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THE TIME HOTEL BY REX SEXTON


Other works by Rex Sexton 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

I

The Magician

The Time Hotel

City Of Wind

In Old Chicago

Night Ride

Answered Prayers

Dead Of Winter

One Lonely Night

Cold Rain

A Room With A Brew

 

II

Memorial Day

Cheers

Now And Then

Lips Of Fire

Night Train

Home Coming

All The Pretty Ballerinas

Shoot The Soldier

 

III

Life Noir

Heavenly Shades Of Night

Blind Alley

Black Moon

Ode To Rag Doll

Rackum

Stardust

Stray Dogs

Moulin Rouge

Penny Serenade

Everything Goes

Easy Street

Hard Times

Desert Flower

 

IV

Metamorphosis

Between The Clock And The Bed

The Bells


 

Smoke And Mirrors

Love Song

Firing Squad

Odd-Alisque

Slippers

The Sacred Mountain

The Haunting

Ash Wednesday

 

V

Slept Around

The Penny Flute

The Museum Guard

American Gothic

Some People

Parenthetical Contingencies

Night Sweats

Into The Night

The Times, They Are Deranging

Holy Night

 

VI

Cinderella

Poets Gone Wild

Nobodys Perfect

Cat Nipped

Home Alone

Deep

Poets Corner

Dear Rochelle

Mr. Lucky

Over Here

 

VII

Do Not Use This Elevator

Carnival

Terminal

Night

The Damned

Motel Hell

Nocturne

Come In From The Night

Run

 

VIII

One Lonely Night

Tell Me

Woman Unknown


 

In Dream

Let It Go

You were The One

Perdition

Arm

 

IX

Perchance To Dream

Fade To Black

The Man In The Alley

Attic

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

Smokys

Back Of The Yards

Katrina

Lifer

Sacred Rites

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

 

X

lifes weary wander

Blind Mice

Flight Into Egypt

Through The Looking Glass

Who Will Save Us?

Echo

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Rex Sexton is a Surrealist painter in Chicago.  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 novel Desert Flower was published by B&R Samizdat Express.  His short story Holy Night received an Eric Hoffer award and was published in Best New Writing 2007.  His poetry and prose have appeared in cutting-edge literary magazines.  He is married to the neuroscientist Dr. Rochelle S. Cohen.  They live in Chicagos River North art district.

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

The author would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which many of these works have or will be published: Best New Writing 2007, Hopewell Publications

Willow Review, Hazmat Review, Clark Street Review, Edgz, Children, Churches and Daddies, Waterways, Saturday Diner, Tucumcary Literary Review, Reflect, ATime Of Singing, Nerve Cowboy, Mobius, The Poetry Magazine, Platos Tavern, Grab Bag, Lone Stars, Live From Chicago, Poetry USA, Reflection, Always Looking, Nut House, Feelings Of The Heart, B&R Samizdat Express, Flat Iron, Struggle, Bear Creek Haiku, and Fighting Chance

 

For Rochelle

 

I

 

                                THE MAGICIAN

 

                                                     Softly in the dark,

                                                     the Magician slips

                                                     past the bolted locks,

                                                     up the slender, spiral staircase,

                                                     down the narrow, dimly-lit hallway,

                                                     through the silent, moonlit bedchambers,

                                                     out the window and over the roof

                                                     as quiet as a shadow,

                                                     draped in his midnight magic black cloak,

                                                     carrying his satchel of starlight and moon glow,

                                                     as he dusts the night with dream.

 

 

 

THE TIME HOTEL

 

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 crackling 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 sigh on their pillows.

And midnight revelers dance in the moons glow.

And my childhood voice laughs near my window.

 

 

CITY OF WIND

 

We blew up chicken gullets, like balloons,

for the girls to carry around on strings

and played pirate with sharpened stockyard bones

which we sheathed in our clothesline belts, like swords,

marauding through the neighborhood

 

Along the sidewalks, the girls played 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.

 

 

IN OLD CHICAGO

 

the ragmans horse drawn wagon

the vendors and the junkman

the blind man tending his news stand

the derelicts picking through trashcans

the knife-sharpener bent over his whetstone,

sparks flying in every direction

his shouts of scissors, knives, axes!

in a duel with the wagoners ripe watermelons!

the pushcarts clattering through potholes

the pigeon lady tossing her bread crumbs

the organ grinders uniformed monkey

tipping his cap to everyone for money

the storefronts food displays,

gathering flies under the awnings shade

the maze of narrow, ramshackle, streets

crowded with houses, tenements, factories  

the pig trucks, cattle trucks, poultry trucks,

criss-crossing from every direction,

(chased by the mutts who add to the bedlam) 

the ward heelers passing out chickens,

the day before an election

the nuns sweeping down the parish steps,

winds rippling their holy black habits

the priests in their robes and vestments

praying in candlelight and incense

the old women in babushkas

telling their rosaries in sanctified stillness

the legions of raggedy kids

swarming the walks and streets and parks

(amidst a menagerie of birds and cats and squirrels)  

each day flew through the air 

landed in fairy tale dreams

 

NIGHT RIDE

 

I steal a ride with the ragman,

around us raw winds rip.

He lashes his horse down the foggy streets,

wagon wheels rattling like demons in the mist.

Ghost garments fly through the air,

land in his cart on angel wings

wedding gowns yellowed with age,

threadbare suits, faded pants and shirts,

overcoats, baby bonnets, babushkas,

feathered hats and lingerie.

 

The howling winds form a chorus,

singing songs as we chase through the streets

of joy and sorrow, birth and death phantom

voices in a holy dream.

 

Clothes swoop down like spirits.

Scraps of lives float everywhere.

 

                                ANSWERED PRAYERS

 

                                                     Night winds whisper around us

                                                     in the tangled, parish garden,

                                                     like chanting saints, or nuns

                                                     at prayer.  Or maybe, its more

                                                     like midnight angels fluttering

                                                     in the dark, or priests reciting

                                                     sermons, or choirs caroling

                                                     incantations.

 

                                                     Sweet sin,

                                                     the sensations on our skin,

                                                     as we kiss, bite,

                                                     tangle with delight,

                                                     naked in the garden moonlight.

 

                                                     Amen. 

 

 

                                DEAD OF WINTER

 

                                                     Sky a shroud.

                                                     In the diner we sit like sleepwalkers.

                                                     Cut-paper couples eat blue-plate specials

                                                     at Formica tables, frozen, fragile.

                                                     The counter is crowded with apparitions bundled up.

                                                     Chalk-white light ghosts out the shadows.

                                                     Snow sprites haunt a grim world of ice and rock.

                                                     Do you believe in dreams, sweetie?

                                                     Dreams are strange.

                                                     I dreamed we had a baby, honey, a little girl

                                                     with coal black curls and eyes as blue as yours.

                                                     Souls skirt past the diner window, as the Hawk

                                                     beats its wings down the citys frosted blocks,

                                                     and spirits steam, like dreams, from our coffee cups.

 

 

                                ONE LONELY NIGHT

 

                                                     One lonely night,

                                                     riding a train,

                                                     I saw a girl

                                                     flash by in the rain.

                                                     She looked at me,

                                                     then she was gone,

                                                     down the opposite line,

                                                     destination unknown.

                                                     Now nothings the same,

                                                     nothings the same.

                                                     Nothing that counts anyway.

 

                                                     This doesnt count,

                                                     thats for sure

                                                     hanging with the crew,

                                                     night after night,

                                                     beer, laughs, chasing skirts.

                                                     in and out of pubs and clubs,

                                                     coming, going,

                                                     no one knowing

                                                     up from down

                                                     when the curtain closes

 

                                                     Or like the man said (Frost?):

 

                                                     We dance round in a ring

                                                      and suppose,

                                                      But the secret sits in the middle

                                                      and knows.

 

                                                      I dont know what the secret knows.

 

                                                     All I know is,

                                                     one lonely night,

                                                     a heart beat for me.

                                                     Girl lost in flight,

                                                     never to be.

                                                     One lonely night,

                                                     I looked at a dream.

                                                     Now nothings the same,

                                                     nothings the same.

 

                                COLD RAIN

 

                                        The cold rain keeps pouring down

                                        The sky keeps tumbling down

                                        The world is turned upside down

                                        Theres nowhere to hide or to run

 

                                        Whats over cant be undone

                                        The night has swallowed the sun

                                        Nothings right and everythings wrong

                                        Cries fill the howl of the storm

 

                                        Armageddon has come

                                        The dead are leaving the ground

                                        The stars are spinning around

                                        Whats lost can never be found

 

                                                                                Johnny Holiday 1967

                                                                  

 

             Pink combustion.  Blotches of flame.  Smoke funneling out of the towering smokestacks like sulfurous serpents roiling against the sky.

 

             TRAIN!  Bigger bellowed.

 

             Heat shimmered in the toxic air.  White flakes flew with the feverish wind, swirling

between the industrial buildings and glazing sun scorched ground like frost.

 

             COAL TRAIN COMIN!

 

             The earth shook and the tracks rattled.  The trains whistle shrieked through the swelter like a strangled banshee.  Holiday shielded his eyes from the blinding sun.  Black as death the iron nightmare rounded the bend and charged the yard.  Holiday watched Bigger lumber doggedly toward it, pushing his wagon sized wheelbarrow before him, broad back bowed, shoulders slumped, pick and shovel clattering in its wooden bin.  The death dream roared swiftly past him, winding helter-skelter through the maze of tracks and thundering between the buildings, hauling thirty cars brimming with coal, like metaphysical coffins, for Bigger and Holiday to bury.

 

             Fuck the coal.  Holiday thought.

 

             Soaked with sweat, Holiday laid his shovel and pick against his wagon.  He searched the towers, spires, domes, silos, the docks, walks, ramps, doorways, the sun struck windows and building bridges, the lifts, the track yard, the alleys of the sprawling buildings.  He scanned every nook and cranny of the mammoth complex, looking for suits, white shirts, hardhats with clipboards, snitches, rat-outs, lifers, and squealers.  They were out there.  Holiday

knew.  And they were watching.

 

             Screw the squealers.  Holiday brooded.

 

             He dug out his lunch pail from his wagons wheel rim.  The thermos rolled and clattered inside the metal box as he reeled like a drunk through the blazing heat, staggering through the

inferno toward the nearest shelter.

 

             Bigger is better.  Holiday eyed his partner.  But white flight is alright.

 

             The sun was Satans eye watching Holiday through the smoke of hell as he climbed the rungs of the water tower ladder, lunch pail in his teeth.  Hell flared all around him as he ascended.  The windows of the towering buildings caught fire.  Heat quivered on the tarred rooftops.  The spires and girders were molten gold, flames shot from the forges and foundries, while bellows boomed, pumps pounded, gears ground and heavy equipment hammered.

 

             Jacobs ladder.  Holiday sucked through his teeth at the scorching air.  He looked down dizzily at the holocaust below.  The fuming complex looked like a bombed out city in flames. Jacob lived in a labyrinth.

 

             Holiday pulled himself up and sat on the ledge.   Twilight Zone snow flew around him on he shaded perch. The elevated air was even more foul than the stench below.  Directly beneath him, the train was unloading.  Hydraulic lifts hoisted whole coal cars, one at a time, from their carriages and dumped their loads, one by one, on the conveyor which ran to the furnaces as the train lurched noisily forward, a car at a time. Holiday sat paralyzed, jaw locked, arms numb, fingers curled into claws from the climb.  He watched Bigger lumber down the line toward the bridge where the tracks turned and wound through the complex, forming a maze which steered cargo to different locations.  When Bigger reached the bridge, he would turn the cart around and lumber back, scooping up the coal spills shaken from the cars as the train rattled through the yard.  In the distance, another freight train was charging down the line. When this one reached the bridge, it turned away from the complex and raced toward Chicago. It was a hundred car leviathan, which would tie up traffic all along the industrial south side as it wound through the neighborhoods.  The train was loaded with hobos.   They sat atop the boxcars and waved at Bigger.  They waved at the town.  The townies, no doubt, shot them the finger. The hobos, no doubt, smiled and tilted their bottles in a toast to the townies. They didnt mind.  Work awaited everywhere in blue collar country. Vietnam put them back on the market if only sporadically.

 

Chicago was hobo heaven.  Many would hit the town, dropping off the cars at the next slow bend.  They would fill the rooming houses, flood the plants now hard up for workers. Bigger waved back at the army of drifters.  Bigger had no fear of being bumped by the migrants.  Whod bump Bigger? Bigger is smarter.  Holiday conceded.  Bigger had scooped him. Bigger would spend the day whistling tunes and cleaning the coal off the tracks, while Holiday would slave in The Pit, a bunker below the hydraulic lift, shoveling the mountain of coal that missed the conveyor belts as the cars spilled their loads.  At the end of the day he would be as black as the dust he dug into.  Bigger you ..

