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Night Without Stars by Rex Sexton

NIGHT WITHOUT STARS BY REX SEXTON

 

Other works by Rex Sexton

 

About The Author

 

Rex Sexton is a Surrealist painter in 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.  He is married to the neuroscientist Dr. Rochelle S. Cohen.

 

Acknowledgments

 

The author would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which many of these poems and stories have or will appear: Mobius, The poetry Magazine, Flat Iron, (A Brilliant) Record, Edgz, Waterways, Reflection, B&R Samizdat Express, Hazmat Review, Time Of Singing, Clark Street Review, Saturday At The Diner, Platos Tavern, The Rusty Truck, Fighting Chance,

Lone Stars, Nut House, Nerve Cowboy, Poetry USA, Feelings Of The Heart, Bear Creek Haiku, R.KV.R.Y, The Pen, WriteOn!!, Willow Review, Struggle, Loves Chance, The Externalist, Paradoxism, Always Looking, Back Street Review, Ardent, The Stray Branch, and Soul Fountain.

 

Contents

 

Night Without Stars

Ten Count

Global Mourning

Atonement

The Guilty

Never Never Land

Hanging Tree

Diner

Shooting Stars

Out Of The Cradle

Starched Napkins

Accidental Tourist

Mystery

Nightlife

Indian Summer

Angel

Love Story

Table For Two More

Perfect Storm

Bachelor Pad

Archival

Till Death

Brief Encounter

Destroyer

Ruby

Stormy Night

The Mox Nix Box

Trouble Town

Derby

Carousel

Table Stakes

All Bets Off

Solitaire

Alley Cat

A Perfect Day

Death Of A Salesman

Death Row

Disconnected

The Wiz

Washed Up

Staying Alive

To Be Or Not To Be (here)

Tree Of Life

Jack In The Box

Romper Room

On The Town

Elegy

Drumbeats Sounding A Rhythm To The Brain

War, What Is It Good For?

Maneuvers

And Over The Earth What?

Night Watch

Blast From The Past

Home Coming

Between The Clock And The Bed

Miraculum

Fairy Tales Can Come True It Can Happen To You

Summer And Smoke

American Pie

All The Pretty Ballerinas

Silent Night

The Big Chill

When You Wish

The Politician

Hoop Dreams

Line, Form, Color

On Guard

Ziggy, The Killer Elephant

Without Really Trying

The Number You Dialed

Blue Skies

The Beat Goes On

Now you See It, Now You Dont

Rackum

Knock Knock

Now Life Lays Me

Sabbath

Store Clerk

Body And Soul

RAP

Road Kill

Now I Lay Me

Paper Moon

Born To Lose

Dreamland

Another day

The Traveler

Revelation

Night Light

Call It Sleep

Bottoms Up

 

For Rochelle

 

NIGHT WITHOUT STARS

 

Listening to it in the darkness,

the lullaby of hopelessness,

played by staccato rain

across the Chi-town tenements,

gunfire and sirens tossed in

to make the rhythms of the night

even more disturbing,

I dream colors,

paint prayers,

across the blackboard of oblivion,

where all lessons of the street are learned,

without degrees,

and tattooed in the heart and mind

with graffiti signs. 

 

TEN COUNT

 

Fist hit days knocking us off our feet

and no way out, not tomorrow, maybe

never, rain pounding down sad enough

to make you weep, all day, every day.

Punch out and pull your pay, everyone,

were closing down.

With the weighted steps of weariness,

we walk the stormy streets, looking for

anyone, anything hiring, bills to pay,

mouths to feed, hearing the music of

lifes mystery play in shadowed souls

and haunted heartbeats as we search

the city, restlessly.

 

GLOBAL MOURNING

 

That moment in the night when the echoes and

apparitions of the tenements evicted-from-life

former residents, begin to haunt the tumbledown

premises, amidst the clanging of old pipes, the

creaking walls and groaning staircases, the hiss

of radiators, with their moans and spectral appearances,

is my cue to grab my coat and get my hat and hole up

in one of the neighborhoods booze and blues rattraps,

until I can numb myself from their cries and sleep

while the bedbugs bite.

I known they all need closure from their victimization

by fate and that they will never rest in peace until

they get it off their chests and attain that catharsis.

But Ive heard their stories before, seen them on TV,

read about them in history: slum landlords, usury,

discrimination, exploitation, tyrants, death camps,

ethnic cleansing, aristocrats, bureaucrats, slavery,

iron fists, holocausts every misery one can imagine

involving mans inhumanity to man.  I see the sequels

of their tragic destinies all around me in the misery and

poverty I move through every day. Besides I have my

own sorry story to relate, which Im sure Ill do when

my hard-luck lot is through and I clatter around in my

chains. You only live once.  Theres no second chance.

When you never got your due wailing through eternity

is all thats left for you.

I developed a theory nursing my nightly drinks in the 

ghetto gin mills, surrounded by lost souls almost as

dead as the ones I fled.  Tenements topple, ghettoes

crumble, civilizations fall to ruins all of them

replaced by new habitats that will also be erased. What

do the ghosts haunt then?  I think they roam the wind,

form a civilization of howling phantoms, cause

hurricanes, tidal waves, change the climate, melt the

ice caps.  I believe everything they say about carbon

emissions, toxic waste, air and water pollution,

all greed and gluttony and abuse propelling us toward

the end of the world.  But I think the haunts contribute 

as well with their tales of living hell.

 

ATONEMENT

 

Night, snow falling across Chicago like stardust

over tombstones. The streets are crowded with

shivering commuters who cough and shift their

glance when I stick out my hand.  In the store

windows temptations sparkle.  They avert their

eyes from those too.  This Christmas will be poor.

The grand cathedral in the middle of the downtown

bustle. I slip inside, out of the menacing night, into

darkness adorned with candlelight, sacred statues,

flickering stained glass windows, altar, pulpit, the

son of god nailed to a cross and wearing a crown

of thorns.

In the hushed, hallowed quietude I choose a retreat

amidst rows of empty seats a widower here, a

dowager there, another half dozen other lost souls

with their crosses to bear.

My home away from homelessness, this house of

worship, along with the soup kitchens, rescue gospel

missions, park benches, tunnels, viaducts, card board

boxes, shelters, bridge basses, police stations, public

libraries, museums on free days. 

In the warm and mellow illusion of transcendence,

I can sit and reflect upon the mystery of birth and

death and feel a little peace and momentarily forget

my permanent state of hopelessness: roofless, jobless,

friendless. Bless me Father for I have sinned. I say

to the man upstairs, who probably isnt there.  I cheat,

steal, connive. But not like Madoff.  I brood.  Not like

Wall Street.  I sin to survive.

 

THE GUILTY

 

Hustle or muscle is the only way

to get by in the ghetto: deal, steal,

pimp, kill.

The hobos I pass in the train yard

waiting for their escape ride to

anywhere are free to relocate their

poverty.  So are we, theoretically.

But its a little tough with a family.

The same old crime of being alive

from cradle to grave replayed each

day by the incarcerated.

Bars without spaces to look through

surround you.  Thats because no one

outside wants to see your misery or

hear your cries the deaf ear,

the blind eye.

What did I do? What have we done?

How can we escape?  How do we

survive?  Deal, steal, pimp, kill

 

NEVER-NEVER LAND

 

The room is like a coffin,

sleep a death-dream of

childhood delirium,

sweating, tossing, running,

hiding

Come in from the night.

A voice says from behind a

door the kid has never seen before.

The night.  The night.

Outside the sounds of the

dead zone abound: sirens,

gunshots, screams of terror.

Come in from the night.

The voice says.

Never never is the

ghettos answer.

 

HANGING TREE

 

Jumble, fumble.  The alarms go off.  Faster than a speeding bullet the cops show up.  Camacho catches the El train, rooftops interrupted by flashes of lightening.  Cold, alone, pounding rain.

 

Full pedal, passing the bottle, Plugger races the car down the side-streets at a hundred or more.  You dont ride often in a flying coffin but aint that what life is for?

So, he gave me inches seven, the wild white girls sing some anglo bottle of beer on the wall song variation in the back seat.  I said honey this is heaven.

Two wheeled corner, slides, skids, the radio blasting something about things going better with Coke.

Someone say coke?  Yeah man.

So he gave me inches ten, I said double it again.

Houses a blur, whoosh, whoosh.  Minds in a whirl, whoosh, whoosh.

 

ENCHILADAS

 

They flash past a curbside stand in the industrial district where their parents slave every day for minimum wage.

 

Enchiladas!  The white girls giggle.

 

Plugger slams the breaks, slides, skids.  Camacho laughs as Plugger jams it into reverse and they fish-tale back.

 

You no can do that.  The proprietor shakes his head.  Park on the sidewalk.

 

They all pig out the wild white girls with relish.  They wash down the food with whiskey and malt.

 

So he gave me inches twenty, the girls sing, gleefully, greasy goodness stuffed in their mouths.  I said honey thats sure plenty.

 

They creep cautiously down the darkened streets, through the blackened gangways, along the unlit alleys.  They spotted their hit while cruising the main strip a cluster of punks drinking beers in the bowling alley parking lot.

 

Geronimo!  They whispered.

 

They park Pluggers junker in an alley around the corner an old beat up taxi painted black and lettered ghostly with Tales From The Crypt, and Death You Deserve IT, scrawled on the sides in swirls of white an American flag flying from the antenna.

 

There are a dozen of the enemy.  They have to do it quickly, before the bowling alley gang gets wind of their gorilla attack and piles out on them in mass.  Plugger walks straight at them, Mr. Good Wrench hidden in his army surplus jacket.

 

You guys seen my brother?

 

They fan out around the cars, gripping tire-irons, crowbars.

 

Whos this jerk?

 

Its me, Tony.

 

Anyone know this punk?

 

They rush them, swinging.  The punks are fast.  Camacho blocks a bottle.  Sixteen stitches along his arm later, no problem.  They beat the punks bloody.  Bam, bam.  No one died.  The punks must have had God on their side.  Next day the punks jump them back, outside their pool hall.  Have themselves a ball.  Good training for war.  With jobs scarce, everyone is thinking about joining up when they are old enough.  Even Camacho.  Why not?  The streets of Iraq or here?  At least you get paid for being over there.  Someone has to fight the wars.  Nothing in it for the sons of doctors and lawyers.

 

A good run.  Camacho leaves the pool hall, pockets the fives, ones, puts the tens and twenties in the duty booty for his parents.  Too good to leave behind, he takes his beer with him and drinks it in the alley.

 

Dissolving night over urban blight, the rising sun pointing at the on the run like a gun.  All over the Dead Zone the junkies are searching the catacombs for that breakfast of champions, hidden in the labyrinths.

 

Being, being, nothingness.

 

Camacho closes his eyes and downs the beer, feels the darkness of the universe and all its shadows disappear.

 

Were done man!  Skinners teeth chatter as they sit shackled together on a lockup bench waiting for the Sergeant.  Murder one!  Life man!  Unless they give us death!  You dont think theyll do that?

 

Things happen.  This one had happened fast.  Camacho said Stick em up and the gun went off.  They had bolted out the back door and down the alley.  Camacho threw the gun in a frenzy at a backyard tree where it disappeared in the leaves.

 

The cops were right there.  They must have been cruising by and heard the shot.  Camacho watched the tree as they grabbed them, put them in cuffs, roughed them up two troublesome looking teenagers in the middle of suspicious circumstances.  It didnt fall, the gun.  It must have got stuck, good, in some branch, something like a golfers hole-in-one, or some basketball players one-in-a-million full court shot.

 

Look Skinner,  Camacho whispers, we went in the front and came out the back.  No one saw us enter or exit.  No one was in the old mans shop.  Hey, we were just cutting through the alley.  As far as they know, whoever blasted the old man went out the front while the cops were wasting their time arresting us.  They got nothing except us being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Not even in it, just near it.  They got no weapon, loot, and it aint like we got long rap sheets like hardened criminals.

 

Unless the gun comes down!  Skinner hisses.  Then its homicide!

 

Calm down Skinner.  We got luck on our side.  Enjoy the ride.  Unless some little bird talks, we walk.

 

They walked alright morning, noon and night, Camacho and Skinner, alone or together in any kind of weather, up and down the alley past the tree, braced to jump the fence and snatch the evidence before it fell from some branch on the grass and the old couple who lived there found the gun and the cops had their ass.

 

Im going in there. Skinner hollered.  Im climbing that tree and getting that fucking thing!

 

You aint doing shit, half-wit.  Camacho spat at a garbage can.  They were sweating bullets.  It was the dog days.  Flies swarmed around them.  When the leaves fall well be able to spot it up there.  Maybe.  Ill jimmy up there faster than you can.  Bim bam the monkey man.  For now we leave it alone.  I dont need your skinny, clumsy white ass clowning around and falling down.  Its a miracle.  Camachos voice was hushed as he stared at the tree.  Its like divine intervention or something.  Like God said: Wait, fate, give them a break.

 

Miracle?  Its a curse!  Its torture!  If you think Gods protecting us youre nuts!  Were killers at least you are.  If Gods doing anything hes giving us a taste of hell before we go to jail!

 

So, its just dumb luck!  Dont fuck it up!  Youre as guilty as I am and just as damned in the eyes of God or in the eyes of The Man.  Get your head together, amigo, youre going loco!

 

They never even charged them at the station with anything, although they questioned them long and hard for hours.  Skinner almost broke.  He started crying like a baby and babbling incoherently.  Luck all he bawled basically was I didnt do it.  I didnt do anything.  Leave me alone.  Meanwhile the pigs combed the shop, alley, backyards, rooftops, and finally had to let them go when they came up with zero.  Camacho had washed his hands as soon as they hit the station, jumping up and down and complaining he was about to pee in his pants.  They never did that forensic gunpowder test on them anyway.

 

Skinner look.  Itll be OK.  Well get the gun.  The shooting was an accident.  We just wanted to scare the old man.  We didnt want nothing like that to happen.  God, fate, whatever, we got a break.  Maybe a chance to change, repent, do good things not bad.  Think about that.  You know what they say: God works in mysterious ways.

 

Jesus Skinner was a handful.  No cojones.

 

Skinner was dangerous.  In his tiny, sports-poster filled bedroom, Camacho lay propped up by pillows on his bed and stared at his rumpled reflection in the dresser mirror.  With his sweat matted hair and haggard face, he already looked incarcerated.  Skinner would squawk, Camacho knew, and soon.  He would get some neighborhood mouthpiece.  They came cheap enough.  Quick and dirty plea-bargains were what they were all about.  He would show the cops where the gun was, testify.  The miracle tree and the magically hanging gun were a gamble that Skinners nerves couldnt handle.  Could Camacho blame him?  Freedom or life, all or nothing.  They would try them as adults, two slum punks with nothing and no one to prop them up or hold their hand.  The court would pull the chain and flush them down.  But Skinner could be out before he was thirty if he played his cards right.  Turn states, point the finger at Camacho.  Would he do the same if it were the other way around?  God, if it only had been!  If only he had not been holding the gun that shot the old man.

 

The room was a hot box.  Camacho pulled off his shirt.  He tried to mop the sweat off his face, chest but the shirt was sopping wet and his efforts were useless.  Through the paper-thin walls, he could hear his family talking and laughing his mother and sisters in the kitchen cooking, his father and brothers noisily watching the baseball game in the living room.  He closed his eyes and shuddered as he listened.  This would kill them.  His father would die inside.  His mother would go crazy.  His brothers and sisters would be locked up in their own little prisons with him and would sadly miss him on Christmas, birthdays, weddings, births, graduations, all the times a family came together he wouldnt be there.

 

For the thousandth time he reran the nightmare in his mind.  It was a two-bit jewelry store, no cameras, alarms, but enough gold school rings, trinkets, wedding bands to make a take even the head hanchos in the neighborhood could celebrate.  Fence it, melt it down.  The price of gold was climbing through the clouds.  The place was a piece of cake.  He was amazed that no one had hit the store before.

 

But the gun went off and the old man dropped.  He dropped like a rock.  It wasnt like the shootings you see on TV.  It was like the old man was a puppet and Camacho cut his strings.

 

Julio, we gonna eat now!

 

His sister Maria shouted from the kitchen.  He could hear the clatter of plates and utensils, the sliding of chairs.  He couldnt face them.

 

Pronto Julio!  His sister Nanette shouted and laughed.  You dont come quick we gonna eat it all!

 

Eat it all!  Eat it all!  Little Fernando laughed and stomped around the living room floor.

 

Camacho rose slowly and faced his reflection in the mirror.  Julio Camacho, he brooded, the pretty boy with the ugly name.  Camacho meant humpback.  Were all humpbacks in this neighborhood, was one of his fathers favorite jokes, were all bent over by the burdens of the poor.  He felt another weight on his back now.  The weight of a murderer.  This weight he couldnt throw off, despite all his sculpted muscles.  He was a champion wrestler on the high school team, at least in his weight class, short like most Mexicans but strong and quick.  If he stuck out two more years of high school and managed to pass, he could probably get a college scholarship.  But that was a gamble he couldnt handle.  Try as he might, he could never get the complexities of math or science, or that world of chemicals and gases, all those protons, electrons, neutrons, formulas, equations, astronaut stuff.  Camacho felt a fool in school.  The champion with his muscles was El Stupido in the classroom.  This delighted his teachers who liked to stick it to him, that cocky Camacho kid.  Mr. Camacho, todays lesson seems to have you in a strangle hold.  Maybe you should exercise your brain now and then?  Instead of biceps and pecs try to put some muscles in your head.  To save face he played it down, swaggered around.  Fuck that book shit!  He would blow it off to his friends.  Who needs it?  They felt the same way.  Brains were a liability.  Didnt that honor student in the black neighborhood just get beaten to death because he wanted to study and not join the gang?  Besides, did book brains ever do anyone any good in the hood?  His odds for getting out of the ghetto, like theirs, were zero.  So, say he did get into college; how long would he last?  So he could wrestle; was he Olympic material?  The gangs were all he was good for, Camacho knew, committing crimes, running drugs.  His glory days were here and now on the streets where he could flash money and strut his stuff.  But that street of dreams had its dead end coming.  It was written on the walls with graffiti scrawls.  Eat, drink and be merry amigos.  Their leader Pena would salute them with his toast.  If you dont die on the streets youll die in jail.

 

Poppy, I got to get out of here.  Six months ago, he had sat down at the kitchen table with his father after the party they had given him on his sixteenth birthday.  The tiny, appliance cluttered room with its faded walls and warped linoleum was still decorated with streamers and balloons, as the rest of the house had been, courtesy of his sisters talented hands.  I want to join up.  Next year.  If you sign for me, I can start the papers now.  Be a Marine.  I can get my GED while Im there.  Pursue a military career.

 

His father was sipping a beer.  He looked tired and old beyond his years.  He had spent his life in these South Side slums, before and after he had served in Desert Storm; and the mystery to Camacho was that he never seemed to regret a day of it, even though he must have seen and lived a life of hardship without let up. 

 

You want to go to Iraq?  His father had lifted his eyebrows.  You want to get blown up?  Do you know what war is muchacho?  I dont think so.  No.  You finish school, get a job, wife, have a life.  Of course, when you turn eighteen you can do what you want.  Like I told you Comacho means hump, you want also to walk with a limp, be blind, crippled?  Be my guest.

 

But its no good here Poppy.  Camachos mind swirled with the life in the hood, drugs, guns, gangs.  Things were different now then they had been for his father when he was a kid, no matter how bad things were back then.  It was a different world.  If you didnt join a gang now you were a marked man.  Es muy malo aqui, Poppy.  Camacho pleaded.

 

Malo?  Bueno?  If its no good here, his father tapped his heart, its no good anywhere.

 

Julio, were waiting!

 

Un momento, Mama.  I got to change my shirt!

 

Camacho fished a tank-top from the dresser and pulled it on.  He pondered his biceps, dark eyes, wavy hair.  What the zombies wouldnt do to him if he landed in stir.

 

Im almost there!  Presto.  Change-O!

 

He glanced at the window as he ran a comb through his hair.  After everyone was in bed he would slip down the fire escape.  He would meet Juanita in the church yard, go drinking with his friends.  He had to get out of there, get some air, get high, forget about Skinner, the murder, before he lost his mind.

 

A peek-a-boo moon in a storm chased sky, like an avengers eye peering through its cosmic keyhole at the sinner below, watching for the chance to transform the night into Gods holy wrath and cut his throat with a lightening bolt.

 

Skinner moved through dark and street glow past the poolrooms and the taverns, the seedy blue-lit lounges, down into the back alleys of the catacombs amidst the midnight prowl of shadows.  No one went at night to No Mans Land.  Even during the day you didnt want to go alone.  You went after school in pairs or groups to your favorite trick to get your treat, clicking switchblades and looking mean.  Hands in his pockets, sweating bullets, Skinner stumbled down the unlit streets, over the broken sidewalks, amidst the abandoned buildings, most of them fire scorched shells, like they werent in America but some third world war zone.  The hanging tree waits for me.  Skinner sang to himself tunelessly.  Phantom figures stalked him.  He didnt care.  Hanging tree, hanging tree.

 

For the thousandth time, he reran the robbery in his mind.  How scared he had been when he saw Camachos gun.  How else we gonna rob him?  Say: Give me your money or Ill kick you in the shin?  They went in as soon as the old man opened.  No customers then.  They lifted their T shirts over their noses, pulled down their hats, wore dark sunglasses.  But the gun went off.  Boom.  Skinner had never seen anything like it, the way the old man dropped.

 

If we repent and are serious and we beg Gods forgiveness with all our heart and soul,  Camacho put his arm around Skinners shoulder as they patrolled the alley, God will forgive us, amigo.  God wants to give us another chance.  It was an accident.  Ill get the gun.  We wont go to prison.

 

Was Camacho feeding him some jive, as if he was stupid?  Maybe Camacho really believed all that bullshit?  Camacho was not so bad.  Camacho was his only friend.  If it wasnt for Camacho, Skinner knew, he probably would be dead long ago.  Eventually the gangs would have stomped him good.  They had come pretty close more than once.  Maybe they would have set him on fire with gasoline or whatever like the gangs did to that white kid in the news.

 

What you doin here white trash?  They surrounded him after his first day at school.  Skinners family moved to the neighborhood a year ago.  You come to give me some money?  No? I think maybe you better have some tomorrow.

 

Skinners father had lost his job.  They lost their house, savings, everything.  Both his parents worked in the packing plant now for minimum wage and were lucky to have that.  The new life was a shock.  They came from the suburbs, good schools, jobs.  The more Skinner tried to fit in the worse it got.  The gangs would taunt him, shake him down, beat him up the blonde, blue eyed target.  Now everyone left him alone.  He hung with Camacho.  Muy intellegente.  Camacho would pat Skinner on the back when they ran into his pack.  A master mind.  Camacho would tap his temple.  He gonna rob a bank with his brains and put you Frito banditos to shame.

