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Constant Is the Rain by
            Rex Sexton

CONSTANT IS THE RAIN BY REX SEXTON

Other works by Rex Sexton

 

Copyright 2014 Rex Sexton All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1500502480

ISBN 13  9781500502485

 

REVIEWS

BOOKS BY REX SEXTON

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

DEDICATION

 

Recognitions

Constant Is The Rain

Flesh And Blood

Taps

Crack Pop Bang

Devils And Angels

Ticket To Ride

Sleepwalking

Life Lessons

The Machine

Child's Play

Perdition

This Number is No Longer in Service

"The Pawnshop"

The Gift

This is Not a Poem

The Not Ok Corral

Rye Whiskey And Rose

Finding the Way

Help Needed

The Slob

Go Ask Alice

The Kingdom

Rotten Eggs

I Wake Up Screaming

Those Were The Daze

The Sad Shepherd

Cops And Robbers

Rack 'Em

"The Penworn Papers"

Miracle Man

Our Town

Trouble Town

Mount Money

Clockers

Scary Movie

A Shot In The Dark

Spectrum

The Beast

A Cup Of Coffee

Blow The Man Down

Swiftly Pass The Days

For Every Season

Move It Or Lose It

A Tail Of Two Kitties

"Jack In A Box"

Stocks Plummet, Banks Fold, Jobs Lost, Houses Foreclose

 

Black and White Images of Ten Paintings by Rex Sexton

 

"A Streetcar Named Desire"

Again

No Exit

O-Lay

A Kiss is Still a Kiss

Deep Freeze

Hocus Pocus

Twilight

Sweet Nothings

Haunted

Valentine Rhyme

As The World Turns

The Sorrows Of Young Wurther

Gift Wrapped

Hail Mary Pass?

Royal Wedding

"Bride's Head"

The Guilty

Want

Locked Out

Sacred Rites

Orders From Headquarters

Fallen Soldiers

Paradise Found

Crossed

Blind Alley

Bombed

Still Water

Sherry

A Leg Up

In The Heat Of The Night

A Way You'll Never Be

"Still Life With Death"

The Fat Cat With The Cadillac

Remember When

Heat Wave

Snow Man

Cut

The House Of Blues

Tailspin

The Legs Of A Woman

Heaven Can Wait

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Out Of The Past

Count Down

Hustle

Indian Summer

"Night Life"

Do You Stop

A Cold One

The Hideaway

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Razor's Edge

Hail To The Thief

Grave Thoughts

Nocturne

Butteries Are Free

Dream Lovers

Our Beautiful Balloon

Troubled Sleep

Reservoir Dogs

Eye, Aye, I

C'est La Vie

Knock On Any Door

"Ceremony"

Sunrise

Sunday

White City

Millie And The Moon

Blue Tattoo

Legacy

The Ashes Of Winter

Buried Treasures

The Seachers

Once Upon A Time

The Orchard

No Place Like Home

Hush

Beaches

Touching Night

The Collector

Magic

"Chop Suey"

"Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers"

The Running Man

The Human Race

REVIEWS

Praise for  Constant is the Rain

Relentless pessimism about the state of the nation infuses Sextons accomplished poetry and short fiction The title piece, about hard life and untimely death in the ghetto, introduces the books dark atmosphere: Being and begetting, struggling and/ enduring as gunfire crackles and sirens wail/ and her fate is sealed with coffin nails. Sextons characters Nowhere Men as much as Everymen are war veterans, hobos, sex workers, and blue-collar employees facing job losses His settings are urban wastelands. In The Penworn Papers an impoverished artist recalls his degenerate life in The Gift, a Jewish satire redolent of Shalom Auslander, a young man reverts to emptiness in his old age The palette is Edward Hoppers, the ironic tone O. Henrys. Our Town playfully affirms Thornton Wilders morbid vision through gloomy imagery. The poems (are) rich with alliteration, internal rhymes, assonance and puns They have broader application, universalizing human depravity Sextons talent for social commentary and character sketching marks him as in a title he gives a character in Chop Suey the Modigliani of the Mean Streets

Kirkus Reviews

 

Earnest and emotional, Constant is the Rain embraces desperation in tone, subject, and even in diction. A yearning for meaning in a nonsensical world comes to shape much of the text, forming the image of a people and a country existing without any defined meaning.

 

Sextons poetry generally forms isolated scenes of hardship and makes up the bulk of the work. Like crucifixion crosses dangling weary ghosts,/ the telephone poles along the lost roads of America/ flash past me. These images, producing small segments of reality, combine to show the complete picture of a fragmented people looking for solace in a world of hard truths. From the individual seeking understanding to the drug addict seeking a reprieve from existence, the characters are easily recognizable and empathetic figures.

 

Complimenting Sextons poetry is not only prose but his artwork most impressive about the prose is the continued attention to detail in diction and syntax the result is a work accessible to all that imparts a feeling that is for the people rather than simply about them.

Alex Franks

Foreward Reviews

 

Praise for Paper Moon

 

Renowned surrealist painter Rex Sexton is also a highly regarded writer, imbuing his fiction and poetry with the same startling vision and mastery he displays in his artwork. His newest novel, Paper Moon, dazzles with words, just as his paintings do with form and color Sexton creates a dizzying madhouse of a world that exists beneath the surface of normal life. The descriptions are extremely visual images as vivid as dreams and often as feverish as nightmares the cadence so perfect sometimes that passages beg to be read out loud. Fans of Coleridge and Blake will not miss the allusions and undercurrents Sexton is both clever and creative, and Paper Moon is refreshingly intense, unusual in its complexity, and disquieting in its revelations.

Five Stars (out of five)

Cheryl Hibbard ForeWord Reviews

 

Ingbars an artist in a tough world. The sensory details from the memories of his childhood through his imprisonment and beyond give us to know, consistently, that the inner life carries its own salvation. If this is not adherence to the same themes that engaged the great writers of the past, nothing is.

Julie Nichols New Pages

 

[Paper Moon] shows a broader picture of how stupidity and greed have made a shambles of society and the economy a poet and artist [Sexton] has an ear and an eye for detail, and the impressionistic descriptions help illuminate the narrative. Sexton proves to be an impressive wordsmith

Kirkus Reviews

BOOKS BY REX SEXTON

 

Fiction

Desert Flower

Paper Moon

 

Fiction And Poetry

The Time Hotel

Night Without Stars

Constant Is The Rain

 

Artwork, Poetry, Biographical Notes

X Ray Eyes

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rex Sexton is a Surrealist painter exhibiting in Chicago and Philadelphia. His award  winning  art  has  been  exhibited  in  museums,  televised on PBS, written about in newspapers, reproduced in magazines and included in national and international exhibitions. His poetry and prose have appeared in cutting-edge literary magazines. His short story Holy Night received an Eric Hoffer award and was published in Best New Writing 2007. His poem Orchard received the 2012 Annual Editor- in-Chief Award from Mbius The Poetry Magazine. His poem Ashes of Winter was runner up for The 2011 Doctor Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award. His poem Gift Wrapped was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize by Kind of a Hurricane Press. He is married to the neuroscientist Dr. Rochelle S. Cohen.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which many of these poems and stories have or will appear: Edgz, Waterways, Hazmat Review, Clark Street Review, Mobius, The Poetry Magazine, Art Times, Nerve Cowboy, Bear Creek  Haiku,  Taproot, Left Curve, Back Street Review, Soul Fountain The Pen, Write On!! Struggle, Loves Chance, The Stray Branch, r.kv.r.y, (A Brilliant) Record, Saturday Diner, Platos Tavern, The Rusty Truck, Fighting Chance, Lone Stars, Daily Love, Nut House, B&R Samizdat Express, Poets Haven, Conceit, Babel, Point Mass, Children, Churches & Daddies, Napalm and Novocain, Pyrokinection, Yellow Mama, Rusty Typer, Dead Snakes, Indigo Rising, Hell Roaring Review, Wilderness Review, The Legendary, Slavia Transcendent Visions, Caveat Lector, Poetry Corner, Marquis, Nite-Writer, Miracle, and Talking River

Passages  from  this  work  were  broadcast  on  The  Language       of

Imagination Talking Stick wwwLuver.com, Berkeley California.

An E-Book format of Constant Is The Rain is available through Quench Editions (www.samizdat.com/quencheditions)

 

DEDICATION

For Rochelle S. Cohen.

Also for poet/composer Bryan Miller for insightful discussions, and the Philly bartender extraordinaire Michael Dougherty, whose bar stories are a writers envy.

RECOGNITIONS

Candles and shadows, whispers and echoes,

windows and mirrors, lit by the moons glow;

and on the card table, the hand that life dealt

you. Win or lose, livings a gamble.

If you came from where I did, the odds are

against you. If you dont like the odds, go

find a rainbow.

They say we have souls. Is that what the body

knows? They say lifes a dream. Ever hear

someone scream?

CONSTANT IS THE RAIN

Being and begetting, struggling and

enduring, all of it bewildering as time

passes and the church bells ring.

Like cold rain running through her

veins, the chilling feeling as Delphi

walks the ghetto streets each day,

shivering even when the sun is

blazing. While across the city

where the girls her age look so

pretty, strolling in their fashionable

clothes along the tree-lined lanes

and avenues, is where she prays

shell live someday, somehow,

someway

Shadows stalk her shivering steps.

Life shifts through a freezing mist,

as gunfire crackles and sirens wail

and her fate is sealed with coffin nails.

FLESH AND  BLOOD

A loaf of

bread, a

crown of

thorns, to

make ends

meet I sell

my blood.

That bank is

the only one I

can make a

deposit in since

the recession

began. Take it

all. I told the

blood lady the

last time I was

there. I cant

afford

to make anymore. The next time you

see me Ill be in a morgue.

The economic

recovery is going

slowly,  they tell me.

Just enough jobs are

created each month

 to keep up with the

population growth,

almost. The young

and the desperate get

first dibs on the

starvation wage gigs

that provide no

benefits.

Old hands like me,

doomed at fifty-

three, can fade from

the scene. Were just

walking dead letters,

which the

Republicans hope

will never be

delivered to

Medicare and Social

Security. A decade

or so without food or

shelter or medical

attention should

eliminate that budget

problem.

The place in Jersey where I went to sell

my kidney got raided the day I was supposed

to get my surgery.

I need to find

another body parts

chop shop, and

quick.