 

             Holiday freed the lunch pail from his clamped teeth and laid it beside him on the ledge. false frost settled quickly on it glazing the lunch pails picture.  It was a used, dented grammar school box featuring The Lone Ranger and Tonto.   The Masked Man was rearing up on his white stallion Silver and shouting  Hi Ho.  Tonto, his ever faithful Indian companion, raced into the scene on his pinto.  Holiday loved his lunchbox.  The Phantom and the Savage fighting evil with the silver bullets of truth -- greedy cattle barons, greedy railroad tycoons, claim jumpers, robbers, killers, -- Rock on Ranger. Holiday had bought the box at the Dollar Store when he got the yard cleaning gig.  Everything at the Dollar Store was a dollar or less. The box was twenty-five cents.   Holiday lived in the rooming house above the Dollar Store.  His room was a dollar  each day. The charlady was a dollar each night, or less, for all those who were interested.  There wasnt much interest.  With the room you got your moneys worth so to speak.  The rooms resembled a dollar long oblongs even narrower than the hallway which ran between them. You opened the door and jumped into bed, more or less.   First you had to squeeze between the dresser and sink (and coat rack, each room had a coat rack.) (The bathroom, of course, was down the hall.)    Holiday could hear the druggies, winos, the general washouts who rented the rooms doing pratfalls at any hour as they went in and out or tried to move around.  (You could always hear the coat rack crashing.)   A single naked light bulb hung from a chain over the bed.  With the breeze from the window, which was directly behind the bed head, devil shapes tossed back and forth.  (The coat racks shadow looked particularly fiendish as it grew and moved) Holidays window faced the Black nightclubs which crowded the alley under the bridge where the trains turned.  Beyond them the plant smoked and blinked through the night.  Holiday would lie in bed and groove on Jazz and Blues all night.   Sometimes, he would sit on the sill and play along with the music on his guitar.  The dark wails of the singers, the night silhouettes dancing  in the windows below,  the plant blinking, the trains roaring through the night, the devil shapes tossing in his room, the Twilight Zone snow blowing in who needed acid?    When real winter came his acid trip room would turn bad.  The window was useless, so glazed by false frost it was part of the wall when closed.  No live music, no night trains, no flaming monstrosity in the dark, he would be shut up in a crypt listening to ghost souls moan and shift about.   But winter was a long way off.  By winter, he would have no mind left anyway.

 

             Holiday rotated his jaw and flexed his fingers.  Still stiff.  He looked at his watch.  Ten more minutes to Showtime.  Creatures features, Zombies on Parade,   The Day of the Living  Dead.  He claw dug through his pockets and pulled out his song book and his cigarettes.  He smoked and re-read Cold Rain wondering what to add.  The robber barons have won  The weak are prey to the strong he brooded.  He glanced through a few of his protest songs.  He looked uneasily through the one which got him arrested, recalling the bizarre events of that day as best he could.  The civil rights march in Marquette Park, the peace rally after.  Since he was  stoned that day, it was all pretty fuzzy.  He remembered the Marquette residents cursing and stoning them as they marched through the streets for integration -- hundreds of blacks, hundreds of hippy types carrying signs which were being pelted by beer bottles.  It was all pretty hairy and they all expected to be mobbed by the Marquetters at any moment.  First time he was glad to be in the company of cops.  At the anti-war rally which followed, all hell broke loose.  That was Holidays fault.  There were speeches, political handouts, folk songs, all amidst a sea of drunken, jeering hecklers.  Holiday performed his numbers to great applause, as things became more fevered.  Moved by the event (and completely stoned)  he improvised one last tune, closing his eyes, bowing his head, and letting words tumble darkly from his gravely voice.

 

                                                     My country misery

                                                     My country war and greed

                                                     My country lies and schemes

                                                     My country bigotry

                                                     My country might makes right

                                                     My country genocide

 

             That seemed to do it.  The rally was stormed. Fights broke out, peaceniks were stomped.  A fat man with a beer can grabbed the mike from Holiday and slammed him down with a forearm to the chest.  Holiday jumped up and leveled him with his steel guitar.  The police swarmed the chaos grabbing Blacks and Hippies.  At the station, Holiday was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, assault and battery, (with intent to kill, his guitar was impounded as a deadly weapon) and inciting a riot.   Tripping, he jotted down the words to My Country as he sat stoned in a cell waiting for Dagos uncle Vito, an Outfit lawyer, to bail him out.  Vito got the charges reduced and managed to keep him out of jail prison actually, because what you had here was 3 to 5 at the Joliet State Correctional Institution the Big House.  Holiday had to pony up big time bribes, payoffs, court costs, legal fees (Vito and his connections did not come cheap).  The settlement with the fat guy he bopped alone broke his hard wrought bank account.  Sensing a little dough in the show, Godzilla came to the arraignment in a wheel chair bandaged like The Mummy.  Dont push your luck.  Vito whispered in the guys ear.  You can look like that permanently.  All the money Holiday had saved since he got kicked out of high school and started working in the factories was gone money for a new guitar, new threads, for his pilgrimage to Mecca (Berkley California) where he planned to join the other druggie prophets and make gold records.  He got kicked out of school for drug possession and this got him kicked out of his parents house.  (His brother sang So Long Its Been Good To Know You, his sister took his room.)  He was set up.  The Principle pulled a  random surprise locker toss and found his stash of amphetamines.  My my Mr. Holiday what have we here?  Beats me man, I mean sir.  You never saw this bag of pills before?  Never man, I mean sir. Honest to God.  Gee Mr. Holiday how do you suppose it got there?   Someone must have put it there sir.  Are you saying I planted it there Mr. Holiday?  Oh no sir.  But I had my combo written on this piece of paper and it got lost.  Did you report it?   I was going to.  Would you like to report it now?  I mean to the police.  Should I call the police Mr. Holiday?  I wouldnt want to expel you unfairly.  Do you think theyd believe me?   Do you think I believe you?

            

             Fate.  But maybe his misfortune was a sign: GO TO BERKLEY NOW.  The Cosmos seemed to be saying.  ITS TIME TO BE A PROPHET.  His first job was hand loading trucks on a dock.  (Man who needs Medical school?) Holiday thought when he saw the pay scale. But after  a week of walking around as stiff as Frankensteins monster he decided to try something else.  His next job was a fork lift operator in a box factory. (Hey, who needs Dental school?)  But he got fired for maze-racing through the isles with another lift jockey. He went through a number of jobs after that, all lucrative but bone-breaking burnouts making sewer covers in a cement factory, tossing bags, assembly line work etc.. I want to go out dancing. Well, look Juanita, I thought wed kinda like just chill tonight and like maybe watch Leave It To Beaver or something? Juanita?

 

             He landed an office position in the plants Technical Center.  It was the perfect job.  He didnt do anything.  The pay wasnt much but he was living cheaply.  He was in charge of the copy center.  He duplicated blueprints for the plants architects and Xeroxed work for the Administrative offices.  All you had to do was load and program the copy machines and the gig took care of itself.  He wore a smock.  His day consisted of reading books, listening to Dylan tapes, and writing song lyrics.  He read the complete works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Faulkner, Hemmingway you name it.  Everything was OK until he got into the French Existentialists.  He became so engrossed in Sartres Nausea that he forgot to keep up with the Xerox machines toner.  Not too cool.  It was a major job and on a deadline five thousand management position handouts for a union meeting that night.   He went through it all in a trance, mesmerized by Andre Roquentins quest for meaning, his realization that life is shit and that everyone is about as useful as the common cockroach on its worst day.  He paced the room with the book in his face, loading, unloading, stacking and never noticing that what was piling up was this blur of unreadable babble.  Whats this Holiday? Excuse me? Whats this mess? Didnt come out too good, huh?  Who put you up to this?  Put?  Well Carol came in this morning ..  Not that, this shit!  You trying to cause a strike? Strike?  No, you see, like I probably mentioned, sometimes you heat these machines up, like the older ones and   Enough!  Like I probably told  Silence! They didnt fire him.  Those tech types were OK.  Sartre huh?  Mr. Banning shook his head when Holiday owned up. Being and Nothingness.  Identity and Society. He sighed deeply.  Did you ever try Ayn Rand?  The Fountainhead?  Its about an architect.

 

They shifted him to the factory.  Since he came from the office, they gave him a pencil pusher gig, with a raise.  He was the new meter reader and the job was to go all around the complex recording the stats for the power stations.  The problem was that many of the meters were underground.  Every morning Holiday would don rubber overalls, hip boots, a raincoat, a coal miners spot-lit hard hat, safety glasses, a surgical mask, and descend into the drainage tunnels with his clipboard.    The vast black maze crisscrossed the plants underbelly for miles.Rats swam around him in waste deep water.  Pipes leaked overhead showering him with steaming residue as he waded through sewage.  Talk about Nausea Ck this out Andre! The tunnel air was un-breathable.   His head pounded for hours afterward and his gagging didnt do much for the old vocal cords. Hard time, Hole blind, Hard line, No mind, Holiday sang to himself as he waded through the stench, This job sucks, I got fucked, What a smell, Im in hell. The Smell made his eyes water.  The town air was foul it was filled with starch flakes: the Twilight Zone snow which flew perpetually.  Mix that with the sulfur from the plants chimneys and you really had an olfactory experience going on.  But the tunnels it was like sticking your head down the hole of a forest preserve outhouse.  Who would do that?  And then crawl into it!

 

             These numbers Holiday.  His section foreman, Ben Busby (Bumble Bee Busby)  glared -- a short tubby man with coke-bottle glasses. Numbers Mr. Busby?  These are made up numbers Holiday.  I dont know what you mean Mr. Busby.  You mean like theyre inaccurate?  I MEAN like theyre  Bullshit Holiday!  Bogus!  Fiction!  Make believe! These readings are ABSURD!  You know its kinda dark down there Mr. Busby.  Those safety glasses get foggy and I been having trouble with my eyes anyway.  Youve been having trouble with your brain Holiday!  WHATEVER it is down there Holiday, YOU wouldnt know!  YOU havent been down there!  Give me your clipboard!  My clipboard, Mr. Busby?    Wheres the pen?

 

             Once again, they didnt fire him. The Vietnam war was stealing industrys manpower.  They shifted him to yard work with Bigger.  (At a pay cut.)  Pushing his giant wheelbarrow, he and Bigger crisscrossed the grounds all day shoveling, spearing, and tossing debris  paper, cans, bottles, cargo spills, dead rats,  run over cats  (waste management).  Sometimes, they chased live rats around having Javelin contests with their paper pokers.  They bet a dime a kill and tallied up on payday.   They both cheated.  Thats a fresh kill?  Bigger studied the emaciated rodent.  Whats the problem?  Holiday kicked it over. Holiday that there rat died of old age last winter.  Oh yeah, then why was it moving?  Moving kinda slow though huh Holiday?

 

             So I cant tell a dead rat from a live rat?  Maybe it was a voodoo rat Holiday?  You find these voodoo rats.  Maybe it was an old rat I put out of its misery.  It do look old Holiday.  Ill give you that. Now and then, they would be assigned to custodial details in the buildings doing chores which the janitors were exempted from by union agreements.  Do I look stupid Bigger?  Or nuts?  Frankly Holiday, I dont mean no offense now,  but, if I didnt know you now, I guess if I looked at you, like for the first time, Id think that guy looks stupid.  And nuts.  Youre telling me Busby thinks Im going to walk across THAT pipe which is TWO FLOORS above the ground and which stretches FIFTY FEET and sweep off fifty years of accumulated dust with a push broom? Thats what Busby say Holiday.  What are you going to be doing? I got to go down there and sweep up what you sweep off.  Plus, I got to sweep up the shit thats already down there.  I got the hard part. 

 

             All in all, yard work beat the tunnels-- at least until the summer started heating up.  Then Holiday wasnt so sure.  By the summer the war had escalated.   The plant was going full blast trying to keep up with military contracts starch products for the divisions in Vietnam and for the swelling trainee camps.  Cargo trains came and went in a crazy cross tangle.  There was shit everywhere.  Meanwhile the Dog Days were howling through the town like hounds from hell.  I owe you an apology Holiday. Bumble Bee Busby stopped him at the time clock one evening.  Excuse me?  An apology Holiday.  You remember when you told me you had trouble reading the meters because something was wrong with your eyes?  Sort of.  I didnt believe you.  Hey, it happens.  I believe you now.  You do?  I do Holiday.  Any one who can leave the yard every night in the complete and total fucking mess the yard looks like every night must have trouble with his eyes Holiday.  In fact he must be BLIND Holiday!  You get my point?

 

             Hi Ho Argo.  Holiday popped open his Lone Ranger lunch box, grabbed the thermos.  Ice still rattled in the cylinder.  He closed his eyes and pressed the cool container against his perspiring forehead.  Bye Bye Berkley.  Holiday brooded.  He was Doomed.  Damned.  Any dream he had was dead.  It would take him years to pay off Vito.  The town, the job.  It was another kind of prison.  Not that he wasnt thanking his lucky stars that Vito kept him out of the Big House.  Vito, man I owe you Big Time.  Youll pay me, kid, Big Time.  One way or another.  One way or another? Holiday unscrewed the top of the thermos and filled the cup it made with the rum and lemonade he mixed that morning.  To dead dreams.  Holiday toasted the town.  He drank it down and poured another.  To doomed days, dread nights.  The town below looked like nothing so much as a dead dream, or a living nightmare.Argo Illinois.  Argo Corn Starch.  Corn Products International.  Soups, syrups, cookies, cakes, breads, mixes and most important the famous box of cornstarch with the picture of the Indian maid emerging from a cornstalk.  Argo Illinois, another blue collar Babylon: bowling alleys, pool halls, gambling houses, whore houses, gangsters, gang bangers, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, thugs, thieves, race riots, working class stiffs haunted still by the ghosts of Capones speakeasies and breweries which set the style way back in the twenties for the lawless little rock bottom burg.  The town was mobbed up.  Home sweet home.  Holiday sighed as he downed the drink.

 

             The sun was almost directly overhead.  The high-noon Horror Show was about to begin. Holiday remembered the roach he had in his wallet.  He dug it out from the dollar bills and lit it off his cigarette.  Hi Ho Hi Ho.  Holiday took a pull and held his breath.  When he exhaled, he felt the rush of the weed drift over the Bacardi like fog over fire water.  Bleary and buzzed, he gazed down at the plants buildings, pulse pounding, and felt the same clammy horror of anticipation one gets while waiting for a scary movie to commence.  THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD -- You Are Next seemed to waver in the air, Theres No Way Out.  When the plants whistle blew, legions of laborers, dressed in blue, green or gray work drabs, would file out of the buildings from every direction.  They would march in a lockstep to the plants cafeteria.  The spectacle resembled some penal flick: The House of Numbers, or Alcatraz.   Holiday could see his own fate in the procession.  His doomed workaday life in the town.