 

Dealer.  Skinner whispered and tapped at the sheet metal door across which Death was spray painted.  The building was an old, brick, boarded up warehouse.  The phantom shapes behind him ghosted away.  Dealer.  He tapped harder.

 

Nada mas.  A dark voice hissed.  Go away.  We closed.

 

Its Skinner.  Skinner stammered.  Camachos friend.  You know Blanco.

 

Beat it.

 

I got money.  Plenty.

 

Stick it up you ass.

 

Its an emergency.  Skinner pleaded.  Camacho sent me.  He lied.  We got this party, these chicks.  Camacho begs you.

 

Skinner had stolen a hundred dollars from his parents savings toward rent.  He could sell the crack over the next few days and put it back.  He was going crazy.  He had to talk to Dealer.  His mind was in a frenzy.

 

How much is plenty?

 

A hundred?  Skinner held his breath.

 

Thats plenty?  Shit!

 

The door swung open.  Looking at Dealer made you shudder.  He had wild hair and a shock theater face, nose ringed, eyebrow ringed, the forehead, cheeks, chin slashed with zipper-like scars.  His eyes could stare down a firing squad.  Camacho had gotten the gun from him.

 

Blanco.

 

Dealer swayed in the doorway and sneered at Skinner.  He stood stark naked, holding a gun.  His sinuous brown body shimmered with tattoos: devils, demons, screaming faces, snakes, magic numbers, voodoo writings.

 

Lets have it.  Dealer stuck out his hand.  Skinners pale one shook as he paid him.  Stay there.  Dealer pointed at the doorstep with his gun.  Lilliana!  He turned and disappeared.  Bring me my box!  Its in the closet!

 

The room beyond the doorway looked like a psychopaths nightmare.  Skinner had been in it with Camacho a few weeks ago.  It was a huge, dimly lighted space.  Somehow Dealer managed to reclaim part of the warehouse from extinction with plumbing and electricity.  Miracles like that happened in the hood everywhere, mystery electricity, phone connections, cable TV.  In the vast, warehouse space, naked light bulbs dangled from steel beams.  The walls were painted with surrealistic street scenes in which giant, garishly colored figures, twisted in a hell that raged from floor to ceiling.  Hell was the hood on fire.  The jumble of toppling tenements and gaudy storefronts were whipped by flames and peopled with demons.  In every buildings windows, Hispanic families howled with torment.  Dealer must have gotten the neighborhood graffiti artists in there and supplied them with paints and brushes.  Their vision was a holocaust of despair and destruction.  Dilapidated furniture was scattered throughout the room.  In a corner there was a kitchen, television, computer, CD player.  Beyond Dealers torture chamber, blocked off by a maze of cinder brick walls, was a gutted shell filled with rubble and junk, inhabited by stray dogs, winos, druggies and rodents,

 

Enjoy your blow.  Dealer reappeared and tossed him a bag.  Dont do this no more, Blanco.  Never.  When I say no mas you get lost, fast.

 

Dealer.  Skinner stammered.  Can I ask you a question?  I dont have a computer anymore so I cant look up the answer.  Do guns attract lightening?  I mean theyre made of metal.  I know cops wear guns everywhere.  But say a cop stands by a tree in a storm.  Trees get struck all the time.  Would a gun increase the odds of lightening striking?  If anyone would know you would.  Dealer?

 

Nights winds whispered around them in the tangled parish garden, like chanting saints or nuns at prayer.  Or maybe it was more like midnight angels fluttering in the dark, or priests reciting sermons, or choirs caroling incantations.  Sweet sin, the sensations on their skin as they kissed, bit, tangled with delight, naked in the garden moonlight.

 

Bueno.  Camacho groaned.  He leaned over Juanita and searched her features, tasted her breath, felt her quiver.  The heavens opened up on a world that is enough.  Bueno.  He repeated.  Amen.

 

They had attended the night mass, knelt together, prayed, or at least Camacho did.  It was his idea.  He had showered after diner, put on a silk shirt and new chinos, had an impulse to attend the service.  Oh, I dont know Julio.  Juanita hesitated before the great doors of the grand cathedral with its ringing bells, towering steeple.  It doesnt seem right.  We cant pray, then go out in the garden and you know.

 

Its OK.  Camacho squeezed her hand.  Well pray for a baby.

 

I dont think so!  I think I pray the other way!  Julio you crazy!

 

Darkness adorned with candlelight, silver and gold flickering in the shadows, stained glass windows that sparkled like jewels, sacred statues, the altar, the pulpit, the crucifix, the priest, alter boys, hallowed music, heads bowed they closed their eyes and crossed themselves, silent before the holy rituals and mystical aura of a transcendent world.

 

Camacho had quit going to church long ago.  He would pretend he went, saying to his parents that he would attend a later mass.  He was too tired Sunday mornings from his week of school and wrestling practice.  The mysteries of birth, death, living, dying, creation, sin, meant less and less to him as he grew up in the hood.  Bless me Father for I have sinned.  What did that mean?  He lived in a no mans land of stab and grab, where everyone was on the make, take, fake not just the barrio but the whole country everyone running around with their bag of tricks, rip-offs, tip-offs, payoffs, shakedowns.  Where were the goodies in his Christmas stocking?  He figured out real fast he had to fill it on his own.  And it wasnt through worship and prayer that never got anyone anywhere.

 

If its no good here,  his father tapped his heart, its no good anywhere.

 

Camacho watched the priest perform the service and recalled the words of his father.  It was true, his heart was no good anymore.  He was as bad as the worst.  He was a killer just an old, miserly man at the end of his days but still he deserved to live and Camacho had taken his life away.  What do you know about war, muchacho?  His father had chided him.  He knew rumbles, drive-bys, gang initiations, the dangers of the streets, and now he knew murder.  Could he do it again if he joined the service?  Killing felt different.  He should kill Skinner, Camacho knew.  Snap his neck and throw him off a viaduct before he chickened out and talked.  There was no way he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  Something had saved him, God, luck, the souls of his ancestors.  A hand had reached out of the sky and grabbed his crime, hid it so he could get rid of it.  Something had given him a chance to start again, maybe to do something grand.  Could he let Skinner ruin that?

 

Skinner was his friend, his amigo, more than anyone else in the ghetto.  He was the only reason Camacho hadnt flunked the school year.  Let me show you some tricks.  He had sat down next to Camacho in class, after the teacher had humiliated him again.  PEMDAS.  He wrote on a sheet of paper.  This is a formula.  Its like tips on how to wrestle, trips and flips.  Ill explain how it works.  Whats important is to multiply or divide before you add, unless theres a parenthesis.  Do these guys, exponents, first.  It was miraculous.  Skinner was better than the teacher.  He helped him with all the astronaut stuff too.  Enough to get him through.  Mi amigo!  What would I do without you!  What would he do with Skinner now?  Skinner was a danger.  He had to keep Skinner quiet one way or another.

 

Camacho looked at Juanita.  Bonita Juanita with her eyes closed and hands folded.  She had a hard life.  She had dropped out of school to work at the plant.  Her father had left them.  Her mother worked the second shift, which was why Juanita could easily sneak out whenever he

called.  She had two little brothers and three younger sisters.  She paid Carlotta, the oldest, to baby sit and keep her mouth shut.

 

Get a job, get a wife, get a life.  His father chided.

 

Pretty one, Camacho whispered, its time for our communion.

 

That Blanco loco!  Dealer stormed through the door.  That crazy anglo!  You hear him?  You hear him jabber at me about lightening and cops and guns and trees?  I do his skinny white ass a favor and he babble like a mad man at me about computers and metal and lightening and drive me crazy!

 

Calm down Ramon.  Sit here, smoke this.  Lilliana gave him the joint she just lit.  I get you a nice cold beer.  He just a loco anglo.  Let it go.

 

I keel him!  Dealer flopped back on the sofa and waved his gun. I aim and pull the trigger but the safetys on!  I get so mad I forget to take it off!  I keel him!

 

Lilliana returned with a beer.  She snuggled up to him on the sofa and laid her head on his shoulder.

 

Easy baby.  Blanco gone now.  No more Blanco.

 

I rip out his gut!  I cut off his nuts!  Next time I see heem, that Blanco he a corpse!

 

Shh shh

 

Guns and lightening and cops and trees, over and over his brain was dizzy.  Dealer imagined grabbing Skinner and slashing his throat, watching those blue eyes bug out, blood pour out of his jabbering mouth.  Un momento.  He calmed down.  Un momento.  Mas tarde, mas tarde.  He took a sip of the cold beer and a drag off the joint.  Guns and lightening, cops and trees.  His eyes swept the wall across from the sofa.  There was a sprawling tree painted near the door.  A noose hung from it.  The tree of crime bears bitter fruit, was scrawled under it.  He remembered the shooting a few days before.  The old guy who owned the jewelry store.  Rumor had it that the cops had hauled in two suspects but they couldnt pin it on them because they couldnt find the weapon.  Blanco and Camacho?  The gun he sold to Julio?  Maybe they hid the gun in a tree?  Crazy but maybe. 

 

Dealer pondered this, trying to imagine how it could be done.  Jump a fence and hang it on a branch, jump back and run?  Dealer was a snitch.  Thats how he stayed in business.  The cops let him operate for rumors, leads, names, tips.  Now and then they would raid him, but it was just for show.  Hed be out in the morning, shrugging it off, letting rumors spread around about his mystic powers and underground connections.  A gun in a tree in a yard across the alley from the store.  Hed make a call.  Maybe it was nothing, but just trying would keep him in favor with the law.    

 

Most nights, in the back of no mans land, where the tracks turned by the packing plants, hobo fires would toss around the shadows of homeless men Chicago bound.  The freight trains slowed down there to round the bend in their final run to the city where a vagrants paradise of missions, soup kitchens, and bustling streets where quick change could be hustled, lay waiting for the taking. 

 

They would drop off there to avoid the risk of beatings and incarceration from railroad security for vagrancy, trespassing.  They would take the CTA the rest of the way.  When the snow came theyd be back again, heading south or west those who werent dead from bad booze, fights, or who had landed in prison.

 

The moon was gone.  Black clouds closed over Camacho like the lid of a coffin.  He sat on the roof of his sweltering tenement, drinking tequila and smoking cigarettes.  Like a holy vision his mind revisited the Cathedral and Juanita how they had lain side by side on a blanket of soft grass deep in the garden, two breathless shadows.  The tangle of trees wove another cathedral above them as they cuddled, with a window on a dream of starlight and moon glow.

 

Are you really there?  The night seemed to whisper.  Yes we are, yes we are.  Was the answer.

 

Thunder boomed over the tenement rooftop.  The winds picked up, blowing through the windows of the inferno below him like an angels breath, soothing the bodies if not the souls of the dreamers who tossed in their slumbers.

 

Camacho watched the tiny, hobo fires shivering by the tracks beyond the catacombs.  Maybe he would ride a train soon the other way if it came to that.  Could he let it come to that?  Take one west where there was not so much law and there were a lot of Mexicans and he could blend in, get lost.  There was a city of vagrants who lived under the storm drains of Las Vegas.  He saw that on TV.  Lots of people now were out on the streets.  Who would pay attention to another homeless Mexican?

 

He imagined himself running along side of a freight car, climbing in, another lost soul on a ghost train running, hiding, begging maybe, stealing maybe, staying in flop houses, missions.  He wasnt going to be caged in.  He wasnt going to fight for his life everyday with sub-humans.  Maybe he deserved it.  Was he one of them?  But what did anyone expect of him?  He had spent his life watching everyone around him, family, friends, collect their junkyard dreams and pile them in a heap amidst the acid rains and tangled weeds of poverty.  They expected him to live that way?  It was an accident that he killed the old man.  But he would make up for it someday.  Thats what the miracle tree was all about.  At least thats what he felt in his heart: make amends, start again, do something noble, worthy, serve his country, save lives, give up his own if necessary.

 

Skinner.  Camacho brooded.  He twisted the bottle around in his hands.

 

Thunder rumbled across the blackened city, lightening flared.  The dark, desolate buildings zigzagged through a nightmare.  Skinner crossed the deserted ghetto furtively.  Although no one was there, he felt he was being shadowed everywhere.

 

I keel you!

 

Dealer had screamed, pointing the gun at him.

 

He stumbled out of the catacombs, staggered home, more confused than ever.  Everyone was asleep.  His parents drank now heavily.  They lived in a daze, working double shifts for minimum wage.  His younger sisters were druggie sluts, all made up.  Before you knew it, theyd both be knocked up.  Hey Blanco, last night I boom boom you seester.  You no like it?  Maybe

you want to do something about it?

 

He hid the crack behind his dresser, sat in the dark in a frenzy looking for the answer.  Maybe they should both go in and confess?  They hadnt taken anything.  They ran.  They were in shock.  It was an accident, kind of like reckless driving.  The cops had no suspects.  If they did the right thing and went in, spilled their guts, the authorities should be willing to cut them some slack serve a little time, go on parole, rehabilitation.  But he knew it wouldnt work.  They would need a high priced mouthpiece to pull that off.  That was rich kid stuff, suburbia.  Everyone knew they threw the book at inner city fuck ups.

 

He got a flashlight from the kitchen and went out again.  He felt like a ghost in a dream as he moved down the lightening-lit streets, along the pitch black alleys and the crypt-like gangways, stepping over broken bottles, stumbling over piles of trash.  This was not his world.  He couldnt even read the writings on the billboards and buildings.  Now it was his nightmare even more than before.  I keel you!  I keel you!  He couldnt stand it anymore.  He wanted to go to college, be an engineer.  His dream was to work on the space program, be part of conquering the new frontier.  The new frontier?  He was back in the middle ages.  War lords, drug lords, turf wars, misery, poverty, murders, robberies Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the barrio, what was the difference?  Instead of exploring the stars he faced a life behind bars.  But he didnt do anything!  Camacho brought the gun.  He didnt want to rat out Camacho.  But what did the code of silence have to do with him?  What did any of this have to do with him?  He was white trash in ghetto land.  They would have killed him long ago if he hadnt played along, made friends with Camacho.  But would Camacho have been his friend if he hadnt helped him?  No way Jose!  But that wasnt really fair.  Their friendship went deeper than that now.  There had gotten to be something inexplicable between them, something close, important.

 

Skinner could see nothing.  The city was erased.  The only way he found the jewelry store alley was through flashes of lightening.  The sprawling tree was waving its branches in the wind.  It looked like some sci-fi movie monster menacing the world amidst flares, rumbles and explosions of blinding light that erupted with the storm.

 

They got a dog, amigo.  Camacho was suddenly standing beside him holding a bottle of tequila.  Big, black, ugly, ferocious a hound from hell.  He took a swig from his bottle and squinted at the lashing downpour.  Its chained to the tree.  It can cover the whole yard.  It lives in a little house right next to it.  Casa no tresspassa.  Its in there now.  It gave up trying to eat me when I moved away from the yard.  Camacho downed the rest of the bottle and tossed it in the trash.  He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his rain soaked silk shirt. You got a flashlight.  Bueno.  He clicked on his.  We do some tricks of math, amigo.  Multiply, divide, subtract.  You go over to the end of the fence and attract the demon.  When he try to kill you, I hop over and climb the tree.  That gun got to be stuck in some thick branch by the trees trunk.  When I get up on a limb I shout at Satan.  When he come after me its your turn.  That grande tree too much for me.  You come around back and I pull you up.  How do we get down?  Maybe we have to subtract the demon with the gun.

 

 Skinners heart pounded as he listened to Camacho.  The air had cooled dramatically and he felt a chill shiver over his rain soaked body.  He remembered the first time the gang had surrounded him after school.  He felt a fear like that come over him now.  He felt trapped, surrounded and there was no way out.

 

Lets do it.  Skinner tapped Camacho with his flashlight.

 

Bueno! The Alamo!  Mexican standoff, amigo!

 

Skinner crossed the alley tensely and moved along the fence.  He tapped on it with his flashlight, bracing his body for an attack.  It was as if the night had transformed into a creature, exploding thunder and flashing death.  The dog flew at him from out of nowhere, snarling, growling, snapping as it tugged fiercely at the chain which bound it to the tree.  Skinner almost dropped his flashlight.  The sudden shock of the monster caught his breath.  For an instant he was staring into the mad dog eyes of Dealer.  I keel you!  I keel you!  Just as suddenly the demon disappeared.

 

Real time was dream time staccato images captured in flashes of lightening.  Skinner saw in cosmic blinks Camacho trying to shimmy up the tree drunkenly, slipping, leaping, grabbing at a branch.  He saw the bolting dog lunge at him.  They were on the ground.  Camacho wrestled him off.  He leaped for the tree again.  The dog was tarring at his leg.

 

Aii Chihuahua!  Camacho kicked at the dogs mouth.  You aint no Chihuahua!  He gragged a branch and pulled himself up.  His pants leg was ripped to shreds.  He felt blood oozing from his calf.  Maybe I should let you eat Skinner, monster, maybe it would make my life simpler?  He sat on the branch and shined the light on the leaping dog below.  It was a big one, at least a hundred pounds.  Eyes blazing, it clawed and snapped, snarled and growled, determined to bite the foot off his dangling leg.  Hey Devil!  He shouted down.  When I get my gun I shoot you in the ass!  What you think about that!  Camacho wondered why the old couple needed such a beast.  Maybe they had money hidden in their mattress?  Muy interresante.  Oh well, he was done with that.

 

Psst!  Skinner was behind him reaching for the branch.  Camacho swung around, reached down, and grabbed him by the hand.  I thought that demon was going to see me!  Skinner rasped and shoved a tangle of leaves away as Camacho pulled him up.  I dont know how I made it!  He settled down on a neighboring branch.

 

No, he too much busy trying to kill me.  Beside, Blanco, you too skinny.

 

It was like a clown circus act, the two of them trying to keep their balance as they stood up and beamed their flashlights on the tossing limbs and branches.  The tree pitched and swayed and swung its leafy limbs at them; but at least it kept the downpour off them.  They divided the tree between them, circling around its trunk.  They moved across and back, up and down, shining their flashlights all around, crisscrossing, colliding.  Man, I couldnt have thrown that gun this high!  Camacho whispered.  I know we should have found the fucking thing by now.  It seemed like daylight when lightening lit the sky.  One flash was so bright it was blinding.  The thunder that followed was like the explosion of a canon.  They had to hold on to one another to keep from falling.  Can you see anything?  Skinner blinked.  Only shooting stars amigo and cross-eyed moonbeams.

 

Sometimes Skinner was above him, sometimes below.  Sometimes he disappeared in the leaves altogether and suddenly Camacho would find him standing right behind him.  This is loco my friend.  I know.  They could no longer hear the barking dog.  They could no longer see the ground below.  The rain stopped.  They had climbed above the clouds.  The stars looked like basketballs.

 

Where are we going Camacho?

 

Skinner sat on a branch and looked down at the spinning earth in a trance.

 

I dont know.  Camacho kept climbing.  Maybe heaven, amigo.

 

DINER

 

Cut-paper couples eat blue-plate specials at Formica tables

spirits steaming from their coffee cups in the dead of winter,

sky a shroud.  Long ago and far away and when you wish upon

 a star and   Chalk white light makes ghosts of their shadows. 

Apparitions crowd the counter, huddled from a grim world of ice

and rock.  Wish I may and wish I might and once upon a time

I bundle back into the blizzard, bowed against the swirl, where

fallen angels dream of sorrow.

 

SHOOTING STARS     

 

At the edges,

I lie dreaming

a dark illumination

of life passing,

your face emerging

against the perpetual night

like candlelight.

 

OUT OF THE CRADLE ENDLESSLY ROCKING

 

Whisper a prayer wind,

sing me a song of revelation

as I sit in meditation,

rocking in this back porch chair,

a bundle of aches and tangled hair

gazing at the dream-like dark,

waiting to join my loved ones in

the kingdom of stars.

 

STARCHED NAPKINS

 

Tea for two on the table,

she stands combing her tangled hair

in the room without a rocking chair.

I am so glad that you are here.

She says to the full length mirror.

All the doors are locked.

All the clocks have stopped.

But tea will be served with care

in fine China with silver ware.

 

ACCIDENTAL TOURIST

 

Visiting the Holocaust museum in D.C.

really wrecked me a black hole of human

nature that sucked me into a nightmare.

 

I fled to the National Gallery where wild

flowers and butterflies dance on walls under

sunny skies Calder, Matisse, those bright

colors and shapes making a harmonious

symphony of reality.  Some artists can take you

to La La Land, where life is beautiful and living

is grand.  Im not sure where theyre coming

from.  No place Ive been.  But more power

to them. We definitely need them.

 

MYSTERY

 

The new leads promise nothing except exhaustion and more black magic tricks in the Dead Zones matrix, where missing persons wander in a trance through the labyrinths of chance filled with secret passages, false walls, corridors cluttered with carnival mirrors, stairways to nowhere, trap doors the only way to negotiate the maze being Ouija boards.

 

All the measures have been recorded in ledgers.  They  informed me when I began my round of the underground.  But they disappeared altogether when the center fell apart forever.

 

I move through light and shadow past doors which have no numbers, down streets which have no names, amidst shapes which have no faces, under clocks run out of time, while smoke billows from manhole covers like the ghosts of dead mens dreams.

 

One wonders how it entered, my informant whispers, the cry for help in the house.  Did you hear it?  I remember saying.  What is it?  There it goes again.  Not some overwhelming howl of agony as from a lost soul suffering in hell just a lonely, plaintive wail.  Is it upstairs?

My wife asked.  Downstairs, I think.  Male?  Female?  Impossible to tell.  Was it a trick of the wind in the wainscots?  We wondered.  Rocking rafters?  The creak of old floor boards?  With the hustle and bustle of life going on, the cry is often ignored.  Who can listen or pay attention amidst the vicissitudes of living and all the hopes, dreams, triumphs, disillusionments, twists and turns too numerous to mention?  But then you hear it again, when night begins, saying: Here I am.  Here I am.

 

In one dark doorway and out another, all of them locked, block after block.  The city is empty.  But you could see this vanishing act developing.  The man who wasnt there that I met upon the stair.  The ticket to nowhere that the post man made me sign for on his official ledger.  The game of blind mans bluff in which getting colder couldnt have been shouted at me enough.  The expired passport, the lost key, the anonymous caller who lung up on me.  I pound the pavements desperately.  The desolate buildings are like an eerie dream.