Blood and guts are all I have left.

TAPS

Crawl for cover,

feel deaths finger

slide up your spine

as bullets fly and your

buddies die.

Think of your mother,

brother, sister, father,

 lover, your Uncle Sam

who got you into this

jam fighting for your life

in Vietnam.

Tell the rosary on the beads

of sweat that run down

your face, neck. Turn a deaf

ear to the moans and groans

all around you that send

shocks through your bones.

Now you are alone, wasting

away in a back street cheap room,

shot to shit at sixty-six from all

the bad habits you picked up in

combat: drugging, boozing,

hiding from the enemy which

came to be reality.

You survived the ambush that

day and many more that

came your way

But they made you pay.

CRACK POP BANG

Dirty rain and crack cocaine, some in the cellar feeling for a plump vein to puncture that will shine an inner light on the darkness of the ghetto night and send a glow through the body and soul

.

Come with me on my dream odyssey. Mothers little helper whispers. Feel the glory of being free from poverty and misery, at least temporarily. Beware, though, it will cost you your life if you OD.

 

If you could call this a life drive- bys and gang fights, poverty and urban blight.

 

They were born into a combat zone. More soldiers in Chi-towns conscripted army of the damned would die each year than in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Come with me on my dream odyssey!

 

At least they knew what they were dying for. No more, no more.

DEVILS AND ANGELS

Curls of color crowd my work in progress.

They look like tear drops or rain drops or

the outlines of alarm clocks.

I squiggled one on the canvas and then kept

them going, for no reason I can fathom.

Maybe they are a code which holds

the DNA for the painting I am attempting?

A race with time? a nursery rhyme? an

ode to the sublime?

I stare at them through the smoke from my

breakfast of champions.

Whats next? Where am I going with this?

In this strange bedlam we inhabit, wedged

in between monkey and human (and being

stoned in addition) anything can happen

in my imagination.

I remember the story Henry Miller wrote

about the angel he painted when he was

loaded. I never painted an angel. Maybe

Ill find one hiding in my canvas when I

connect the dots or tear drops or alarm clocks,

whatever is curled up?

An angel today, a devil tomorrow, nothing

unusual for an artists studio.

This is the sort of place one comes to ponder

good and evil and to confront that meeting

between thought and instinct, peace and

violence, greed and giving, which we all

share if we dare.

TICKET TO RIDE

The moon was

gone. Black

clouds closed

over the city like

the lid of a

coffin.

Thunder boomed

and the winds

picked up,

blowing through

the windows of

the inferno below

him like an angels

breath, soothing

 the body, not the

soul. That would

always stay

trapped in Hell.

Tim sat on the roof

of his sweltering

tenement. He

watched the tiny,

hobo fires shivering

by the tracks

beyond the slums,

that dark jumble of

buildings falling

down.

He imagined

himself running

along side a

freight car as the

train slowed to

make

its turn, grabbing a

rung and climbing

on, another lost soul

on a ghost train,

going nowhere,

going anywhere,

ghost town bound,

maybe not tonight

but soon.

Staccato images of hardscrabble slum life

flash before him with the lightning,

a battle no one can win, or survive, not

without

beco

ming

more

dead

than

alive.

No

where

was

better

than

here.

Any

where

was

better

than

 here.

Anything was better than nothing, and here

nothing was all there was for him.

 SLEEPWALKING

Remnants of wreckage tangled

together, Franklin Foster wanders

the downtown streets in tatters.

Mouth open, feet dragging, pale

eyes staring, horns blaring, as he

ghosts across the busy intersections.

Franklin remembers falling, screaming,

howling in his nightmare, arms

flailing, legs kicking, clutching,

grasping, plunging. Finally he

awakened. Nothing was clear,

as Franklin slowly picked himself up

from the gutter, neither the past

nor the present, nor the future.

The future? Franklin almost remembers

a line by Shakespeare, something

about day to day in a petty pace?

Other memories emerge, shadowy,

fleetingly faces, places. All gone

with those winds of time that life

erases. The crowds bustle past.

Like a ghost in a dream, Franklin Foster

shadows through the flow, a step

at a time, although he has nowhere

to go.

LIFE LESSONS

Dead bodies never look like the

persons theyre supposed to resemble.

Theres something missing in them

no matter how you make them up or

clothe them.

Kristyd been to her share of funerals,

although she was hardly eleven.

No wonder everybodyd be all shook

up and crying at them, before

and after theyd be buried in their plots

despite the elaborate decorum.

Dead aint pretty. Sure

aint nothin youd

want to be. Sure aint

no redemption nor

salvation.

Theres a livin dying which is more

 disturbing.

Shes seed that too, over the years,

 since they moved from the bayou to

Uptown Chicago, after the big storm

hit them, and they had to relocate, as

her parents put it, and find shelter with

their relations, when she was hardly

going on seven.

But as soon as they were hunkered in

another storm struck them,

the recession; and they were as bad off

as they were in Louisiana only now

there were more of them, and all

turning into corpses together, with no

hope whatsoever, more dead than

living.

Her spindly legs dangling from her

perch on the El trains railing,

a little hooded nonentity in her

raggedy parka of faded denim,

Kristy rivets her pale blue eyes on

the flow of pedestrians, streaming

along the busy street, toting their

shopping bags, pocket books and

purses. Its just like hillbilly hand

fishin, Kristy thought, wade in and

snatch a catch, run like hell and

youre survivin.

THE MACHINE

At the factory, Ramon and me would

slit boxes, all night, on treacherous

machines. A run of long oblongs and

then a run of squares, and then the other

way around, then vice versa; to be loaded

on conveyors for the crews down the line

for printing and strapping, to pass on in

stacks to the fork lifts who hauled it all

to the trucks on the docks.

Feeding the slitters and clearing the jams

was the main challenge. The machine

settings were merely simple adjustments.

But fingers could be lost in the operations

not exactly the job of choice for an aspiring

artist and classical guitarist.

What you humming, amigo? I would ask

Ramon. Is that a new composition, or is

your stomach growling?

My stomach was OK, my friend, until I

saw your new painting.

Somehow we managed to get through each

shift without being mutilated, although many

times we were both high on the stimulants

we took to keep us awake, after classes all

day. Maybe you paint better with no

fingers,

my friend? Maybe you dont paint no worse?

Your music sounds like machine noise, amigo.

Cant tell the difference.

Ramon got killed in Vietnam. I got drafted

as well; but I was spared the danger of that big

slitter the

politicians keep

running to maim

and murder each

generation, which

they operate so

well.

 CHILDS PLAY

Everyday, as kids, we watched the trucks haul cattle & pigs

to the slaughter houses.

The trucks were rolling wooden cages.

The cows and pigs looked pathetic.

You could hear them moan and screech all the way down

the block.

Our fathers worked in the yards as butchers or sausage makers.

Even as Mallet Men, the guys that crushed skulls with spiked

sledge hammers for a living.

Our fathers drank a lot after work. Who could blame them?

One day we would work there, too, we knew. Wed get drunk,

too. Maybe, all that death got me thinking about the meaning of

life? Life looked pretty scary, pretty grisly.

I thought a lot about art too.

Maybe, the act of creation was a counter to all the destruction?

I was dazzled by the stained glass windows in our neighborhood

Cathedral. I tried to imitate them with cheap watercolor pictures.

I liked to listen to the biblical stories as well. Noahs Ark,

David and Goliath, Moses, Jesus.

I was equally dazzled by the comic strips. I used to create my

own stories, captions, pictures, heroes and villains, often

while my grammar school classes were going on, which got me

in a lot of trouble with the nuns.

I always knew what I was going to do with my life, paint and

write. I lived in many ghettos and slums, waiting for my art to

catch on, stories too.

I went cold and hungry many a

day. Nothing new, comes with the

territory. Being an artist never was

for sissies.

PERDITION

Labyrinths of lost lanes, twisting, turning, every which way, all lined with massive trees so old and bowed that their branches seem to touch, as I tunnel through the darkness. And then a dark rush of nothingness, as the highway leaps up: its white line unraveling beneath the heavy Southern mist like a silk snake from the sleeve of an illusionist

The illusion doesnt stop, even after the blazing sun comes up, and in between forests as dense as any that I patrolled in the service, twisting through crags and cliffs and hills and bends, the ramshackle houses, crumbling brick boxes, shacks, shanties, all smothered in dense foliage, fill the windshield again, along my vigil without end.

 

The Hollows, as they call them, which I learned asking for directions, has nothing to recommend them if anyone is looking for American Dream residences. Forget about white picket fences, good schools, community centers, manicured lawns, swimming pools, golf courses, luxury condos, McMansions.

 

And it probably would be good to remember, for all those who do, somehow, happen there, not to wander too far from where you parked your car. There are no street signs anywhere, no addresses either youll never find your vehicle again, even if by some miracle it isnt stolen. The houses are claptrap at best, unpainted shacks filled with few trees to shade the rickety maze. The sidewalks dont end because they never began just worn paths through tuft grass next to cinder roads on which shattered liquor bottles and syringe needles sparkle like gems in the blazing sun; just to let everyone know someone had, however fleetingly, if only in their minds, escaped this Dantes Inferno.

 

What gets me in the gut is the weedy yard around the burned down house where, it appears, by the broken toys scattered there, children play on packed clay, amidst a fleet of, not broke down but stolen, cars stripped for parts and rusting with the smoky rains. Or maybe it gets me in the heart?

 

No kids today. No one anywhere. Too hot. The streets are empty; except for an old man standing on a corner and eyeing me warily.

 

Can you help me? I ask him.

 

No suh, sure cant. The wrinkled old man answers, eyes askance. Cant hep you no way. He starts to move away.

 

Im looking for a friend. I stop him. The old man must think Im  the law or something. His name is Junior Dell. We were in the service together. I stopped hearing from him. We were real close friends. I drove down from up North to see if I could find him.

 

He gone. The old man finally looked at me.

 

Gone?

 

Yeah, Junior gone.

 

The old man stood silent and grave.

 

Gone?  Here  at  home?  I stammered.After  he  made  it through Afghanistan?

 

The old man looked embarrassed.

 

Junior gone. He said solemnly as he walked away.

 

I looked around. Maybe we should start at home from now on with world changing and nation building. Junior Dell was finally out of hell..

THIS NUMBER IS NO LONGER IN SERVICE

Like crucifixion crosses dangling weary ghosts,

the telephone poles along the lost roads of America

flash past me, eerily, as I rocket down them.