 

             The worst part of Vitos deal with the courts was that Holiday had to spend the next year under court supervision.  Every week he had to report to his court appointed social worker, Bernard Beasley, and go over his daily progress toward rehabilitation.  Mr. Beasley was a short, thin, prematurely balding  bureaucrat  with a pencil neck and thin lips.  His beady eyes never seemed to blink.  They bore through Holiday like tiny Bunsen burners.  His office was in the basement of the County Correctional Institution, a floor below the cages.  The walls of the little room, which was as neat as a pin, were lined with books.  The books had titles like Sociopaths And Society, The Criminal Mind, and The Aberrations Of Maladjusted Malcontents And Their Maniacal Manifestations.  Do you know what incipient non-rational ratio-dynamic dysfunction alism is Mr. Holiday?  Beasely faced him across the desk that first day, pencil raised, note pad in hand.  Excuse me sir?  The sessions were a cross between Kafka, The Manchurian Candidate, The Spanish Inquisition, and Hitchcock.  You were expelled from High School for drug possession Mr. Holiday.  Beasley glared at him.  You were expelled from the High School band for threatening the music instructor with physical violence.  You were kicked off the track team for smoking.  You were kicked off the baseball team also for smoking this time marijuana.  You were suspended from school a dozen times, mostly for truancy, sometimes for cutting classes, other times for pranks, twice for fist fights.  You were recommended for expulsion in your Junior year when it was discovered that you were forging medical excuses for yourself and your friends on clinical forms which you stole from a physicians office.  Your grades were abysmal, your attendance abysmal, your performance and attitude abysmal.  You have had ten jobs in the last eight months.  You were arrested for and charged with attempted murder.  Why you are here talking with me instead of a penal warden is a mystery of juris prudence I cant fathom.  You have a history of substance abuse, anti-social behavior, deadly violence, and in a less permissive time, probably un-American activities bordering on treason.  dont know who pulled strings for you or why Mr. Holiday and I dont much care.  I pull the strings here and my strings can string you up if you get my point.  I have a loaded gun in my desk drawer.  I carry a can of mace.  I am not a stone cold killer like some but I did serve in Korea and I did see action.  I am not optimistic about you case sir.  May I say something, Mr. Beasley?  No.  But all that stuff, Mr. Beasely  I dont want to hear it.

 

             The  rules were simple any infraction and Holiday was gone.  Beasley would write flunked on his progress report.  Holiday could not consort in any way shape or form with any known felons which meant most of the people he knew in the town and probably most of the people he didnt know.  (And technically included Vito his lawyer.)  Holiday couldnt sing at or engage in any rallies.  He couldnt perform in bars or at dances or parties in which any intoxicating substance of any sort was served.  (Which left what?)  Of course, he couldnt drink, drug, fight, gamble, whatever.  Meanwhile, Beasley was monitoring his job performance, church attendance, progress toward a GED.   The walls were closing in.  Time was pressing.  His draft number was imminent.  By the time Beasely got done with him the army would get him.  After that, if he survived Nam, hed be back in the yard with Bigger trying to pay off Vito.  Hed be supervised, militarized and industrialized into oblivion.

 

             Ziggy The Killer Elephant, Mr. Holiday.  Beasley riveted him with his beady eyes. Excuse me ?  Try to pay attention Mr. Holiday, were not here for me.  Sorry sir.  Incidentally, I thought I told you to get rid of the hippy hairdo.  I did sir.  Tying it into a ponytail and shoving it down the back of your shirt is not what I meant.  Get a haircut.  Yes sir. The elephant Mr. Holiday? Oh yeah wow Ziggy.  I forgot about that.  Well Ziggy was like this essay for English class.  Yes, thats what it says on the report your school sent me.  I was hoping it was some sort of clerical error.  It says: Despite Jonathan Holidays lackluster academic record he did, to his credit, write an essay entitled Ziggy The Killer Elephant which was selected by an independent panel for State Competition.  What the hell is all this about Mr. Holiday?  I am more  than curious.  Well, like I said Mr. Beasely, we had to write this paper.  I guess all the schools had to.  It was about Success and like about someone  we found inspirational.  Good God.  Yeah, well, just before they laid this on us, I was flipping through the Sun Times and I saw this photograph of this giant elephant in the zoo chained to a pole by its back leg.  You ever go to the zoo Mr. Beasley?  I live in a zoo Mr. Holiday.  Yeah, well, this elephant was named Ziggy.  They called him that because he used to be in the Ziegfield Follies way back when.  Ziggy danced in the Follies and was a big hit.  All kinds of famous people danced with him and rode on his back and got photographed with him.He was even in the movies.  This went on for a long time and everything was cool.  But then one day something happened with Ziggy and he killed his trainer.  No one knows why Ziggy went ballistic.  Hey maybe Fanny Brice started giving him an earache, or maybe he just got tired of all the commotion with all those women in gowns and guys in top hats running up and down those staircases.  Or maybe his trainer was a real jerk off  and kept poking him with his stick like some music teachers can keep poking you with their conductors batons until it gets on your nerves.  Or maybe Ziggy just wanted to get back to the jungle where things were like normal.  Hey I mean this couldnt have been like a normal life for a giant elephant.  So they kick Ziggy out of the Follies and sell him to the zoo.  Unfortunately, that didnt work out either because before you know it he kills his zoo handler.  So they chain Ziggy up in this small cage and thats where hes been like for decades.  The article was about how people were trying to collect money for Ziggy so he could have a bigger place to live and maybe move around and not be a threat to anyone.  I sent them a buck which is better than nothing.  I thought his story was kind of sad too and what the hell do you want from a giant elephant anyway?  It wasnt his idea. Then I got to thinking how awful it must be to be chained up that way in a small pen just staring at the wall all the time.  I wondered if he missed dancing in the Follies which had to be a lot better than what he was doing now, which was nothing.  So me and my friends cut school one day and went to the zoo to see him.  We all jam together and so we brought harmonicas to play a little music for him and cheer him up.  Man that elephant is big!  There were a lot of elephants in the elephant house but Ziggy was way bigger than the others.  He was so big he had no room at all.  He couldnt even turn around in any kind of way, especially with the chain on his back leg which was real short.  So we start playing all kinds of up tunes for him -- Yellow Rose of Texas, whatever, but we get no response from him at all.  Ziggy just like stands there staring at his wall.  We thought maybe he like didnt even want to hear all that stuff, or he was brain dead by now or something.  Meanwhile we look around and find all the other elephants in the house are dancing to beat the band.  It was like a Disney cartoon.  All around us the elephants are rocking back and forth and sashaying their hips and waving their ears and having a great time.  They even looked like they were smiling and we realized that these elephants werent out of like Africa at all but were like all from circuses or side shows or something.  Then Ziggy starts getting in on the act.  He picks up one foot, then another and before you know it hes kind of marching in place and all the time looking at us from the corner of his eye.  Like saying, This Ok?  Is this the beat?  Meanwhile the people in the elephant house are like getting freaked.  They start running in all directions like theres about to be a stampede or something -- as if the elephants could like go anywhere.  So then these security guys come running in and we split.  So I wrote the paper about Ziggy because I thought he went through a hell of a lot.  He was a giant in the jungle, then a famous star, then a prisoner and now he had all these people trying to help him because his story touched them.  And as old and beaten up as he is, he still had it in him.  He still could dance.

 

 

A ROOM WITH A BREW

 

The room was a dollar a day.

You got your moneys worth.

The landlady was a dollar a night.

Same deal, some said.

I worked at the towns factory.

Through the window of the dollar room,

 

you could watch it smoke.

There was no TV.

I kept out of the bars.

I was trying to raise a stake.

Id catch up, I figured, after I skipped the country,

on Canadian whiskey.

It seemed like a better plan

than drinking Vietnamese beer.

I met Juanita at a taco stand.

It was like that song brighter than all the stars  

Somehow, I found myself paying for her food.

Next thing, I buy Tequila

and were gazing at the smokestacks from my window.

She looked like fire on snow,

blazing on the sheet of the dollar room bed.

Her eyes were filled with black furies.

Banshees howled as we tangled.

Mexican gods danced across the walls.

It went like that every night.

You so beeg baby! Shed moan, wildly.

I finally figured out, she only howled that on pay day.

She dumped me when I got drafted.

I sent her a song from boot camp.

 

Hell woman turn the night to flames

Hell woman set the stars ablaze

Hell woman melt the shining moon

Hell woman youre the fires of doom

Hell woman burning in my brain

Hell woman youre the devils dream

 

I got the song back in the mail with a note.

You got your moneys worth baby!

 

I never heard from her again.


 

II

 

 

                                MEMORIAL DAY

 

                                                     The whirl of white dresses

                                                     in the theater of dream,

                                                     morph into a wreath of white ashes

                                                     in Soldiers memories,

                                                     and the same steady fingers

                                                     that helped the wounded in war,

                                                     prayed for the fallen,

                                                     shot the enemy down,

                                                     begin to tremble in the darkness

                                                     as the ballerinas go round.

 

 

CHEERS

 

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.

Did you ever overhear yourself talking to yourself in

a language you dont understand?

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 veteran of Viet Nam

I muse as I march through the deepening drifts.

Name of dog tag minus one

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 PLUMET, PLANTS CLOSE, RECESSION DEEPENS,

UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES RISE, HOUSES FORCLOSE

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, gone where nobody knows.

 

 

 

NOW AND THEN

 

             Dawn was breaking.  There was a glow in the sky, although it still was relatively dark in the thickets.  Through a break in the trees we could see the silhouettes of a village, and beyond it ragged bluffs emerging from the night.  We moved slowly, quietly, cautiously forward, crouching low in the tall grass as we reached the clearing.  At a signal from our leader we began to fan out.             Suddenly, there was an explosion, and then another.  The next thing I knew I had been flung to the ground.  My face smashed into the earth so violently that my nose was pushed back into my skull.  There were more explosions.  I could hear the rat-tat-tat of our rifle fire in response.  I was on my knees, pressing down on my hands, my fingers digging into the dirt.  My head was a helmet of blood, blood was dripping down my face and neck, pouring into a puddle on the ground before me.

 

             I remember trying to rise, trying to push myself to my feet.  But a great volume of weight  seemed to be pressing down upon me.  I tried to lift this mysterious weight, straining with a tremendous muscular effort to thrust it off me.           My body flew not my body, but a me without my body.  Below me, in the clearing, I could see my body, as well as the bodies of my friends.  They looked small, sad, like so many toppled toy soldiers.  

 

             I was floating in a darkness as soft as velvet lush, luxuriant.  I felt free, lighter than air.  And then a light came flooding in golden, warm and I felt like I had awakened from a But then I woke up again in a military hospital bed.  The war went on.  Wars always go on. They are the nightmares dreamt up by madmen.

 

 

LIPS OF FIRE

 

She appeared like an apparition in the smoky bar,

hair like spun gold, skin so pale it was almost translucent,

eyes like emerald seas an enchantress in her red satin dress.

And just as suddenly, we were falling for each other,

dancing in the dark, whirling toward the back room,

locked in each others arms.

 

I was floating in the darkness with an angel in my arms.

Lips of fire were pressed to mine.  I was breathing flame.

We were locked in fire, our bodies burned as our passion

blazed.  Even our souls were an inferno.

 

I woke up with a start, covered with sweat, tangled in my

blanket in the barracks, listening to the snoring grunts,

arms squeezing my pillow.  I was still whirling in the wild dream.

The girl was still whirling with me.  I remembered her last words

as I stared, dumbly, at the pair of blistered, bare feet sticking out

from the blanket of the opposite bunk.

You aint nobodys dream date soldier.

 

What the hell did that mean?

 

 

NIGHT TRAIN

 

Light so radiant I  cannot  see

 only  light  yet  light  everywhere

 

I am alone on the train. 

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, panic stricken,

wondering whether

I am awake or asleep.

The thickets and rivers, the 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.  I am afraid.

Ten hut! The sergeant smiles at me. 

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

Lost in the moons glow, the sergeant sings,

we chase the dream shadows.

The Lord is my Shepherd

The trains wheels seem to whisper darkly.

I shall not want

I shall not want

though 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 on my 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.

 

 

HOME COMING

 

 

             There had been no mass for the dead in the parish beside the river for his father, nor had there been any long procession, such as the one which he stood watching, to take his father to his grave.  His father had not died, Shannon reflected, at least not in any tangible sense.  He had been lost, forgotten.  When he wandered away, that day, a dozen or so years ago, he simply had ceased to be.  He had become a ghost like all the other living ghosts who inhabit a no mans land of migrant work and empty dreams in dollar rooms across the country. In some far city, Shannon knew, or in some river town where his work might take him, it would be the barmen and the beggars who might have overlooked his fathers final rest which would have been in a pine box and in a potters field beneath an unmarked grave, and any mourners who might have gathered could only have done so out of curiosity.  While Shannon doubted god, and while he had never really known his father, he knew that no man, however impoverished, and for whatever reason, should have to live like that or die as he did.

 

             The sleek black cars continued to roll softly past him along the parkway, down the hill, round the bend of the silent boulevard, beneath the lightly falling snow.  It was a bankers burial and nothing less by the looks of it.  Even as he waited a crowd of pedestrians began to gather along the walks.  White Rolls and gray Mercedes, amidst the cavalcade of glossy cars the funeral limousines were the least impressive.  Across the road a crew of cameramen were filming footage of the regal drive: of the women who were bundled in their bulky furs, and of the men in dark coats and hats.  Shannon found himself as awed by the ostentation as the crowds along the street seemed to be by the amassing of such wealth.  The old fellow had failed even at that.  He mused even at that he had lost out.  He recalled the lame joke about the last ride and how, if only in the end, everyone went out in style.  From the cradle to the grave, his father had known little else but the lot of the shanty Irish.