 

The ceiling is unsafe!  The caller shrieks on my cell phone.  The walls continue to crumble!  I have been paying rent I dont remember how long.  Maybe nobody lives here?  I went for a walk in the wood.  The lanes no longer turn there.  A spider was spinning the end of days for some prey.  Instead of leaves the trees held dead letters.  Now sitting at this table, with its pen and yellowed paper, in this room of dusty books and faded furniture, I wonder if the garden can be nurtured?

 

Impossible to prove, I reconstruct the clues, formulating fresh equations from known relations, shifting speculations, new suspicions, the whole mind devoted to the question, like a storm closing in from all directions.  What does it mean?  When did it begin?  How did it happen?  Where will it end?  The dinners that were seated at the table, the dishes that were served, the drinks that were consumed, the conversations that ensued, the omissions, contradictions, affectations, the lies, asides, miss-directions like rigged roulette wheels, loaded dice, shell games, stacked decks, parlor tricks.  Who stole everyones soul will never be established.

 

NIGHT LIFE

 

Night haunts, night spirits,

slipping through moonlit rooms,

down starlit stairways,

past mystery doorways,

into dream chambers,

where love potions splash on ice,

and music plays magic melodies

for sleep walkers, like us, who dance

in a trance, arms holding each other,

eyes blazing with rapture,

mouths pressed together,

as we devour each other,

before youth is over.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

 

Top down, Stormy beside me,

blonde hair tossed by the wind.

Streets of amber, scarlet, gold,

leaves flying, whirling as we

cruised along, listening to the radio

and its top ten songs.

We were free and easy that

sparkling day. Then winter came.

 

ANGEL

 

She always spoke in a prayer-like manner,

her voice hushed as if softened by Gods

echoes in a holy chamber.

She seemed enveloped in some private wonder,

as if the mystery spoke to her secretly.

She walked amidst perpetual moonlight,

dissolving into the sway of night.

She belonged to a separate realm and she

totally turned me on.  Bring me a higher

love was our song.  Mine anyway.

You know I cant live without you baby.

Some said she was a trick-turning junkie who

would sleep with anyone for money.

Bring me a higher love.

She was a dream who dazed my being.

Crash us.  She whispered one night when

I put the pedal to the metal of my car after

we had a fight over her infidelities in a bar.

Crash us.  Go ahead, crash us.

I sometimes wonder what happened to her.

I guess she crashed with someone somewhere.

 

LOVE STORY

 

Lost in the moons glow

we chased the dream shadows,

down the lanes of loves wonder

through our hearts mysteries.

Holding each other, we waltzed

round a rainbow, dancing on

stardust, till we split up.

 

TABLE FOR TWO MORE

 

I feel uncomfortable in the places

you go. I informed my new in-laws

when they generously invited us for

dinner at the Ritz after graciously

attending my poetry reading at The

Pits.  And comfortable in the places

you wouldnt go. We settled for

Kettles and await the next hurdles.

 

PERFECT STORM

 

Rain, just the same you as

sunlight shining in Smokeys bar,

yellow slicker, golden hair.

You could come over to me.

We could drink, discuss how

not to make the same mistakes,

discuss lifes gives and takes.

I could go over to you. But I cant

because I remember those black

mascara smears running down

your face with your tears.

 

BACHELOR PAD

 

If I stand the bed up on its end, like this,

I can slide the over-stuffed armchair past

it into that corner, after I move the dresser,

and still have room for the locker, once I

shove the bed against the radiator. Hell

its summer.

What are you doing Shakespeare?

R&B is standing in the hallway glaring

at me, a beer can in his fist. 

Im rearranging the furniture.

Interesting.  Ever figure out what this hole-

in-wall used to be?  R&B sips his brew

and surveys the scene.

Closet maybe.  Pantry?

With a window?

Hide out?  Lock-up for the family loony?

How would I know, Im from Chicago.

Never saw a room like this before.

The Big Apple with its little worm holes.  

R&B belches. Why are you rearranging

the furniture?

Im trying to create a space with a little

ambience, add a small table and a folding

chair.

Where?

There.  In the corner next to the armchair.

When I get it over there. I met this chick

in the library, a poet. Want to give me a

hand with it?

Looks like it weighs a ton.  First, you

have to move this other stuff around. 

When you do theyll be no room to move.

I doubt if the door will open and close.

I measured, everything fits.

Sure if youre anorexic. 

Shes on her way over.

OK. But maybe you should  give her a

heads up. Put a sign on the door that says:  

Enter At Your Own Risk. 

 

ARCHIVAL

 

As in a dark cave,

lips pressed together,

spellbound as sleepwalkers,

hearts beating faster,

rain pounding down,

arms holding each other,

bodies merging together,

You Send Me now a

memory playing that night

long ago on an old car radio.

 

TILL DEATH         

 

Moments lost, withheld, passed over,

moments at the bottom of a wishing well,

from which we could have drank our fill.

But we never went there.

Maybe we didnt dare.

Across the table, you give me your icy stare.

I give you my lethal glare.

Must be love, were still together.

 

BRIEF ENCOUNTER

 

I met her in a blind alley bar.

She had Queen of Darkness

written all over her.  Roadkill

dripped from her lips. She drank 

from a bottle with a skull and

crossbones on its label. Are you

the one, she batted her Black Hole

eyes at me, looking for some fun?

I downed my beer and went home.

 

DESTROYER

 

In the dark in bed she said:

Damn the torpedoes!  Full

speed ahead!

 

RUBY

 

Love is strong as death,

 passion as cruel as the grave.

 

I read that in a Bible in a cheap hotel. 

Got into the habit of looking through them

moving around as I do in my travels with

the band, when we get gigs that is.  I play

the guitar, sing some too (Im a singing fool). 

But thats me and Ruby to a tee love that

strong.  And more: its like coming home

when were together.  We belong to each other. 

There are two kinds of love, it says in the Bible,

the soul kind and the bodily kind.  We got them

both big time.

Rubys got her demons though.  We all do. 

Her mother was a junky and her ole man a drunk. 

She ran around in rags and the kids treated her

like junk.  Pretend playmates was all she had. 

Imaginary boyfriends later on.  Life was a ghosts

dream way back when. But things changed. 

She became a knockout.  Men with money chased

after her life in the fast lane, living large she

still cant resist the Diamond Jim charge.  For

love or money?  Ole Ruby will vanish in a blink. 

Same old ghost world, as I see it, cept now she

haunts it in mink.  But shell come back, always

does.  We were made for each other got that Good

Book love. I wrote a little song for her.  Starts like this:

 

Hell woman with your flashing eyes

Body heat and lips of fire

Heart from Hades and soul from Hell

Banshee daughter of Beelzebub

Hell woman raging in my brain

Hell woman youre the Devils dream

 

STORMY NIGHT

 

Its still raining. I bundle

into the bistro and sit down

across from her at the candlelit

table, hoping I dont look too

disheveled.  I drop my book

bag on the floor and toe it

under cover as if it contained

anything important.

No rain no rainbow? I offer.

Our table is in a corner by the

window.  Shapeless figures shuffle

to and fro, hidden under umbrellas,

like plodding turtles. She sighs and

studies the menu as if we were going

to order anything except the cheapest

items presented on the venue. The

nightly crowd slowly gathers, there

is violin music, whispers and laughter.

Beyond the worlds tears there are

stars?  I wonder.

She smiles. The night is ours.

 

Rex Sexton

 

THE MOX NIX BOX

 

Winter blows through the rattling

barracks windows and with it,

off the snow, comes the scent of

wet hair and soaked clothes, in

the memory of that rainy day we

met in a Berlin caf. Pale as a ghost

you sit, I know, in your window

watching the shadows on the street

come and go, looking for me in the

only place I cant be, with you.

Mox Nix means means nothing

in German.  I learned that during

the year I was stationed there. All

possibilities exist in a box which

remains locked. The Mox Nix Box

is filled with nothing one can use

like trinkets, souvenirs, tears. 

 

TROUBLE TOWN

 

Plant closed, her sister up and gone, nothing but trouble since she got off the Greyhound five days traveling and everything upside down room by the station cockroach nation still more than she can afford since she was expecting free room and board.  At least till she got on her feet.  Not that she could ever depend on her sister or anyone for that matter.  She should have known better, stayed where she was even though her life was in tatters.

 

Sheila drinks and wonders what else can go wrong, aside from the roof in the dive shes sitting in caving in.  She was holding her own out west as a strip mall beautician, until the country made Born To Lose its new national anthem and the no hairdo blues became the recession fashion.  No work, no prospects and on top of that the jerk she got herself hooked up with going even more berserk than she could deal with.  Drinking non stop, beating her up.

 

Im living in a world of wonder.

the jukebox is playing her favorite song,

 

happiness around each corner.

 

About the only happy thing around her corner would be the coroner.  She felt herself getting tipsy, frowned and took another sip of her peppermint martini.  The master of mixology behind the bar didnt have any strawberry or chocolate kind of flavor so they had to concoct it with schnapps.  It was a miracle he found a cocktail glass in that old, warped, spider webbed cabinet.  Last time anyone used one in this neck of the woods was probably the Englishman they stole the bar from at the point of a squirrel gun, back when moonshine cost a dime, and the Declaration of Independence was just signed.  Who was celebrating His independence from them happy to get back to merry old England.  The not exactly lip smacking, neither stirred nor shaken creation was enough to knock her on her ass.  But it made her think.  The only wonder in her Youre gonna get it world that kept on giving was the sorry fact she was still living.  Would it be too much to ask of that world that at twenty-one she could have a little fun?  Isnt that why she went blonde?  She went blonde so she could ride a Greyhound and sit in a dump in a one horse town alongside every weirdo and loser from anyones worst nightmare?

 

Buy you a drink?

 

Sheila glances in the mirror at a shady looking guy who sits down next to her   pockmarked face, brown bomber jacket, greasy black hair.  He lights a cigarette and taps the ash on the bar.  Tobacco country where asphyxiation is not open to litigation and no one ever heard of cancer or the Surgeon General.  Everybodys mouth is dangling one, if theyre not puffing on a corn cob pipe or chomping a cheap cigar stink bomb.  Enough smoke in the room to set off a fire alarm.  Just as well considering the place is a real eyesore and it helps to hide the fact that its crawling with mice and rats.  Across the dark mans Neanderthal forehead is a home stitched zipper scar, which helps him look even more like some character from the shock theater.

 

No thanks.  Im waiting for someone.

 

She forces a smile, meets his dark eyes in the mirror.

 

Your boyfriend aint gonna come, Hon, cause you aint got none.

 

His expression is blank, frank, grim; no smirk, sneer, grin.

 

Then Ill learn to live without one.  She shrugs.  So long.  She toasts him.  Its been fun.

 

The fun aint begun, Hon.

 

He studies her and sips his beer.

 

The bartender slides an ashtray over, backs her martini with another, which she didnt order, this one in a tumbler.  She drops her eyes from the mirror, which she noticed had taken on the look of a startled deer.  This guy bothering you?  Wasnt going to come from anyone in the room soon.  OK Trouble Town, bring it on.  Your day was long but I see your night is still young.

 

Im all out of fun Sugar Plum.  Sheila manages to turn to him.  Now, for sure, he martini is shaken, if not in the glass at least in her intestines.  If you let a situation own you youre through.  Lesson one in grammar school.  Been traveling sweetie.  Traveling makes me sleepy.  She forces another smile and she hopes a cute, helpless little yawn.  Someone aint my boyfriend but my brother.  Hes coming after me soon.  He had to work late.  Just got out of the service.  Hes an ex-marine.  Were getting together with our family.  Its a family reunion!  She manages, she hopes, to infuse a little flirtation in her baby blues.  But maybe some other time if you dont mind.  Ill be around.

 

You aint got no brother either, Sugar.  He takes a drag off his cigarette and blows a smoke ring at the mirror, studying her, not bothering to swivel his bar stool around and face her.  I know everyone and everything in this town.  Im the dog catcher, trash collector, public investigator, probably the next mayor.  I knew your sister Sue.  When the plant closed she split.  Party girl, wild as they come.  Probably partying tonight in parts unknown.  She told me you were coming dishwater blonde.  She really didnt want no part of you.  I need her clinging to me like a dog needs a flea.  She said.  You came in on the greyhound.  You put your bag in a locker and made an unanswered phone call.  After that, you walked through the town to the pickle plant that just shut down.  You read the Closed/Keep Out sign and walked back.  You got your bag and rented a room at the Horror Palace, and then you ate at the Ptomaine Terrace.  Now youre here with me drinking gasoline.

 

You stalked me?  Sheilas voice came out squeaky.  The shot and beer wizard didnt have an olive or one of those little onions or even a cherry to make her martini look fancy so he put a pickled crows egg in it without a toothpick, which he finger dug from a jar on the bar.  The townie stalked me.  She stared at it.  She could see the headlines in the Goober Gully Gazette or whatever they had, assuming anyone around here read.  WHITE TRASH TRANSIENT FOUND RAPED AND DEAD!  The mutilated body (fingers and teeth removed to eliminate any identification) of an unknown white woman was found this morning in a garbage can by the Greyhound bus station

 

I like your scar.  She took a big swallow from the martini in the tumbler, which was even stronger.  That scar will take you far.  I mean around here if you want to be mayor.  Kind of makes you look debonair with that greasy, black, duck ass hair, and unique, since everybody around here pretty much looks the same due to all that inbreeding.  Once she got started poking she couldnt stop, which was why Mr. Wonderful used to beat her up.  Now there was a Jock.  Sit and stare in his under ware at the football games and drink beer getting all turned on by the physical contact between the men in helmets and the bouncing boobs of the cheerleaders who they tried to make look like girls next door but you could tell werent nothing but sluts and whores till he jumped her at half time whether she had her a real headache or the usual fake.  You get run  over by a tractor?  Maybe you had a lobotomy?  You could run as a Republican.  Better yet that new Tea Party might be up your alley.  Sarah Palin was a Dogpatch type mayor and look what happened to her!

 

Her head was spinning and her eyes crossing as she shifted her foggy scrutiny from the blank profile beside her to the deadpan face watching her in the mirror until they combined in her mind to form a police mug shot like you see on Most Wanted which Mr. Wonderful liked to watch, maybe just to see if he was on it before he jumped her if he was still sober enough to get it up. 

 

Whos this bitch?

 

An Amazon from swampland suddenly appeared behind Cro-Magnon man in the mirror and was staring at her, hands on hippo hips, wild hair a tangle like black lagoon brambles.

 

I told you I dont want no woman of mine comin in here.

 

Mr. Personality stares at the reflection standing over his shoulder and lights another Marlboro.

 

I asked you who this slut is?  Gargantuarina stamps her foot and the rafters shake.  Ill stomp her whore ass all over this bar!  Ill rip out that bleached blonde hair!

 

Yes, love is a many splendid thing.  Sheila watches and sips her drink.

 

I really enjoyed meeting you both.  She hops off her bar stool.  But I got to go.

 

You aint going nowhere.

 

You better get your tramp butt out of here!

 

Naked I wait Thy loves uplifted stroke!

 

Sheila spins around and lifts her glass in the air.

 

My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,

 

And smitten to the knee.

 

Chairs slide out of her way as she staggers across the floor.

 

I am defense less utterly!

 

She shrieks.

 

I slept methinks and woke.

 

She peers around and lowers her voice.

 

And, slowly gazing, find me stopped in sleep.

 

In the rash lustihead of my young powers,

 

I shook the pillaring hours.

 

My God shes crazy!

 

The Amazon gapes at her.

 

Cro-Magnon stares wide eyed, mouth open.

 

Goodbye Trouble Town!

 

Sheila opens the door and bows.

 

I exit as I entered, on the Greyhound!

 

Lucky she had to memorize and recite Thompsons The Hound Of Heaven for Mrs. McCullys eighth grade English class.  Probably just saved her ass.

 

DERBY

 

A black cat crosses the race track

as the gamblers place their bets.

The horses break from the gate.

Around the bend they run.

Down the stretch they bound

eyes blazing, hoofs pounding

as the jockeys whip them along.

Spinning out of the turn, the crowds

roar as they thunder home.

Lightening flares in the sky,

as they race for the finish line.

A black cat has crossed the race track.

A black cat has crossed the race track.

Tonight no one will win.

 

CAROUSEL

 

I get up at noon, come here,

sit in my corner, drink beer,

eat lunch, scan the scratch

sheet for a score, call my bookie,

drink more, nail a winner, stay

for dinner, chat with the regulars,

all of us stuck in lifes rut hoping

for some luck, work out the kinks

in my system, recording odds,

jockeys, track conditions, linger

through the evening, bolt down a

stiff one before leaving, go home,

go to bed, dream about horses,

wild, free, furious horses, like

storm clouds driven by the wind

as they race down the track

never looking back.

 

TABLE STAKES

 

Nothing nothing still nothing

Im out.  I fold my cards, toss them on

the table. I need some air.  Ill be back.

Well be here.

Time out times up time I glance

at my watch, which isnt there, remember

I hocked it as I climb the stairs, along with

my gold lighter and lucky ring which I still

keep feeling for like some phantom limb. 

Everything I do, everything I touch, every

tip, hunch, skinny, bet forget it!

Cold dice, bad draws, raw deals

The streets are empty, not a soul anywhere.

But I know Im being shadowed everywhere.

Step on a crack, break your mothers back,

cross a black cats path and feel the demons

wrath, walk under a ladder, break a mirror

and presto they are there. Its something

you know even when youre a kid, which is

why you have the instinct to look under the

bed. Where you break their rules you never

know; but suddenly you find yourself stuck

behind the eight ball. I stop at a church. There

are still lights burning inside.  Maybe a priest

can exorcise my jinx?  Maybe some sacred

saying can get me back in a winning game?

This is evil, right? Something like Satan?

I spin around at the sound of footsteps bearing

down.  But no ones there just darkness,

shadows, smoke and mirrors. Collar up, I hurry

inside.  Theres a poor box in the vestibule.  I

come to life. A little stake for the take, eh? Im

poor. For sure. Just a tiny loan to change my luck.

Ill give it back. Im not a crook. I sigh and shove

into the poor box my last buck.  Now what?

 

ALL BETS OFF

 

Nothing struck, strokes of luck as rare as words

of wisdom from a Cuckoo clock. I toss my ticket,

head for the exit. Lifes rat race recurring like a bad

dream with no wins, places, shows in between.

Taxi!

Flocks of birds flutter like dark shadows over the winter,

fleeing the city for someplace safer, warmer, where the

Hawk doesnt swoop around every corner.

Where to?

Follow them.  Just kidding.

A read my lips no tips warning fixed on my grim

expression.  MARKETS CRASH, BANKS CLOSE,

INDUSTRIES FOLD. I scan the headlines of the rag 

someone left in the cab. Good grief!  Below them are

an assortment of articles about people losing their jobs,

homes, reminding me that I have troubles of my own.

I lost my luck!  

I inform Finnegan as I flop down at his bar.

Join the club.

Im on the skids!

Who aint?

Ill flip you for the drink.

You can have it.  Im bankrupt.  This is my last day.

Alms for the poor.  I imagine swarms of people crying

on the streets.  I picture little girls selling matches on the

corner, raggedy kids learning how to pick pockets from

some old crook in a cellar.

What was that! 

An explosion rocks the tavern, makes me spill my drink.

Just a crowd in the back playing Russian Roulette.

Is it an open game?

Sure, anyone can sit in.

 Whats the stakes?

You know, life and death.

Just that?

 

SOLITAIRE

 

I get to the place,

sit in a corner and wait.

Something is missing,

although everything seems

there the shadows at the bar

staring in the mirror, the silent

jukebox, TV flickering muted

news in the darkness no one

is watching or trying to hear:

about death and destruction,

Wall Street and war.

And then I see Hope at her table

near the window, huddled over

her cards playing solitaire.

Her charms have tarnished.

Her beauty has vanished.  Her

sparkle has faded. The shuffling

cards whisper sadness. 

 

ALLEY CAT

 

Life bottoms out, no dreams left, loneliness, misery, but say I lay down a buck win the lottery, beer, laughs, company

 

Playing the four ball cross-corner.

 

Beers tilt, cue-sticks rap, bets lay down.

 

Playing the five ball next to kiss in off the eight.

 

Wanna call your shot deadhead.

 

He called his shot.  He called four cross-corner, five to kiss.

 

Tell him call em sos I can hear him.

 

I sink the six, nail the seven, all lined up, a gift from heaven.

 

Beat it shine.  The giant Im shooting, flanked by his biker friends, says to the shoeshine guy who sets down his box.

 

This is one of my regular shows, bro.

 

Not tonight, Roscoe.  Youre bringing me bad luck.

 

Man, I got nothin to do with you!

 

And you dont want to.

 

I call the eight side pocket off a ricochet.

 

You drop that one chum and me and you gonna have a little fun.

 

Geometry, artistry, maybe a little black magic thrown in is what it takes to make the eight ball run.  To collect you need a gum.

 

Talk about a loaded gun, there she is again.

 

Magic wands, mystical diving rods that conjure up gold, greenbacks, thats what we feel we deserve when we lean over the pool tables in our dark, smoky corner of the world, after mixing our blood, sweat and tears with our beers.  But since that bell never rings, most of us will take anything that resembles a break, stroke of luck, freebie tossed our way by the fates.

 

Shes small, flat breasted, almost like a boy, with thin ratty hair and something odd about her eyes.  She shows up, periodically, out of nowhere, baggy dress, battered shoes, moving like a sleepwalker through our dead end bar and poolroom.

 

Gentlemen.

 

She smiles as she sashays amidst the mob of drunken men.

 

This way princess.

 

One of her eager footmen opens the back door.  Another has a junker in the alley ready.  Your coach awaiteth.

 

Well settle up later, punk.

 

The giant leers at me as the place clears.

 

Outside she pitches and sways like a puppet on a string, purring and preening like a cat in heat.  In a blink she stands as naked as a nymph.

 

Get your ass in the car!

 

A gruff voice orders.

 

I do declare.  You boys certainly carry on about a girl.

 

Her voice is light and lyrical with a sugary Southern drawl.  She sits in the back seat, sips a beer and pats her hair.

 

Get on your back and spread em!

 

Someone commands.  The men start forming a line.

 

All in due time.  She sighs, not acting sexy but coquettish, as if her dance card were filled but she will try to accommodate all her suitors.  The night is young boys and I am yours.

 

I suppose theres an element of grace in here somewhere.  The solemn continuation of night and expectation.

 

The belle of the ball.

 

I light a cigarette and wonder at it all.  Shes in a world of her own some dime store novel or Civil War flick, filled with regal ladies and landed gents.