Our American Dream was a scream.

There are films, books, photographs to confirm this.

Picture ensembles, too, capturing party time in

the red, white and blue those glory days in the USA

when to be born here, beneath the banner of the stars

and stripes, was to have a charmed life. A birth to

celebrate.

Now everything is falling apart,

here, there, everywhere.

The ice caps are melting, the farmlands

are dying, the oceans are rising.

The world is rapidly crumbling due to global warming.

Theres no hope for surviving.

I roll down the window, as the

 desolate whirl of wind rushes in.

Together we howl a duet of regret,

just for the hell of it.

 

THE PAWNSHOP

Twins ride a see-saw, as storm clouds gather over them. Each catches a glimpse, in turn, above the other, of a star on the horizon. The grim one ponders hers and finds profound insights through it. The happy one peeks at her own, bewildered and bemused, until it finally shines on her too. It is the star of life, for one magic, for the other a wonder of science and physics. Each, identical in every way except for the way their brains were arranged, balances and enables the other in their teeter- totter journey to nowhere. As they ride up and down under the clouding night sky, the grim one sees that soon her star will vanish in the storm. Her sibling will see that too but only when hers is covered and is gone. The lonely cry of a trains whistle wails by like a one note lullaby.

Heather paused in her reading to push away another avalanche of chestnut hair that had tumbled across her glistening face, veiling her vision, puffing out strands with each word, as she gripped the wobbly podium, which Michael must have borrowed from some rescue gospel mission, and to swallow an ice cold mouthful of bottled water, which went down the pipe, just right, as her grandfather used say of his whiskey, which she wished she were drinking instead. In the back of the room, resplendent in diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and every other pricey doodad she could attach to her voluptuous, platinum haired, tanning salon, presence, her rival  gazed  at her haughtily,  yawning periodically as she fanned herself with the nights program. Now and then, the Gold Coast socialite would turn to smile flirtatiously at Michael who stood by the door looking, as usual, like the count of some mysterious somewhere or other, dressed like a pasha in a flamboyant silk woven evening jacket,

camel hair slacks and cashmere turtleneck, set off by a hypnotist sized diamond ring and solid gold watch, all unclaimed remains from the clandestine hoardings of his fathers hock shop (the watch probably left by Midas) to greet any latecomers held up by the snow storm. Heather suspected that Pasha and Prima Divorcia (she must be hitting fifty by the record of her mega buck marriage hops, although she looked no older than Heather due to the miracle of cosmetic surgery) had slept together last night, one swept away by the moment (everyone had been a little drunk) the other using her well worn witch broom to fly another conquest to her magic midnight bedroom. It was apparent by the smug look (or was that the only expression thats left after your umpteenth facelift?) she had directed at Heather when she made her grand entrance and handed Connie, Michaels assistant, her sable for safe keeping.

Years pass. Heather continued. Each sister is now far from    her

home in Kansas.

The gathering of Chicago aristocrats, seated in rows of folding chairs before her in the brightly-lit, steam-hissing cellar, looked like nothing so much as a comedy skit some parody one might find on Saturday Night Live     Comedy Central. She couldnt stop the imp that   flashed a smile across her lips. Is there something wrong with this picture? should be the caption under the photographs the Tribune was taking for its Society feature. She wondered if the spread would also include the front entrance? Michael had never removed the three balls that hung above his fathers pawn shop when he converted the space into an art place So the little shop of sorrows became a bargain basement of miracles. He said, with a shrug, when she asked about the incongruity. Its still a place of lost souls and dreams and its still all about money, sadly. Like the pawn guy says on TV. Everything here has a story and a price. Instead of my desk I probably should transact sales behind a cage wearing my fathers visor, sleeves rolled up. Besides it lends a touch of Duchamp to the ambience.

All dressed to the nines in Dior and Armani, the tycoons and Grande Dames sat uncomfortably, sweated profusely, and listened politely to (of all things) poetry recited by a banshee haired, pixy faced PhD. She still looked, she knew, at twenty-eight, more like the freckle- faced daughter of the Keebler elf than Big Jim McMahons brat kid, runt of the litter that she was. I wanted Heather to learn the construction business and someday take over, her father had  told the revelers at her doctoral graduation celebration. Shes got more brains than her brothers. Theyll be the first to admit it. But she kissed the blarney stone instead, disappointing her old dad. Well, the world got a great poet and a pretty one at that. What she creates with words will last longer than what I put together with brick and mortar. Not yawning, yet, but fanning themselves with their programs, as much to stay awake as combat the heat, her audience sat wondering what they had gotten themselves into as they listened to her  rant.  Now and then, they would turn their bewildered attention to blink at the mural-sized paintings of barrio life that surrounded them. Depicting, in clashing colors and expressionistic figures, drug lords and drive- bys, hookers, beggars, gangsters, horror, squalor, and other urban nightmares, the pieces were created  by  the  Hispanic  inner-city high school student, whom Michael had awarded, out of his own impecunious pockets (which were about as deep as a conversation with the platinum haired Black Widow would be if she got stuck talking with her later at the festivities) a full scholarship for art to whatever Chicago academy was his wish. There were two more such prizes, totally exhausting, she learned, his entire savings, one for poetry, in which she was the judge, the other for  science.

Diego Rivera, Michael had whispered to her that day they had strolled together through the settlement house exhibit where the young mans works were on display, with a touch of Hieronymus Bosch thrown in?

And maybe a few amphetamines? She mused, looking around at the chaos of colors and figures, which could easily get the kid arrested for assault and battery to the senses.

And maybe a few more again. Michael laughed. This is bravura work, an artist taking on his own inner demons while he battles social injustice in the process. Ill check out the rest of the students on my short list but Im sure Im done. Michael frowned. I know art isnt supposed to make statements anymore and each of this kids works is a Holocaust, with no let up. Not one like my fathers. You couldnt even make art out of that! That story was best told by newspaper photographers, documentary film makers or young girls who kept diaries while hiding in attics from Nazis. This is riveting stuff, packed with the pathos, and all the tragedy being human can be. I could see these gut level recreations of ghetto life coming but I didnt suspect so many would be so good. I knew, of course, I would be taken by whatever came in. But then Jews dont have to bend their brains much to find beauty in such visual nightmares. They were born to a surrealist dream and they bear the legacy of their exotic genes, which lend themselves to Symbolist renderings. Besides, a bit mashuguna is what everyone I ever knew thought of me.(Gee, I wonder why Michael? She refrained from commenting. Can it be because you do things like give away all your money?) Thats what many of the real art experts think I am anyway. Art for me has to involve itself in humanity, express feelings, emotions, not word games or mind games. They dont agree. But what do I know? Im just a small time art dealer, the son of a Holocaust survivor turned pawn broker. I guess empathy is my eccentricity. Much of what they show looks like fun house stuff to me and maybe belongs more to an amusement park than a museum or art gallery. Contemplation doesnt follow the confrontation no matter how jolting that may be. Maybe theyre mashuguna? In any event, now that the mayor and the leading citizens have generously agreed to take over the scholarship competition, I guess because it drew some local

and national attention, and make it an annual event, actually adding a few more categories to the grants, they can pick their own judges and do what they want. Traditional cityscapes, avant-garde experiments, whatever turns them on. It will be their call from now on. I just wanted to get this project off the ground. Im not even sure why. After ten years of dealing art, a situation that came about by accident, I found that I had half a million dollars in the bank and, since my needs are small, nothing I could think of to spend it on. I suppose I could have expanded my business. Instead I did this. Im not sure I know what art is anyway. Who does these days? A curator at the museum told me they call au courant endeavors spaghetti. They throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. All I know is that what I like effects me deeply. But maybe its just a pawn in a game? And a big money one. In which case the three balls above my door are appropriate. I may know writing. Im the classic caricatured Jewish bookworm. That art form only works if it says something. Your book, Leprechauns in the Attic, is a joy. Thats why I came to you. Your words, the people that inhabit the poetry of your Gallic-magical-realism world, with all its myths and folk lore, paradox, irony, joy, tragedy, mystery the migration of the Irish Catholics from the potato famine to the present the lace curtain years to the nouveau riche the ironies and satires of the American dream are roses  in a garden one doesnt weed, because the wild growth is as much of a wonderment as the tended part is. This kids urban jungle has such flowers in it and those moments of magical truth.

Gee thanks, Michael. Heather remembered thinking as she looked around at the blazing walls which threatened to explode. An unweeded garden. Maybe she should use that quote for the back of her next book? Maybe she should use it for the title? My Unweeded Garden by Heather McMahon But there a wild beauty in the Hispanic youths  works. They were violent but poignant, filled with heart stabbing portraits of impoverished families in the backgrounds, trying to live their dreams, and sad-eyed children lost in a bedlam. The poems were the same, touching

and disturbing. If the aristocrats thought they were being tortured now, Heather mused as she watched them glance around furtively, wait until her winner, a seventeen year old African American girl seated in the first row with her invalid mother next to the mayor, dressed almost as a counterpoint to her gritty text in austere Sunday-go-to-meeting attire, a frail, timid creature, read her works.

All bitter pills to swallow Ill bet. Michael had sympathized with her as she waded through the short list the panel had sent her which wasnt exactly short: fifty poets with five works each. It wasnt that the works were difficult. They werent loaded with metaphors, symbolism or references that one had to ponder or decipher. They hit you like a sock in the jaw. They made you shiver and, if not cry, sometimes brought a tear to your eye.

 

I walk among the lost,

where chasms have no bridges,

over bottomless abysses.

I live alongside the longing.

I live amidst the yearning,

side by side with the struggling,

in the ghettos and the grottos

of misery and suffering.

I am that haunt you sense in the

 mirror. I am you in despair.

 

Hustle or muscle thats the

only way for the boys to get

by in the ghetto: deal, steal,

pimp, kill each day the same

ole crime of being alive.

Bars without spaces to look

through surround you. Thats

because no one outside wants

to see your misery, hear your

cries that deaf ear, blind

eye, as you slowly die.