 

             The cathedral bells continued to toll their dull lament as Shannon turned on his heel and headed up the parkway.  The collar of his greatcoat was gathered against the cold, and his hands were pressed deep in its pockets.  He shifted the weight of his duffle bag uneasily as the last of the big cars wheeled out of the drive and the crowds began to part before him.  He walked slowly and he paused often.  All about him the smoke from innumerable chimneys rose in cloudlike colonnades which curled across the sky, while along the lanes which wandered between the cherry dark buildings the incessant swirl of the silver eddies fashioned visions in the snow.  He moved from the red brick of Beacon Hill past the coffee colored buildings of Bostons few fashionable streets, between the rotting mansions of the West End and around thenegro tenements at the bottom of the Combat Zone.  There had been a time when the crumbling courtyards of the Back Bay had been the only bit of beauty left between South Boston and the slums.  They seemed a roofless prison now.  Like all the remnants of his early life, they seemed to rest within their own reality, which lay as dark against the shifting snowfall as any dark shapes in a dream.

 

             It was odd that he should end up here, Shannon brooded as he walked.  It was as if the dream, which had been a bad one, belonged to a winter locked world which Shannon no longer could relate to.  The bridge was like a gateway to that dream, and the shabby figures that bundled by him were like the keepers of the nightmare; and even as he drew nearer to the bridge which linked the Back Bay to South Boston, he had the uncanny sensation that even his memories were unreal.  The past was a mist of make believe; the shadows of his past seemed to cheat across the tenements under the cover of the snow.  They were memories of violence and confusion, of poverty and crime, alien to him now, bereft of shape or meaning, yet ominous nonetheless.  It was even more rare than ironic that he should reminisce about his father.  He had forgiven the gaunt man everything, he even thought that he understood him, finally, but he felt betrayed by him as well; and all that Shannon really remembered about his early years in Irishtown was the evening of his mothers death, his fathers disappearance, the prison of thepoor.  Youre on your own from now on lad, were the last words his father had spoken to him,  for I will have no part of you.  He cursed when he drank, Shannon remembered, or at least had had that last time, but for the most part his father had been silent.  But, as always, the image of his father remained vague, and even faintly bitter for him, and he felt no binding presence in it.  He found no sense of company in any of his recollections of either his family or his past.

 

             It was a dull windy day.  Despite the whiteness of the falling snow, there was a gray cast across the city which seemed to accent the solemnity of the cathedral bells and the dark mood of the morning.  The steeple bells had been tolling for the banker clear across the town.  They became fainter the farther Shannon moved from the center of the city, and they nearly vanished altogether amidst the rubble of the slums.  Yet even from here he could hear them faintly ringing across the Commons, and in the distance, beyond the Commons, from the heights of South Bostons slender bridge, he could see the funeral train still wending its way across the city.  The camera crew was fast behind it.  Here and there, he caught a glimpse of the miniature media photographers clicking pictures of the drive.  While Shannon had always known that Boston was a bedlam for the poor, he now found himself wondering if it was all that much more stately for the starched staid rich.  Perhaps, it wasnt much worse, after all, to die alone and of little consequence, as his father had, he was musing, than it was to be hounded to your grave.  But in the back of his mind, Shannon knew that he had to get some money up, and quickly too, how did not matter, or he would be locked inside this dream forever.

 

             Irishtown was covered with snow.   Great flurries off the ocean, whirling with the north wind: a satin shroud descending as far as he could see.  Behind the swift and seemingly random criss-crossing of the steep and shabby streets of South Boston lay an old and crowded corner of the city which had managed to seal itself away from the rest of mankind.  Across the hills, the rows of working class houses formed a barricade of white against the crescent of the bay.  From the bridge, they looked like castles in the air, shadowy but unbroken, asleep above the sea.  Beyond them, the great ships were ghostly silhouettes in the harbor, and the harbor itself seemed to be asleep within a mystic ring.

 

             They were all asleep, Shannon brooded as he walked.  He rested at the base of the bridge, then moved quietly up the street.  Although nothing much stirred in him since the war bleak.visions of his early life began to shift before his eyes.  He seemed to hear the shouts of his playmates in the snow, and even the cadence of his mothers voice seemed to call him across the wind.  He remembered all the sullen faces of his schoolfellows: first as they had been when they were children of the tenements, and then, in the end, as he last had seen them, brutal, even bewildered, looking ahead to war.  They were asleep beneath the shadow of the war, Shannon reflected; they were at rest within the silence of the storm; they had escaped the sundry prisons of their early lives for an endless world of dream.  He could feel them close behind him in the storm.  They were a presence which not only was a part of him but they were a fate which was to be.

 

             Shannon kept to the cover of the hoardings along the river, a dark stiff figure of a soldier.  He moved amidst the small grubby pubs, and around the toppling Irish tenements, past the shop fronts which were filled with such stuff as only the poor would buy, down illicit streets, past shacks and shanties, between the asylum and the school, around a towering church which loomedabove the labyrinth.  At a gaunt gray building, he slipped in from the cold.  He moved carefully down a darkened corridor and then he quietly climbed the stairs.  Now Shannon no longer could elude the dream, nor could he flee the phantom shapes behind him.  He was somewhere in his childhood below an altar beneath a blazing cross.  He was burning up with fever as he ascended and there was something queer about the dark.  He was lost amidst a night of war.  He rose on rolling hills above barren plains toward ragged bluffs which mounted in the night.  He was in between somewhere and somewhere else.  He was moving toward an enemy village which never was but which must have been.  From somewhere in this darkness came the voices of the dead.  Their whispers along the passageways made him lonely and afraid.  It was coming on again.  Shannon chattered to himself.  He would have to relive his death again.He followed the voices to the top of the stairs, and then he moved across the corridor to a small whitewashed room.  Like the rest of the building the garret was stifling and dark, but in the center of the room there was a window upon the bay, and the queer illumination from the storm outside the window cut a shaft across the garret filled with dazzling light.  Shannon laid his duffle bag at the foot of the bed.  He moved carefully toward the chair beside the table beneath the window.  The strident voices stopped abruptly as he sat, the whirlwind rested, and yet the children continued to flurry past him in the snow.  He could see them in the distance across the crescent of the harbor.  They chased one another around the moorings which lined the water.  They mingled with the mists which moved across the sea.  To go on to go on for what?  Shannon chattered to himself.  To go on to go on for nothing? The light from the window made strange patterns around the room, silvery constellations, hazy and hypnotic.  Shannon searched his pockets for a cigarette and made an effort not to fall asleep.  He sat and he smoked and he watched the phantom figures with a hostile silence.  Anger and emptiness ran through him as he sat.  Sorrow and despair were with him too, but it was the terror that he felt toward the shadows of the dead which made the room close in a round him like a coffin, and made the past seem to be a part of his inevitable waking dream.  He must not fall asleep.  Shannon muttered to himself.  He must make an effort not to fall asleep.

 

             It was cold in the room and yet the air seemed hot to breathe.  Cold in the room, yet he felt feverish and enflamed.  He took a notebook from his greatcoat and laid its contents across the table.  He ran a hand over the blinding pages and made an effort not to fall asleep.  The rafters in the attic were rotting at their stanchions, and the rubbish which had been piled on every landing of the tenement brought up the rank scents of the winter to the garret along with the acrid taste of lye.  He tried to read the words but the writing kept eluding him.  He tried to see the war in what was written, but his mind was given over to the silence of the winter, to the ghost shapes along the harbor, and to the tolling of the bells.  He had forgotten how shoddy the houses were along the waterfront.  He had forgotten how crowded the buildings were beside the river, and how mean had been those early years for both his family and himself.  The shabby streets which lay below him ran like labyrinths through some interminable blind.  They were bleak, and they were lonely, and despite the fairyland of falling snow, as always, they filled him with a sense of shame.  It was a shame which was born from the denial which they stood for, and from a betrayal which Shannon knew not only touched upon his own dreams but upon an American dream as well.  The banker would be buried by now in some little cemetery in the suburbs.  Shannon brooded as he watched.  He felt a peculiar sense of foreboding in that.  He found himself reflecting, once again, upon the shortness and the absurdity of individual lives, upon the loss and the isolation of individual existences. 

 

             Shannon removed his shoes and moved from the table to the bed.  He hung his greatcoat across a rafter and then lay back atop the blankets.  The walk from the train had taken everything out of him.  The shadows of his past, which were buried by the war, began to surface in some former self that mingled oddly in his mind with his memories of Irishtown.  Through his fever and his delirium, he could vaguely feel the effects of the narcotics wearing off.  The feeling was a sensation of falling, and with the falling the dull pain had come back into his lungs and it took an effort just to breathe. First you were nothing, and then you were something, and then in the end you were nothing again.  Shannon chattered to himself.  You were less than nothing for you were a nevermore.  Shannon remembered all the roads which traveled nowhere.  He recounted all the steps which led to nothing.  Although he tried not to fall asleep, he knew that he would have to sleep, for it was only in sleep that he could escape the silence of the winter.  It was onlyin sleep that he could forget the death knell for the banker, the absence of his father.  It was only in sleep that he could elude the gloomy room and shut out the tiny lives that beckoned beyond the white frame of the window.  But in sleep lay death and the agony of dying.  In sleep the nightmare war would meet him, and with the coming of the war the bombing and the breathing and the beating of machines would break the quiet of a jungle camp beside a village which had

never existed.

 

             No one had fought for this.  Shannon chattered to himself.  No one had killed for this and no one had died for this.

 

 

ALL THE PRETTY BALLERINAS

 

Nights lost wander,

amidst phantoms youd flee in dream,

through ghost haunts, spectral walks,

dead zones fogged by smoke and gin.

Uptown, downtown, 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.

 

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, call it Midnight Angel.

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,

paintings 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.

 

 

SHOOT THE SOLDIER

 

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.

hantom 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 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.

 

 

III

 

 

LIFE NOIR

 

Unknown hours fade to black.

 

 

HEAVENLY SHADES OF NIGHT

 

The Big Dream Score,

The Top Bop Jackpot,

dead as road kill,

as a rigged roulette wheel

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.

So, life beat you down lad?

Says the alley cat to the sewer rat.

Whats in that?  Have another drink

pal, youll get back.

Time in a bottle night towns broken

clock measuring planetary motion

by the shadows that prowl.

Round, like a circle in a spiral, 

Another blind alley bar stool, another dead

end dive, where midnight angels watch

from the shadows through ocelot eyes.

All you need is love

Day labor dollars watching back from my

wallet like a craps shoot of snake eyes.

 

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

raven hair fans like wings across her shoulders

and back.  Candles, candelabrums flutter

on bureaus, bed stands.  Incense is burning

everywhere.  She is singing to herself in a mirror

some sweet sad street song reminiscent of that long ago

chanteuse they called the little sparrow and applying

red lipstick.  Her lost lament sounds like nothing

so much as a lullaby.

I cross myself and stagger in.

 

 

BLIND ALLEY

 

Hard time, dead time, do the time,

feel the bind, walk the line, lose your mind,

 think about your life of crime

 

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 sleepwalker 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, never happened before

and probably wont 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,

in the wrong town, cross the wrong path at the wrong

 time, play the wrong  game, with the wrong crowd

 

 

BLACK MOON

 

Each face a phantom version of itself,

 each figure spectral,

each street a shaft of smoke and mirrors

 

I move through night and street glow,

past the poolrooms and the taverns,

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,

the midnight prowl of shadows,

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

 

In the darkest corner of the room

 

The jukebox wails.

 

On the longest night I ever knew

 

The Black Moon lounge is dark, smoky,

crowded with haunts.

 

I see you with another man

 

I slip through silk and perfume, laughter, whispers, purrs and growls.

Dream potions splash on ice, voices rustle like playing cards.

 

In the deepest chasm of my soul

 

No matter that the feelings twist.

 

With a heartache no one can endure

 

Each explosive piece of them.

 

 

ODE TO RAGDOLL

 

Your mother was a junkie, your father a drunk.

You dressed in rags and the school kids treated

you like junk. Pretend playmates was all you had.

Life was a ghosts dream way back then.

But things changed.  You became a knockout.

Life switched to the fast lane, money and men.

Rags to riches but it was still pretend.

For love or money?  Youd vanish in a blink.

Same old ghost world but now you haunt it in mink.

 

 

RACKUM

 

Half-wits and whores, junkies, degenerates,

undead corpses, living obituaries no one will 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 and collect my bets.

A Midnight Angel waits by my bar stool.

The juke-box wails some song in the darkness,

about love and heartbreak and loneliness.

 

 

STARDUST

 

The shadowy strangers come and go.

They bow and take your hand.

You dance around a room of smoke

to the music we once shared.

 

Our dream of love died long ago.

 Life stole our one small chance.

What might have been, well never know.

It wont come back again.

 

The Stardust is a haunt for ghosts,

the music loves dead end.

 I leave to face the night alone,

while you dance through smoke and men.

 

 

STRAY DOGS

 

death winds howl in the black fog of

my brain as the world drops into night,

and the city and the streets and the bars

and my soul are all buried in a bottomless

night

 

We drank 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 drank as we slid through gristle and blood

shouldering sides of meat from the delivery trucks

to the slaughter rooms inside where the butchers

chopped them up, kicking off the mongrels as we

staggered in and out, who fought for the bits of meat

which spotted the grimy walks.

 

We nooned on Muscatel in the alley in the back.

We tossed the stray dogs lunchmeat from our

crumpled deli bags.

 

We drank as we swept and mopped the bloody

floors, scooping entrails into trash bags which

we piled outside the door.

 

As the world dropped into night, we cashed our

checks at the corner bar.  We stared at our drinks

and waited for the whores.

