. We know the player. And we know his younger brother back there in the drums, too. They're both young and ultra talented and they play music together in a way that most people will never play music together, bound by blood, all tied up in something very very rare that no one else will ever be able to tap into with them.

Tonight, however, Henry could care less. Tonight, as Gus starts in on the fiddle and Huck starts in on the drums, Henry loses his shit and begins to dance the dance of million-year-old mountains. He spins around and claps his hands and makes herky jerky spaz moves with his arms like David Byrne or something. I watch him from the side of the massive outdoor stage where a bunch of local kids have commandeered this far corner as a dance floor.

In a brief moment of clarity, I feel so much love for my son right then that I want to pick him up in the middle of his trip out to some other world and pull him tight to me and sniff his kid hair. I want to breathe my boy in like sausage sandwich smoke and let him fill me up with everything, with all of his existence in this world. I want to kiss my kid like I used to kiss a goddamn bong is what I wanna do. But I don't, of course. He'd freak the hell out if I tried to stop him now. He'd bite me right on my arm and he'd have every right to and I know that. You don't stop someone from fiddle music dancing.

Not unless you want to get punched in the face or kicked in the balls anyway.


Here where I live, June brings along a lot of thunderstorms. Humidity is part of us, part of our world. There are lakes in the sky and they don't wanna be up there. They want to be down here, with all of us, like the unsatisfied dead clawing at the bars on the windows of Heaven.  Tonight the dark clouds had been threatening the parade that kicked things off, but for whatever reason they backed off in the end. The whole firmament could have could have easily popped open and ruined everything. The rain was up there. The lightning was up there. You could feel it breathing down your neck the whole time all these volunteer firefighters and local Republicans were chucking Tootsie Rolls at the rows of kids on either side of the street.

We lucked out, I guess.

The rain retreated and the funnel cake wafted up my nose and people came from miles around to be here, to stand together in a crowd and smile and laugh and spend money they are happy to spend.

I'm easily amazed by so much useless shit. Two crows swooping down out of the sky on any stupid dark November day; the way an old man walks through the post office door I hold open for him and has to turn his entire body my way to see my eyes because his neck doesn't even work anymore from lifting so many tons of hay for the last 800 years; the sounds of kids on a school bus that first week back in September; some woman in the cafe talking to some dude/the way a slice of her hair is laying on her cheekbone/love can be momentary/we have to let go of so many things even in the very moments that they're born.

But all this small town fair business floors me more than anything, I think.

The world can go to hell.

We're having a fair, you know.

We're knee deep in magic over here.

Or we're knee deep in something very friggin' close, I'll tell you that.


"Dude!" I'm yelling in Henry's ear above the music, "Do you want a burger or a hot dog or something?!"

He looks at me, the faint traces of a blue magic marker mustache he'd decorated himself with earlier today now mostly washed away by his own kid sweat.

"DO YOU WANT TO EAT?" I try again.


He screams this at me, like a only major dick would scream at someone offering to buy them a sandwich, but I understand my boy and I know what's up. I've called him out of his trance and drug him off a fiddle soaring across the sky to ask him if he wants to eat a glob of crap. It pisses him off that I would do that. He knows that I can see that a few seconds ago he was doing his clunky Moonwalk across the stage. Why would I try and stop him from doing that? That's the only way he can possibly see this. And I get it. 

I snarl at him and he knows what that means. It's me saying I fucked up. It's me telling him to climb back up there and suck on the fiddle pipe again.

Which he does.


I watch my middle child start back in, trying to find his groove again. He whirls around and kicks out his legs and then he does something pretty awesome. My son walks over to this big farm boy, probably 10/11 and he just reaches out and tries to take the kid's hands in his own.

Oh snap.

Henry wants to dance with a Brutus and he isn't even up for asking him, he's just going for it. The kid yanks his hands back, freaked out by Henry and his fiddle fever.

I laugh out loud.


His loss.

That older boy would have likely been swept up off his feet by my boy. He might have just been swept up into the stars and all. Hell he'd have probably fallen in love with my son in a very pure/green/innocent way, even if only for a few seconds there, if he'd have just gone with it and taken the dance. But it's rare to be able to let yourself go like that. I understand the way these things go down. You hit 6 or 7 and something really good you've been carrying along with you since the day you were born starts getting hammered down by some kind of Earthly jaded sense of shame and fear.

Henry ain't there yet and I'm glad I'm noticing. Henry doesn't give a rat's ass. He dances away from the kid still standing there frozen solid by such a swift flash of life.

I smoke a cigarette, look out at the crowd.

I close my eyes for a second or two.

And I let the sound of this fiddle wash over me like ten trillion acres of midnight ocean swallowing me up forever and ever and ever.