 

Not exactly Ode to a Grecian Urn, but effective nevertheless. They were sleeping together by then. It hadnt taken long. Life comes at you quick. Ironic, since she had wanted no part of this obscure art dealers scholarship competition to begin with. Although the honorarium was generous. It seemed like a gimmick, some promotional stunt some shylock on the make cooked up. She turned Michaels letter of request down with the warmest wishes for the competitions success, begging off due to prior commitments. Her excuse was valid. She was already swamped with similar requests, as well as those for readings, lectures, panel discussions, from colleges and universities throughout the country. Since the university had published her book, which had received much praise and numerous awards, she was in big demand. Maybe big amends was a better angle, her slender volume receiving a kind of compensatory recognition for past women writers the field had neglected? Whatever, the dean, whom had gotten wind of the request for Michaels contest, ultimately talked her into it. There was a lot of buzz around town about the competition. He informed her. The presidents speech on his agenda for academic excellence had inspired the art dealer according to the papers. Obama had mentioned and thanked the generous small business benefactor from his home town Chi-town, the city of big shoulders and hearts and urged others, if they could, to follow this good citizens example. Involving herself in something that was garnering a fair amount of attention would be good for her book. The dean pointed out, as well as the university. The winners were going to appear on various television programs. Maybe the judges too? He mused. Hinting at a prospect no writer could refuse.

One twin lives in New York and is a scientist.

Michael was gone. Connie stood in his place by the door next to the security guard. He said he would slip out for a drink when the proceedings got going, brace himself for the ensuing commotion. You know how I hate schmoozing. He winced. A couple of stiff ones in some quiet place will get me through it.

The other resides in LA and is an artist.

Heather couldnt possibly guess what would show up at her office, when she finally caved into the dean. She still thought there was something fishy about the whole thing. No one shelled money out of their own pocket unless they expected a payback. She felt like she was being played

these students, too. To start something that would get the attention of the president and local as well as national newscasts was pretty shrewd. Maybe some bonvivant wearing an ascot and a beret? Some flim-flam man with a con artist grin? Some Hollywood wannabe wearing  shades, a toupee, and calling her and everyone else babe? What walked in was a magician, tall, dark, handsome. But, despite the high-style clothes and mesmerists ring, he didnt seem like a guy who had something up his sleeve. Later, after she got to know him better (and Michael explained that he wore his glad rags and assorted accoutrements because he accidently discovered Michael seemed to discover everything accidently trying on garments and sundry ornaments from the pawnshops storage bin for fun, that the outlandish concoctions impressed his clients and helped sell paintings) that first impression of a mystical esthetic, slowly became somewhat altered. The dark devouring eyes, starving for truth, beauty, the meaning of life, not acquisitions, the biblical aquiline nose, sensuous lips, formed a semblance belonging more to someone lost and searching than a practitioner of the black arts and hocus pocus. At forty Michaels face retained some kind of the wayward poster child persona of a wandering soul looking  in  a  window,  maybe,  shadowy,  haunting,  searching for a doorway to get out of the cold. Which was understandable given his neglected childhood, which sounded like a tale Charles Dickens might

have written. It would have made her want to adopt him even if she hadnt already taken him for her lover. It was the main reason she hadnt strangled him yet or turned him over to her construction worker brothers who would have given him a friendly warning of what would come if he ever gave their sister the runaround. Beware Black Widow, she mused, the fighting Irish was in her too.

Where on earth did you get this bed Michael, a fire sale at the Cook County jail? You know with half a million dollars you could have gotten a pretty good mattress. At least one without lumps. I guess you never thought of that?

Not really. I suppose Im used to it.

And your lovers?

They dont seem to notice. Too preoccupied with other things. If you know what I mean?

Sure, get right on to the pleasure principle and avoid the pain. Well

we better get at it. Im on top.

He proved to be a magician in bed, both his lumpy one and hers, as well as numerous others over the years, she came to learn. He seemed to run into old flames everywhere they went, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, amidst the glitter of their Gold Coast jaunts. Michael! How good to see you! Robbing the cradle as usual? And you must be one of his new artists. Fresh out of school are you? Youll enjoy Michael. Hes a maestro. Dont enjoy him too much, it will be over before you know it. So he was hocus pocus after all. Now you see him, now you dont, according to the gossip that went around. A master of the vanishing act. Houdini with a hard-on? No his psychological problems, she came to observe, went deeper than that. He was an escape artist from responsibility, commitment, from any domestic involvement, from realities of every kind, especially if they involved the ties that bind. Intimacy was not his forte. Empathy maybe, but not if it involved him other than existentially. He was afraid of it. She suspected that that was why he had suddenly gotten the urge to give away his money. It was  a

 

grand gesture, of course. He     kind-hearted, nice in every way.  But the money was a trap. At forty he had to do something life changing with it settle down, get married, raise a family. Become a real businessman. He had gotten into art as a lark. I had this dead end, monotonous job as a supervisor in a medical records department, something my half brother you met him, the surgeon got for me. It was OK. At that age, I was an aspiring writer anyway. I still think I have one book in me. Then my father, unexpectedly, left me his little property when he died, which, since the neighborhood went so upscale, is worth a lot of money. A million dollars probably. All I had to do was maintain it and pay taxes. This being Chicagos main art district, I went with the flow and to my amazement became fairly successful.

What was amazing to Heather wasnt his success as an art dealer but his total lack of introspection as a voracious reader and aspiring writer. He needed a shrink for a girlfriend not a PhD of  poetry. Anyone could see that the art he was attracted to was exactly what he lacked in his personality feeling, or a running commitment to it. He was caring, affectionate, loving, with someone, for a small intense time, it seemed, then he drifted away, back to his lost soul state. A shadow on the loose with no one to claim it.  Yet he was drawn by these compassionate renderings  like  a  moth  to  a  flame. He was a connoisseur of such haunting sentiments captured  with paint. The artists he represented were magnificent. Their works were wonderments. They were moving, often disturbing. Each one captured profound truths in some way whether by fable, or the surreal, or the expressionistic, or representational, about being human. She loved hanging out there surrounded by them. The two of them together as if in some wondrous dream; which was why they usually ended up staying together there rather than her plush new condo with its view of the lake. Even the lumpy bed and his small, cozy living space in the back seemed an extension of the gallerys nether world ambience. The walls were packed floor to ceiling with old, gilt framed black

and white photographs of the building, the pawnshop, life along the surrounding streets, taken, judging by the clothes and cars, mostly in the late forties and fifties, and filled, she assumed, with family, friends, relations, many Orthodox Jews, the men bearded, the women wearing extravagant hats. Rag- or junk-filled wagons rolled through many of the antique street scenes drawn by horses wearing funny  hats.

Back in the day, Michael mused as they lay together and gazed at the photographs, my mother owned the whole building. That is with her first husband. Thats their wedding portrait above the menorah. My mother, as you can see, was very beautiful. What you cant see is that she was lame. She dragged her right foot after her until the end of her days. Their marriage was arranged. Marriage brokers werent uncommon in those days. The groom was the same age as her father. He has a kind face and it was a good match, since he was a landlord and the owner of a pawnshop. It was the best one she could get with her foot. They lived right here behind the shop. They both worked it. The rest of the brownstone comprised a small, seedy, backstreet hotel where street hookers would rent rooms by the hour to service their customers and down and out transients flopped for a couple of bucks. The whole neighborhood was seedy back then, as you can tell from the pictures the streets filled with gin mills, strip joints, greasy spoons, pawnshops. Now its gentrified. You can find some of that old Chicago ambience near the YMCA along Chicago Avenue or by its intersection with Clark. At night its still something of a no mans land, at least for a couple of blocks. My father entered the picture later. Hes that brute over there with the bushy eyebrows and thick curly hair. He was the son of a butcher in a village in Czechoslovakia. Most of the village, all of his family, was exterminated in the camps. He survived because at fourteen he was as big as a man, with a thick neck and huge hands and of course the stamina of youth which enabled him to get through a year and a half of that hell on earth. They put him to work on a labor crew and used his muscles for the Fuhrer. By the time the camps were liberated, he was dead inside. Their marriage was arranged by a broker, as well. My mother was a new widow then with two children, my half brother and sister. She needed a man, and a big one at that, who could take care of business and with his fists if it came to that. The neighborhood was still bad. In some ways it was worse, or at least wilder. Glittering strips of gangster owned nightclubs were springing up everywhere, bringing swarms of revelers, along with pickpockets, muggers, drug dealers. Baby boomer teenagers, many from rough neighborhoods, roamed the streets in gangs. My father, a Mallet Man at the stockyards, thats the guy who killed the cattle with a spiked sledge hammer as they were herded down the fenced off aisles, was out of work. The yards were rapidly closing down. Initially, he was brought to America by distant relatives. They tried to set him up as a kosher butcher. But that didnt last long. He was a drunkard and a brawler. The camps, first Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, had turned an amiable but somewhat slow-witted boy into a monster. If looks could kill? You can see murder in his eyes in his wedding photograph and all the rest. Its the only look he ever gave me, or my mother or anyone. It was frightful being around him, especially when he was drunk, which was often. Who can blame him after living surrounded by barbed wire and witnessing beatings, hangings, mass shootings and the human smoke billowing from the crematoriums. I hold nothing against him. They made the contract. He learned the business, collected the rents, scared off thugs and robbers probably simply with his presence. He helped raise, in his own way, the two kids. I came along next, unexpected and uninvited. They were middle-aged by then. Bernie, the oldest, was Bar Mitzvah that year. Rhonda, as beautiful as my mother, was popular, a big hit at school with oodles of young boys chasing after her even then. She married well. They both did well. No scars inflicted that I can tell. My parents seemed to have had little to do with each other. He had his whores, loose women, kept to himself. They lived together like work mates, survivors of a hard fate.

Maybe drunk one night he forced her? Who can say? I never felt like a son to either of them. I was something unwanted. Maybe the product of a regretful rape?

My mother died of cancer when I was ten. My father converted all the flats into Condominiums, including the one we all lived in and sold them to put Bernie and Rhonda through college. Bernies education, of course, went on and on and cost a small fortune. My father and I moved down here. I learned the business, worked my way through a useless BA at Circle campus, took the job my brother got for me. Sometime Ill show you the root cellar. Its a little storage space dug out under the basement. You get there through a trap door in the floor, covered over by that Persian rug. That was my room. The walls are cork-lined Thats where I get all my glad rags from.