 

I got her ball.  Someone grunts.

 

Not my party.  I hope they dont kill her accidently.  Leaving the bar, no moon or bright stars, just broken bottles glistening in street-lit gutters.

 

A PERFECT DAY

 

Clouds like whipped cream

float across the sky like a

dream.  A bad one.  I cant

fight it.  There goes my diet.

I head for the Dairy Queen.

 

DEATH OF A SALESMAN   

 

Back and forth, bats fly past the motel window.

Under the bed, strange things hide and cackle.

A psychos eye peeks through my keyhole.

I hope the desk clerk remembers my wakeup call.

 

DEATH ROW

 

The last hold on the invisible

forces in the impalpable net

of lifes coil of turmoil that

entangles you, when you pay

your dues, in the spider web

of the living dead.

Is that whats next, after they

ho ho over my portfolio,

repossess my limo, foreclose on

my big home, and I spend my last

bonus check and hock my Rolex?

 

DISCONNECTED

 

Talking, speaking, cackling, yaking,

babbling, screaming, laughing, repeating:

this is America, where death shuts up

if you rant into your cell phone, nonstop.

So does life.

 

THE WIZ

 

Grip,

slip,

dangling in the blackness

over the precipice of existence,

hanging on for dear life,

day and night,

by a thread

STOCKS PLUMMET,

BANKS FOLD,

HOUSES FORECLOSE.

I stagger through the labyrinths,

looking for another chance

in the win, place, show

of the corporate cosmos.

The cause of your misfortune is apparent.

Says an official of the government.

You bought into the American Dream

and overspent.

Blind alleys, broken clocks,

dead end streets, road blocks,

cul de sacs, no ways out

I struggled up the corporate ladder,

bought a house,

car, boat.

So what?

I wasnt greedy.  I helped the needy.

I wasnt extravagant.  I couldnt afford

any rich and famous life of aggrandizement.

Grip.

Slip.

Plop.

How could I know

that the Slight Of Hand Investment Corporation

hired the Wizard Of Oz as its CEO?

 

WASHED UP

 

I worked in an All Nite Laundromat.

I take care of the machines, keep

the place clean.

Mostly loners come in with their

bundles.  Inside, they sit back and

stare and watch the machines cycle

dry.  I see them. Blobs and sacks

for eyes imitating life with blank

expressions and occasional automaton

movements.  When I started having

dreams of ghosts staring at me from

white Whirlpool coffins, ghosts

shivering. ghosts grinning through

the window in the washers door,

I knew, yes I knew it was time to

put a new spin on my life.

 

STAYING ALIVE

 

Rock it planet!  Shake it! Sock it!

Bing it!  Bang it! Let it all hang out!

Twist and shout!  Screech birdies!

Scream kiddies!  Varoom vacuum!

Toss and slosh through my bad dream

washing machine!  Run your lawn

mower over my hangover grass grower!

What a night.  What a fright.  The no jive

five.  The live, live, live until you die five.

Together again, at last, for a reunion blast!

The high fivin five!  The strivin five!

More like a reunion of the crucified.  The

forum filled with boredom quorum.  The 9

to 5 five. The better off dead than alive five.

The upright, uptight, pay your bills, bite

your nails, do not make waves, not even

ripples, hung over heads buried under our

pillows fellows.  Bip it! Bop it! Stomp it!

I deserve it!

 

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (here)

 

Technicolor monotony,

surround sound lobotomy,

(or is it snooze orama yawn on a?).

HA HA HA.

Someone made a funny,

quite accidently.

HA HA HA.

Sleepwalkers with their arms

lifted, hands pointed, coming at

you in slow motion from every

direction (subtitled somnambulationists

as pests, or blank minds put to the test?)

Oh what a party

Oh what a party

Live from Entropy in 3D misery.

Having fun?

Ah.

Theres more to come.

Ah.

Rewrite!  Rewrite!

Trash the script!  Can the cast!

Get me my agent! I want a new

contract!

 

THE TREE OF LIFE

 

Intelligent Design saw a cosmic sign

and wondered: What if I use the slime

to start a line to the Divine on which

waving hands can bud as they climb along

a vine out of the mud to say hello to me

and perhaps, eventually, grow up and form

a tree and from that height will see that

the next step to be like me is collectively

to pull out of the ground, jungle bound, and

crawl around, independently, on little pegs

which develop legs which lead to feet as

they move around adapting in shape, size,

savy and learn to use their limbs to clutch,

and spiky thorns to munch tasty meat which

will give them a brain so that, technologically,

they can appreciate, when becoming humanoid is

their fate, that it was The Divine from where

they came or is that insane?

 

JACK IN THE BOX

 

I never liked Jack.  He drinks too

Much and he cant hold it.  Not a

good thing when you have a lot

of weight to throw around, no soul

and are a complete asshole.

Jacks in a straightjacket.

I informed the crew back at the

bar after my futile effort to bail

him out of jail for assault and

battery with intent to kill.

No shit?

No shit and although I didnt

admit it, it was a pleasure to

see him sitting there in his

little cell, close to tears, with

his big fat butt wrapped around

his ears.

They think hes nuts.  Theyre

going to take him to the loony

bin for observation.

He never should have hit that

sales guy with the mannequin.

He said it was an accident.

Probably was.  Sort of.  He

went in there to dance with

her.  You know how he gets

when hes drunk.  He thought

the sales guy was cutting in.

I believe him.

So did the cops.  Thats why

they wrapped him up.

 

ROMPER ROOM

 

The cockroaches searching,

the childrens eyes watching

do they dare commit murder

and ponder the bloody mess?

Whats your guess?

Get away from the bugs kids.

Trudy has left me with her pack

of brats.  Gone to a New Years Eve

Party.  They like me.  I make

no sense. Come here.  Ill tell

you a story. Do you like scary

nursery rhymes?  Sometimes? 

Have you ever heard of the End

Of Days? No?  Dont know

anything about the Mayan

calendar and how the world is

going to end December 21st

two thousand twelve?  Listen

up anyway:  They crowd the

night cafes, the ghosts of the end

of days.  They drink hemlock on

the rocks under broken clocks

and listen to the organ play.

Is it you?  The ghoul asks.

Are you there? His friend answers.

Where is here? Does it matter?

The catacombs have grown bones

stacked to and fro. The delights of

living flesh, the sweet taste of breath,

are a thing of the past. They dont

exist.  There seems to be nothing

left. Says the first ghoul. Yet we

sit here nevertheless. And with that

the black cat frolics with the bat and

the winds wail with deep regret.

Like that? No? So go back to

killing the roaches.

 

ON THE TOWN

 

Slow night on Shadow street, where you never meet anyone you know and every place you go was never there before and will be altogether different tomorrow.

 

Quiet night.

 

I say to the barkeep at the bistro, looking over the sparse crowd of irregular regulars in the unfamiliar room where I stop every evening on my way home.

 

I wouldnt know, never worked here before.  What will you have, the usual?

 

The usual, for a change.  But not the same ole same ole again.

 

Nowhere is everywhere when nothing is anything, I brood as I gaze in the mirror at the face of the stranger who looks back at me, indifferently, and everyone is no one when someone is anyone.

 

Now and then, someone I never saw before and will never meet again stops for a drink and we resume the same conversation we never had which ends, as usual, before it begins with nothing being said.

 

Did you ever overhear yourself talking to yourself in a language you dont understand?

 

A businessman stares at me starkly, holding a martini in his manicured hand.

 

May I make a suggestion?  The barkeep, who has changed his identity and now is me sets a drink down in front of who I used to be.  Instead of that try this.

 

Light flows around my mental breakdown.  A golden mist in which nothing exists replaces it.

 

What is it?

 

I smack my lips.

 

Its called Forgetfulness.

 

The combo in the cabaret cant quite coordinate their conga today.  But they continue to play (badly) anyway.  Dressed for dinner, the Diva, ceremoniously, enters holding a dead bouquet.

 

We played to an empty theater.

 

She announces to the world weary waiter who tosses her ermine on the radiator.

 

But it really doesnt matter.  We merely closed sooner than later.

 

The black cat curled up by the cabinet, dreams of falling nine times from a parapet.

 

No one will catch you.

 

Says a voice in his purring brain and his recurring nightmare begins all over again.

 

Brooding beneath his beard, like a repentant behind a confessional curtain, the bard at the bar orders a bottle of Vichy water and canard in a voice without pitch like a ventriloquist.  (Which no one finds especially ridiculous.)

 

The old couple in the corner hold hands and gaze at each other (and remember) knowing that they both soon will be goners.

 

The siren at the next table checks her compact mirror and finds another wrinkle.

 

The drunk staggering across the floor is determined to make it with dignity to the door.  (Since he cant afford to imbibe anymore.)

 

White mice scurry to and fro, up and down the crowded bistro, scavenging for food as they go, back and forth, in and out, hoping that nobody will notice.

 

Shooting stars suddenly fill the night.  We watch them fall from the cabarets sky light.  And we smile with delight at the wonderful sight of the heavens exploding with celestial light.

 

The scary lair of sleep where white mice in labs smocks dance around alarm clocks.  Is it a good time, bad time, standing before me, tonight, in the snow this new version of apparition guarding the shadowy, night worlds black hole?

 

Well, well.  The poltergeist studies me, mockingly.  Do tell.

 

Its wearing gaudy, glad rags instead of garbage bags, a Mardi Gras mask, a tilted top hat over a carnival colored fright-wig, and holding a shrunken-head filled whirl-a-gig.

 

Are you ready to make merry?  If so, away we go!

 

Ghost haunts, spectral walks, dead zones fogged by smoke and gin.  Up and down, round and round, falling down, we stagger through night town dancing in dungeons with demons, gamboling with goblins and cretins, cavorting with catatonics in catacombs, wooing witches, making mad love with mummies, playing Russian roulette with zombies.

 

Whats next?  I smile at the dream fairy.  That was merry.

 

How about a little snow therapy?

 

We fashion snow dreams in the dark under the moon and stars, making Frosty men and women with charcoal studded eyes, icicle noses and cinder dust grins, we shape angels in the drifts, igloos, Eskimos, polar nears, castles, draw water from the parks pond and sculpt ic palaces along the moonlit snow mounds.  Suddenly, the sun comes up and we watch it all melt.

 

BZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Daylight on drawn blinds I rub my eyes and take some time to come to myself in the haunted house.

 

We will never part.

 

I remember some siren whispering in the dark.

 

Our love is here to stay.

 

Itry to recall her face.

 

Cobwebs cluster in the corners.  Bats flit to and fro.  Creatures circle the bed like the walking dead.  A psychotic eye peeks through my keyhole.

 

I was midnight mad, I remember, and on the loose.  I found her number in a telephone booth.

 

Come in from the night! was scribbled under it in lipstick.  Experience delight!  Dont be so uptight!  If it feels good its right!

 

A costume party?  A ceremony?  I remember a potent drink and then everything went blank?

 

It is you that I adore; our love will last forevermore.

 

Dancing puppets on a parapet encircle my brain like a tourniquet.

 

What do you do after work?

 

ELEGY

 

Talk about nowhere, I was there.

We lived in a bungalow on No Mans Road,

near the intersection of Dead End Drive

and Take A Hike Turnpike, in a well

populated village with few living inhabitants,

where youll never take us alive, was the

welcome mat for most of the residents

(along with dont wake up the dead, we

need them for our overhead) and the only

industries, before they opened the small factory

where my father finally got himself a job, were

the innumerable cemeteries to which caravans

arrived, periodically, to deposit their loved ones

in the lonely, willowy, burial facilities.

I was ten.  Both my parents were working then.

My mother commuted to her office-job in the city.

My father put in long hours at the factory.  They

signed their rest in peace lease and buried

themselves alive to pay the bills and raise their

offspring, me.

School was out.  I was alone.   There were young

couples about with babies in the other bungalows.

No kids my age.

Mists, fog, eerie lights, howls, moans filled the

days and nights.  I roamed the graveyards. They

were my home away from home.  My friends became

the names chiseled into the weathered headstones.

Everyday was a dream of Halloween.  Every night,

in sleep, the departed would creep from their tombs,

vaults, mossy mausoleums, graves  and visit me.

Life, death, the mystery of being, joy, sorrow, and

everything in between came with them as stories

written on the wind between the birth and death dates

and transferred to my imagination.  Before I knew it,

I became a poet talk about nowhere.

 

DRUMBEATS POUNDING A RHYTHM TO OUR BRAIN

 

We lit fires in the woods and danced around

the flames, dressed up like Indians in feathers

and war paint or nothing at all.

The girls wore bangles, bracelets, beads and

rings. They were painted up too, half-naked and

beautiful.

We drank and smoked dope listening to blasting

rock and roll.  We laughed, made love, whooped

and screamed on those summer nights after

high school in what seems in memory like youths

Mad Dream.

This was long ago and far away in a town I never

saw again after Vietnam.  I sometimes wonder

what happened to everyone there with me in the

woods partying like savages, so briefly, before we

became ghosts, widows, orphan-makers, cripples,

or down and out writers trying to solve lifes riddles.

 

WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

 

They busted down my door

in the dead of night

and dragged me out of bed

by my hair.

Rise and shine princess.

Whats going down!

You sleeping beauty.

Godzilla riffled through my

drawers and dug out my stash

of uppers, downers, acid, weed,

hash, smash, dealer/big-time-user

written all over it.

King Kong shoved me to the closet

and told me to get dressed.

I want to see a badge!  I stammered.

And a warrant!

Show hippy-dippy some stars.

Godzilla chuckled, which King Kong

did.  A whole constellation appeared

with the blow from his fist.

Serve time or your country, they gave

you that option back then.

You wouldnt believe the stuff we

had in Nam.

 

MANEUVERS

 

The bus arrives in the city as night comes on,

tunneling off the backstreets to the terminal

underground, which seems packed with every

lost soul the devil could drag down junkies, winos,

pushers, pimps, beggars, hookers, small time cons,

drifters, runaways, the down and out, and huddled,

here and there, in the corners, on the stairs, or sitting

on the floor amidst the sleeping drunks, a number

of homeless families taking refuge from the cold.

Im in between nowhere and no way out, discharged

after two tours, no prospects, no job, caught in the middle,

of nowhere with time run out.

(Find a mission, scrounge a flop, hit the streets in the

morning, look for some luck?)  I shoulder my duffle bag

and maneuver, carefully, through the mob, who crowd

the drafty shadows along the stairway life forgot.

Stateside is just another battle to survive.

 

AND OVER THE EARTH WHAT?

 

Rain lashes the troop train and we light em if we got

em, as the broken down leviathan lurches across the

storm pounded stateside wasteland, hauling its monstrous

killing apparatus and the remnants of what is left of us,

while wailing a death-drone like howl of agony, periodically,

as it coils through the jumbled rocks and twisted trees.

How do you spell amputee?  Ricker looks up from his

letter and asks no one in particular since were packed

together like smoked sardines.  Like in, Barbie you still

fixin to marry me now that Im an amputee?

With two ees.  Crawly offers.  Like am pu tee, ee ee.

Maybe you should just tell her youre a crip, so forget it.

But add that if she does shell regret it when they fit you

up to the max with your brand new army issue prosthetics.

How do you spell prosthetics?

I feel sick.  Train sick.  Home sick.  Or maybe Ive just

had a belly full of it.  We can see nothing.  Sheets of rain

blot out the shapes of everything. Veils, shrouds, ghost

swirls tumble past the windows.

I feel like Im in a washing machine.  Cox complains.

Dont worry soldier, they gonna hang us all out to dry

when its over. Who you writin Slim? 

God, as usual.  I look up and force a grin.

My, my, HIM!

Doors in the rain, I scribble on the fly of a book

by Thomas Wolf: You Cant Go Home Again,

locked, lonely, all the same.  And the long night

turning into daylight, where we fall through the

cracks like vanishing acts.  I glance at the cramped vets,

try to continue with a stanza that fits.

I dont like this box a bit!  Theres no way out of it!

Youre in a coffin, you idiot!

Somehow the curse began.  The wizard said Shazam!

(Or maybe he said: Be damned?)  It was all over

then.  We would never be the same again.  Snipers, road

bombs, scrambled brains, our wide, staring eyes like the

dead, economic conscripts moving from no jobs, no prospects

into a Holy War that has no end, left with voices that can

no longer be heard, stiff, swinging limbs like lead, feet with

no direction to tread.  Was it some act that set us back?

Was it the falsification of some fact?  How did we end up

on the wrong track with no turning back?

Barbie would never leave me.

Ricker looks at his letter wistfully.

Sure not Rick, now that youre so pretty,

 

NIGHT WATCH

 

Out of the black,

star-domed unknown,

nothingness rushes in with a scream,

a shrieking, circular, no more,

which mangles the jungle night with flames.

 

Vietnam and napalm,

fear death agony destruction

and all for nothing!

 

Slanting forward, I slash the canvas

with colliding colors, fractured planes,

splintered perspectives, blood-red rhythms,

writhing soldiers, twisted trees,

(gray hair soaked with sweat,

old clothes splattered with paint)

a crazy conflagration of distorted shapes,

which looks like nothing so much

as a Hieronymus Bosch on hash,

(or maybe some asylum inmates art therapy piece)

destined, when its done, for an exhibit at the

Vietnam Veterans Museum, thinking of Iraq

as I lash away and of the roadside-bombed soldiers,

I read about everyday, reassigned to graves

 

Art tells us the truth about being human.

 

I remember reading in one of my art criticism books.

 

So does a bullet.

 

BLAST FROM THE PAST

 

The years go fast, destined for oblivion, and no matter how you live them, or what you might pretend, you still cross that last horizon a mannequin in a coffin.

 

Drink up, the barkeep says, it will ease your troubles.  Yeah, if I dont start seeing everything double.

 

Talking about our life, earlier, with my wife, since its getting to me, and beginning to look like ground zero rapidly, and theres nothing, as usual, to watch on TV.

 

Remember when we met?  I ask.

 

What about it?

 

What happened to that?

 

What happened to what?

 

The way we were.  The way we were going to be, like, when we grew up?  Like our hopes and dreams?

 

We got it.

 

We got it?

 

And more.

 

More?

 

Think about it.

 

So less is more.  Not what I bargained for living an obituary which no one will bother to write, I go out into the night to get good and tight and think about how I can make less is more something to wake up for.  Maybe Ill pick up some bimbo in a bar?  Maybe Ill cash in my 401 K and get a sports car?  Maybe Ill get a wardrobe of new threads, join a health club, get fit and trim?  Booze, babes, maybe I should retire early and play?

 

Remember me?

 

Suddenly, Im sharing my funk with a stumbling drunk.  This guy looks like the walking dead.  To add insult to injury, he grabs and shakes my hand.

 

Nam.  The fall of Saigon.  We sat together on the chopper that hauled us out.

 

I cant place the guys face.  Who could?  Its kind of been erased.

 

Those were the days!  He shakes his head.  Three squares and steady pay.  Aint been as good since.  Going from job to job.  Couldnt nail anything down.  Married a floozy, had to pay her alimony when she left me.  Kids all neer-do-wells.  One of them in jail.  On top of that all these medical problems liver, heart, kidneys, lungs.  Never thought Id see you again!  How you been?

 

I guess not as bad as I imagined.

 

HOME COMING

 

A dull gray day, despite the whiteness

of the falling snow, as steeple bells toll.

Irish Town is buried in snow. Fierce

flurries off the ocean whorl in with the

north wind a satin shroud descending.

Ghost ships fill the harbor. Houses huddle

together, like castaways, refugees, shaken

by the stormy weather. I keep to the cover

of the hoardings along the water, a dark,

stiff silhouette of a soldier, down dilapidated

streets, around tumbledown tenements,

past poor mens pubs, shabby storefronts,

many boarded up, posting notices For Rent.

At a gaunt, grim building, I slip in from the

blizzard, cross carefully through a darkened

corridor, quietly climb the staircase. The garret 

at the top is stifling and dark, filled with the

odors of the rubbish piled along the landings

of the lower floors by the other tenants.

Warped walls, cracked ceilings, rotting rafters,

stanchions and beams I lay my duffle bag

at the foot of the bed, hang my army issue coat

and hat in the closet.  Despite the fairyland

of falling snow which whirls outside the

garret window, the streets below look bleak,

lonely, hopeless, mean.  I had forgotten how

shoddy the houses were along the waterfront,

how hard life had been for the souls who lived

in them, when they lost the American Dream. 

 

BETWEEN THE CLOCK AND THE BED

 

She awakens to the winds wailing,

through half-closed eyes sees

the dead around her bed.

The rafters creak and the windows rattle.

Snow swirls beyond them in the winter night.

All dead, all dead.

She shudders, trying to clear her head.

Her head is foggy and her body aches.

She gropes across the room and turns on the light.

Her reflection in the mirror meets her with a shock.

In her dream, she was dancing

in the arms of a young man,

whirling and laughing.

Ruchela!

Yes Papa!

The ghosts of lifes forgotten dont forget you.

Their voices echo inside your head.

Ruchela!

The young man was Aaron.  The dance they never had.

Maybe their eyes danced, their hearts.  But there

was little rejoicing back then in Berlin.

Life was dark.  Life stopped the heart.  The birds knew

something was coming.  They built their nests with

black ribbons of mourning.

Ruchela!

Yes Papa!

The moon weeps looking down, maidela.

The moon wept, the sun, all of creation, as she

still does.

 

MIRACULUM

 

Fog theater where haunts wander through an unscripted

stupor, amidst empty bottles and broken clocks and each

scene is a sequel to a final act.

If the world was as it should be, I brood as I crawl out

of my jerry-built, blind alley bunker, coat collar turned up

against the blistering cold, fists pushed deep in its threadbare

pockets. There would be no need for charity.

Derelicts dig in dumpsters for breakfast.  Church bells toll

throughout the labyrinths.  Homeless families, jobless Joes,

shuffle back and forth, nowhere to go.  Life is like a lottery,

I muse, winning numbers not for everybody.

Different church, same pew, late for Sunday mass as usual,

last row, seat by the aisle, shivering by the drafty doors of

the vestibule.

I pray for the homeless and the helpless and for the soldiers

off to war.  I pray for the lost, frightened, confused, anyone

that life has abused.

Lightening flares in the stained-glass windows.  Rain pounds

the roof, thunder rumbles. No rain no rainbow.  My mother

used to say.  No rainbows around here sad to say.

 

FAIRY TALES CAN COME TRUE,  IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU

 

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 drinking and 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. Im no Picasso, lets face it; but neither are you.

Dead of winter, I look out at the falling snow from the

window of my ghetto studio.  Ragged figures roam the

streets below, dragging through the drifts bag ladies,

homeless families, dead-enders, penniless pensioners.