 

 

MOULIN ROUGE

 

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 down 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

one flame from Hell.

 

Hookers, strippers, poker machines, drugs,

booze, dice, ex-cons, thugs by the time

anyone wonders where the bartenders gone

(out the back as soon as the first narc walked in)

Ill be dreaming of you Ruby (dead drunk

on a Trailways bus).

 

Rock on.

 

 

PENNY SERENADE

 

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.

All the clocks ran out of time.

Cretin croons in a corner.

Not a street has a sign.

No one here has a name.

Each night the ghost of Marilyn Monroe

haunts the missions of skid row.

She makes mad love with each lost soul

along her ethereal, backstreet stroll

and then vanishes in a cloud of ozone.

The sun and moon and stars dont shine. 

Cretin croons, (or maybe its more like groans).

Theres no song that has a rhyme.

Theres no night, theres no day.

 

 

EVERYTHING GOES

 

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?

 

 

EASY STREET

   

Payday Friday, lying doubled in

a knot, near delirium on my 

night crawler cot, wondering

if the bleeding will stop, as I

listen to the winos, psychos,

druggies, skells, (someone open

the jail cells?) stagger around

the Rodent Hotel.

Blue collar gin mill stash

of cash to bust checks for  

 the beer swills

 show a gun, grab and run

 shock and awe, simple withdrawal

 Right?

  

 

                                HARD TIME

 

                                                     Hard time

                                                                                Dead time

                                                     Hard line

                                                                                Marking time

                                                     Day Time

                                                                                Nighttime

                                                     Hole blind

                                                                                No mind

                                                     Bottom line

                                                                                Do the time

                                                     Walk the line

                                                                                Feel the bind

                                                     Tow the line

                                                                                Lose your mind

                                                     Think about

                                                                                Your life of crime

 

                                                     Day dreams

                                                                                Memories

                                                     Sleep streams

                                                                                Reveries

                                                     Candyland

                                                                                In my hand

                                                     Lift them high

                                                                                Or you die

                                                     See the gun

                                                                                Better run

                                                     Wild babes

                                                                                Wild nights

                                                     Easy street

                                                                                At your feet

 

                                                     Cell block

                                                                                Dead lock

                                                     Cage rage

                                                                                Dark days

                                                     Stir craze

                                                                                Blind maze

                                                     Pace the cell

                                                                                Life in hell

                                                     Walk the yard

                                                                                Mind the guard

                                                     Hell penned

                                                                                Dead end

 

 

DESERT FLOWER

 

 

             Dusk, and once again, the dream-like grapple with death, as high winds howled across the  South Dakota desert, and black rocks twisted in a devil dance against the sky.

 

             Wheres your goons, Tonto?

 

             Greenleaf looked sharply at the girl.  She stood, motionless, by the window, her arms folded.

 

             Relax, angel, it will all go down.

 

             It doesnt look like it.

 

             Theyre on their way.

 

             She made an impatient gesture.

 

             Shadows filled the room, as night came on.  He sat at the table and studied the layout which the girl had drawn for him, the maze of rooms and hallways and staircases, while he chain smoked cigarettes.  She remained restlessly watching, her eyes fixed on the road.

 

             Im not waiting.

 

             Thats too bad love.

 

             Im not coming back.

 

             Thats too bad too.  But it will be a mistake.

 

             Youre a mistake.

 

             Suit yourself, Cinderella, but theres still time.

 

             Your time, Geronimo.  Small time.

 

             Headlights swept the driveway.  A dark, late model car pulled in.  Two shadows sat slumped in it.  Greenleaf rose softly, slipping a revolver down his snakeskin belt, his gaunt Indian face expressionless.

 

             Your coach awaiteth.

 

             Your goons are drunk.

 

             Theyll deliver.

 

             Youre a joke.

 

             Fifty thousand dollars?  The Mexican asked again.

 

             Right, amigo,  Greenleaf answered impatiently, fifty grand.

 

             Fifty thousand dollars in cash?

 

             Cash.

 

             In that haunted house?

 

             The wind rocked the black sedan.  They sat parked near the entrance to the roadhouse, headlights extinguished, engine idling.  Greenleaf watched the girl slip out of the car and run through the night.  Her cheerleaders uniform fluttered with the gusts.  Her long golden hair something out of a fairytale flared, for an instant, as she disappeared through the roadhouse doorway.

 

             You have seen this cash, my friend?

 

             It was still early.  The parking lot was all but empty.  There was a pickup truck parked by the roadhouse door.  There was a late model station wagon next to it.  Beyond the asphalt, under the waving trees, they could dimly make out the silhouette of a squad car.  Inside the roadhouse, the girl was making her moves.

 

             This dont look so good, my friend.

 

             The driver stared hard at the parked police car.  His blunt fingers gripped the wheel.  His partner was staring hard at it too.  He shook his head and tilted his bottle.

 

             It looked good to you this afternoon, amigo.

 

             Greenleaf leaned forward in the back seat.  He tried to peer past the two petrified Mexicans. The roadhouse was a relic from another time a high gabled ghost built during the brief mining boom which founded Black Water.  Its wooden frame was warped and weather eaten, bordering on haunted oblivion.  The gutters and drainpipes were dull with rust.  Blinking neon food and drink signs stabbed through the first floor windows.  The rest of the house was cloaked in darkness.  Somewhere inside, the strange white girl was drifting through the rooms, cutting phone lines, unlocking doors.

 

             No, my friend, it sounded good to me this afternoon.

 

             The driver took a long drink from the tequila bottle.  He wiped his mouth, hesitated, and then took another.

 

             How does this sound to you?

 

             Greenleaf shoved the barrel of his revolver into the drivers neck.  He cocked back the hammer until it clicked into place.

 

             Its going down soon, Pancho,  Greenleaf whispered, and youre going with it.  Sos your pal.  In case you forgot, were looking at a bag stuffed with cocaine in a safe in that house.  Were looking at fifty thousand dollars on its way to claim it.  Were looking at the advantage of surprise, and were looking at the fact that we got someone inside to set things up.

 

             Greenleaf sat back in the seat and closed his eyes.  He listened to the wind howling through the night across the bluffs and rocks and boulders of the Badlands.  His shiny black hair was matted with sweat.  His hands were shaking.  The night seemed like a dream.Everything seemed like a dream since he had met the girl.

 

             She had appeared that morning, like a apparition, standing suddenly before him in a Black Water tavern, where Greenleaf was playing the final shot in a high stakes pool game which began the day before and continued through the night.

 

             His dark eyes heavy with smoke and the long night, his fingers stiffly wrapped around the cue, Greenleaf leaned across the table and fixed his gaze on the last bright colored ball which seemed to float there.  He looked up suddenly a flood of sunlight was streaming through a cathedral window.  As he squinted, the stained glass dazzle slowly gave way to a strange white girl.  Hair like spun gold, skin so pale it was almost translucent, she stood like a chimera at the end of the table, disturbingly beautiful, her candy-cane cheerleaders uniform sparkling under the light of the overhead lamp.

 

             Got a gun Cochise?

 

              She was looking down at him with undisguised disdain.  Her eyes seemed to look through him, not at him, from some far away reality quite beyond him.

 

             I might have, princess.  Why?

 

              Greenleaf had to gather himself together just to take a breath.

 

             Got a couple of these to go with it?

 

              She lifted the ball from the table and held it lightly in her hand.

 

             I might have those too, love.  Cut to the chase.

 

             She waited tables after school,  at a roadhouse in the valley.  The owner had a brother who was a crooked county cop.  They were both crooks.  Anyway, the cop got lucky.  He scored a primo bag of cocaine in a routine traffic bust.  He either snuffed the delivery boy, or let him go in trade he was selling the stuff back to the delivery boys boss or to someone else.  She had overheard all this through a door in the storeroom and couldnt quite get it straight.  But the score was stashed in the office safe.  A deal was going down that night at eight oclock.

 

             Big time wampum, Hiawatha.  She made mock Indian signs with her hands.  You in or you out?

 

 

 

              Headlights swept across the roadhouse parking lot.  A champagne colored Cadillac sped past them and parked by the neon-lit door.  Two men in suede suits and Stetson hats climbed out.  They looked around and went inside.  One of the men was carrying a briefcase.

 

             Its game time amigos.

 

             Greenleaf pulled himself together and leaned forward.  He jabbed the drivers partner with   his gun.

   

              Im not going to run this past you again, amigo. You know the set up.  Make your way to the hall at the end of the bar and slip through that storeroom door.  It will be unlocked.  Inside the storeroom theres another door, also unlocked.  That door opens to the back of the roadhouse office.  Its unlocked too.  Wait by the door till you hear my voice.  Then bust in. The Mexican looked long and hard at the parked police car.  He studied the Cadillac.  He turned and looked at his friend.  The driver nodded gravely at him.  He shook his head and slipped outside.

 

             Lets move.  Greenleaf jabbed the driver.  They drove to the end of the parking lot and braked by the swaying trees.  Greenleaf hit the asphalt running, a flashlight flickering in his hand.  It was all a matter of timing to hit them hard in the middle of the deal.  He imagined the play going down, right now, in the office: the safe open and the cocaine out, the briefcase open and the cash out, the four men clustered around the office desk, sampling the product, checking the bills.  He imagined himself and the Mexican, guns drawn, busting in from different doors.  Five times fifty thousand dollars, the coke would take in on the street. Greenleaf calculated breathlessly as he ran.  Maybe more.  Plus the cash.  Eighty thousand dollars would be his share.  In ten more minutes he would have eighty thousand dollars.  Eighty thousand dollars plus.

 

             The cellar door was open and Greenleaf bounded down the wooden stairs.  The flashlight tossed off devil shapes in the darkness, igniting black flame shadows everywhere.  Eighty thousand dollars, Greenleaf repeated to himself.  He beamed his way, slowly, through the mountains of roadhouse rubbish, around crates and barrels and boxes and trash.  He ducked under dripping pipes and waded through puddles of stench.  The old house rocked and creaked above him, while the cellar floor was alive with frightened rats.

 

             Murder.  Gunplay.  Prison.  Death.  Black thoughts ran round and round in his head.  Round and round, they raced in his mind all day, as waves of fear and panic seized him.  Drug dealers, crooked cops, crooked club owners, shotgun ready Badlands bartenders Cinderellas castle was a booby trap.  He had known that going in, but he could not stay out.  Eighty thousand dollars.  This was his first real crack at big-time dough.  Maybe the only shot hed ever get.  This was the break he needed to blow off Black Water, to escape his dirt poor life in the South Dakota desert shooting stick for meals and flops in Badlands dives.

 

             Greenleaf stopped abruptly and held his breath.  The long, steep staircase that led up to the office suddenly loomed before him, climbing through the cobwebs and disappearing in the darkness.  He lifted the light and shined its beam on the waiting door.  His heartbeat raced and his legs felt wobbly.  He had to grip the flashlight to keep it steady.  The Mexicans were right.  The play was crazy.  They were pros upstairs four armed, experienced, dangerous men.  Those pros would never give up the Jack.  Not without a bloodbath.  Even if they gave it up to them tonight, they would get it back tomorrow.  They would hunt them down, anywhere they went.  The cop would see to that.  How hard would it be to throw a net around Black Water?  To find and break the Mexicans?  To sniff him out?  To get all of them?  Anything odd happen here lately, you ask?  Well, yeah man, there was this high-school chick in here talking to this hustler Indian.  They didnt have a chance.  But he knew that coming in.  Eighty thousand dollars.  Maybe they werent supposed to have a chance.  There was something out there he couldnt quite see.  Something crazy.  He tried to see it, but the pills he popped all day to stay awake

 

 

 

             Greenleaf froze on the spot, as the door opened suddenly and a flood of light came streaming down the staircase.  Framed in the yellow haze at the top of the stairs, the silhouette of the girl appeared, standing motionless in the brightly lit doorway.  Her eyes gazed down on him like holy mysteries two huge, hypnotic, emerald-green gems.  As always, her gaze went completely through him, hitting some mysterious target deep inside him, leaving him, as always, strangely stunned and spent.

 

             Greenleaf felt himself falling as he mounted the stairs, sinking, dropping, drowning like a one-armed swimmer disappearing into some desolate unknown.  Halfway up, he remembered  the mask.  He slipped it over his head and face.  An executioners mask.  A hit mans black hood.  Someone would die tonight, Greenleaf knew, and he somehow knew, deep down, thatit would be him.

 

             He lumbered to the top, and as he moved through the door, the girl swiftly retreated.  Hefollowed her figure down a hallway lined on both sides with hulking doors.  She was dressedin a bridal gown, a ghostly swirl of taffeta and silk.  On her head was a crown of desert flowers.  There were more garlands woven in her golden hair.  She turned and smiled at him and beckoned.  He lurked behind, his neck glistening with sweat, squinting through the slits in the black hood.  At the end of the hall, she turned again.  She lifted an ivory finger to her lips, slipped through the door and signaled him to follow.

 

             He followed her in, but what he found inside the dingy office looked more like a hopheads hallucination than the slick double cross he was expecting.  Yes, all the players were there waiting for him.  The cop was there.  The owner a big balding man was there.  The two Stetsoned drug dealers were there, as was the briefcase full of cash and the sack of coke.  But everything was topsey turvey, upside down.  The men were sprawled all over the tiny room slumped in chairs, toppled over furniture, curled on the floor.  No sound came from the bar.  The girl stood like a dream shape in the midst of the petrified mayhem.  Her emerald eyes were sparkling and there was a faint smile on her lips.  She performed a little pantomime for him.  She mixed an imaginary drink, tilted her head, and pretended to drink it down.

 

             Knock out drops.  She whispered.