As well as his sad rags Heather lamented, that inability to keep a deep relationship. He told her later that he was often locked down there by his father. Sometimes as a punishment or when his father wanted to party with his women or friends. He would come in late at night, glare at him and point at the trap door and then shove a heavy chest over it to make sure Michael wouldnt go to the washroom and bother them. He peed in a can. Whatever else was his life she could only imagine. It was a lonely life, lived mostly through books, roaming the streets when he could. When he was older, he told her, he went to the museum a lot. What he liked about that experience, almost as much as the art, was being around the patrons, bright-looking and well-dressed. A relieving contrast to the sad souls who came into the pawnshop to hock their poor treasures. Heather flashed on the poem that made her pick her winner.

 

Dead of winter, shadowing down

streets as black as any nightmare,

although it wasnt even time for supper.

I got dizzy, Sweetie. I knows Mama.

 

She came home from school and found

her mother on the floor. Her baby

brother and sister stood there by her,

scared. They had gotten home first,

tried to lift her. Impossible when the

dead weight of the curse was on her.

They couldnt find her pills. They

brought her blankets and pillows.

Wheres your purse Mama?

I aint got no money, Honey.

Her mother looked ashen, like the

embers of coal burned.

I needs to get your medicine.

I aint got no more. I was going

to the drugstore.

Her purse was on the floor, right

next to her, covered by the blanket.

There were no more pills in the vile

she kept tucked away at its bottom.

I get you a refill. She pocketed the

container. You two sup on that lunch

meat wrapped up in the fridge. She told

her siblings. Get Mama some tea. I

bring you back some candy.

By now every predator was out there,

prowling through the icy dark: rapists,

muggers, gangbangers, killers. She

pulled on her winter coat, cap, mittens.

 

The contest was an ordeal. Michaels stories were  an ordeal. They made her reflect on her own youthful years. One summer in her  teen-hood made her  shudder.  How  arrogant they were, all of them, she and her friends, so full of themselves in their privileged lives and pretenses. Her parents were affluent. She grew up in a big house on the North Shore. Nothing was denied her, or her siblings or any of their friends. There was travel, country clubs in which to swim and play the summers away, private schools, mentors, tutors, Barnard eventually, shopping sprees with her friends in the plush suburban malls or along Chicagos beyond upscale Magnificent Mile, concerts, museums. When she was sixteen she and a few of her schoolmates formed a fun trio and billed themselves The Ghetto Girls. They dressed funky, sang rap songs which she cooked up lampooning the North Shore, the Gold Coast and making parallels to their sisters in the slums. They sang at weddings, parties, dances, the country club once, anywhere they could stand in front of a band. They were so cute, clever. They were a big hit that summer. They didnt mean anything bad by it. What were they thinking? How embarrassing to have as a memory now. What was that Categorical Imperative by Kant? whatever we do or say or think should be a moral imperative for all humanity our slightest whim or action a transcendental law for all time

Still identical in body and soul, Heather gave her winner a smile, signaling that she was finishing so take a deep breath because you are up next, although what each does is often mistaken for an opposite pursuit, she wanted to tie in the art and science aspect of the scholarships, the twins still balance and in turn lift one another to get a glimpse of that star.

Of course it behooved her to thank everyone, after the applause finished, for attending the first of an ongoing commitment to Chicagos inner city high school students their graciousness and generosity; while at the same time reflecting that they wouldnt have to drag themselves out in the snow, sit sweating in an overheated cellar and shell out dough, if they simply paid their employees, in all those enterprises and factories they owned, a better wage so they could take care of themselves; or maybe just pay their fair share of the taxes so the government could handle it.

All around Michael in the night, like icicles dangling from the winter sky, towers rose, sleek with glass and reflections of the nebulous. Strolling below, amidst the parks, gardens, walks, fountains, the quaint Victorian mansions and smug old brownstones most of which had been converted into pricey eateries, watering holes and Gold Coast condos began to assume an illusion of fairyland as a heavenly lake effect snow descended on Chicago and flakes as big as dove feathers transformed the spires and gables into enchanted castles.

Michael glanced at his Midas watch and slipped into the posh, park nightclub. Within, tourists, travelers, amiable neighborhood residents were sipping cocktails and watching the magic show from the ornate French windows as they listened to the piano echo the dream outside with its mellow notes.

Now you know what it means to be alone.

 

The North Shore Chanteuse who was wailing her tales of sorrow like some god forsaken angel as he found a small table in a corner, ordered a drink, and waited for the jeweler who would meet him

 

A broken heart

A dream that fell apart

 

The track lights above the golden-voiced beauty glimmered like moon glow. Seated atop a black piano, her intonations, breathless, tragic, her sultry figure smothered under cascades of silvery hair that fell like rain showers across her shoulders, as she whispered her dark melodies of love and rapture, while women wept and men sat mesmerized and

Michael wondered again, as he wondered when he was dating her, how such a cold, stone-hearted, bitch could capture and deliver such soul shattering loveliness? Go figure artists!

A homeless family, bundled in rags and carrying bags, shuffled through the park searching for somewhere to settle for the night, a small stone bridge over a stream, maybe, which they could use as a shelter, or if they really got lucky, a park maintenance shack for which they could easily jimmy the lock. They trudged through the drifts into the darkness and disappeared into the falling snow and frozen unknown.

Meshuguna. Michael brooded. Reality was crazy, always  had been, always would be. The poor are always with us. Some luminary noted. So are the oppressed. So are luminaries come to think of it. He was broke, wiped out, kaput. He lifted his drink in a silent salute to his father, to all the persecuted Jews over all the ages and to all others who had been enslaved, cleansed, exterminated, tortured, abused, wherever they were, had been, would be, forever and amen. It was for them he had given up his money, all the oppressed of humanity. At least that was his notion. He had looked into a madmans eyes since childhood his fathers eyes, pondered that grim expression, those numbers scrawled on his arm. He felt ashamed of himself. Why? He couldnt say. The survivor syndrome? Because he became wealthy easily? What did the world look like to the lumbering village boy after the hell he lived in those camps? He always wondered. Each face a phantom version of a human face? Each figure ghostly? Every street a shaft of smoke and mirrors? Every moment inimical? He had to make that grand gesture. He had to make it also for the poor souls who came to the pawnshop everyday to pawn what they held dearly.  Thank  god  no  one  was after the Jews anymore, he reflected, except investment bankers and luxury car dealers. They were safe here and most everywhere. Those persecution days were finally over. They were safe in Israel, too, on the whole. Despite their relentless enemies on all sides. They took care of each other. On his fortieth birthday he decided to give away

 

his money, sell the gallery and move there. For forty years he had lived like a ghost in a dream, not a real person, certainly not his own. He wasnt even sure what that could be. He had no friends as a kid. He had to hurry home and help his father, who became more wasted every year, take care of the shop. He had no family to speak of his half brother and sister were all but out of the house when he was born and soon they were gone. College, marriage, their busy lives went on separate from his own. When they did get together, on holidays or other occasions, he never felt comfortable. He didnt fit in. Religion had ended when his mother died. His father hated God. He wouldnt set foot in a synagogue. Who could blame him? How else would one feel about the grand master of it all after what hed been through, what hed seen? Michael was an atheist. The mysteries of existence belonged to and were solved by science. The revelations they came up with were far more amazing than the visions of old time mystics. We are all orphans, lost or abandoned in a land at once dangerous and enchanted. All we have is one another to rely on. We are our own angels and demons. Prayer is a shelter made of wind, salvation earth bound, sermons words and images that are heart found not handed down. Not that he wasnt moved by cantors voices, the ceremonies and services, the poetry in the prayers, the candles, rituals, the rabbis thoughtful proverbs. He was, of course, moved by all passionate expressions of the inner world and its longings. What he yearned for was that Sabbath sense of sacredness and spirituality, everyday in a secular way and that feeling of mutual identity in a community. He was a genetic Jew. No one would take him for anything else. It was written all over his face, embedded in his being. He thought if he moved to Israel he might find a home, inner peace. America was a giddy Disneyland with showbiz on the one end and make believe on the other, glued together by greed most of his brethren no exception. He needed something real after his life in a shadow world, some shared community that was meaningful. Even the art world, which he had enjoyed being part of for many years, was going sour on him. The current big guns were shrouded in the mystique of investment manipulations.   There literary world. No one read outside the academies. Everyone was glued to the boob tube or arcade-style computer games. There was little left, especially in politics, that wasnt bogus. When he was young America was number one in everything science, culture, education. Now they were at, or heading toward, the bottom. The students ranked lower than any westernized country on test scores, while they were firing teachers and cutting down on grants and programs! The outlook for the future was pretty gloomy. He wasnt lonely. Maybe existentially. It had been a long time ago that he roamed the streets of Chicago with his hands in his pockets, head down, wishing he had a friend. There had been too many women to fill his time since then. But with them there was always something missing. Maybe something in him? If so, that was at an end.

Sorry Im late. Zubrowsky, the jeweler, suddenly appeared at the table looking like a Jewish polar bear. He was covered, head to foot, with snow. His glasses were fogged. His red nose dripped. He stomped his boots on the carpet, slapped his fur hat against his leg. I couldnt get a cab. Buses passed me like sardine cans with engines. I had to walk the whole way. They announced on the radio a blizzard for Chicago. People are fleeing the city. I dont know how Ill get home if it doesnt calm down. I almost couldnt find this place. I walked in circles. The world got erased.

Good god Zub. Michael stood and helped him out of his coat. It was really coming down now, just in the last few minutes. He hadnt noticed. In the windows was a white out. Swirling flakes filled the air. Have a drink, warm up. You should have called me. We could have put it off.

Put it off? Rush you said! A rush job! Life and death!

Well, maybe it wasnt that dramatic. Michael smiled. Just seemed like tonight would be the perfect time. But have a seat. Relax. Lets see it!

 

Zubrowsky sat and took a velvet box out of his suit jacket, Groucho

Marxed his bushy eyebrows and laid it on the table.

Well open it. Dont just stare at it. Its a big step, I know, but  they

wont bite you.

The diamond rings were dazzling. They made Michaels hands tremble as he studied them under the light of the table candle. Legend had it that the stones belonged to a giant ring, owned by a very prominent woman who had to give them up during the Great Depression, which Michael had Zubrowky reset into an engagement ring and wedding band. He had been astonished to have found them still in his fathers hoardings. Maybe he was saving them for his old age? Maybe with his heavy drinking, black outs, and foggy thinking, he had simply forgotten about them. They were worth a small fortune.

God theyre beautiful! Michael marveled.