And more each day, as the cubical people lose their

lives in the sitcom world and join us in hell: shivering,

pale-faced strangers who come and go, the likes of

which none of us has seen before. As the Dead Zone

grows, wedding rings, good luck charms, Rolex watches

fill the pawn shop windows.

I grab my sketch pad, draw an old wrought iron oven.

On the top of it I put a kettle.  Inside I sketch the

portraits of Hansel and Gretel.

 

SUMMER AND SMOKE

 

pink combustion  blotches of flame 

smoke funneling out of the towering smokestacks

like sulfurous serpents  roiling  against the sky   

   TRAIN!  Bigger bellows

heat shimmers in the toxic air  starch fakes fly 

like snow  with the feverish wind  swirling between

the industrial buildings  glazing the sun scorched ground

like frost  sticky  crunching under your work shoes  

     Coal Train Comin!

the earth shakes  the tracks rattle  the trains whistle shrieks

through the swelter  like a strangled banshee    i  squint down

the line  shielding my eyes from the blinding sun

   black as death  the iron nightmare  rounds the bend 

charges the yard   i  watch Bigger lumber doggedly toward it  

pushing his wagon-sized wheelbarrow  broad back bowed 

shoulders slumped  pick and shovel clattering in the wooden bin

   the death dream roars swiftly past him  winding helter-skelter 

through the maze of tracks    thundering between the buildings 

hauling thirty cars  brimming with coal   like metaphysical

coffins  for Bigger and me to bury    fucking coal

the sun is Satans eye  watching me grab my shovel  follow

the train through the smoke of hell  hell flares all around me

as i stagger  the windows of the towering buildings have caught

fire  heat quivers on the tarred rooftops  the spires and gables are

molten gold   while flames shoot from the forges  foundries 

bellows boom  pumps pound  gears grind  heavy equipment

hammers  a city in flames   Hades on fire   the coal train has

stopped  starts to unload  coal is funneled  a car at a time 

across giant conveyors  which feed the boilers  the train jerking

forward  stopping jerking   behind me  Bigger lumbers down

the line  in the opposite direction   when he reaches the track-turn 

off the main line  hell lumber back  scooping up the spills

shaken from the cars   im headed for the PIT  a cement bunker

below the coal drop   rapidly filling to the brim with the running

conveyor spills   in the heat and dark and dust of the day

ill dig a grave  for near poverty wage  to bury my soul

when its laid to rest  a ghost of myself  will stagger from the

plant  with another days rent    aint only war thats hell  

 

AMERICAN PIE

 

Better to blackout than be; 

better the bottom of the bottle

than reality dead end days,

sleepless nights. Why paint,

why write: about the old

lady in the alley asleep in a

doorway, the raggedy kids

playing in the gutter, their

families living in squalor,

the derelicts, lunatics, pimps,

pushers, muggers, killers,

the lost vet begging for cigarettes?

Scenes too real to find a refuge

in bookstores or museums,

amidst the soup cans and

American flags, and the golden

words penned for the aesthetic  

ruminations of future generations.

 

ALL THE PRETTY BALLERINAS

 

The whirl of white dresses between the matrix of mirrors morph into a wreath of white ashes in this soldiers reveries, spinning with the winds of time, war, remembrance or like visions of angels amidst a holocaust leaping twirling pirouetting

 

I sit on the floor in a corner of the dance studio, drawing spirals, parabolas in my battered sketch book, trying to capture the poetry in motion flying across the room to the plunk of a rehearsal piano as Degas once did long ago.  War went on then too. 

 

One two three four what are we fighting for?  The words of that old protest song fall out with each cord.

 

When I went off to war, I knew I would never come back at least not with my mind in tact and I didnt, which is why I used the G.I. Bill to go to art school instead of studying something practical.

 

Up and down round and round right, wrong, truth or dare, upside down, inside out,  makes you wonder what the dance of life is all about.

 

How you doing Soldier?

 

The dance director is suddenly beside me, seated like a Buddha, arms folded, legs crossed.  He gives me a soft tap on the arm.

 

Looks like you had a few before you came here this afternoon.  Thats cool.  Now, Soldier, we dont mind artists making sketches of rehearsals but it might not be such a good idea today.  OK?  A certain diva is going to conduct the next class.  I know everything is mellow between you two but we want everything to go smooth.  Know what I mean?

 

Yeah, you mean hit the road Jack.

 

**

 

Dark, rocky days in dead zones (like a dream but not) where nowhere is everywhere and nothing is anything and unknown hours fade to black.

 

The end of the world is at hand, man.

 

The alley man stares at me starkly, gripping a sterno can.

 

I shadow through the snowfall, past doors which have no numbers, down streets which have no names, through shapes which have no faces, under clocks run out of time, while wind whipped shrouds swirl around like the ghosts of dead mens dreams.

 

Death toll mounts!  A newsy shouts.  More troops killed!

 

I buy a paper, use it for a hat.  White veils wrap around me like wreaths, as I bundle down the ghosted streets, past the small grubby pubs and around toppling ghetto tenements, along the rows of shops filled with such stuff that only the poor would want.  I am a soldier of misfortune and I muse as I march through the deepening drifts, I fought that holy war on the desert sand.

 

At a dead end dive, I duck in from the cold.  DEATH TOLL REACHES 4,000.  I scan the headlines as I slump onto a stool.  Draft.  I tell the barman and drop a fistful of day labor dollars on the counter.  STOCKS PLUMMET, PLANTS CLOSE, RECESSION DEEPENS, UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES RISE, HOUSES FORECLOSE.  I shake my head and brood through the article about Iraq, relive the ambushes, roadside bombings, heat, fear, and remember the faces of guys no one will see anymore.

 

A fairyland of falling snow, whorls in the barroom window.  Crystal castles and other fanciful marvels replace the tumbledown ghetto, while white winged spirits dance off the drifts, fly with the flurries, twirl and pirouette.

 

4,000 souls, I brood, Gone where nobody knows.

 

**

 

No guardian angels in these dark grottos, crypts, caverns, night world catacombs, no mojo, ace in the hole, as the winter winds wail like junkshop violins and winos rummage through the streets and sanitation trash bins, while gunfire crackles across the Dead Zones labyrinths.

 

I move through night and street glow, past the bars along the Combat Zone, the seedy, blue-lit lounges, the strip joints and the dice dens, the crack shacks and the brothels, the dead end dives and gin mills, while eyes watch me like cocked pistols.

 

I can deal with trouble, cause it.

 

Nothing doing anywhere.  Cracked mirrors, broken clocks, windowless rooms, bolted locks, disconnected phones, loaded dice, stacked decks, snake eyes time in a bottle Night Towns broken clock measuring planetary motion by the shadows that prowl.

 

Up town down town round and round falling down.

 

As they dance in black dresses around the rim of each drink, the daughters of darkness who circle the brink

.

 

**

 

I see black leaves scatter with the wind across a graveyard adrift with snow I see ghost faces gaze at me through the smoke of war I see Death march with a shovel across his shoulder down the road of no return I see night and storm and lightening flare

 

Ace of Spades.  I call the hidden card.

 

Shoot the soldier!

 

I change nightmares and open my eyes.  Phantom figures glare at me down the empty bar.  Someone buys me a shot.  Someone reshuffles the cards.  I hear a fresh round jacked in the chamber as someone slaps a new card face down on the bar.

 

Another shot soldier?

 

The jukebox wails its songs of glory, pain and joy, love and heartbreak, luck and loss.

 

And the whiskey burns.  And I close my eyes.

 

Amidst the apparitions which is the only magic I got from the war, cryptic visions of the fated future, -- I see myself floating from my body through the other side of Time.  Fate and Chance play fortunes draw in a casino in the stars.  Their deck is flush with hopes and dreams, laced with tears and sorrow.

 

Ace of Hearts.  I tell the ghost soldiers at the bar.

 

**

 

The old man stands shivering in the alley, hand in hand with himself.  A bundle of rags holding itself in the dead of night, staring through the darkness a frail, wasting shadow of himself.  Then he takes a step forward, although he has nowhere to go.

 

**

 

Candlelight flickers in the open doorway at the top of the stairs.  A veil of smoke drifts down the landing and shifts, ghostlike, amidst the hallways shadows.  I can smell her perfume.  The smoke holds the dense aroma of incense burning.  Incense always made me dizzy its heady fumes hypnotic.

 

Deaths perfume.  I remember an old priests cryptic comment when I was an alter boy.  Nuns and priests and devils and holy ghosts whirl with my intoxication as I stagger to the top.  I grip the banister to keep from swaying.

 

She stands across the room with her back to me, dressed in black a gossamer black with lavish jet trimmings and lush midnight lace.  Her long, golden hair fans across her shoulders, flares down her back.  Her skin is so pale it seems translucent.  Candles, candelabrums flutter on bureaus, bed stands.  Incense is burning everywhere.

 

Cin der el la dances on star dust.

 

She sings to herself in a mirror, applying red lipstick.  The ashtray on the bureau is filled with butts, her eyes heavy from smoke and the long night.

 

**

 

I wake up.  Strange patterns from cloud shadows sweep across the studio from the gritty skylight.  I sit and smoke and watch the phantom figures shift and change.  They are like a dream you cant awake from in a sleep born from delirium. 

 

It is cold in the loft, fever bright with harsh dead light, an incandescent haze.  I sit up, find I slept with my army notebook.  I flip through the pages, try to see the war in what is written.  But my mind is given over to the ghost shapes on the warped walls, the whiteness of the notebooks paper.  The scrawls and scribbles take me nowhere.

 

Light so bright, only light, everywhere

 

I finally get the passage into focus.

 

I am alone on the train.   I seem to have written before I passed out.  The empty car, ablaze with light, seems as ephemeral as mist as it streaks across the night.

 

I sit in the back in a cold sweat, light headed and panic stricken, wondering whether I am awake or asleep.

 

The thickets and rivers and ravines fly wildly by, like waving arms menacing my night trip to tomorrow.  The ghost-white winter landscapes white hills, white valleys, white fields and woods are as much an unreality as my blazing dream of radiance.  I cannot move and I am afraid.

 

Ten hut!  The sergeant smiles at me.

 

But I wake up sarge and the night is still there.

 

The lord is my shepherd.  The trains wheels seem to whisper darkly.  I shall not want.  I shall not want, although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

 

I sit up with a jolt, covered with sweat, heart pounding, pulse racing, eyes blurry.  Masked figures surround me.  I sit naked on a narrow cot.  IV needles puncture my wrists.

 

Lie down!

 

One of them puts a hand to y chest.

 

Dont move!

 

The others reach forward and grab me.

 

I remember the incoming ordnance, the explosions, traveling through a tunnel, a golden radiance enveloping me.  I remember my shapeless arms reaching out for God, my fingers slipping through air. 

 

Karrump!  Karrump!  Get down!  Get down!  Like an echo in my head.  Karrump!  Karrump!

 

**

 

We drink at the dock waiting for the truck to haul us from Day Labor to the meat packing plants at the edge of the Loop where, block after block, stray dogs prowl the buildings from dawn till dusk.

 

We drink as we slide through gristle and blood shouldering sides of meat from the delivery trucks to the slaughter rooms inside where the butchers chop them up, kicking off the mongrels as we stagger in and out, who fight for the bits of meat which spot the grimy walks.

 

We noon on Muscatel in the alley in the back, toss the stray dogs lunchmeat from our crumpled deli bags.

 

We drink as we sweep and mop the bloody floors, scooping entrails into trash bags which we pile outside the door.

 

As the world drops into night, we cash our checks at the corner bar.  We stare at our drinks and wait for the whores.

 

**

 

Shes beautiful.

 

She isnt done.

 

Whos the model?

 

Death.

 

Youre crazy!  Hey, I know that girl!  Shes that ballerina, your old flame.  How come you never paint me?

 

I only paint what I hate.

 

You do not.

 

War, plague, famine, betrayal.  Ill paint you when you grow up kid nude.

 

You will not.  And I am grown up.  Where are you going?

 

I move from the couch to the easel, take a hair of the dog on the way, squint as the sunlight sets the canvas ablaze.  Fat Cats, the Jet Set, the artsy social whirl, play in my memories of the pretty ballerina, along with some specter of myself who quickly became an inconvenient oddity amidst that rarefied swirl with my hard scrabble sketches of working class life, battlefield drawings, painting of the down and out.

 

Why are you doing that?

 

I ghost the goddess with a solvent-soaked rag, fade her beauty, erase her eyes.

 

**

 

Bad times when falling angels fill the sky like carnival confetti for the devils delight.  Bad times when nothing jives and the same lame lies pass like valentines among the cubicle people in their sitcom lives.  Bad times when the wind cries toxic moans as the planet dies.

 

The cause of your misfortune is apparent.

 

Say an official of the corporate establishment.

 

Your errant mind is completely aberrant.

 

Candlelit skulls light the windows of the tenements.  Corpses chant mantras throughtout the labyrinths.  Each day shoots for the moon, lands on vampire bat wings.

 

Poverty is a privilege not a privation.

 

Says the official from the corporation.

 

tis the lifeblood of a might nation.

 

Bodies float down a river of blood orphans, runaways, suicides, fallen soldiers, the lame, sick, halt and blind in a survival of the fittest where only the empowered thrive.

 

In a cellar window a wizened widow eats dog food from a can at a three legged table.

 

Bad times when peace is war, homeless shelters are closed for the poor, tax cuts for the rich increase and jobs are outsourced overseas, up is down, wrong is right, and youre in between nowhere and no way out. 

 

Sewers run to the sea, wait for me.

 

**

 

So whats the trick Soldier?

 

Tonys Tavern is jammed with its usual crowd of degenerates.

 

No trick.  It is what it is.

 

How do you explain glimpses of the preordained?

 

Shoot the soldier!  Some drunk shouts.

 

Maybe it aint what it isnt and it werent what it wasnt.  Tony glares at me as he wipes off the counter top.  No one calls cards off a deck like that.  Tony grumbles.  Not unless the deck is stacked.

 

Its your deck Tony.  I spread my hands.  You laid them down and you picked them up.

 

And now Im tossing them out!

 

Tony throws the deck into a garbage can.

 

There aint gonna be no more of that card shark shit going on here!

 

He turns his back to me and walks away.

 

Your place, your call.  I shrug.  But dont forget, pal, that you owe me a round.

 

Stack the deck?  Blame God for that.

 

Shoot the soldier!  The dipso next to me raises his glass.

 

**

 

I am moving, not moving, somehow being transported, a step at a time, around the broken chairs and tables, between the crushed beer cans and empty bottles, passed the pile of unpaid rent bills, toward the easel in my garret corner.  The sky-lit loft is an aquarium of starlight.  Munch like moons haunt the heavens.  Van Gogh constellations swirl the sky.  Atop the nightstand paint jars sparkle like prisms.  The ghost-white canvas shines with astral light.

 

The wacko world of drunken dream, dark and deep.

 

I am painting, not painting.  Slanting forward, I slash the canvas with road signs, religious symbols, astrological charts, corporate logos, chemical formulas, designer labels, mathematical equations, secret signals

 

The creatures from my cracked world cautiously climb out from their demimonde tableaus their Brut Art rendered gin mills, strip joints, dice dens, night clubs, jail cells, missions, soup kitchens, back street labyrinths, blind alley flops bag ladies, homeless families, penniless pensioners, beggars, winos, hookers, junkies, grifters, gangsters, orphans, runaways   my non-sellable oeuvre of the near-dead and the might-as-well-be, which includes my sallow Self Portrait In Straight Jacket, rusty dope needles sticking through my head.  They slither down the warped walls, crawl out from the festering stacks, crowd around me with their dead end eyes, watch me as I work.

 

I repaint us all in a castle in the clouds, feasting around a royal table, dressed in finery, flush with merriment, while cherubs circle chandeliers, and virgins dance on marble floors and rainbows arch across a kingdom where ketchup is no longer a vegetable to politicians, and lives are no longer negotiable to corporations, and liberty, equality, fraternity reign forever and no child is left behind.

 

Anything is possible when nothing is real.

 

**

 

Dear Mr. Lonigan.

 

Thank you so much for your submission to our agency.  Yours is a well written and compelling collection of stories.  However, after careful consideration we decided we are not the right agency for Mine Fields.  We urge you to keep searching for the right fit.

 

Dear Mr. Lonigan,

 

Your collection of war stories is a riveting read.  Some of the descriptions make you stand up and salute.  Unfortunately, we dont think we can handle it sucessully.  We wish you the best with placing it elsewhere.

 

Dear Mr. Lonigan,

 

Thank you for your submission of slides to our gallery.  After careful consideration we heave decided they are not quite right for our collection.

 

Dear Writer,

 

Many thanks for sharing your idea or your work with us.  Alas, we must reject what you have been kind enough to submit.  But the only way we can make a living is by selling books to the large and medium-sized New York publishers whose interest is a mainstream market.

 

Please forgive this form letter.  We wish you the best of luck with your writing career.

 

**

 

This used to be a good place, back when Smokey owned it.  The food was bad, the booze cheap, the patrons more dead than alive.  That was before they jazzed it up when the street got gentrified and the Dead End became the living End filled with movers and dollar smiles.

 

It was dark here then.  You could sit, forget, bottle it up inside.  You could think, dream, reflect, regret.  You could hide from the whispering night.

 

**

 

Black winds chase across the concrete canyons.  Designer dream worlds appear in storefront windows.  The streets are crowded with tourists, shoppers.  On corners, Christmas carolers sing the seasons songs.

 

My art expresses a vision of the world which has its basis in the paranormal.

 

I brood over my artists statement which no one seems to get, as I bundle through the cold looking in the windows of galleries and bookstores, collar turned up, fists pushed deep in the pockets of my long coat.

 

Reality becomes shadowy from this perspective, dreams abound.

 

I pass a doorway where a frail, old lady lies fast asleep.  Around her snowflakes circle each pale ghost that passes. No one drops a coin in her cup.  I do, I want a peaceful sleep too.

 

**

 

Wind, earth, sky all one, white veils whirling in a winter storm.  In the diner we sit like sleepwalkers, me and the kid, steam ghosting from our coffee cups.

 

Here comes the bride, the kid sings softly looking out the window at the storm, all dressed in white.  Do you believe in dreams Soldier?

 

Dreams are strange.

 

I dreamed we had a baby, Soldier, a little girl with coal black hair and eyes as blue as yours.

 

Jesus.  The kids as cute as a courtesan but completely jailbait.  Her parents are junkies basically avant-garde artists with a studio down the hall from mine.  Although I can hardly take care of myself, I try to help her out.  I guess she helps me to.

 

You better dream about getting through high school kid and getting a job, working your way through college and getting out of this neighborhood.  Then you can have some real dreams that will do you some good.

 

Pale souls shuffle past the diners windows as the Hawk beats its wings down the citys frosted blocks.  Its one of those dead winter days when the skys a shroud.

 

I dreamed you were a famous artist, Soldier, and a famous writer too.

            Hey, anything is possible when nothing is real.

 

SILENT NIGHT

 

Huddled like headstones in a graveyard,

the rows of working class houses lay buried

in the blizzard earth, air, sky all one. 

We can see nothing; the world is erased.

Wind whipped shrouds swirl around.

We knock on doors, ring bells, holding

each other, searching for shelter.

STOCKS PLUMMET, BANKS FOLD,

JOBS LOST, HOUSES FORCLOSE

Newspapers flutter around us in the

darkness; white veils whirl like ghosts.

 

THE BIG CHILL     

 

Days bleak, bitter, with the early

onslaught of winter,

no heat in the building, night coming

quickly, wife stoic, kids colic, holding

money gone with the economy,

I prowl ghostly streets, past shut down

workshops, factories.

No going back to what was before,

because it isnt there anymore.

 

WHEN YOU WISH

 

Spirit gone,

world all wrong,

inside out,

upside down,

blowing bubbles,

bubbles burst,

Fantasia ride in Disneyland over

Bars closed.

One for the road.

Youve had an extra two.

Im not through.

Time to go home!

One more and Im gone!

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

Mickey Mouse bought a house for

Minnie and Sleeping Beauty and

Cinderella and little Jiminy.

Dont you have a home?

Next stop the Twilight Zone.

 

THE POLITICIAN

 

You walk into a room,

study the faces, expressions.

You know right off where

the bodies are buried, the

skeletons hidden.  Whos on

the take, whos on the make,

whos selling themselves, or

something, or someone else

you know all of this.  Your

opponents do too.

You fight fire with fire, not

holy water, on Capitol Hill.

Sparrows peck, chickens peck,

eagles swoop and kill, too swift

for detection.

Thats how you win an election.

 

HOOP DREAMS

 

No job?  No prospects?  Goods?

My word is good.

I cant bank on words, not even yours.

Theyre just diminishing returns.

I have a car.

What kind.

Two year old Jag.

Bring the title?

I lay it down on the table.

Sign it over and I can give you half

of what youre looking for, which is a

friendly more. 

Thats not enough!  Well be on the street!

Look, we played together on the championship

team!  I need help!  Im at my end!  I thought

we were friends!

We were, a long time ago.  But I really havent

seen much of you since we finished school.

That game against Lane!  We won it together!

They said so in the papers!

Those games we played.  The rules of games

strangely change.  One day youre a two-bit

businessman operating a penny arcade in the

poor part of town and the next youre one of

the few still solvent because no matter how bad

things are people are going to find some way to

have a good time. OK, for the glory days.

 

LINE, FORM, COLOR

 

I stare.  I see it emerging

on the canvas, hand and eye

mesmerized by the nightmare

in the rooms glare coming to

life.

It is cold in the studio.

Sirens wail outside the windows.

I shiver at the easel. 

Gunfire crackles across the ghetto

like insurgent fire in a war zone.

Back and forth, left to right

faces filled with fear, despair,

hopelessness, along midnight streets

no one would dare to enter unless they

had to because they lived there.

I put away my brushes, paint tubes,

turn out the lights. Enough truth and

beauty for one night.

 

ON GUARD

 

The living room carpet is covered with paint splattered newspapers.  Whiskey bottles, crushed beer cans, ashtrays, paint jars, rags, soaking brushes, crumpled cigarette packs, are scattered everywhere.  While empty pizza boxes clutter the dining room table and clothes are tossed over lampshades and chairs.  (Its amazing how an artist can wreck a place when his wife is out of town.)  I crawl through the rubble, feeling for my last twist of marijuana, find it in the pocket of a crumpled work shirt and light it up.  I bought a bag as soon as Rachel left for a visit with her parents, dragged the canvas out from under the bed and went ballistic.  I sit on the sofa, smoke the joint, study the work in progress.  The giant monstrosity, which is supposed to be a bombing in Iraq, looks like nothing so much as a Hieronymus Bosh on hash.