 

             She leaned over and pulled the gun from the curled up cop.  As she did Greenleaf saw the body of the Mexican behind her.  He was sprawled out on the floor.  There was blood seeping through the top of his thick black hood.

 

             Happy hunting, Hiawatha.

 

             She smiled as she rose and extended her arms in front of her and pointed the policemans thirty-eight caliber special at his chest.

 

             The explosion sent him reeling back.  He slammed against the wall and sagged slowly to the office floor.  A ball of fire blazed in his chest.  His head was spinning as he gasped for breath.

 

             You wont need this, my love.

 

             The girl floated over him like a white-winged angel.  She pulled the gun from his snake skin belt.  Greenleaf lifted his eyes and watched her turn and fire his revolver into the unconscious cops chest.  She fired again into the face of the sleeping owner.  And then she fired into the walls, desk, woodwork until the gun was empty.

 

Greenleaf tried to rise but he found that he could not move.  It felt as if a great weight was pressing down upon him.  He looked on as the girl took one of the drug dealers guns and shot the Mexican, and then used the Mexicans gun to shoot both the dealers.  She moved around the room amidst the rustle of silk and the fragrance of desert flowers, rearranging the bodies, shooting bullets into the walls and doors.  He knew what she was up to but he couldnt quite swallow it.  She floated past him and rustled down the hallway.  There was the slamming of a door and  the sound of a body being dragged back toward the office.  Greenleaf knew it was the body of the getaway driver.  A door opened across from the office.  The sound of the barrooms jukebox filled the air.  There were more explosions, more bullets ricocheting, the sound of more bodies being dragged and rearranged the bartender, the cook, the few patrons. It was as if the roadhouse were her dollhouse.  The bodies of the men her toys all of them arranged by the girl to create, for the police, the illusion of a robbery gone bad and a survivor-less gunfight when it had.

 

 

             A white silk suit, a diamond ring, a pocket full of money, his hair slicked back Greenleaf was high rolling his way through the casinos of Las Vegas, a blonde on each arm.  The bright lights glittered and the roulette wheel turned.  He was winning big time, jackpot after jaclpot, prince among the players

 

 

             The girl sat in the dark and waited for her lover.  Soon, he would appear to her, as he always did, in the antique barroom mirror.  Tall, dark, handsome, elegant, he would be dressed for their wedding in that high style gold rush fashion which gentlemen wore for their ladies way back then.  The roadhouse was theirs now, theirs alone.  Her father was gone.  Her uncle was gone.  They were gone in the way they both deserved.  There would be no more of that from them.  There would be no more rooms with drunken men.  There would be just her and her lover from now until forever.

 

 

IV

 

                                METAMORPHOSIS

 

                                                     Wind, earth, sky, all one,

                                                     white veils whirling in the

                                                     winter storm.

                                                     Here comes the bride,

                                                      the winter whispers,

                                                     all dressed in white.

                                                      She can see nothing.

                                                     The world is erased.

                                                     Wind whipped shrouds

                                                     swirl around like spirits

                                                     in a holy 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.

 

 

THE BELLS

 

The church bells toll as the storm descends.

Shanty Town is shrouded with snow.

rystal castles, and other fairytale marvels,

cover the ramshackle houses, shabby store fronts,

clap trap shelters, toppling tenements.

The dreary mill atop the hill, glitters in the maelstrom

like a diaphanous dream dome (afloat in a cloudland).

Shape shifting spirits dance off the drifts,

fly with the flurries, twirl and pirouette. 

Even the shacks and shanties, the rickety sheds,

conjure up post card cottages and nativity scenes.

I bundle through the blizzard, bowed against the swirl,

a fragile ghost in a dream, beckoned by the bells.

 

 

SMOKE AND MIRRORS  

 

She stands across the room with her back to me,

dressed in black satin.  Her long, golden hair fans

across her shoulders, flares down her back.

Her skin is so pale it seems translucent..

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.

 

 

LOVE SONG

 

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 impoverished poets.

She whispers. The tables flickering

candle, lights her raven hair and nightingale eyes. 

Really?

Wordsmiths make me fly.  She coos.

They do?

Do they!

Through a veil of cigarette smoke,

over the rim of her raised cocktail glass,

she devours me with her oscine eyes. 

Poetry? Devouring?

 

 

                                FIRING SQUAD

 

                                                     As fixed as a fact,

                                                     Like the tick of a clock,

                                                     Like the hand of a clock,

                                                     Like a gavel coming down.

 

                                                     We reach for the sky,

                                                     Strain for the sun,

                                                     And then we are gone.

 

 

ODD-ALISQUE  

 

Dont move,

any motion of your body

would dispel my illusion

that Time has stopped.

Dont speak,

the silence speaks

to us, for us, about us.

 Dont sigh,

even the soft exhalation

of your breath

would disturb this fragile dream.

 

So ok move ..

talk, smoke, polish your nails,

do cartwheels across the room,

plan your next party,

check the papers for the seasonal sales

 

Life goes on

 

 

                                SLIPPERS

 

                                                     In nursing home hallways,

                                                     like fading memories,

                                                     the aged sit.

 

                                                     Written with John Colgan

 

 

THE SACRED MOUNTAIN  

 

Shafts of starlight break through the stormy sky.

Shadow beasts stalk the barren woods.

Our skittish horses shift through thickets,

cross frozen streams.

Dawn is breaking.

We gallop across the snow smothered groves,

climb the twisting terraces.

Rocks like white castles climb into the clouds.

Lace-like garlands bend the boughs.

There is the sweet smell of dogwood.

Birds take flight.

Crystal rivulets wind down ivory cliffs.

Blazing boulders glitter with ice.

We scale the cliff crests catching fire,

a rainbow in your womb.

 

 

                                THE HAUNTING

 

                                                     Fog shrouds the city,

                                                     wraps the fading street lamps.

                                                     Down the midnight street,

                                                     a few soft paces,

                                                     from the doorway

                                                     where Im sleeping,

                                                     I hear the dead souls

                                                     search the dark,

                                                     for the dreams

                                                     they lost when living.

 

 

ASH WEDNESDAY

 

She writhes with the ritual burning,

thinks of Joan of Arc twisting at the stake,

lying in the lab across the cold metal slab.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph! She pleads for mercy.

Her blood is boiling.  Her head and body throb.

She tries to think about how much Jesus suffered

on the cross for everyone. But shes no martyr,

saint or god, she knows.  Her suffering wont

save anyone.  Maybe not even herself.

Cancer, even the word seems white hot.

She forces her fevered thoughts to focus on

Something else: Christmas, soon to come,

The decorated tree with the angel on top,

The nativity laid out on a white cotton cloth,

Carols, laughter, gifts of love.

The inferno is finally done. She sighs, sits

up, struggles into her clothes.   

In the lobby, her husband is waiting,

her daughter, son. 

 

 

 

                                   V

 

 

                                SLEPT AROUND

 

                                                     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...

 

 

THE PENNY FLUTE

 

Like ghosts in a dream, 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.

 

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 there 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 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 then 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 nightmarewhich would not stop.

 

This was long ago and far away, and my memory of all the roads which traveled nowhere in my life, and all the steps which lead to nothing, and all the stops in between, 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, driven from their flops and flats and slum tenements by a lack of heat. 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 the 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 the 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 little 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 to take.  But she shivered and turned away.

 

 

THE MUSEUM GUARD

 

morning rounds    chasing phantom art alarms    poltergeist

startled smoke detectors  hand radio crackling    CLEOPATRA

CLEAR   I call Control   ASIAN ART ANOTHER GHENGIS CON   

Byzantine Banshees    Gothic Ghosts    Spectral   Sanctum 

 Phantasmagoria   I slip through light and shadow   down

the corridors of dream    past the doorways of  delirium  

along the labyrinths of time   amidst the spoils of    raided

tombs   sacked cities    pilfered churches   ravaged kingdoms  

robbed graves  plundered castles   the grab bag of Kings &

Queens & Robber Barons   (and the howls of slaves serfs

exploited workers)   In Xanadu did Kubla Khan  I muse as I

shift down the haunted hallways through the spot-lit galleries

ablaze with visions   Monet Renoir Van Gogh Gauguin Picasso

Matisse Dali Beckman Turner Tiepolo Richter Rembrandt  

a stately pleasure dome decree   CODE RED  my radio crackles 

 SOUTH WALL LLK DO YOU COPY FIRST AID?    kitchen fire  someone

burned   I drop a freight to the castles crypts   cut through the

night crawler catacombs   boiler rooms   power plants   mazes

tunnels   smoke fogs the food service entrance   black robed

demons dance above a flaming oven    two techs from operations

are foaming down the fire  first aid tends a cooks burns in the

corner  a mob of dark men and women   dressed in ghost white

uniforms   huddle in groups around the stoves sinks pot & pans 

Que Pasa?  I drift into the throngs of food service workers

fuego  muy malo  I shake my head  Is anyone burned? 

The Mexicans eye me warily  back away   Policia  La Chota

 Ustedes OK?   I try the shadowy figures again  but they fidget 

make fists   turn away  KITCHEN CLEAR  I radio Control  CALL AN

AMBULANCE   SEND DOWN A SUIT  (if you find one)

been there amigos  I brood as I zig zag back through the belly of the beast

   been in between nowhere and no way out   my mind flashing back

 to the fearful faces  afraid of the thug in a uniform  afraid of losing

what little they have  their hand to mouth jobs  claptrap shelters  

Anyone who has an advantage my old man used to say

will take advantage of anyone who is at a disadvantage to them  

 I guess Ive drunk to that one in my day

   Gallery 220   oil on canvas  2 small areas paint crushed from impact 

Gallery 220  oil on board  large white drips lower right

   Gallery 216 tempera panel   scratches 

Gallery  217oil on canvas swipe mark from hand  

The morning after Free Days invasion of the barbarian

hordes   ever since I found my favorite painting slashed I approach each work

with dreadHey  Security  wheres that ear guy? 

Wheres what?  That ear guy  You mean Van Gogh?   

ART HANDLERS GALLERY 201  I alert Control  INSTALLATION IMPRESSIONISM    

The floor sweepers are out in force    custodians are cleaning the cases 

physical plant is checking climate control  docents  conservation techs 

carpenters  painters  electricians   the sleeping citadel is awakening

from its night sweats slumber  in Paradise Lost    Dantes Inferno 

whatever purgatory God condemns it to toss   (That other Chicago

story by Upton Sinclair The Jungle?)   I check my watch   make one

more note about the damaged Chase in Gallery 272   move through

the connecting door from the Old Masters section into the Executive

Suites   Publications  Promotions   Memberships   Fundraising  

Education  Finance Curatorial   Registration    I check for waste

basket fires  hazardous coffee pots  dead archivists slumped on their

library shelvesYale  Harvard  Princeton  diplomas hang on each

ivory castle inner sanctum wall  Brown  Vassar  Radcliff   You Have

Just Entered Civilization someone from  publications wants you to

know  Art Tells Us The Truth About Being Human  another office

posting quotes  and my favorite   in the Directors office  straight from

the horses mouth    an ode to artists for their concern for the poor tired

and humble masses and some rigmarole about how museum values this.

I sit in the Swastika lobby at the plush information & membership kiosk 

beneath the giant vase of fresh cut flowers   I know the gilded Nazi swirls

which trim the ceiling of the grand marble entrance are really ancient Asian

symbols for peace hope love   but after Hitler they are forever swastikas 

and somehow oddly appropriate FOOD SERVICE SETTING UP TRUSTEES MEETING  

I radio Control as a caravan of breakfast carts rattle through the lobby

pushed by the Mexican ghosts  SHOPKEEPERS ENTERING STORE    CASHIERS  

COAT CHECKS   ENTERING VISITORS SERVICEThe bee hive starts to buzz

as the drones swarm to work   mostly temp types  day labor style slugs

you never get to know as theyre shuffled in and out before benefits

kick in  health care  sick days  raises  pensions  vacations  personnel

access (or they just up and leave even with these benefits because the pays

no good)   I need a smoke   time is pressing   the scheduler called off  

Im stuck with the jigsaw puzzle of gallery guard postings   Ancient  

Old Master  Modern  Contemporary  Expressionist  Impressionist  Asian 

American  Renaissance  Medieval  every nook and crannyESCORT

GUARDS OPENING MICH ENTRANCE    I inform Control   the daily round of

Limos is pulling up outside   Curators crowd the lobby as tycoons sweep

through the high arched doors   Grand Dames  Financiers  big money

donors to be led on private tours through the museums lavish holdings  

majestic Monets  priceless Picassos  passionate Van Goghs 

nightmare Dalis  saintly Rubens   El Greco martyrs   benevolent

Buddhas  crucified Christs  weeping Marys   Holocaust horrors   

I look at my watch again  the museums ghetto brigade will be

dragging in soon   the army of poverty-wage contract guards the

museum harvests from the citys slums   many wont show  (low pay

no sick days no benefits why would they?)  those that do arent very

effective  (I guess its hard to give your all on an empty stomach) 

I try to place them where theyll function best  scattered amidst the

shrinking seasoned in house force   sheltered  from the maddening crowds. 

Out of the black mouth of the big king salmon   I recall a line from

a Carver poem  comes pouring the severed heads of herring.    I post

myself in the museum rafters where I can listen to humanity groan.

 

 

AMERICAN GOTHIC

 

She woke in the cold coughing,

listened to her children

wheezing in the dark.

The angel of death,

beat its black wings

in her fever dreams. 

Rain pounded the tenement roof.

Lift me Jesus.

Floree clenched her calloused fists,

shivering on the sweat soaked bed.

Lift me lift me Jesus.

 

Like holy ghosts,

the snow white spirits

slept in the sunlit court,

hushed, celestial, chimeras

carved from clouds of stone.

Dont touch please.