So tonight it is you pop the question? Zubrowsky sipped his drink, pleased at the reaction to his handiwork. Theres two ways to do it. Theres the Gentile way and the Jewish way. The Gentile gets down on one knee, takes the womans hand and asks her for it. If she accepts he slips on her finger the ring with a kiss. If she says no he bows politely and goes. The Jewish way is exactly the same only the ring is shown before he asks anything. More impact, get it? Hedging your bet. Im just kidding, Michael! Im making a joke! But in your case maybe you should think about it. It would put a little omph into the proposition. Why take chances? Ice like that you might convince her. Im just kidding again! Well Mazel Tov. He drained his drink. Im off. Keep in touch. Ill mail you the bill. No charge for the delivery. A little extra maybe for the doctor when he treats me for frostbite and pneumonia. Send me an invite! Goodnight!.

It  a big step. Michaels heart pounded as he turned the sparkling box this way and that, watching its multicolored diamonds catch fire under the flickering flame in all their facets. He kept picturing Heather wearing them and how they would sparkle on her hand in   classrooms,

at lectures, out to dinner, the theater, whatever. Of course she was always smiling in his imagination but actually Michael was afraid she wouldnt even like them. They were sort of over the top more than a bit ostentatious. She didnt wear much jewelry, make up or showy clothes either. Her tastes were simpler, what you would call prim and proper. She got that from her mother and grandmother and beyond that probably from ancestral Irish how to act-like-a-lady instructions. Prim and proper, that was Heather, except, of course, for her hair which, no matter what she did with it, made her look like she had just stuck her finger into an electric socket.

Shocking, say it, shocking! shed scream getting dressed for a night out and glaring at her reflection in the mirror while she dragged a brush through its tangles, the bristles of which Michael wasnt sure hed use on a horses mane.

Your hair is becoming.

Becoming? Oh really? For what, a clowns fright wig, or the lead singer in an Irish rebel band? My hair is exploding!

Your hair is very sexy.

Then why dont you ever run your fingers through it? Dont I?

He supposed he could try. He was afraid they might get stuck and it would be awkward trying to pull them out.

Im sure I do all the time. You dont notice. How could I resist? Thats it! Heather slammed her brush on the dresser. Ive had

it! Im shaving my head and buying a wig! Dont your Orthodox kinswomen all wear them to cover their heads? Bet that would turn you on! Youd be a Chagall figure flying upside down!

You turn me on. Your hair turns me on. Everything about you sends me swooning. Look Ill run my fingers through it.

Back off! Dont touch it! Ive just spent the last hour trying to comb

it!

Hed bet her family would like the rings. They would be impressed. They werent very impressed by him a middle-aged Jewish art dealer who lived in a cellar. He was probably even more unsuitable as a suitor than the other unsuitable suitors: tweedy English professors, dialectic materialists, organic language deconstructionists, Heather had brought home over the years.

Look Michael, Heather had briefed him before she sprang him on them, my father and brothers are basically beer swilling, sports minded, dwarf-tossers. Never mind the country clubs they belong to and the flashy cars they drive. Do you play golf? It doesnt matter. Well talk about the scholarship youre sponsoring. After all, thats how we got together. My mother will find it romantic, and noble. My father is an ardent Democrat. You know he and Richie are buddies, as was my grandfather and Richard the elder. Theyve worked on big contracts for the city, and will do more. Theyre friends now with Emanuel. Well steer the conversation toward politics the Tea Party, Birthers, Republicans in general, Sarah, Fox news. He wont even notice youre not Irish. Theres nothing to be anxious about. Just dont tell them you gave away your last penny. Or any money.

So courting was ever easy? Her parents were nice. Her father was a stand up guy. So were her brothers. There would be no problem there. They all knew he loved Heather and that she loved him. They were made for each other. She had moxie. He had chutzpah, sort of. They were both mashuguna. Why dont you call your next book Leprechauns In The Bed? Michael kidded. Meaning? Meaning Ms. Prim and Proper acts pixilated when she gets under the covers. Complaining? Hardly exclaiming! They read together, discussed books, liked the same movies, music, enjoyed the company of each other like some old married couple instead of one that had just gotten together. It had been like that from the first instant, as if their relationship was a reincarnation, each moment a reenactment of sometime ancient, their togetherness something intense. Michael, we scare me. Heather would shudder after some heated love

making. I know what you mean. Heart pounding, Michael stared at the spinning ceiling. True loves a many scary thing.

Israel was over. He could have a life here with Heather. He couldnt imagine any other. That crazy gesture of giving away his money had brought him everything he had missed in his life and longed for. It was all like some biblical proverb. Just last night he had gotten an offer from Muriel Strand to be the new director for Strand Foundations charitable division. Our current head is a crook, she told him, skimming money and cooking the books. I need someone honest. The salary for that position, he imagined, must be staggering and made his head spin. She wanted to celebrate the occasion with a night of fun and games. Bouncing around in bed with the platinum-haired socialite bombshell was quite a temptation but Michael had resisted. He confided to her that he was proposing to Heather. She laughed and said: Michael being honest to the core can be a bore. We only demand fidelity from our directors in money matters. But thats a good sign. Ill really know my money is in good hands when you sign all those dotted lines. A woman scorned is hell to deal with but you took that risk. Im doubly impressed.

He snapped the box shut and looked at his watch. He had better get back. Zub was right. Chicago was getting hit by a blizzard. Hed never get a cab. It was a good eight blocks to the gallery. By the time he got there hed look like a snowman or a dybuk come back from the dead.

Snow White in a glass casket was what I had been aiming at with my Surrealistic portrait of the Dead Zones crack racket, trying to symbolize the lost soul in the black hole of the ghetto, and the living- death-quest of hopelessness all around us. But the chaos of contours I created in the fairytale beautys features, after I started slashing paint on the canvas, and the undulating rhythms of brush strokes with which I concocted her coffin, had her come out of my backstreet fable as an angel wearing a death mask of sable, asleep on a billiard table. So maybe Dust was the thrust of my journey into oblivion in a game you   cant win, because a drug is a drug and theres plenty of Dust in the hood. Besides, while Picasso said that what one paints is what counts and not what one intended to accomplish, he also said that if you know exactly what youre going to do theres no point in going through it. Life lives as it does, I guess, and you go with the flow. Im no Picasso, lets face it; but neither is anyone else working now. Kiefer, Richter, Viola, the late, great Munoz are my heroes, but still no Picassos. From the past Goya is the best.

Heather wondered, anxiously, where Michael could be, as she stood amidst a handful of benefactors who had remained, despite the storm, to listen to Jos expound upon his paintings. He had sold three. Michael should have been there. Connie, of course, handled the sales expertly but she was getting nervous too. You could tell she was being overwhelmed. The guests had begun to slip out during her winners recital and were all but gone by the time the pale Russian came to his science demonstration. The cellars tiny windows looked like Whirlpool washing machines, the snow swirling, blowing, drifting in them.

It was the dead of winter, like now, when I did this one. Jos rambled on, the sales, like steroids, pumping through his veins. I looked out at the falling snow from my ghetto studio at the ragged figures roaming the streets below, dragging themselves through the drifts bag ladies, homeless families, dead-enders. There were more each day as the recession swept the country. Rolex watches, wedding rings, good luck charms were filling the pawnshop windows as the ghetto  became a Rainbow Coalition like Jessie Jackson always shoots for but not in that way. So I thought: Hey, fairy tales can come true and it can happen to you. And I put down a little sketch of Hansel and Gretel and then I went loco.

Heather looked at her watch. Maybe Michael left a trail of breadcrumbs? She couldnt get him on his cell phone. Lucky for him, if she did shed blow out his eardrum. I loved your reading! The face- lifted, bust-expanded, liposuctioned, dyed-haired, salon-tanned Grande

Dame squealed at her as she was leaving. It was so compelling! Is that from your new book Bats In My Belfry? No. And the book is entitled Leprechauns In The Attic. How charming! Ill have my maid pick it up! Tell Michael Ill see him Monday. Tell him not to be tardy! I guess we cant tell a book by its cover can we? She studied Heather with a bemused scrutiny before she said goodnight to Connie.

What the hell did that mean?

The radiators were rattling, the steam hissing. The lights started blinking. But it wasnt a power out, it was Connie trying to get everyones attention. The security guard stood next to her, arms folded, smiling.

Ladies and  Gentlemen,  the  weather  service  just  announced that we are in for the biggest blizzard since nineteen sixty-seven. Remember that one? We thank you for attending, but I think we all have just a small window of opportunity, at this point, to get safely to our destinations. We bid you goodnight and safe passage. Leon will help you to your cars. Your drivers are here. Careful with the steps, theyre treacherous!

Where the hell was Michael? Heather looked at her watch again as the tycoons finished their drinks and exchanged goodbye handshakes and the snow swirled through the open door where the smiling guard stood waiting to escort the guests to their cars.

 

* * *

 

How much?

Where did you get these? How much?

I gotta know. I got to know how to go.

I found them on a body in the alley. Its out there in the snow. How much?

I dont know.

The watch was solid gold. The diamond eye-blinder was worth a small fortune. They had to change, be rearranged. The watch melted down maybe.  They would lose their value.  That was a shame.

A lot.  Ill let you know.  You got lucky.  Cash too?

Some.  Enough for a little fun.

Have fun.  A week, maybe two.  The payoff will be good for both

me and you.

 

* * *

 

Heather woke up when she heard the door slam. She had fallen asleep on the coach with a drink in her hand. The last of many. Michael? Michael stood in the gallery, shivering. He looked like a snowman.

I never thought Id make it home. He slapped his hat on his coat and tried to brush off the snow. You should see it outside. My cell phone died. First it was a wonderland. Then it was no-mans-land. I thought Id break my neck getting the cat. Howd things go?

Are you drunk? Do you know what Ive been through? I spent the last hour calling hospital emergency rooms! Where in the hell were you?

In an alley mostly. I heard this cat yowling. You couldnt see your own hand if you held it in front of your face. The snow is falling that hard. But the cat was someplace high up. I climbed on top of this dumpster. I could hear it somewhere above the rain gutter. Theres this old, boarded up building down the block. I think thats where I was. I couldnt reach over it so I found this window covered with grating and managed to pull myself on the ledge. I still wasnt high enough. There was a fire escape ladder another window over so I edged my way on to that. I was soaked with sweat. I climbed the rungs but they led to a dead end. There was a chimney I had to get around. I knew the cat was on the other side of that, hunkered down out of the wind.