 

Mello as moon glow, I decide its perfect for the show.

 

**

 

A lone wolf in Poodleville is about the only way I can describe this museum-guard deal.  I took it when my grunt gig at a South Side Chicago factory got shipped overseas.  Now, a hardscrabble job which paid pretty well, had decent benefits, treated you OK, is a semi-slave slog for some poor soul in labor hell.  (Like were not headed that way in America pel mell ourselves.)

 

In the room the curators come and go talking of Michelangelo and designer hairdos and designer clothes and vintage wine and Lake Front condos.  Ive been stuck monitoring the back entrance lobby all day, arms folded, face grim, factory muscles bulging through my polyester uniform directing traffic, keeping the derelicts out, watching for known pickpockets and general neer-do-wells.  In between my steely eyed sweeps of the bustling crowds, Ive been scribbling out a poem about an Iraq war veteran on a spiral security guard notepad.  Writing or sketching is the main thing I do on post all day.

 

You on tonight, Blake?  Crawly (Creepy Crawly) the special event manager is suddenly slouching toward me, buzz haircut, buck teeth, hook nose, beady eyes.  Im short.  Crawly pokes me in the chest with his clipboard.  Let me put that up front.  Volunteers get on my good side.  You know how it goes for the rest.

 

The Million Dollar Donner wingding the big annual ass kisser that starts in the morning and goes on past midnight.  The rich, they are not like you and I.  Someone once said to someone.  I think it was Fitzgerald to Hemingway.  (I kind of spotted that right off myself.)  Trucks have been pulling up since noon.  Which is the main reason they stuck me on this post to direct the musicians, jugglers, dancers, caterers, florists, event organizers, contractor waiters, waitresses, and extra hired hands of every description, as well as the befuddled museum staff (curators, lecturers, toadies, executives) who never seem to get the ins and outs as to the way these big affairs function.

 

I didnt sign up.

 

Crawleys beady eyes bore through me like lazar beams.  His breath hisses like a radiator (in the dead of winter) past his smoke stained buck teeth.  What are you writing, Blake?  Crawly looks down at my hands.  Something happen in the lobby today, Blake?  Are you writing an incident report?  Let me see it.

 

He sticks out his hand.

 

I was just jotting down some notes about the cash-changing jib.  I tuck my poem into my blazer pocket and give Crawly a lazy shrug.  Ive got to train Johnson on the detail tomorrow safe combinations, pick ups, drop offs.  The usual stuff.

 

You do that stuff on your own time!  Crawly goes ballistic on me.  You dont do that shit on the floor!  Youre supposed to be monitoring this lobby, not scribbling in a fucking book!

That stuff constitutes a write up!  Three of those and youre out!  Ever hear of OT, Blake?  You come in early for shit like that!  Got a problem with putting a little extra time in for the museum?

 

Actually I was wondering if I could get on the roster for tonight?  I was hoping you werent filled up.

 

Youre on.  Crawly chortles as he walks away.

 

What did Creepy Crawly want?

 

Romeo Ramero is suddenly beside me, looking pissed off.

 

He signed me up for tonight.  It was that or a write up.

 

Me too.  Rameros eyes flare.  God damn it!  I met this hot chick in photography.  Im supposed to meet her after work.

 

I wanted to get home and clean up my pad.  I brood, picturing the mess I left.  I wrecked it doing an art work while my wife was out of town.  Its for an anti-war show at the Focus Gallery.  Rachel comes back tomorrow.

 

Tell you what.  Rameros eyes narrow.  Heres what we do.  A eight oclock I call Control from a pay phone.  I tell them Im your brother.  Theres a family emergency and you got to be there.  Crawly has to let you go.  Hes got no choice about that.  We both know hes too lazy to follow up on the paperwork.  Everything will be forgotten before you know it.

 

What about you?

 

Next time, amigo.

 

Its a deal.

 

**

 

Fate, I ruminate.  What you elect?  What you reject?  Seems to always be something you dont expect.  Unless youre rich.  I look around the blue-collar bar, nurse my drink, contemplate my poem.  Having cleaned up the apartment, Im out for a nightcap, giving the day a recap.  Half the guys in here have been laid off with the recession.  More will be, or forced to take jobs that suck like me or maybe join up with the military.  War, politicians, poverty, Wall Street, corporate greed, exploited labor, lavish parties, Creepy Crawly fate is in the hands of whose dealing the cards and we all know who they are.

 

Cubicle people live in corporate cells. I toast lifes wishing wells, Artists live in fairytales. We all die in lullabies.  Pleasant dreams and goodnight.  

 

ZIGGY THE KILLER ELEPHANT

 

Ziggy danced in the Follies.  Thats how he got his

name (Ziegfeld).  He was in the movies too.  A big

star before we were born.  One day he up and killed

his trainer.  They put him in our Chicago zoo.  He

killed his attendant there as well and they had to chain

him in his cage.  We read about him in the papers when

we were kids.  It was a sad story, Ziggys life and times.

We got to thinking about how awful it must be to be

chained up that way in a tiny cell as the papers described.

We wondered if he missed dancing.  What he did all day.

We went to the zoo.  We brought our harmonicas.  We

figured wed play a little music for him, cheer him up

if we could.  We were all rock star musical, Elvis, Fats

Domino.  That elephant was huge.  He must have been

something phenomenal to take in on a theater stage.  He

was so big he had no room to move.  He couldnt even

turn around in any kind of way with that chain fastened

to his back leg.  Ever see a trapped giant?  Its hard to look

at.  We started playing up tunes for him.  The Yellow

Rose Of Texas and so on, to get him in a happy mood.

But Ziggy just stood there, like he was deaf or brain dead

or he was too beaten down to care.

Meanwhile, all the other elephants in the house, who were

in group cells and could move about, started dancing to

beat the band.  It was like a Disney cartoon.  All around us

The elephants were rocking back and forth, sashaying their

hips, waving their ears.  They even looked like they were

smiling and we realized that these elephants werent out of

Africa or some jungle but were all castoffs from some

sideshow or circus performing gigantos.

Then Ziggy started getting into the show.  He picked up one

foot, then another, and before you knew it he was marching

in place one foot after the other, front to back, and eyeing

us as if to say: Have I got the rhythm?  This OK?

Meanwhile, the people in the elephant house were getting

freaked.  They start running in all directions, like there was

going to be a stampede as if the caged elephants could

actually go anywhere.  Some of the women screamed.  So,

these security guards swoop in.  We run.  A secret smile on our

frozen faces as we tumble out to freedom.  Ziggy still had it in him.

Ziggy still could cut a rug.  It was probably the last good time

Ziggy ever had. 

 

WITHOUT REALLY TRYING

 

Sitting alone in this caf,

scribbling on bits of pocket

crumpled paper, I notice that

people have a tendency to look

at me, sneakily men, women,

young and old all poking at little

hand held gizmos, I Phones, Black-

berries, god knows what.

What they seem to see is a mystery.

Someone that does not quite fit into

the reality of their uniformity and

what that should be. While they dont

want to offend, they must peek at it

again.  I think that I engender this by

simply being a something that is,

obviously, not becoming anything

other than nothing.  I dont have that

How To book look as they do:

Succeed, Attract, Fix This,

Solve That.  I guess theres

nothing to be done but grab a fresh

Starbucks napkin and write another

poem.

 

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES

 

Work comes harder while the pay gets

smaller and the hours longer.

If theres one thing I learned by growing

older its my life went nowhere and its

getting shorter.

I lay down my shovel and pick up my

lunch pail.  I search the towers, spires,

domes, silos, the docks, walks, doorways,

windows, every nook and cranny of the

industrial buildings, looking for suits,

white shirts, hardhats with clipboards,

snitches, rat-outs, lifers and squealers.

They are out there, everywhere.

I unscrew my ice cold thermos top, look

around again and take a pop.  Cheers.

 

OUR TOWN

 

I had to get out of the city, if only for a day:

the congestion, pollution, noise, confusion. 

I took a Greyhound to the nearest small town.

The Mayberry streets, lined with gingerbread

houses with white picket fences, surrounded a

lush town square with a stately, brick courthouse

in the middle of it.

I got an ice cream cone at a Baskin-Robbins

and sat outside on a bench.

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm.

A rat poked its head out of a hole in the asphalt

at the edge of the sidewalk and looked around like

a submarine periscope.

He fixed his eyes on me. I wondered if there was

some kind of recognition that he saw that I was

as out of place as he was.

He bolted from the hole and, clutching my cone,

mouth open, I watched him walk directly to me, wary,

but resolute, moving forward on some mission.

Suddenly, he leaped into the wastebasket next to me.

I watched him dig around in the garbage and pull out

an empty malt cup. He jumped back onto the sidewalk

and gave me a final look, his teeth griping the empty

container, and then he scampered back to his hole.

He placed the upended cup beside it and dove out of site

into his underground hide-out.

His head popped up again and he pulled the malt cup over

his chambers and fixed it securely like a man-hole cover.

I guess everyone needs a quiet escape.

 

WRITERS NOTES

 

Four drab walls with smog in the window

dark streets below no one dares to walk through

creaky bed, small table with a wobble theres

a hotplate on the window sill.

The bathroom is down the hall.  Theres a public

phone down it, too, although you never get a call.

The radio on the dresser was purchased from a thrift

shop.  The classical music you play on it always sounds

a little shocked. 

A shoebox filled with rejection slips lies on the floor

of the closet.  Next to it is a stack of literary magazines

with funky names.  Each one has a sample of

your work in it which makes it all worth it.

 

TOXIC TOWN

 

Cabbage soup, cabbage salad,

stuffed cabbage, boiled cabbage,

sauerkraut everyone in the

tenement ate cabbage everyday,

everyone in the town.  You had

to eat something. 

You couldnt breath anyway.

The factories smothered the town

with toxic clouds.  Smoke from

their chimneys filled the streets

and alleys.  It could have been

London.  It could have been Heaven.

Maybe angels flew with the wind.

You couldnt see anything.

My father had a face which looked

like a kicked in door.

My mother had a face which looked

like a cabbage cooker.

Its hard to describe hell well.

I got drafted three squares a day,

meat, potatoes, pie alamode.

The air was filled with bullets, explosions.

Couldnt wait to get home.

 

THE NUMBER YOU HAVE DIALED

 

Cleaning out the attic, I find in the pocket of

an old, moth eaten jacket a little Black Book. 

Within its yellowed page are the names,

numbers, addresses of women long forgotten. 

Fog, Snow, Rain, and so on, are written beside

each one like youthful cryptograms. Who was Ice? 

Doesnt sound very nice.  Sun sounds like fun. 

Hail? I dated Hail?  Must have been hell.

Sleet!  How and where did I meet Sleet?  I am

dating Sleet.  What a treat.  Ill introduce you to

her sister Slush.  Nice stuff.  Wind, Drought,

Thunder, every kind of weather, got to make

you wonder.  Who said women are all the same?    

Theres enough mood swings here to drive a

man insane.  Breeze, Freeze womanizing can

be demoralizing, bring a guy to his knees.  Must

explain some things.  Mist, Hurricane, Hurricane?

youd think I could put an encounter to that name.   

Got to wonder what their notations about me were

and if they were all the same Lame.

The fun of being young.  More like misery seeks

company, desperately. Sun. Must have been blonde.

Kind of makes your breath catch and your heart

pound. Should I call that one?  What would she say?

Lame?  You again?

 

BLUE SKIES

 

Youd think one of these days Id

get the one every dogs got coming

like now and again, from time to time,

something to do with the moon and

stars and planets and signs.

OK, I saw my sign when I was knee-high,

big middle finger flashing at me from the sky.

My ole man hit the bottle and me too and my

brother and sister and mother.

So I got in trouble, didnt do well in school,

had a little problem with the golden rule.  

Someone told me to pray and the Lord would

show me the way.  All that got me was sore

knees and allergies from the stuff they burned

at their rituals and ceremonies.

Someone said I should read these books about

positive thinking and influencing people.

All that got me was a stretch in prison.

Theres no moral to this story.  All I want

to say is if you ever got that day you did

OK and if that big hand in the sky never

threw you a bone youre not alone.

 

THE BEAT GOES ON

 

Those eyes,  I ponder my reflection in the barroom mirror, like a cat in the dark, some mangy alley prowler.

 

They watch me watch myself take a drag off my cigarette, sip some beer, while the jukebox wails some song in the darkness about heartbreak and loneliness.

 

Down the black hole of your non-life,

 

I scribble a poem on my bar napkin.

 

(No One is the ID of your Being)

 

as you flail through the needless nothing

 

(Like a puppet on a string)

 

and drop through your vapid nowhere,

 

(Life is but a dream)

 

toward the dead end of your no more,

 

(Nevermore.  Quoth the raven.)

 

dont forget to scream.

 

The Night Town tavern is dark, smoky, crowded with haunts, everyone more dead than alive.  Pacos passed out in a corner.  Spaz is staring into space.  Bimbo is in limbo, dancing in a daze with herself.

 

Bimbo, not a bad bod for an old broad.  How come I never noticed it?

 

The bar is a lonely haunt for ghosts,

 

I scribble on another napkin.

 

lost souls at their dead end.

 

I drink and watch her dance through smoke

 

to the music in her head.

 

She waltzes with some phantom beaux

 

down the floor and back again,

 

in a dream that makes her pale face glow,

 

a cocktail in her hand.

 

My dreams like hers died long ago.

 

Life stole our one small chance.

 

I rise as she drifts my way again,

 

close my eyes and take her hand.

 

Na I think Ill just pass out like Paco.

 

**

 

Ive 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 I slept with inmates, cell mates, lovers, bugs, in Grand Hotels, cheap motels, wind rattled shacks, my dreams the kind you fight to wake from for that first cigarette.

 

**

 

Spaz drools and spits and chews his wrists on the flop cot next to mine.  Goat wheezes, bleats, beats his meat, pants down on the other side.  Across the isle Shadow flashes a smile and scopes me out with his spectral eyes.  By midnight the mission cots will attract the next dream cast for another remake of The Night Of The Living Dead. (When they pat you down in the dark dont move, dont breathe, dont stir, dont open your eyes.)

 

I live from day to day, try to survive the nights, in lost chance land where jackpot stands for what you score from a garbage can.

 

Each night the ghost of Marilyn Monroe haunts the missions of skid row.  She makes mad love with each lost soul along her ethereal, back street stroll and then vanishes in a cloud of ozone.

 

**

 

Like ghosts in a dream,

 

I type out my latest bar napkin scribbles on a computer at Kinkos.

 

  

 

we huddled in the alley doorways,

 

hunched up against the raging snowstorm, and waited for

 

the Rescue Gospel Mission to let us in from the lethal night.

 

The usual assortment of city shadows on the loose, all shivering

 

in our Salvation Army castoffs.

 

Inside there was oatmeal, a hot shower, and later (after they tossed

 

us out to panhandle for the day) a bowl of stew and a cot for the night.

 

In between, there were sermons, repent signs, pictures of Christ, Hell,

 

Satan, and the loathing looks of the Saved.

 

The satin shroud descending was all there was to see.  All these was to

 

feel was frostbite and our minds and souls growing numb from the cold.

 

I had just been released from the County Correctional Institution and

 

found myself half wishing I were back.  But we all were wishing we

 

were somewhere else, or someone else doing anything else, which is

 

probably not an unusual wish, on any day, for the drifters, druggies,

 

dipsos, jailbirds, the beggars, tramps and the mentally diseased who

 

haunt the citys skid row missions.  Perdition is our normal lot, but

 

sitting in a blizzard was a little over the top.

 

A small child sat shivering beside me on the mission steps, clinging

 

to the arm of her sleeping mother, who was not much more than a

 

child herself.  Thin, pale, disheveled, she sat slumped forward in the

 

swirling snow, head bowed, eyes closed, elbows resting on her knees.

 

A tiny baby slept on her lap.  Now and then, the little girl would peek

 

at me, lost, frightened, eyeing me no doubt as another phantom in a

 

nightmare which would not stop.

 

This was long ago and far away, and my memory is as blurry as the

 

snowstorm was that day.  But there were a number of odds and ends

 

mixed in with us in the alley.  Odd happenings in life stay with you,

 

and back then was not like it is today, where homeless families, jobless

 

Joes, and penniless pensioners are common sights most anywhere,

 

sleeping in parks, alleys, vacant lots, or in cars or vans or out on the

 

sidewalks.  Watching the hurricanes on the newscasts brought it back

 

Katrina, Rita, Wilma   with thousands of lives displaced by an

 

act of God.  But then what act isnt?

 

I had a penny flute in my pocket.  I found it in my cell, hidden by

 

some former inmate, maybe to be turned into a shank.  The slim, tin, sad

 

excuse for an instrument helped pass the time; its lost lament filling

 

the void in the dead of night.

 

I slipped it out and played it for the little girl, who peeked at me cautiously,

 

as I tooted my lonely cell tune into the blizzard.

 

Listen to the wishes in the well

 

Listen to the wind atop the hill

 

Listen to the patter of the rain

 

Listen to the story of the dream

 

Listen to the silence of the night

 

Listen to the love birds in their flight

 

Listen to the whisperings in the dark

 

Listen to the beating of your heart

 

I smiled when I finished and held the tiny flute out for her for her to take.

 

But she shivered and turned away.

 

Jesus!  I read over the piece.  Damned thing actually brings a tear to my eye.  I sit and wonder if anyone will actually publish the stuff?

 

**

 

The black winds howl and the warped walls creak.  Under the bed rodents eat the rug.  Snake like hisses steam from the radiator all winter.  Up and down the Hell Hotel, DTs dance while winos scream.  Is it for you that I am screaming Cara Mia mouth open, eyes shut, toes curled, fists clenched and your lips of fire, mouth of flame, warm heart, body heat, or do I need another drink?

 

**

 

In nursing home hallways, like fading memories, the aged sit.  Someday it will come to that.  (If theres anything left.)  But the beat will go on for a good while yet, between one thing and another and my social security checks.  (Getting paid for not working after a lifetime wasted punching clocks and breaking my neck imagine that.)

 

Marriage?  Scary music played when she entered the room.  She got the house, car, pension, bank account, six quarts of my blood.  And what little was left of my brain.  Kids?  Hope I dont see any of them any time soon   all alumni of the local reform school.

 

I have a post office box and a Greyhound locker key.  Half the week I live on the street; (except in winter) the other days its flops, diners, cheap hotels, Midnight Angels and the occasional police cell.

 

But Im back with the Beats.  The way I started out before the draft, the lifer job, love, marriage, the baby carriage.  Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, my heros, and of course Bukowski and Carver.  Better late than never.

 

 

 

**

 

Like rags in the wind we chase helter-skelter, searching the street for something to duck under, rain pounding down amid lightening and thunder, all the buildings boarded up or burner to cinder.

 

Id a swore there was a mission here!  Whitey curses as we scramble back and forth.  I know I flopped round this dump heap last year!

 

In here.  I duck through a black hole and tunnel through broken brick.  A marble staircase in a roofless shell climbs to a balcony floating in a netherworld.  Under there.  We scurry for cover and sit shivering in a corner.

 

The walls are plastered with tattered movie posters, faded, ragged but still packed with glamour.  Ravishing women and matinee idols Gardner, Gable, Marylyn Monroe, the Duke, Rita Hayworth, still fabulous in their Technicolor dream-world. 

 

Seems we found us a movie palace.  Whitey digs in his pockets for makings and rolls two smokes, hands one to me and lights his own.  More stars than there are in heaven.  Whitey blows rings in the air.  Remember that show played old movies on TV way back when?  Bet I seen all of these on the tube in my time.  Some on the big screen.  Look at that one!  Jimmy Stewart in Its A Wonderful Life!  They dont make flicks like that no more.  Doubt if they know how.  Heros, heroines, the American Dream, all gone with the wind, bro, down the road of no return.

 

Nam, Nixon, Desert Storm, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Wall Street run amuck, Gitmo, jobless Joes, the Patriot Act, homeless, the helpless, everyone falling through cracks dont know about no more but not anytime soon.

 

**

 

The waiter brings us fresh martinis on a silver tray with Spanish olives.  The notes from Stardust flutter through the club like birds of paradise.

 

I love talking to poets.  She whispers.

 

The tables flickering candle, lights her platinum blonde hair and sparking smile.  Over the rim of her raised cocktail glass she devours me with her large onyx eyes.

 

Poets are so inspiring!

 

We met in the poetry section of Borders bookstore.  I was figuring out how to borrow a volume by Bly. (The best way to beat the sensor machine at the door is to drag the book along the floor under your foot, while sneezing violently to the distract security guard standing there.)

 

Bly is my guy.  She says.

 

We shared a reading once in Redding.  I lied.

 

Shes had about a thousand facelifts, looks to me, and is as mad as a hatter like most old rich dames.  Just hope the old bird remembered to carry her credit card.

 

**

 

Whats in the bag old man?

 

A gang of punks with greased back hair looking for some kicks just to pass the time, saunter up the alley where Im seated on a milk crate drinking a bottle of wine.

 

You hear me you old fuck?  Im talking to you!

 

I get up, pull the cheap vino from the bag, roll the brown paper into a funnel and jam it down the neck of the bottle.  

 

Molotov cocktail son.  Want some?

            They back away as I flick my Bic.

 

**

 

Infomercial, infomercial, sitcom, sitcom, infomercial, infomercial semi-naked warrior midgets suddenly pop up on the tube.  The little merciless men are swinging tiny tritons and tiny torches.  Amazon women, wielding giant swords, battle them in an arena in ancient Rome.  The midgets get their heads chopped off.  The big babes in helmets get stabbed and burned.  Wow!  Nothing like an old black and white!

 

I hurry to the kitchen, grab a beer.  Nice digs.  What they call a studio pull out, bathroom, completely furnished.  Had to lay out two months rent security deposit.  Get me through the winter.  Ill get most of the money back.  Take them six weeks to evict me after I quit paying the rent.

 

A giant gorilla charges across the screen galloping on his knuckles.  He races to a blonde

Chick tied to a stake.  She screams.  The gorilla is startled.  He studies her, fondles her, rips her apart.  Jesus!  A guy with a lot of muscles fights a fat black bear.  The bear eats his face.  Another gladiator type wrestles a Bengal tiger.  Bad move Buddy.  I lower the sound.