Floree drifted in a daze,

between the paintings and the statues,

amidst the throngs of milling patrons,

across the chapel-like exhibit room,

feverish in her museum uniform.

No flash cameras mam.

 

The marble hall seemed

a mist of make believe,

phantoms shifting in a haze.

The statues looked spectral,

even more haunting than usual:

Abraham Lincoln, the shackled

man-slave, the Abolitionist woman,

the frail, fragile goddess of truth.

But I gots to go to work baby.

Floree remembered the morning like

a dream. Ifen I dont I dont get no pay

sweetie. Sides, they makes you get a doctors

 excuse.  We aint got no money for that.

Dont be scared, child. I knows you and Libby

real sick.  Misus Gracie gonna look in on you.

I loves you sweetie.  I be home real soon.

 

 

SOME PEOPLE

 

Death grins confront Goodie as she enters the freezing lobby,

shivering in her paper-thin, museum-security uniform,

while sensors sound alarms around the marble ghosts

of Greek and Roman gods. 

Goodie to Control.

Goodie chatters into her hand radio.

Go for Control Goodie.

Why is Satan smiling in my face all over the place? 

You best get some broom boy over here

to knock these devils down and that squawk is the Hawk

some fool let in.  Damned fools!  Goodie grumbles

as she looks around the screaming room.  The glass wall

of windowed doors is a glaze of ice, showing silhouettes

of stiletto-death from icicles dangling across the entrance ledge. 

That night shift aint worth shit!  Goodie all but spits.

Must of left them doors wide open again when they delivered

the flowers for that Million Dollar Donor wing-ding.

Goodie digs into the lobby cabinets, huffing and puffing and

cursing to herself, as she pulls out stacks of flyers, art cards,

schedules, museum maps and lays them atop the information desk,

pain shooting down her stiffened back.

Goodie to Control.  Would you kindly call the docents lounge

and remind the ladies school groups comin soon?

Damned docents! taking they own sweet time every day

 sippin coffee while I runs around and gets stuck helpin them kids

 like I aint got my own job!

 The sensor wails suddenly stop, and with the silence

Goodie hears someone banging on a foggy entrance door. 

Good god!  Goodie shuffles from the desk to the podium

and grabs her ring of keys. Museum dont open for another hour!

Says so right on the sign, ceptin for school groups,

 cant someone read!

Im coming! Goodie shouts, as she shuffles across the room. 

Hold on! But the frosted phantom keeps banging and hollering

and beating the hazed, glass door.

Praise the Lord!  An angry woman, bundled in furs, bustles past

Goodie and glares at her.  You finally let me in!  It seems some

people are a little pokey around here!  

Maybe some people got arthritis!  Goodie flares.

Then maybe some people should retire!

Maybe some people cant!

Then maybe some people should be made to!  Im here for the

donors breakfast.  Dont turn your back on me!

Some people got to work, sweetie. That breakfast aint for an hour.

They be settin up the coffee soon downstairs.

SWEETIE! Some people are obnoxious!  Some people are rude! 

Some people dont belong in a Museum! 

 

PARENTHETICAL CONTINGENCIES

 

Nothing offers what is encouraged

when the inundations of ambiguity

shape all aspects of the variant possible.

Documented, displayed, discussed,

these evocations of disparate assumptions

challenge our conception of the correlative

conjectural.  In Parenthetical Contingencies,

Fockus latest piece, the synthesis of synergy

and entropy become as iconic as the Mona Lisa,

as you can see.  However, the GQ guru lifts a

manicured fingertip, you aint seen nothing

yet folks!  Follow me.

Everything cool with Focku?

Degan, the Modern Art security manager, is

suddenly beside me. We watch the gala gathering

of  museum Trustees follow the curator and the artist

Focku through the private showing.

Cool as the chilled wine and cheese cubes.

I muse. Kierkegaard cooked up his usual

concoction of salami, pastrami, baloney, and

fed it to the culturnoti who primly wiped their

mouths with money.

Now, now, dont dis our trusty Trustees.  They

all live hard lots with their mansions and yachts.   

You keeping the riff raff out?

Anyone who looks embalmed is in. All those

flush with the blood, sweat, tears of life are out. 

Good man, youre a credit to your guard uniform.

Whats that one called?  Erectile Dysfunction?

Dont fool with Focku.  Hes a genius.

I dont doubt it!  So, hows your shit doing? 

Showing? Selling? Cutting off your ears?

OK, Ive got two big works in an anti-war

exhibit at the Edge Gallery.

Splendid!  Horror! Pathos! Inhumanity! Insanity!

No clutter of Republican collectors! Your name on

an  FBI list!  You should ask Focku if he wants in. 

I think I know what hed say.

 

 

NIGHT SWEATS  

 

The scary lair of sleep

where white mice in lab smocks

dance around alarm clocks.

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.

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.

 

 

INTO THE NIGHT

 

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.

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. 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 Ghraib, Gitmo, Katrina

I turn it back up, run to the kitchen, 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 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

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.

 

 

THE TIMES, THEY ARE DERANGING

 

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.

Says an official of the corporate establishment.

Your errant mind is completely aberrant. 

Candlelit skulls light the windows of the tenements.

Corpses chant mantras throughout 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 mighty 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,

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.

 

 

HOLY NIGHT

 

 

             The bus arrived in the city as night came on, tunneling off the backstreets to the terminal underground, which seemed 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.  Kopec was in between nowhere and no way out, caught in the middle, as always, with time running out.  He secured his duffle bag in a locker and maneuvered through the mob, stepping carefully around the shadows who crowded the stairway life forgot.

 

             The city seemed, in the deepening dusk, to have been carved out of some great, black rock and then abandoned to Nature.  It piled its way up into an abyss of sky-less night, gathering from that darkness a whisper of a snowfall, and he hurried alone beneath it down the wide, barren boulevards that cut between those dark mountains.  Christmas carolers, if they did appear, did so always off a distance and only for a moment, and quickly vanished, as he drew nearer, down into the shelters from this harshest of cities, where all life seemed to continue in closed and intimate societies.  Too freaky Kopec brooded as he shadowed through the labyrinths.  The city seemed as inimical as any of the others, even on this most benevolent of nights. He probably shouldnt have come at all.  He probably should turn back.  He hadnt seen his brother in years.   What was the point?   

 

             They had both changed.  The world had changed. His brother was a big  shot now, married, rich.  It was odd that his brothers Christmas card had even found its way to his drifters flop.  What could his brother want with him now?  Why would he want anything?  In the world Kopec had come to know, given the polarity of everyone and everything,  it seemed more like an invitation from the Twilight Zone than a Christmas celebration.

 

             The black winds chased across the canyons.  Designer dream worlds, in which stylishly dressed mannequins portrayed a fabulous existence of placid perfection, appeared in storefront windows everywhere, while snowflakes shrouded each pale ghost lost in the nimbus of the streets nightglow, where all was silent, still and cold.  Kopec reviewed his outsider life that bad fairytale where no wishes were ever granted, no dreams ever came true. He was as unlikely a guest at a family reunion as someone come back from the dead.

 

             Beneath the lights of a marquee, he stopped to study the cards address.  Holiday music from a speaker along the street floated mechanically into the icy air, and the bundled up Christmas shoppers jostled by in a lively lockstep with the jingly tunes.  North?  South? East? West?

 

             Late edition! 

 

             The newsy on the corner barked as a van pulled up and tossed bundles at the stand

 

             DEATH TOLL MOUNTS 

 

             Kopec read the headlines, as the old croak hung the papers amidst the montage of Money Mags and Designer Rags, Film Reviews and TV guides, the news print all but lost in the vast menagerie of splashy fan publications, silly sitcom shows, Survivor, Springer, Desperate Housewives, Chucky, Freddy, the Hilton sisters, the ghoulish  politicians, and corporate gurus.

 

             MORE TROOPS KILLED

 

             He felt automatically for the scar on his neck, fingering the lightening bolt gash.  Suddenly, he noticed that he was attracting a crowd.  A small group gathered at the theater door, watched him and laughed.  They looked like a party of office workers out on the town for a lark.  He was about to move along when a big cop lumbered through the mob and grabbed him by the arm.

 

             Are you going into the theater, sir?

 

             The stout patrolman hovered before him.  He balanced his bulk on the balls of his feet, manner imperious, gaze mocking.

 

             Im not sure.  Kopec stammered stupidly, copping some vagrants alibi.  No, look, I needed to see this in the light.

 

             Heart pounding, he handed the patrolman the card.   When the big cop studied the address  in the park vicinity, an affluent neighborhood he frowned, looked Kopec over again, peevishly, and curtly gave him brief directions.

 

             All the lost lanes go nowhere, Kopec sang, hurrying through the night. All the doorways say Beware, all the newsstands shout Despair, the streets are full but no ones there.When he reached the park, it was inaccessible, closed for the night by city curfew.  Rather than risk another run in with the law, he detoured around its high stone walls, face and hands becoming blistered from the cold.

 

             The towering structures dwindled in the darkness.  Swank shops and upscale boutiques emerged amidst a miracle of fairy lights and holiday decorations.  Once again, he was in the magnificent realm of  storefront mannequins.  The smiling, painted, puppet-like figures seemed to gaze at him derisively from their fabulous settings. Beyond the shops, houses loomed like castles in the falling snow.  At an elegant structure, he slipped out of the blistering wind and entered a quaint, arched passageway.

 

 

             HARD  TIME  DEAD TIME

             LIFES A JAIL  LIFES A CRIME

             FEEL THE BIND  LOSE YOUR MIND

 

 

             Rock music met him, as he ducked in from the ghostly dazzle, hard blunt beats which bombarded his shivering body like bullets.  Kopec could see nothing.  He groped blindly through the staccato dark.  The arched stone entrance was as black as a crypt.  He searched the shadowy void uneasily, wary of the broken lamps, braced against some druggie skell who might be lurking with a knife.

 

             He found the door and rang the bell.  The black winds whipped and wailed around him.  He knocked and rang the bell again.  The great door boomed with the rhythm of the base.  Knock knock whos there?  Kopec muttered to himself.  Knock knock who cares?

 

             His teeth were chattering.  His feet were blocks of ice.  Despite his poundings, no one came.  He tried the latch but it was bolted tight.  He searched the dark in desperation.

 

 

             WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE!

             I HOPE YOURE GLAD TO BE HERE!

 

   

             A stunning woman with wild, dark hair, dressed in black, suddenly appeared like an apparition, as the door opened wide and the blazing light and thundering music exploded in the passage.  The womans eyes were holy mysteries.  Her pale skin was so perfect it seemed painted on.  She studied Kopec over the rim of her tilted cocktail glass.  Between her ivory fingers a slender, scented cigarette was burning into ash.

 

             Im Steven Kopec.  He had to shout to lift his voice above the sonic blast.  Simon Kopecs brother!  The light was blinding.  He dug anxiously for the Christmas card buried deep in his shabby coat.  When he finally found it and offered it to her, the wind tore it from his fingers and it fluttered through the night.

 

             Im expected!  He shielded his eyes from the doorways dazzle.  Im Simons brother!  He stood shivering in his shoes, frozen to the bone.

 

             Im bored. The woman gazed at him without expression.  She talked from a dream, a hypnotic trance.  She took a drag off her cigarette and blew the smoke in his face.  She drained her drink and turned away.

 

             The house is empty. A phantom in the foyer informed Kopec as he slipped shuddering inside.

 

             Then theres room for one more.  Kopec forced a smile.

 

             Youre here alone.

 

             The figure was indecipherable, a robed man shadowed from the partys lights, tall, gaunt, eerie.

 

             A lonely number.  The phantom paused and pondered.  He brushed stiffly past Kopec and closed the door.  One.  He returned Kopecs smile with a sardonic grin.  Teeth like giant pearls split the hooded mans face in half.

 

 

             ZOOMING TOWARD THE ZERO

             BOPPING TOWARD THE BLACK HOLE

             ROCKING TOWARD THE NO SHOW

 

 

             Death camp creatures of gigantic proportions climbed the flickering walls, while demon shapes danced in the inferno below.  The great, marble hall was a huge, domed holocaust of multicolored lights, movie images, rock music and twisting figures.  Kopec remembered the grainy, black and white films from history studies.  They were documentary footage of concentration camp survivors.  Like ghouls in phantasmagoria, the skeletal specters twisted and tottered tortuously on their spindly legs.  Barely of the earth, beyond death, eyes vacant, they were synchronized to howl with the music in a fathomless despair as they skulked across the illuminated walls, heads a goggle on their scrawny necks.  The ghostly ciphers and their barbed wire backgrounds, counter-pointed the delirium below like a black ballet.  The Goth girls with their flaming hair and shadowed eyes and spiked appendages, their night-stalker-styled boyfriends, the bejeweled debutantes, the chic socialites, the Glam guys and  the demimonde sirens rocked below them in their never-ending ritual.  The wrong place.  Kopec brooded as he took in the spectacle.  What is this place?  A towering silver Christmas tree, decorated with golden dollar signs, loomed above the dancing figures, rising from the middle of the marble floor to the base of the gleaming dome.  The tree revolved on a floodlit stand, caught the colored light, and cast rainbows around the room.  The dancers rocked around the chimerical cone as if in a tribal rite around a bonfire.  Dazed and amazed by the towering tree, Kopec followed its glittering tiers to their lofty peak.  On top, a skeleton with wings, perhaps an angel of death, tipped the blazing Christmas tree and seemed to rise like burning bones from a funeral pyre.  Above the death-angel, like a storm cloud afloat in the concave of the ceiling, a giant tarantula hovered in the hollow of the dome.  The brackish, black illusion, which must have been projected by a hologram, crawled murkily over the hellish party.  Silvery strands extended from the arched articulations of its slowly scrabbling legs.  The web-like threads glinted in the refracted light and dissolved amidst the dancers.  A wreath of words, written in colored Christmas lights, encircled the giant spider at the base of the dome.  The blinking wreath read: Simon Says: THE GREATEST MADNESS IS THE GREATEST HAPPINESS!  MERRY MAS X!