Michael wheres the cat?

In my pocket. He reached down into his topcoat and pulled out a yellow and white striped kitten. It was one, two, three after that, more or less. He handed it over to Heather. I edged along the gutter holding onto the chimney, precariously. I snatched it up and put it in my coat but we couldnt get back to the ladder. The wind was blowing too hard. I couldnt even see the ladder. Eventually I found the dumpster and swung down onto that.

We better feed it. The cat purred in her arms as she scratched it. Theres a bottle of milk left over from the event.

OK. Let me get out of these things. Will you marry me?

OK. But look Michael I had this dream. Youre not wearing that goofy watch anymore or that crazy hypnotists ring.

OK. I have something else for you. Its in my pocket. I hope the cat

didnt do anything on top of it.

THE GIFT

So this guy, God, hands me a claim

ticket for a box with nothing in it.

Enjoy.

He yawned and life went on.

What kind of gift is this?

I asked my parents, as if they

might know or even think about it.

Its a whatchamacallit.

My father said staring at the TV.

Go ask the Rabbi.

My mother frowned and glared at

me. What am I supposed to do with

this empty box? I asked the Rabbi.

Put something in it?

He shrugged and scratched his head.

Profound, I thought. I hustled and

bustled and tried to fill it up.

By the time I got old the box was

as empty as when I began, the way

the stuff of life came and went.

I used it for my coffin.

THIS        IS NOT A POEM

Cold coffee, stale

pastry, cheap

whiskey, as the

winter sky slides by

the window of my

cheap room. This is

not

a poem. It is a postcard from

oblivion. Wish you were here,

whomever you are. Wish I wasnt.

This morning I found a

message in a bottle floating

in my toilet bowl. It said:

Lost dreams, failed

schemes, unrequited loves,

please flush after using.

The winds howl, the

shadows prowl, the walls

shriek, the windows rattle,

the floorboards creak and

the sewers run to the sea

wait for me.

THE NOT OK CORRAL

Drifting off, rain pounding the leaky roof

of the Crystal Palace, jukebox broke.

This sweltering night is all but over.

Ill leave it in a stupor, stagger home

down busted backstreets, over broken glass,

cracked concrete, amidst the rotting remnants

of torched buildings some slumlord set

ablaze for insurance.

I try to remember better days. I look in the bar

mirror and shake my head. Those times when

going to work meant making a living not

just surviving.

This aint no palace in case you were

wondering. Never saw any crystal in here

 either no sparkling glassware or chandeliers.

This is just a Chi-town dive. It was named

by the crazy owner after some famous cowboy

bar in Wichita, Kansas. Wyatt Earp used to

drink there, I hear.

Most of us are just trying to make it through

the summer. Those of us who do will have to

face the winter. There aint no Miss

Kitty in here neither, nor anything like her.

What we got, instead, is why God

invented darkness.

Theyll never fix that jukebox.

RYE WHISKEY AND ROSE

Up at dawn she curses the sun blood oaths

that doom all of

creation to death and

damnation By noon

shes settled down,

slurping cabbage soup

and munching garden

onions, taking a breather

in between the daily

rounds of scrubbing

down her dwelling from

top to bottom to rid the

rooms of the demons

that shadow in when

the sun goes down. We

 all know what she tries

to scrub away, death

and destruction the

same indelible evils that

befall everyone

everyday.

Out damned spot. As

someone once said. But

the spot wont go away

no matter how

 vigorously she applies

her embattled energy. It
is here to stay. The

evening is merry with

TV and rye whiskey.

At night Rose sings her

secret song, A melody

from the old country,

eyes tearing, voice

trembling in memory of

her belated husband.

Lost in the moons glow,

she croons with her bottle,

we chased the dream

shadows, down the lanes of

loves wonder through the

hearts mysteries.

Holding each other, we waltzed round a

rainbow,

dancing on stardust to our own melody.

The heart is a lonely

hunter. Lonely are the

 cards dealt in solitaire. A

game no one can win no

matter how practiced one

becomes.

Goodbye my darling it

was lovely to know you.

Rose warbles. Farewell

my angel may God grace

you with peace. Well be

together before its all over.

Well dance again in the

heavens. Well laugh and

well sing.

And so to sleep in her rumpled bed to embrace her

dead lover in her longing arms forever. A bottle of rye

whiskey and Rose snuggled under the covers

together.

FINDING THE WAY

Lost in the limbo

of lifes torturous

labyrinths Manny

lights the last puff

of smoke off the

stub he found

under his mission

bunk. It hangs like

a holy ghost in

midair and then

disappears.

Any job, Manny

pleads, any woman,

any tip, skinny, lucky

 penny.

He is talking to the

bearded guy in the sky,

whom he never saw

before he was born and

probably wont see

after he dies, shivering

atop his Salvation

Army cot, clutching the

threadbare blanket and

staring at the ceiling,

 which is as cracked as

he is, hungry, cold,

alone except for

the winos in the

surrounding bunks

snoring happily in their

dead drunks.

Truth to power is

what we got here.

Manny ventures.

Why is this my lot?

What did I do? Who

did I screw? Lifes

winners are always

the most corrupt.

Any smidgeon, Manny

wheedles, any tidbit,

snip it, crumb of the

action would

be most welcome. Im

not asking this time! Im

telling you! My life is

unfair! I never got my

share!

 

The next day Manny finds a wallet on the

sidewalk. He buys a bottle of wine and a

lottery ticket. After he collects the

hundred million dollar jackpot, he gets hit

by a bus. Nice funeral

 HELP NEEDED

I order a drink at Finks,

poke

through the
Our Times

classifieds.

Help

Wanted is

the agenda

but I warm

up by

perusing the

 ads for cars

I cant

afford and

apartments

I could

never rent

unless

money

came to me

heaven sent.

I muse

through

descriptions

of women

who

wouldnt

want me

and women

I wouldnt

want who

probably

wouldnt

want me

just as

much.

There are

sundry adds

for items I

have no use

for and others

that I do but

know that

its no use to

want them

because I cant

even pay the

 rent.

WANTED: Security

Guards, must be fit and

armed. Interesting. But

you need to supply your

own transportation and

weapon. I just saw one.

I flip back, a sawed off

shotgun. I can swing

that. The car

too. Fit I cant do.

WANTED: Bartenders for new, exciting

Gold Coast

nightclub. Must pass polygraph test.

Interesting: They actually expect to find a

 barkeep

who never poured a little more.

WANTED: Clowns who

are not scary but look

 merry. Interesting. But,

lets face it, no matter

 how Id paint my mug

Id still look like a

character from the Night

of the Living Dead.

I quit my job to move on,

but as far as Ive

gotten is a regular

stool at Finks tavern.

No luck today. But

tomorrow is another

one. Get up at dawn,

hit the

pavements. Not getting anywhere this way. Time for

a last round and maybe a beer to chase it down. And

then maybe another for good luck. I could use it.

And cold one to back it up. That should do it. Wow,

the game just came on. The cable guy just de-cabled

my system. Cant miss this one. But after that Im

gone.

THE SLOB

A big, burly, bushy-eyed brute

with the battered features of a punch

drunk pugilist gazes pop-eyed at me

quizzically.

His cheap

suit is in

disarray,

his chintzy

street

vendors

tie

hangs loose

from the dirty

collar of his r

umpled shirt.

He looks like he had just come

from a night of drinking and arm wrestling

in some dead end dive down a

seedy backstreet where big

busted whores sat clapping and

yowling at his each sweaty

victory.

His thick black hair is slicked

 back with grease. He hasnt

shaved in a couple of days.

He looks like a criminal in

a wanted poster or

maybe some degenerate

in a porno film seated on

a bed about to take off

his clothes, and you know

hell never manage it

because he looks like hes

about to pass out

at any second.

The hell with undressing.

I tell my

reflection in the

mirror, lay back

on the mattress

and watch

the ceiling spin until everything goes black

and the world disappears.

GO ASK ALICE

Drugs, sex, into the vortex.

Carrie was learning fast that urban life could be a surrealistic blast.

It wasnt Kansas anymore, that was for sure.

What it was these days was never clear.

It was a dream, a scream, a screaming dream, sometimes a nightmare.

Sometimes she wasnt there.

Sometimes she wasnt anywhere there was another girl staring back

at her in the mirror.

Drugs, sex, into the vortex through a guy called Tex.

He pulled up at the corner in his sports car, smiled, tipped his cowboy

hat, and that was

that.

Kansas became Chicago. Chicago became the Twilight Zone, the

Outer Limits,

Through the Wormhole.

Before Tex showed up life was a bore, a slow motion yawner, in a little

white-picket-fence

town where watching the grass grow and paint dry was about all anyone

did to add a little

excitement to their lives

Bright lights, big city, parties, orgies, after time Carrie was pretty.   

But

sometimes she

feared that, one day, the strange girl in the mirror would make her

disappear.

THE KINGDOM

Key in the wrong door, maybe it will open

to something better?

I hear two doors close behind the locked

one The sound is final, my visit done.

I grew up near a race track, horses, dogs.

All the races were fixed.

There was a sign staked near the

entrance someone hammered into the

ground. Jesus Finds The Lost.

Lost bets I wondered?

No, the lost find Jesus, I concluded.

Not as good as scoring money but

they have to win something.

Ill end this poem with a conversation

with a homeless person.

Are you lost? I ask him.

Im homeless. Can you spare some

change?

Maybe. Im writing a poem. So far

it has no meaning. I was hoping you could

give it some.

You want meaning from a bum?

Ill take it from anyone.

You need the right key to open the right

door. If you never find that key youll

be locked out forever.

I gave him some change anyway.

 ROTTEN EGGS

Like a crack brat crying

for another lethal nipple full

from mothers toxic tit,

I cut the deck.

The dealer laughs.

The house wins all the hands,

at least by the margins.

You bet you can forget any

bet.

All bets are off the second you place them.

Fate will erase them.

The ones you dont place are the only ones

youll win, because you dont lose any

money on them:

lesson one in gambling 101.

Lesson two is that if you think you can

beat the odds you are a fool.

The cards are not dealt, to us,

as we sit at the table like so many

Hansels and Gretels.

They are discarded, as the dealer flips them at us,

like the dead leaves of Autumn scattered in the

 gutters.

Gambling is a cross between mental illness

and a memorial service.