 

Car commercial, car commercial, fast food chain, Jamaica, Bahamas, season sale, season sale News update: 12 more US troops were killed today when another mosque bombed, another jihad beheading, Bush Cheney, Abu Ghraid, Gitmo, more Katrina

 

I turn it back up, run to the kitchenette, crackers, cold one Some kind of creepy dungeon.  Christian martyrs being led through mazes, tunnels, out into the arena through a giant gate.  The martyrs huddle together, pray, sing.  A mother hugs her child.  Lions rush out through the arena doorways from every direction.  They swarm the martyrs, chase them around, rip them to shreds.  Good god!  I bolt my beer.  Next comes a panorama of audience reaction shots, as the camera sweeps the coliseum, which is jammed to the rafters with partying Romans pigging out, drinking wine, giving each other high fives.  Close up of the big shots in the box seats: Caesar, Nero, sporting sardonic grins.

 

**

 

Some of them are partying on the pullout.  Some of them are passed out on the floor.  Others are dancing in the kitchenette.  I dont know who any of them are.

 

It started out with me and Bimbo on a wild ride through her imaginary world.  Whoever  she thought I was must have been some strapping young stud and Im amazed that I survived the ordeal.  

 

Pops were out of Schnapps!

 

A blonde, Germanic, bovine girl is screeching in my face.  Shes wearing some sort of deli style uniform and I kind of remember dreaming I was Ahab harpooning the great white wale.

 

Hot dogs and whiskey, bratwurst and beer, memories of a housewarming barbeque on the kitchenette burners comes into focus and disappears.  Did the smoke detectors go off?  Were the neighbors pounding on the door?  The police?  The fire department?  I think I remember the landlord throwing everyone out.  But everyone is here.  Guess the party returned.

 

**

 

We blew up chicken gullets, like balloons

 

for the girls to carry around on strings in the

 

City of Wind when I was a kid, and played

 

pirate with sharpened stockyard bones which

 

we sheathed in out clothesline belts, like swords,

 

marauding through the neighborhood.

 

Along the sidewalks, the girls play hopscotch,

 

arms raised in the air like wings, hopping toward

 

the Blue Sky with tiny, one-footed leaps.

 

Angels flew in the city of wind, around the steeples

 

of the churches, over the rooftops of the tenements,

 

under the viaducts and bridges, through the gangways

 

of the houses, down the narrow streets and alleys,

 

above the fuming slaughterhouse chimneys

 

billowing black smoke into the wind.

 

**

 

It is midnight.  In the dark, in bed, lying alone and naked, I stare at the ceiling fan and smoke a cigarette.  The room is a stage set from the Twilight Zone.  There is a three legged chair beneath a wobbly table, a broken television and a one station radio.  The window wont open and its shade wont close.  The sink faucet drips, the water pipes rattle, the floor boards creak, the radio crackles.  There is no hot water in the shower in the bathroom down the hall.  There is no lighting in the hallway except a feeble, hanging bulb.  There is no paper for the toilet.  There is no lock on any door.  The table lamp flickers when lighted.  The dresser drawers wont budge.  It is the dog days of summer.

 

I hear the voice of God in the torpor, hacking and cackling through the static of the unchangeable radio, in the heat and swelter of the steamy Uptown night, indecipherable yet all powerful, unknowable and unrelenting, telling me that somewhere and yesterday and tonight and tomorrow and nowhere and always and never and forever

 

There is a full moon tonight.  The walls are weeping.  Teardrops glisten like diamonds in the purgatorial dark.  I reach for my bottle, drink to the hidden, like fog in a daydream, mingling

shadows and moonbeams.

 

And moonstruck lovers sign on their pillows.

 

And midnight revelers dance in the moons glow.

 

And my childhood voice laughs near my window.

              

 

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DONT

 

Strange place at night the yard

below my window is filled with

darkness, shifting shadows.

The darkness is visible; the shapes

you sense, like equations on a

blackboard in a school room long

forgotten which have been erased.

During the day, its the other way

light too bright, ghosts at play.

Three squares a day, meds, shrinks,

burly attendants all you need

between the clock and  the bed.

The days pop up like white rabbits

in a magicians top hat.  Each night

you vanish.

 

RACKUM

 

With a shaky hand I grab the tumbler

resting on the cushion of the billiard table

close my eyes, taste the thunder.

Death.  The whiskey whispers.

Bring it on.  I softly answer.

Half-wits and whores, drunks, degenerates,

undead corpses, living obituaries no one will

bother to write surround me in the night.

Double-cross in the corner.

I stroke the pool-stick and watch the colored

balls collide like constellations in a sky gone

wild, criss-crossing, cascading, ricocheting.

Life sucks in the side.

I bury the eight ball and hang my stick,

stagger through the shadows, collect my bets.

A Midnight Angel waits by my bar stool.

The juke-box wails some song in the darkness

about hard times, heartbreak, hopelessness.

 

KNOCK KNOCK

 

Whos there?

Me.  Its an emergency.

For Christs sake.

The door opens a crack.

What do you want?  As if I cant guess.

The usual.  I got money.

Shadow waves the gun hes holding for me

to come in. The shack by the river is clean

as a whistle as usual.  Over in a corner is

a potbellied stove burning a small fire.

The wind wails through the warped walls

and I think with winter coming on it must

get kind of cold in here, maybe unbearable.

Were closed man.  Shadow grumbles. Its

four oclock in the A and M.  He lights a

kerosene lamp and hangs it on a hook. Black

girls are asleep in cots all around us, tossing,

turning, throwing off their blankets.  Theres an

interior door to another room which I imagine

smells like perfume. 

Coffee.  Shadow mutters to a girl sitting and

smoking on the nearest cot.  Bring me my box.

She stretches, yawns, studies my ghost-like face

and disappears in the rooms dark recesses.

Put it down.  Shadow taps the small table by

the window with his gun.  This all you got?

He frowns as he counts.  Coffee comes back and

lays the box on the table.  Do to an increase in

operating expenses, the price has gone up.

Shadow shoves the packet down my shirt pocket.

You look like shit.  He smiles and pats my arm.

Next time bring more. Better yet, do yourself a

favor, dont come at all.

 

GIVE ME ONE MORE TIME

 

A shadow in a phantom world,

I tilt my bottle.

The night-town tavern is dark, smoky,

crowded with haunts: dipsos, boozers,

alkies, losers, ghosts of dreams who

never woke up.

The night, try to get through it, forget:

what you never did, might have done,

could not do, missed,  lost, blew, before

the darkness which you dont remember

begins again and this time forever.

 

SABBATH

 

Shrunken old,

she steps out of the shadows

into the noon day sun.

Watch the fun,

as she hobbles along

on her way to church,

through the midday throngs.

You know the rest.

They knock her down,

grab her purse.

Broken jaw, broken hip,

Her eight bits for the

collection basket street-punk

ripped That old bitch wasnt

worth shit!

You cross yourself.

Whats left?

 

STORE CLERK

 

You squeal on me?

Cut his throat!

They dont  know who theyre after.

You didnt tell them who did it?

I left them chasing shadows.

But you saw me kill the old man, rob

his store! You came out of nowhere!

He just hired me. I was in the back doing

inventory.

So?  What?  You told them the killer was

wearing a mask?

Something like that.

Something like what?

I told them I was in the back.  I heard a

gunshot and came up front.  I saw someone

running out but I didnt see his face.

Why you lie?  Youre crazy!  You know they

gonna finger you now. An inside job. Youre

their main suspect!

Im not sweating that. Why didnt you kill me

too?  You had your gun pointed at me.

I dont  know. We go back, at least we did in

grade school. You were OK. I never had no lunch.

You used to come up to me and say: Hey man,

help me eat this; its way too much! I knew it

was charity. You were as poor as me.  I ate it

anyway. So I remember and I cant pull the trigger.

The old man was a crook.  He cheated everyone

in this neighborhood a nickel and  dime at a time. 

He knew I really needed this job to help my family,

yet everyday he leaned on me, rubbed it in my face

that I was his nobody. Does anyone care that hes

dead?  I dont. Besides, we go back in the hood.

 

BODY AND SOUL

 

That dark spiral down,

even beyond the reach

of the reach beyond.

Ive looked into their eyes

staring at the day as if life

took place in perpetual night.

Ive had to because my own

comic shadow searches the

same maze we all stagger

through, between the soup

kitchens and the rescue gospel

missions, amidst the trail of

broken bottles we follow like

grown up Hansels and Gretels.

Thats what you get when you fly

without a net! The spectators laugh,

enjoying the show from righteous row.

Thats what you get when you cant

hack it! Watch the clowns tumble

down. That clown got what was coming!

That clown never was good for nothing!

So, blow the trumpets, bang the drum,

gather round, rejoice, have fun but

know: every soul is a rainbow, every soul

is hallowed.

 

RAP

 

They let him cool his heels for a while

in an isolated cell while they got their

stuff together.  They needed him to get

his stuff together too: get all nervous

and tongue tied while he waited for

them to march in with their charges,

whatever they were.

It worked, played on his nerves, sitting

there in a cage trapped like an animal.

Hey, how about my phone call! 

He shouted.

No one answered.

How about my lawyer!

Not that he had or could afford one.

You aint been charged with nothin yet

A gruff voice grunted around the corner.

Then why am I here?  Show your face!

Wheres my habeas corpus!

Dont know nothin bout that and

couldnt care less.  All I know is Im

trying to read the paper and youre

disturbing my peace!

The next morning he learned. There

was an attempted break-in at some home

near where he was walking a big man

in a hooded parka.  The family dog scared

him off.  The owner was pretty sure he

saw a black man running from the house.

I didnt have nothing to do with that!

My cellmate keeps shouting and giving

me a migraine.  Before I know it Im in

a lineup.  Some guy says thats him and

here I am!

All blacks look alike to folks around here,

Ill admit.  And all crooks look black when

their wearing hoods and all you can see is

their back. Lester looks kind of scary

anyway, although hes not.  Hey I believe

him!  I just wish hes quit his screaming.

 

ROAD KILL

 

I sit in my cheap room, watch the raid from the window.  PD flashers strafe the dead zone dark.  Vice squad walkie-talkies crackle in the chaos, sirens wail, shadows scurry.

 

They hustle the whores out first, cuffed, kicking a prima dumba backstreet ballet of fish-net stockings, skin tight shifts, spiked high heels, nightglow flesh all shrieking, cursing, spitting at the narcs.

 

The Johns follow hard on (no pun on that one) and nightsticks rain down, as the brawl of good ol boy beer guts, biker brawn, lunge, jostle, try to run.

 

I pack my suitcase, thunder threads tossed in the trash, light another Lucky, slug sown cathouse Jack.  Paylor the pimp, Bubba the bouncer, are frog walked out next, sweating bullets in their lounge lizard best.  Back stabbed, double crossed, facing jail, they look like cremating corpses on flame from Hell.

 

Hookers, strippers, poker machines, drugs, booze, dice, ex-cons, thugs by the time anyone wonders where the bartenders gone (ont the back as soon as the first narc walked in) Ill be dreaming of you Ruby (dead drunk on a Trailways Bus).

 

Life goes on.

 

Drifter digs, you open the door and flop into bed.  A single snaked light bulb hangs from a ceiling chain.  Devil shapes toss the room as its harsh light swings with the windows wind.

 

Each night I hear the exiles doing pratfalls in the dark.  They stagger back and forth to the washroom down the hall, or try to maneuver through their tiny flops.  Across the alley a back street lounge sleep streams until dawn.  Jazz and blues fill the night with saxophones and wailing songs.  Silhouettes slow dance in the windows.

 

I watch them through my window, pillow propped against the wall, sipping rye and blowing smoke, while the demons shift around.  The music wraps the night in dream.  Ruby and me dance inside a memory.

 

Into the night riding that mare.

 

Man on the un danger, beware.

 

Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

 

Into the night, grim reaper behind.

 

Eyes heavy from smoke and the long night, fingers furtively stroking the cue-stick, I move, back and forth, around the lamp-lit pool table and study the cluster of brightly colored balls which seem to float there.  The room rocks and creaks around us in the lamp-lit dark, as Johnny Gun and the Rustlers ignite a foot stomping line dance in the rhythm and blues bar upstairs, driven by wailing harmonicas and electric guitars.

 

I lean into each shot like a sleep-walker in a trance, dizzy from drink, playing combinations so crazy they make no sense, lost in some Twilight Zone of hustler Zen which, playing stick for meals and flops in two-bit joints, from time to time, never happened before and probably wont happen again.

 

Shadow shapes crowd the smoky cellar, as still and silent as apparitions in a dream.  The usual specters who haunt the gaming dives grifters, gamblers, sharks and jives, pimps, pushers,

And other denizens of the night.  Amidst the jamming from the rave upstairs, the clapping hands and stamping feet, I hear the rustle of money changing hands around the room, like the flurry of wind in a crypt, or the flutter of ghosts in the dark.

 

Ever make the wrong move, I hear Johnny sing upstairs, in the wrong town, cross the wrong path at the wrong time, play the wrong game with the wrong crowd?

 

Theres a nightclub in a cellar (in my dream) small, dark, empty.  A ghost woman in a gossamer gown sits at a piano under a spotlight.  She sings:

 

Man in the moon,

 

Lord of the night,

 

Talk to the whispering

 

Winds in their flight.

 

Man in the moon,

 

Tell them to sigh.

 

I have a new love.

 

The singers eyes are like holy mysteries.  Her pale skin is so perfect, it seems painted on.

Her voice is like something youd hear in heaven, and Im wondering if she sings her love song to everyone lying on a slab in the county morgue?

 

Easy does it.

 

I try to sit up but a big hand pushes me down.  Im lying on the asphalt looking at the moon.  A PD flasher is circling the alley.  My head is throbbing.  I feel it oozing blood.  A rangy lawman crouches over me, holding a gun.  He is pointing it down the street and whispering ka boom, ka boom.  He smiles faintly and then his edgy features cloud.

 

Someday, Ill clean up this town.  He looks down at me and frowns.  He has coal black eyes and a prizefighters face, wild dark hair with lightening sideburns.  Saw them jump you from down the block.  He pushes up the brim of his cowboy hat with the barrel of his gun.  Three.  They went at you pretty good with saps, digging in your pockets.  They scatted when they heard my siren.  Should of shot the shitheads.  He looks down the street again.  Lets see if you can stand.

 

The long arm of the law.  I grip onto it and struggle to my feet.  My head is reeling and my legs feel numb.  The lanky lawman towers over me, looking me up and down.

 

Better red than dead, I reckon.  He pokes his fingers through my hair.  Ill run you over to General.  He holsters his gun.  Thats in the next town.  We can fill out an official Colsen County police report along the way.  Just for fun.

 

On the run son?  The sheriff lights a cigarette as we drive along through the black windowed backstreets of the small tank town, takes a long drag off it and tosses me the pack.  Car break down?  I close my eyes as his Zippo flares in my face.  Seeing the U.S.A. by sticking out your thumb?  He pulls a clipboard from under the seat and set it beside him, gropes in his top pocket for a pen.  Get kicked off the Trailways for snorin too loud?

 

Buildings blur past, crumbling brick boxes, ramshackle houses folding in upon themselves, shanties, shacks, all smothered by tangled trees and dense foliage, and then a dark rush of nothingness, as the highway comes at us, its white line unraveling in my foggy head like a silk snake from the sleeve of an illusionist.

 

My wallet.  I fumble at my back pocket, try to shake away the cobwebs from my shadowy consciousness.  They got it.  My head pounds and my back aches.  A couple of my ribs feel cracked.  I press around my stomach, feel under the belt, take a drag off the cigarette, manage not to choke on it and settle back in the seat.

 

No ID.  The sheriff says flatly and scribbles on his sheet.  Vagrancy?  He muses.  He blows a perfect smoke ring at the windshield.  It floats like a ghosts mouth over the steering wheel and dash, vanishes when it hits the glass.  Just kiddin bud.  Give me a name, where youre from, where youre going, what happened.

 

Paylor, Bubba, Ruby, the raid there cant be any kind of A.P.B out on me.  That would be crazy.  No one in Madden even knew my real name, or anything about me, not even Ruby.  All they knew was that Stanton sent me, an old cell mate.  Besides, that was hundreds of miles ago.

 

Corbett.  I stub out my cigarette in the ashtray, slide the pack back over to him.  Jim.

My fingers feel like an assemblage of wooden clothes pins.  I must have really nailed someone.  I fold them, stretch them, gingerly touch my swollen face.

 

Four flat tires seem to occur simultaneously as the squad bucks, bounces, bobs along the highway and I look out the windshield to see a migration of snakes slithering across the asphalt under the squads headlights trying to shimmy like crazy to the other side.

 

Snakes in a lane.  The sheriff smiles as we roll across the road kill.  Down the road of no return.  He picks up the cigarette pack with his forefinger and thumb, studies it and puts it in the glove compartment.

 

I feel woozy.  Like I woke up in the Twilight Zone.

 

Gentleman Jim Corbett.  The sheriff glances at me.  His coal black eyes ignite.  heavy weight champ of the world in 1890?  1910?  Sure it aint John L. Sullivan?  He laughs softly to himself, stubs out his cigarette and picks up the pen.  Go on.

 

A sign flashes by for SPECTER, five mile down the road.  The sheriff looks at me and clicks his pen.

 

Im just passing through.  I try to keep my voice steady, but I still feel dizzy and the psycho sheriff is driving me crazy.  Im traveling to Miami.  I have a ticket on the Trailways.  I lie (I was dead broke starting yesterday). But I guess thats gone too.

 

So what are you doing here? he fixes me a look. A snappy stud like you, out in the middle of nowhere, get bored with the Riviera?

 

I stopped to visit a friend.  I feel the pain settling behind my eyes that I get when I have to make up alibis.  Im not fast at it.  McDonald, Norman.  Couldnt find him.  Maybe he moved?

 

Old guy owns the farm?  Na, hes still around, Eee I o in and Yo in.

 

The sheriff chortles as he scribbles something down and then reaches for the intercom.

 

Cole to Willow.

 

Go Cole.

 

Drivin a drifter to General.  Corbett James.  No ID.  Twenty something.  Caucasian.  Stocky.  Ugly.  Got banged up by the boys.  Bar fight.  Back in a jiffy.

 

Copy Cole.  Hey bring me some Crispy Creams!

 

Where I come from nobody knows.  The sheriff whispers and winks at me.  He reattaches the hand radio, pus away the pen, pulls over to the side of the highway and parks by the tangled trees.  Where Im going everyone goes  Got that from an old flick.  He reaches in the visor and pulls out another cigarette, lights it.  Heres the rest best I see it.  You won a bundle at the Haystack shootin pool.  Must have been a bundle or the boys would have let it go.  You saw the writin on the wall and snuck out the bathroom window.  Shoved the money down your crotch.  Give it to me.  The sheriff sticks out his hand, blows a smoke ring in my face.

 

The radio squawks unanswered calls.  Snakes slither across the lonely highway, as give it to the small town sheriff, over and over again, with the dropped sap I picked up in the alley.

 

NOW I LAY ME

 

Dreams float without soul, each night a new death.

Each day a postmortem on dreams abandoned.

Do you think were going to make it through this?

My wife asks.

Sure, we can raise some cash.

If we can sell all our trash furniture, bungalow, used

car, nick knacks, clothes. Factor in my unemployment

checks for as long as they last. Add whatever handyman

gigs I can put into that. Government food stamps?

Im afraid.

No need to be.  Well be OK.  Take care of our needs

housing, heat, food for the kids.

I stare at the darkened ceiling of our bedroom.  

Fire sale! Fire sale!  Flames leap.  The night stands ignite.

The bed burns, dressers, tables, chairs, drapes, the whole

bungalow swirling in flames, boy scout, girl scout, little

league pictures erased as plumes sweep each the room.

Try to get some sleep.      

 

PAPER MOON

 

The world dropped into night

as I flew my kite up and down

the schools playground.

Lightening flared, thunder rumbled,

but I held on tight, spellbound as it

danced, fluttered with the black winds

in the stormy sky, until the rains came

and it tumbled.  

 

BORN TO LOSE

 

Like a death rattle of wind chimes

playing the desperate crys of hard

times, through dark, despairing notes

across the shivering rhythms of their

hearts and souls, the lost generation

wanders the recession, searching for

salvation from lifes regression, hoping

too little, too late wont come from

whatever can change their fate.

Its the music sensation thats sweeping

the nation the beat of a dreams retreat.   

You can hear it in Chicago, in the Motor

City, in Philadelphia, PA, Kansas City,

down in New Orleans, all across the

country

 

DREAMLAND

 

Hard wind, everything tossing, chains snapping, cars rocking, Tanner shut down the Hell Bound, looked around: Dreamland a delirium of flying coffins.  Fucking Jim. Tanner searched the labyrinths. Fucking Jim.

 

The dream lanes were jammed   the usual midsummer nights bedlam: trailer park vamps in their short shorts, beehive bouffants, more makeup on their doe-eyed faces than on a  circus clowns (each of them promising their own wild ride for a box of popcorn and some  cotton candy on the side), the townie gangs looking for different thrills than the amusement park  could provide with its danger rides, the working class couples and their kids from the prefab housing developments around the industrial districts, the ethnics from the citys edge, as awed as if they found Shangri la or Alices Wonderland, the designer drug Goths double dosing on the carnie lights and circus trimmings, plus, grifters, pickpockets, perverts, whores, drug pushers, panhandlers and the too numerous to classify odds and ends strolling alone or together through the land of never never, where, if he didnt move quick, might make never forever for some unlucky reveler.

 

Tanner shouldered through the mayhem, everyone around him enjoying the big wind as if it were an added attraction, laughing, screaming with glee as they clung to one another and ducked the flying debris, arcade tents flapping, caf tables tumbling. Fucking Jim.  

 

Rides awry, storm clouds chased across the sky. Man, you better get moving.

 

Shut it down!

 

Tanner shouted at the gangly kid operating the Flying Squadron.

 

Wheres Jim?

 

Wild-eyed, the skinny kid gaped at him.

 

Shut it down.  Youll kill someone!

 

The mock planes were rocking, dipping as they whirled on their lines, veering with the gusts into the branches of the giant trees, which were everywhere, and made the amusement park a park according to the old man who refused to cut them down, despite the numerous warnings and frequent safety citations, which he bribed his way out of and were seasonally forgotten.

 

Chain them!  Tanner hollered.  Chain them when youre done!

 

The kid stared at him, blankly.

 

They got anchor hooks on the bottom!

 

Because of the wind,   Tanner brooded, the wind  

 

They were in for a big one.  The big blow from Kooky mo. as Jim called it, the winds sweeping across the plains along tornado lane, which gave the windy city down the highway its stormy nickname.  Jim, Stacey, the old man should have seen it coming (like on TV?) and  done something. 