Like a gamblers lucky streak,

some gamblers vanish without a trace.

Some gamblers are born without a face.

The day that you get hooked is the day

you leave the human race.

Some eggs are

scrambled, others

fried. Some crack

open rotten.

You eat them anyway with toast on the side.

I WAKE UP SCREAMING

Madmen crawl under the covers,

with me and run amok through my

dreams. Not the ones you see sitting

in doorways with a bottle of cheap

wine and glassy eyes, muttering; but

the other kind who wear pinstriped

suits, designer hairdos and pinky rings

and shout sermons with glee on late

night TV.

I bring you love!

I bring you joy!

I bring you peace, happiness,

prosperity! Give your soul to me!

We chase through the midnight streets.

The madmen stepping on the lamp-lit

shadows I toss off as I flee. All the

doors are locked, all the alleys are blind,

all the windows barred. Theres no way

out of the maze and they are close behind.

We bring you mercy!

We bring you meaning!

We bring you compassion, forgiveness,

understanding!

They hoot, holler, scream until the sun

 comes up and I wake up in a cold sweat.

Got to figure out how to block out my

neighbors blasting TV before I nod off!

Maybe sleep in earmuffs? The old deaf

Bible-thumper in

the room next

door, and his

Evangelical

stations, is going

to drive me into a

mental institution

THOSE WERE THE DAZE

Coming apart at the seams through amphetamines

due to my heavy use of them I was painting like a

madman, drawing and coloring at the same time

directly onto the canvas like Van Gogh or any asylum

 inmate doing art therapy for some shrink in bedlam,

no studies, doodles, sketches.

My schoolmates were teaching me how to paint with

oil. It was surprisingly easy and I picked it up fast. I

couldnt imagine how Picasso had such a hard time with

color, first going through a Blue Period, and then a Rose

Period and through Cubism, poking his way along, before

he really got it together and became a color master.

Maybe he needed an injection of uppers? I had been painting

all night. My head was in a fog. My body felt numb. Fog

filled the window and I had the illusion I was sitting in some

gypsy womans crystal ball. Suddenly my life seemed unreal.

The image I was concocting on the canvas seemed a dream.

Thats when I knew I was getting somewhere. I definitely

had something going on drug hallucinations.

THE SAD SHEPHERD

Not my day.

All my words rang

hollow. All my

gestures felt

unnatural.

There was nothing

inspiring in my

delivery: no hope,

promise, to lead

anyone down the

road to

salvation, much less the promised

land.

Sweat broke out on my brow.

My hands trembled, and the

more I struggled, the more my

flock turned away. Off stage, so

to speak, I raged.

I blamed everyone else for my poor

sermonizing and apparent lack of faith.

I know the gospel. I know the

path to take. The pitch to make

to inspire, elate.

Of course, it was my fault my

congregates strayed! Step right up

Ladies and Gentleman! You cant win if

you dont play!

For only a dollar, four meager quarters, small

change, you can spin the wheel and become

a player in the American Dream!

Its hard to be a carnival barker. Thats all I

have to say. Oh well, tomorrow is another

day.

COPS AND ROBBERS

Everyday outside Tonys pizza shop

two fat cops sit idling in their squad

by the bus stop, waiting for me to run

out with their daily freebie, a jumbo pie

loaded with toppings and giant cokes

to wash it all down as they cruised

around. Keep your nose clean pal. Is

the

only tip they ever give me. In a while

theyll stop at Dunkin for coffee and

on Dunkin.

After that its the sub shop for heroes,

or the Taco Shack where my friend

Juan will run out with greasy bags of

goodies for Chi-towns finest, gratis.

Hey no skin off my nose. I just twirl

dough and toss it in the oven for a living.

Just mentally noting that law and order

seems to have taken on a whole new

meaning since the flat feet used to walk

the beat in the old neighborhood when I

was a kid.

An apple a day maybe from some vendor.

Theyd polish it shiny on their uniform

sleeve, bite into it and give you a wink

and a grin. You messed with those guys

and theyd do you in. But theyd give

you a break now and then.

Whenever I see the party lights

from this new breed of giganto

gourmets in my rear view mirror,

Id know the party is over, for sure.

No breaks from these guys,

unless its your bones.

Thats  what you deserve anyway

for the occasional time

you let their food get cold.

RACK EM

Green felt tables with pockets to catch

comets. Magic sticks to perform tricks

with the laws of physics. Constellations

in a dark bar colliding from the impact

of a shooting star.

Shooting pool can get cosmic if youve

spent a lifetime at it.

Every night Maury out drinks alkies,

out smokes lungers as he waits for the

shooters to pack into Hustlers.

Guts sagging, hands trembling, sight

gone, life squandered, Maury takes his

obligatory practice shots, nerves a tangle of knots.

All under the scrutiny of the usual suspects

waiting to place bets. Suspected of what?

You name it. Watch how fast they leave

town when the law makes another

crackdown..

Maury has been beaten, stabbed, robbed

over the years at Hustlers. When

you go in there you take your life

in your hands. Not just from the men

but the women too who will not only

stab you in the back but give you a

dose of the clap.

Maybe he should quit? Maury often wonders,

hang up his stick, take a job from his

ward-heeler brother, be a political gofer

But why jump the gun? Hustling

pool can be fun. Maybe tonight

hell have a lucky run.

He is way over do for one.

THE PENWORN PAPERS

 

Bars and booze, sleeping in cheap rooms, with rats and roaches, or on park benches with other hobos. Cops hammering at his door, screaming whores hammering at his head, drunk tanks in strange cities, thugs and bed bugs, tattooed ladies. Cause and effect, unless anyone thought he chose this mess? Did he ask to be endowed with heightened sensibilities, superior mental and emotive facilities? Penworn asked his fate as he was dozing off.

Tucked, as a kid, Penworn recalled the comfort of his childhood bed, between electrical static and cool jazz in the attic he got hip quick. Hard drugs, beat poems, wild women, lack of monetary ambition, alcoholism followed, as well as a stint in the army during Vietnam to avoid incarceration in prison for drug possession, although the reduced charge for cooperation was from originally dealing. Looking back at a lifetime of degenerate living and artistic creation, Penworn came to this conclusion: in order to get by in life you dont really have to know what youre doing.

It was midnight. In the dark, in his makeshift bed, under its covers of old rags and newspapers, Penworn dreamed of tornadoes, cyclones, bombings, earthquakes, of ship wrecks on high seas, of monsters and shrill screams. He pondered the lightning flashes under his eyelids, as the windows rattled and the walls shook and the floorboards beneath him quaked, sending his inebriated body vibrating across the room, while ceiling plaster fell on his face.

No, Penworn knew, it was not a hurricane, nor was it Armageddon, nor some pathological, recurring hallucination. It was the Midnight Special roaring past the rickety shack he temporarily inhabits,   outside

the freight yards of Chicago, between no mans land and take-a-hike drive, where no one except a poet could survive, having broken in on a whim and deciding to occupy for as long as he can.

Ghouls rode the ghost train. Penworn has seen them in his brain, laughing and jabbering in the dead of night, as the wheels clack, and the earth rocks and the whistle shrieks and he chases in circles through nightmares that wont cease, looking for lost keys, puzzle pieces, unlisted numbers, blank directories, forgotten voices, faces, names, foggy memories, up and down, round and round, while goblins gambol, and witches scream and the daughters of darkness dance through his dreams. During the day it was OK. Penworn braced himself and drank cheap whisky from the change that he caged on the streets.

He better get out of his lodging at the train shack anyway. If he had another night of rattling across the floor as the flying freight cars roared, his tired old body would fall apart.

Todays forecast, Penworn studies the street. Lets start at zero, he broods, and see how things go: no room, food, love, money, luck. Got to improve on that. So, OK, Im a sad bum, Penworn muses, probably got what was coming. But hed still like to eat, sleep in a bed, take a shower after having had a lover. Nothing grand in fact, hed be happy if any part of that happened.

Everyday people started to stroll the avenues. It was a fine day and Penworn knew that it was hard to find a good Samaritan when it rains. Most everyone would knock you over running for cover. Penworn stood on the corner, hand extended another poor guy down on his luck who wouldnt harm a fly. Not I, Penworn offers a sad smile to the throngs who stroll past. Once again he looks up at the sky. To each passerby it probably looked like he was praying. In a way he was. Stay sunny, Penworn is begging.

Hed slept on park benches, mission cots, in cardboard boxes in vacant lots, barrack bunks, army tents, in jungles swamps, transport trucks, conjugal beds, death beds, restraint beds in psycho lockups, box cars, brothels, artists lofts. Hed slept with inmates, cell mates, lovers, bugs, in Grand Hotels, cheap motels, wind rattled shacks. His dreams the kind you fought to wake from for that first cigarette.

Penworn sat in the Laundromat, puffed on his cigarette and thought about this. The place was empty. So was the street, maybe the city? The world could be. It wouldnt have surprised him. It was two A.M.. Penworn had ducked in to get out of the rain, figuring when someone showed hed blow. Where he didnt know. The place should have closed hours ago, by the business times posted in the window. So, either the attendant forgot to douse the lights and lock the door or he was lying dead in some closet or down in the cellar. Maybe he was simply dead drunk somewhere? Either way Penworn had a clean well lighted place to sit out the night and stay out of the rain. Not exactly what Hemingway had in mind when he wrote his famous story but hed take what he could get.

 MIRACLE MAN

Doom walks on stage, looking for the Queen

of Darkness. Hes dressed in an undertakers

black suit and wears a vampires cape. The

Queen is resplendent in nothing; her stark

 nudity adorned with tacky, costume jewelry.

Less is more; no better example for this

trendsetting lore. Shes hiding behind her

 dominatrix-slave-handmaids. She doesnt

want to bed down with Doom. He sleeps in

a grave and shes afraid shell never be

exhumed. Hey, lets blow! Doom spots

her and thunders. This aint Waiting For

Godot! She stamps her foot and says:

Oh damn! But she goes to him and they

embrace and he enfolds her in his cape,

while the whip and handcuff, black leather

babes dance around them in a circle, while

the fat lady sings: Amazing Grace.

Theres merit in it. The off, off,

Broadway critic for The Voice says to his

colleague from The Times, who writes his

Off But on IT column for the stuffed

shirt, wannabe, section of the yuppie rag.

Profound. His colleague nods. I havent

the faintest idea what any of it is about.