 

Move!  Tanner shouted and the kid almost jumped out of his skin. Now!  Hope you dont end up in my platoon, simpleton.  Tanner brooded, as his thoughts flashed back to the day he had gotten himself into this mess.

 

This summer youre a danger runner.  Jim had handed him a beer and informed him when they opened for the season.  If you want.  Tagarts off to Iraq.  Joined over the winter. Says he cant wait to get there, although he was hoping for Afghanistan.  Itching to serve anywhere.  Hell change his mind when the bullets start to fly.  You know the drill: when the big blow comes shut the danger rides down.  Yours first, of course,  

 

Jim waved his can of beer.

 

Then help with the rest.  Twister anywhere around, we close the park down or anything near as fierce.  You know how these summer storms get around here: monsoon rain, lightning and thunder, bar the door and duck for cover.  Buck and Whitey round out the crew.  But Im counting on you.  I assume you know the pay raise for your upgrade in responsibility and authority: zero.  Thats the old man for you, thinks I can be everywhere.  In other words youre a volunteer.  Itll ruin your summer; so if its a no can do I aint blamin you.

 

Zero and a beer.   

 

Tanner had lifted his can in the air.

 

I knew I had me a sucker here.  Bet Uncle Sams got one too.  Suppose youll be joining like Tagart now that youre through with school?

 

I been talkin to the recruiter.  Tanner had stiffened.  But Ill finish the season. Thats no problem. 

 

Young men and heroism. Jim had shaken his head. When will it ever end?

 

You joined for Nam.  Tanner had reminded him.  You won a decoration.

 

You dont win nothin in war son.  You only lose.  War changes you.  Besides, they were

draftin then.  They would have got me in the end.

 

There aint no jobs, Jim.  Thats kind of like draftin.  I dont see any end to this recession. ( And I aint going to get anywhere working here. Thats for sure!)  Tanner had added to himself as he downed his beer.

 

The Hell Bound, the Flying Squadron, the Spinning Jenny and the Ferris Wheel, the Parachute, the Merry-go-Round six rides where a strong wind could hurt someone. Whitey had quit; Buck didnt show up for work.  Without Jim he was on his own.  There was no way Tanner could close the danger rides alone.  They were too spread out and with this wind anything could happen in a split second.  Two down, four to go. You got to move fast.  Jim had warned him.  The crowds are the hang up.  Knock someone down if you have to.  Theyll be OK.  Better than havin some guy take a high dive from the Parachute or Ferris Wheel.                                                                                                            

 

Rides of every kind spinning before his eyes, criss-crossing, cascading, dropping, climbing, intertwining Scrambler, Roller Coaster, Tilt-a-Whirl   fifty altogether, making him dizzy as he pushed through the mobs, all scattered amidst a forest and connected by a maze of lanes that would drive a laboratory rat insane. Tanner could hardly remember, on any given day, exactly where the rides were, or anything for that matter. The maze went every which way.

 

You could get lost in the Dream Lanes. Plus, they were as mad as a Mardi Gras in New Orleans, filled with barker booths, game galleries, arcades, fireworks, everything topsy turvy Spin the Wheel, Shoot the Ducks, Ring the Bell, Pitch the Penny, Dunk the Clown, Fool the Wizard, Knock Down the Bottles, See the Giant, Midget, Bearded Lady; while crazy calliope music played on speakers throughout the mayhem: Carousel,  Home on the Range, Meet Me in Saint Louis, Waiting for the Robert E. Lee, In the Good Ole Summertime, Sidewalks of New York, mixed with heavy metal and acid rock.  If you didnt get dizzy enough from the rides, the relentless music would blow your mind.

 

The old man designed the park hisself.  Jim had informed him when he first hired on three summers ago during his first high school break and Jim showed him around. Cant ya tell?  That made instant sense and explained  a lot.   His first impression of the old man, when he shook his hand, was that the amusement park owner was as mad as a Hatter.  He certainly cut a fine, distinguished figure with his snow-white, designer cut hair and clothes you only saw inmovies about millionaires.  But his sky-blue eyes looked hypnotized, as though they were looking, not at Tanner, but through him and beyond him and Tanner was just something in the way, which confused and amused him, while something way deep in the back of his mind was what consumed him. He designed some of the rides, too.   Hands in the pockets of his faded jeans, head bowed, massive shoulders rounded, staring at the ground, Jim had given him the lowdown,  as they strolled around, drawing him in with his drawl and creating a bond between them, man to man, which was probably something he learned how to do in Nam when he needed his men to back him. The Hell Bound and the Flying Squadron to name a few.  Hell, he had a hand in most everything from the Tunnel of Love to the Pony Rides and the Magic Rings. Maybe you noticed, the park has a strong flavor of war to it all?  Theres the Combat Zone computer arcade and the motor boats which he calls Destroyers, and, of course, the Rifle Range.  The old man was a bomber pilot during Nam.  He bombed Hanoi, Laos, Cambodia, an assortment of ports and villages along the coast.   He dropped Agent Orange on jungles, dropped Napalm. He was a frequent flyer whose distinctions for missions couldnt have been higher. We met there in between his runs and my adventures with shooting Gooks with guns.  Thats why Im here.  I was just a punk kid, not even eighteen, younger than you.  He was an officer and a gentleman but somehow we got along.  We met in a bar enjoying whores and liquor. His dream was Dreamland even way back then. He had it all planned and I was in, at least as the foreman.  He must of got the idea for the park with every city he blew up and every forest he burned. Maybe Im haunted in a way by every enemy soldier I shot.  But I can see him up there with his wizard eyes gleamin and dreamin.  I think he wanted to turn all that horror around, make something scary but fun and no harm to anyone. Dont we all.  War is hell, son.  I wish I had me a magic wand that could erase it all.  This is his land. His parents left it to him, used to be a farm.  Theres a big house at the end which he lives in.  Looks like another fairytale from Dreamland.  You may have noticed it drivin down the highway. Its hard to miss.  He entertains all the big wigs there, political, industrial.  He never had me and Beth over, but he sure likes to drop around our little shack in the winter when the seasons over.  Brings a bottle of the best.  We talk about Nam, whores and war and how lucky we got outta there.  Hes a strange one.  I dont know if I owe him everything or nothing.  Ive been in on this thing since day one.  Job, shack. I think the main reason Im here is so the old man can look back.

 

That wasnt true from what Tanner knew.  The old man couldnt have gotten the park off the ground without Jim around.  They were wild times back then, thirty-five years ago.  The area was unincorporated.  You had to depend on the state police to keep the peace.  They were few and far between.  Jim was the enforcer.  Tanner knew all about Jim from his father. You workin where?  Cant you get a job as a stock boy or grocery clerk? Thats a lowdown, lowlife carnie world and the guy youll be workin for is a psycho killer.  Yeah he was a hero in Nam.  But I went there, too, and I didnt come back with my screws loose. That place will corrupt you.  That lunatic Jim belongs in prison.  I could tell you stories.  Which his father proceeded to do and they were shocking, if they were true.  But Tanner thought they all were probably small town gossip and rumors.  He did believe you didnt mess with Jim back then.  He must have handled everything from the usual drunks and punks to the biker packs and townie gangs.  He had to.  You still didnt want to get on his bad side now at fifty-nine.  He still had the build, pretty much, of that farm boy who joined the Marines and with his cold black eyes and unruly hair you knew he still played the same game of truth or dare.  Sometimes Tanner thought Jim prowled around like he was still in Nam, looking for a fight that he could get his hands on.  He found them now and then, as legal as they could be.  Tanner had seen him toss around guys like bales of hay.  Jim was a shit kicker in his day.  They dont make them puny.   Yeah, the old man was a strange one; that was for sure.  Tanner brooded as he ducked out of the crowds and cut through the trees.  The old man and Jim, now there was a tag team.  A duo right out of a Barnum and Bailey dream.

 

Shut it down!  Tanner yelled at the kid running the Merry-go-Round.  The painted ponies were the ultimate danger ride in this wind, at least for toddlers.  It could knock them down and break their little crowns and you might not be able to put them back together again. Get the kids off!  Close the ride!  But start it up circling again or the top will blow off!   

 

What?

 

Run it with no one on it!

 

I dont get it?

 

Just do it!

 

Thunder rocked the reeling rides.  Lightning streaked across the blackened sky.  The gusts of wind brought bursts of rain.  Three more!  Tanner brooded, clothes flapping, hair tossing as he maneuvered through the mobs.  The Parachute, the Ferris Wheel, the Spinning Jenny.  Fucking Jim.  If that crazy old hillbilly was drunk in the back of his van again with some trailer park tramp, Tanner hoped, this time, he got what was coming to him from the old man. Yeah, Jim sure had his own little harem.  Tanner frowned.  Tent lights were blinking.  Up-ended trash cans were tumbling across the Dream Lanes.  The rain lashed at him. A harem for the head honcho   why not when he had plenty of treats to tempt the tricks: popcorn and rides and a wonderland of bright lights and good times.  But could Tanner complain?  He did plenty of that in his own way.  All the ride runners did.  His father was right: carnie life would corrupt him. 

 

Dreamland was a dream.  Girls were everywhere all summer.  Pretty, tanned teasers looking for fun and Tanner was more than willing to oblige them.  This was the place to have it.  It was in the air like magic.  Dream and reality all mixed up, chills and thrills.  He had his share of rides through the Tunnel of Love.  He had his wild nights, with drinking and gambling and carrying on.  But that was on his own time.  He wasnt fooling around with bimbos on the job. Tanner was sick and tired of covering for Jim. I think I got me a sucker here.  He sure did.  All his volunteers were.  War hero or not, there was a limit.  Right now, he wished he were big enough to kick Jims ass.  He deserved it.  Look what he was doing to his wife, Beth.  Course it wasnt his business, but it made Tanner sick.  Sanford, Edwards and all them other politicians.  Infidelity seemed to be the law of the land or the craze of the nation.  He didnt know if Jim was under the spell of the usual mid/old man life crisis thingamabob or if he had been doing it all along.  He sure had been at it since Tanner had known him.  Did Beth know what was going on?  She never showed it if she did.  Maybe she was just standing by her man.  Everybody seemed to stand by her man.  Tanner was tired of looking out for Jim and his wild side. Screw the medals. 

 

If it wasnt for Beth, the old man, his volunteers, Jim would probably be a hobo panhandling for cheap wine and change, if his brawling didnt land him in prison. After a couple of years in the military Tanner would muscle up.  He imagined himself with big biceps.  He would come back and knock Jims block off, just for the hell of it.

 

Shut it down!

 

Tanner cupped his hands and hollered at the kid running the Spinning Jenny.  Mouths open, eyes wide, laughing, screaming, waving their arms as they flew in all directions, inside out and upside down, the spinners were having the time of their lives, as the wind and rain lashed at them and they whirled around, maybe in some imaginary Katrina or other catastrophic dilemma from which they soon would be rescued safe and sound.

 

Bout time!

 

The kid shook his head and hollered  back.  He was wearing a big popcorn carton on his head as a rain helmet.

 

Wheres Jim?

 

The old man was, suddenly, standing beside him, dressed in a fancy rain slicker with a matching hat an outfit that must have cost about as much as a Cadillac.

 

In the back, last I saw him.  Tanner lied.  Some trouble in the arcade.  I think a fight.

 

I cant contact him.  The old man stared at his hand radio, which was sputtering and hissing.  All I get is static.  Were closing.  If you see him tell him.  Tornado warnings for almost every town, village and hamlet. Mute point at this point.  The old man looked around. 

 

Everybodys leaving anyway.

 

The crowds had finally given up on Dreamland for the day and were taking off in droves as the rain came pounding down the Dream Lanes.  Some were running, or moving at a trot, trying to beat the mass migration to the parking lot.

 

 Ill tell him.  Tanner looked up over the trees at the Ferris Wheel, which was still circling around with riders, the cars rocking with the gusts of wind.  Soon as I shut down the Parachute and the Ferris Wheel.    

 

Never mind that.   The old man snapped.  Just look for Jim and help him in the arcade or whatever hes doing.

 

Fucking Jim!  Tanner cursed to himself as he stalked through the fleeing mobs.  He knew where to find him; that was no problem.  Jims beat up van would be parked, as usual, somewhere in the ring of trees which surrounded the old mans mansion.  So what was his detail?  Help Jim?  Hey Jim, move over man.  The old man sent me.  Its my turn.

 

Were shutting down!  Tanner pounded on the counters of the barker booths as he went along.  Twisters coming.  Hide the leaded ducks, the blunt darts and crooked target rifles!  Batten down the hatches!  Evacuate before its too late and tell Jim if you see him!

 

Slow down soldier.

 

A grip like iron grabbed him Jim. Dont spook the crowds son.  Theyre spooky enough without you announcing cyclones.

 

A popcorn bucket pulled over his head, sporting his usual shit kickers grin, Jim hovered over him.  So the old mans shutting everything down, even the underground eateries and the Tunnel of Love?  Must be a bad one.

 

Jim.  Where you been?

 

Tanner gave him the evil eye, his face grim.

 

Puttin a pony down.  Jim shook his head, his expression forlorn. That new Shetland went wild, threw a kid, buckin and kickin.  When the runner tried to grab him, he bit him.  I chased him off, gave the kid first aid.  The kids OK, just bumps and bruises, scared.  We may have a lawsuit on the way.  They cant hit the old man for any kind of real money; but the park dont need the bad publicity.  Itll probably all get settled in a friendly way, a key to Dreamland, free everything for the rest of the season. I had to call the sheriff, the vet, make a report.  Sure did hate putting that pony down.  You know how they are, cute as buttons, like little toys.  But you cant take chances.  He was kicking up a storm, damned near broke my arm.  Jim held up his hand and Tanner noticed his arm was wrapped in a sling.  Maybe he was half crazy anyway and the big blow riled him?  Well have to see what the vet says.  Hope he wasnt carrying anything contagious. 

 

Sorry to hear that.

 

Tanner swallowed hard and felt ashamed.

 

All in the day.  Jim shrugged and his smile returned. You got it done, son.  I been lookin around.  All the danger rides down.  Good job.  If you want to stay on the clock, make some extra pay, I got some soft duty to throw your way.  I need me a big blow emergency merry-go-round babysitter trainer.  Somers is the trainee.  Good kid.  Hes always looking for extra work.  Says he needs the money for college. Hes there now.  Dogs in a steamer and cold brew waitin for you.  A bag of clothes in the office you can change into.  Clean jeans, sweatshirts, rain slickers.  Pants a little big but you can hitch them up.  Be good enough.  Id get him started, myself, but after I close down I got to get back to the stable.  Vets still there.  We got to figure out what happened and I still got to bury that pony somewhere.  When Im done Ill drop around.     

 

No problem.  Tanner found himself mumbling.  He couldnt face Jim.  Not the way he damned and cursed him.  He knew how hard killing that pony had been for him.  Jim loved those little horses, for some reason.  His face lit up every time he looked at them.  He was always petting and patting them, giving them sugar cubes, drawling Southern nothings in their twitching ears.  Somers is a cool dude.  Ill help him get going. 

 

Youd be helpin me too, as usual.  Stay as long as you want.  All night if youve got nothing to do.  The old man will grumble some at having to fork out the extra funds.  But training must be done, and if anyone can do it he knows its you.  The old man has noticed you.  He aint no fool.

 

Fucking Jim.  Tanner brooded as he cut across the crowds toward the offices.  He always wins.  He felt guilty and angry at the same time because it could just as well have been the other way with Jim having himself another roll in the hay.  Still, it put some pep in his step, Jims compliments on how well hed done and the old man knowing who he was.

 

Mary, Mary, quite count weary.

 

In the cinder brick fortress, which looked more like a military installation than an amusement park office, Mary, the old mans daughter, was seated at her desk recording stacks and piles of money down to the penny.

 

Tanner, Tanner, mind your manner.

 

She frowned as she counted.  The take had been bad, the days receipts way off.  The old man would hit the roof. 

 

Penny for your thoughts.

 

She waved him off.

 

He found the bag of dry clothes and changed in the washroom.  It felt good.  He donned the yellow raincoat, pulled up the hood and went out into the monsoon.

 

Somers!

 

The rider-less carousel was circling around in the blackened downpour, lights blazing, calliope music playing, painted horses bobbing up and down. 

 

Under here!  Somers poked his yellow-hooded head out from the hatch beneath the floorboards.  Studying the gears.  Trying to figure out how you shut that damned music off before it drives me nuts!

 

Ill show you how it all works.  Tanner crouched down in the whipping winds. Keep the music on til the crowds are gone. You may want to keep it on all night; gets spooky looking at those charging horses going round and round without a sound.  Besides, it helps you stay awake.  Keep the lights on.  Jim keeps a watch from his shack.  If he dont see them, hell think somethings happened.  Theres a tarp under there, a pole and some folding chairs.  Bring em out and Ill show you how we make a tent.  Im gonna slow it down a bit.  Tanner pulled the lever.  Got it going a little too fast.  

 

Bombs away!

 

Somers tossed out the pole.  Tanner slid it over and plunged it down a deep small hole. 

 

The tarp came next.  There was an iron ring wrapped up in it.  Tanner fixed the ring on the top of the pole and threw the tarp over it.  There were hooks in the ground to which he attached loops

t the ends making a little poncho like tent.

 

Looks like a teepee.  Somers scrambled out of the hatch carrying the folding chairs.

 

More like a headless Mexican bandit to me.  Heres the opening.  Jim put it together for the merry-go-round babysitter when the park opened.  Said he found out about the top blowing off the hard way.  The old man told him, with these winds, he should have anticipated that.  Jim says he thought the old man was the expert in aerodynamics.

 

The rides that old?

 

Dont look it, does it?  But its the original.  Those painted ponies were created by Eastern European craftsmen.  Jim says each one should be in a museum. 

 

I guess they are something, now that I look at them.

 

Somers watched the carousel horses circle before him, nostrils flaring, manes flying, eyes on fire, legs leaping.  

 

Lets get in!  Tanner held open the flap for him.  A small steamer of hot dogs and a box of beer on ice circled around the carousel.  Tanner grabbed them and ducked inside. 

 

Fucking Jim.  He brooded as he sat down next to Somers and dug in.  You cant stay mad at him.  When and if the blow stops you can go home.  Jim will let you know.  I had to stay all night once.  Almost drove me nuts.  Theres nothing to worry about.  The ride will keep going.  If anything weird happens, if anything starts to fall apart or starts blowing off, contact Jim.  He gave you a hand radio?  OK.  But if that dont work, if theres too much static, turn off the lights.  Jim will be here in a flash.   

 

 Tanner liked Somers.  They had been in classes together.  Somers was smart, cool.  They should have hung around with each other more through school.

 

Hear youre joining?

 

Somers popped his beer.

 

They ate and watched the carousel, listening to the thunder rumble and the winds wail.

 

Looks that way.  Tanner shrugged.  Got to get through this recession.  After, Ill go to college on the G.I. Bill.  Hear youre startin now?

 

Im going to give it a shot.  Somers frowned as he chewed his hot dog.  Since I have some kind of job.  Seasonal, menial, but maybe I can pick up another something for the winter.  Ill have to live at home for four years, go to a state school.    I applied for a needs scholarship but I doubt if Ill get it.  My parents cant help me with anything more than room and board.  Its going to be hard, maybe impossible.  But I cant complain.  Most people I know are just trying to survive these days.  Keep a roof over their heads, feed their kids.

 

Stars twinkle above.

 

The calliope music blared amidst the raging storm.

 

     Its the loveliest night of the year.

 

When I was a child, I rode a painted pony on a carousel surrounded by my family, who waved at me, merrily, as I whirled toward my happy destiny, dreamily.

 

Whats that?

 

Somers laughed.

 

Nothin.  Just made it up.  Im hoping to be a writer in the future.  The teachers always told me I had a knack.

 

Its all dreamland aint it, Somers sighed and sipped his beer, life?

 

Yeah, til you get on a real danger ride.

 

Whats that?  The little tent was fluttering, rattling on its pole.

 

What?

 

Somethin.  Somers parted the canvas, peeked outside.  Its Jim.

 

They crawled out and steadied each other, as the wind and rain whipped at them.  Jim stood swaying on the merry-go-round.  His battered van was parked beside it, engine idling. 

 

He was strapping the dead Shetland pony to a carousel horse, tying the two together so they rode, side by side, bobbing up and down with each other, as the ride went round and round.  He

guzzled from a whisky bottle as he worked.

 

What you doin Jim?     

 

Tanner scrambled up the platform.  Somers chased up after him.  

 

You boys can go home.  Jim was blind drunk, his expression grim.  He lashed the horses  heads together, took another swallow from his bottle and glared at them.  Werent nothin wrong with the pony, vet said.  His eyes looked dead.  Scared is all.  Scared little pony.  No need to kill him. He staggered across the platform and moved the lever.  The ride went faster.  Ole man wouldnt a kept him no ways.  Useless little pony.  Too scared.  Would of sold him to a glue factory. He downed the rest of his bottle.  Pushed the lever further.  Tanner and Somers had to hold onto each other.  Tired of killing.  Jim muttered.  You boys git.

 

The ride was reeling, the tent top flapping and fluttering.  Tanner and Somers jumped off,just as Jim shut the ride down and the top went flying like some great ghost into the storm.      

 

ANOTHER DAY

 

Why?

 

I am.  Do I need another reason

does anyone God, the Big Bang,

Revelation, Evolution?

The steps go up.

The steps go down.

The spiral staircase

goes round and round

Wait.

Linger for a moment.

Listen to the wails of sorrow,

the laughter of children.

Imagine the journey of life

from birth to death joy,

love, heartbreak, despair, passion,

disillusionment, longing, languor,

trial, tribulation, triumph, celebration,

loss, grief, loneliness, resignation,

regeneration, renewal, jubilation,

expectation. 

Quiet thoughts, blue skies, dream

 

THE TRAVELER

 

In and out of places

where no road leads.

You imagine you are living,

and you are in a world apart,

writing words that no one cares

to read and couldnt comprehend,

about the places you have been.

 

REVELATION    

 

Confined in my cloud prison,

I watch a rainbow arch across

the heavens.

Dreams shimmer through fates prism

I crawl through lifes crystal ball.

 

NIGHT LIGHT  

 

Dreams flicker

in the cosmic darkness

our ray of hope in chaos.

 

CALL IT SLEEP

 

A dream of light

behind the mystery of night

I was too young to understand.

But now, it seems,

the dark beyond the dream,

was life.

 

BOTTOMS UP

 

This last round is for

the invisible lives in

the slums, ghettos,

grottos, hollows,

who pray themselves

to sleep each night,

hoping their children

can have a better life.

__________________

 

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