 

             Look what just walked in.

 

             The greatest madness.  Kopec stared at the message stunned.  Simon says:  the madness,  the madness

 

             Maybe its the ghost of Christmas past?

 

             Maybe its the Holy Ghost?

 

             Kopec was covered with snow.  It was turning into ice.  Frost crusted his hair, caked his tattered coat.  It was colder in the room than it was outside.  His face felt frost-bitten.  He could see his breath.

 

             I think its the abominable snowman.

 

             I think its abominable.

 

             Its a party prop you deadheads!

 

             Party propping what?

 

             The Needy.

 

             Tres Seedy.

 

             Shaken and dazed, Kopec struggled through the pandemonium furtively searching the enigmas for his brother, wary of seeing him.  Satan costumed servants shifted through the bedlam.  Eyes blazing, tails flicking, they dispensed small ebony crosses to the revelers from pole-handled church collection baskets that were piled high with the crucifixes.  The crosses were actually party pipes.  The heady scents of hallucinogens further rarefied the rocking mayhem.  Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Brides of Satan, dressed in black wedding gowns, carried trays of drinks through the mob from an incandescently lighted bar in the corner which was carved from polished ivory.  The shimmering bar was ornately arched and garlanded by the pearly Gates of Heaven.  The gate-keeper, who was dressed in a black Gestapo uniform, smiled ruefully at Kopec as he poured drinks from a skull.

 

             Mr. Party Prop!

 

             Kopec reeled blindly through the rockers, lost in the nimbus, heart pounding, head spinning.  The grand hall was so crowded he could barely move.  He shifted and turned, struggled and searched.

 

             Bachelor number Zero!

 

             His legs felt rubbery.  His head was in a fog.  He was choking on the drug-smoked air.  The crowds swelled and surged, crammed around him.  Elbows jabbed into his ribs.  Hard-bodies slam danced into him.  He was swarmed by a chimera of bright, glazed eyes; pale, perfect faces; and mocking grins.

 

             Who designs your clothes, Mr. Party Prop?

 

             Calvin Swine?

 

             Georgio Our Moan Eee?

 

             Abercrummy and Flinch?

 

             A willowy woman, dressed in black leather, with long raven braids roped like whips,

swiveled her head and lashed her long thick dreadlocks across Kopecs face.  The blow was stunning.  Hands ripped at the clothes, tarring them to shreds.

 

             Have any tips on the stock market, Mr. Party Prop?

 

             Can I buy your date book?

 

             Youre the life of the party.  The phantom was suddenly beside him, fluttering like a black flame in the blazing inferno.  But then dead souls always do delight us, especially when theyre deadlocked in their descent toward their dead end.

 

             Wheres my brother?

 

             Kopecs lips were bleeding.  A crowd of revelers stalked his steps and the hot notes from the hard rock seemed to flicker through the dazzle like fire-breathing dragon-flies.

 

             Simon?  The phantom looked around and pondered.  Nowhere.  Everywhere.

 

             Where is he here?

 

             No ones here.

 

             Im here!

 

             Are you?

 

             Suddenly, Kopec saw him, as high tech lightening bolts zigzagged through the horrendous hall and white light and thunder flashed and rumbled through the strobe-strafed mayhem.  Simon was seated on a throne in the back of the room inside a giant Horn of Plenty which was molded from gold.  The throne was also molded from gold and Simon sat surrealistically atop it, costumed in royal raiment.  A crown of jewels glittered on his head.  Sparks from diamonds flashed on his regal garments and flickered from his fingers.  He was a monarchal mirage of velvet and silk and rainbow weaving.  Popes in golden chasubles, copes, dalmatics and adorned with orphreys, anointed Simons feet with sacred oil, while bishops in flowing gowns and hallowed vestments sprinkled him with holy water shaken from the flails of silver-stemmed staves, studded with gems.  More dazzling than the Godly rites and the Midas-rich royal trappings was the breathtaking woman seated next to Simon atop an identical throne of gold within the horns conical chamber.

 

             Hair like spun gold, piled high atop her majestic head, curling and cascading like the tiered tresses of a goddess, skin so pale it was almost transparent, eyes like endless seas, she was the most beautiful creature Kopec had ever seen.  A diamond tiara glittered above her noble forehead, emeralds and rubies encircled her swan-like throat, diamonds rounded her alabaster wrists and ringed her ivory fingers.  Her grandeur was glacial.  She gazed placidly at the rockers with a royal distain matched only by the suave smugness of Simons anointed saintliness an ice princess in a gossamer gown that shown so radiantly in the chimerical light it seemed woven from witchcraft.  Simons wife, Kopecs sister-in-law.  An avalanche of Christmas gifts spilled past the royal couple from the horn, flooding the marble floor below them bizarrely wrapped boxes decorated with banshees and demons, bowed and beribboned with hissing snakes.Around the snapping boxes, moribund morticians carried, like pallbearers, corpses on cooling boards which they brought to a great banquet table stretched below the golden thrones for a royal feast.

 

             Debauchers and dandies, coquettes and courtesans, reveled around the table while white-wigged waiters in ribald livery brought them body parts on silver trays.  A dancing dwarf Jester dressed in a skin tight costume decorated with stars and moons and wearing a dunce hat of diamond dollar signs, capered amidst the bones and entrails and tankards of blood which covered the table, while he sang shrill songs and juggled skulls.

 

             Crosses pelted Kopec as he swooned toward the royal gathering, his body moving, yet not moving, somehow being moved, a step at a time, as though by some invisible force.  A chorus of phantasms sang: Retro retro rags, as they stalked behind him. I wanna wear some retro rags! The party pipes bounced off his head, thumped against his back.  Simon watched Kopecs staggering progress, keenly, as he sat reclining on his throne of gold.  He held a ruby-red goblet to his lips.  His smiling mouth was crusted with blood.

 

             Why doesnt the spider get caught in its web?

 

             The dwarf Jester jumped from the table and blocked Kopecs path, hopping and screeching and waving his hands.

 

             Kopec swept his arm feebly at the little man, numbed and near delirium, but the jester dodged him.

 

             Why doesnt the spider get caught in its web?

 

             I dont know.  Kopec chattered.

 

             The dwarf lunged forward and rammed his pointed hat into Kopecs ribcage.  The feasters roared with laughter as Kopec staggered to the table bent, eyes watering and breath smoking with the cold as he gasped for air.

 

             Christmas become you, Steven.  Simon said dryly.  His sipped his drink and shook his head.  But then you always had that manger born, martyr bent, crucified look about you.

 

             It doesnt do much for you.  Kopec coughed.  He stared stunned at his brother, filled with rage and dread.  Simon looked better than ever.  His face was flawless, handsome and fair.  His bright eyes sparkled, brilliant and clear.

 

             Im a man for all seasons, Steven.

 

             And what season is this?

 

             Tis the season of Simon.  Simon toasted the air.  Like all the days and weeks and months of the year.

 

             Simon says: Tis the Season of me!  The Jester shrieked.  The feasters pounded the table, yelled : here here here!

 

             Not much to celebrate.  Kopec panted and clutched at a chair.  He stared bewildered at the cannibal feast.  Was it real?  The sight made him sick.  He fought down nausea and tried not to gag.

 

             Oh, maybe not, Steven.  Simon smiled.  But it helps pass the time.  Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please!  This dashing young blade is my brother, Steven, come to join us in our celebration!  Steven is a master of the manifest, a nomad of the unknown.  He speaks in darkness to the dead rumored words which are never heard.  In other words, poor Steven is a poet.  But perhaps thats something you guessed by Stevens stately demeanor and stylish dress!

 

             Touch us poet!

 

             One of the revelers roared.

 

             Sate our souls!

 

             Warm our hearts!

 

             The table rocked with laughter.

 

             Simon says: The crud is a dud!

 

             This cant be possible.

 

             Kopec shook his head.  Simon was a star at the Art League in their town.  His mind was brilliant, deep and profound.             Anything is possible, little brother, when nothing is real, and when nothing is real anything is possible.  Poor Stevens a lost soul.  He always was with his books and dreams.  He was a starry eyed little bookworm as a lad.  Apparently, some worms dont turn.  They stay buried in their little holes in the ground, while the world changes despite them.

 

             Youve changed.

 

             Ive evolved.

 

             Into what?

 

             Into the present, poor bard.  No one evolves into the past, me thinks.

 

             Think again.  Kopec shuddered.

 

             You must forgive Steven.  Simon yawned.  Hes lost touch with the times.  Besides, hes out of his element.  He isnt used to seeing worldly society indulge itself.  He isnt used to society.  The world is merely a suspicion to our poor poet, and he even less to it.  Less than a suspicion.  Less than Zero.

 

             Why did you invite me here?

 

             Kopec searched Simons face.

 

             Am I not my brothers keeper?  Simon spread his hands.  I put it to you my Queen.Simon turned to the goddess.  Am I not my brothers keeper?

 

             Keep him from me!  The goddess laughed.

 

             Poor Steven.

 

             Simon shook his head as the table rejoiced.

 

             No one wants a poem.

 

             But let me give you your Christmas gift!

 

             The phantom was suddenly beside Kopec smiling his sardonic grin.  He held a thick black book in his hands.

 

             Its your journal, Steven.  Simon smiled somberly.  The story of your life.  He raised his ruby goblet in a salute.  I published a first (and last) edition for the party not that anybody reads.  But no matter, well enjoy it later as a performance piece.

 

             The Book of Others by Steven Kopec, was darkly embossed on the jet-black cover.  The phantom fanned the manuscripts pages in Kopecs face.  They were black and empty, a flurry of wind in a crypt, a desolate void.

 

             Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.  The phantom shrugged.  I did enjoy your disappearance and suicide.

 

             At midnight, black confetti will fall.  Simon mused.  Black snow descending on the party from the marble dome.  Stevens Storm, a shroud to drop a curtain on this Holy Night.

 

             Signifying nothing!  The goddess laughed.

 

             The room began to reel.  There was a black fog in his brain.  Kopecs temples pounded. He felt insane.  He gripped the chair and closed his eyes.  Like a nightmare, Simons Christmas swirled inside his mind.  It was a dream of the devil, evil come to life.

 

             When you do the deeds of hell, hell with come.  Kopec whispered.  He searched Simons face in desperation.

 

             Hell is here.  Simon smiled.  And hell is heaven.  Satan is the holy ghost and his disciples the chosen.  The armies of the night have marched across the land.  Our reign will rule the world for a thousand years.

 

 

             I cant see your breath.  Kopec stammered, stunned.  He searched the feasters faces, all stratified by the nimbus.

 

             Excuse me little brother?

 

             I cant see your breath.  Kopec strained to see through the dazzle.  Its freezing in the room and yet I cant see your breath.

 

             Why would you?  Simon stared at him archly.  Im not breathing.

 

             The feasters roared and the Jester turned a flip.  He stood on his pointed hat and spun like a top.  Simon looked around the table and rolled his eyes.  The goddess laughed and clapped her hands and shook with delight.

 

             Youre not real. 

 

             Kopec shuddered as he backed away.

 

             And you are?

 

             Youre not alive.  Kopec glanced around.  None of you.

 

             Shivering in his shabby clothes, Kopec stood stupefied beside the phantom who still grinned at him and fanned the black pages.  Suddenly, Kopec gave the smiling specter a violent shove.The robed man flew backwards through the air like a puppet on a string, glided past the ducking feasters and then flew back darkly at him.  Kopec kicked the Jester and sent him hurtling.  The dwarf screeched and kicked as he swung back and forth like a raucous child on a swing.  Kopec whirled and plunged into the dancers, crazed and panting.  He plowed through the mob like a football player and sent the revelers flying in all directions.  Mannequin men and women swung to and fro amidst the kaleidoscopic light, tumbling and colliding as they flew through the air in a whirling pandemonium of screeching shadows.  

 

             The party prop has popped his top!

 

             One of the revelers roared with laughter as he tossed madly with the others.

 

             The party prop has popped his top!  The party prop has popped his top!

 

             The puppets laughed and jabbered as they twirled and tangled on their strings.

 

             The room was spinning.  The world was upside down.  Kopec pushed his way deliriously through the mutant marionettes in a fever dream of desperation.  Crosses pelted him.  Glasses shattered against his head.  The spinning puppets punched and kicked him.  He fought through them charged with fear and awe.  Their hands tore at his clothes as he searched frantically for the door.

 

             Cant hang poet?

 

             The phantom stood before him blocking his way to the foyer.

 

             Get out of my way.

 

             Youre here to stay.  The phantom smiled.  Theres no way out.

 

             NO EXIT, flared above the great door, a blinding neon sign.  Kopec shook the latch in a frenzy.  It was bolted tight.  He slammed the door.  It was sealed shut, like the lid on a coffin, like the cover of a crypt.  He turned back and shouldered the phantom aside.  He raced helter skelter through the party looking for a window or a door.

 

             Theres room for one more.  The phantom smiled as Kopec ran madly through the room.  Ones a lonely number poet, enjoy your doom.

 

             A flying sleigh pulled by mechanical reindeer, circled the blazing room.  Simon sat in the carriage dressed in a Santa Claus suit.  The goddess was seated beside him, waving at the mob below.  The Jester stood atop the giant Christmas bag decked in the costume of an elf.  The sleigh circled the glittering Christmas tree and rounded the spider in the dome.  The Jester tossed gifts from the bag to the leaping revelers who fought for the treasures below.  He dropped blockbuster movies and pop CDs, best seller books and fan magazines, designer catalogs and television guides, money market rags and  Wall Street weeklies, autographed photos of iconic celebrities, Prozac, barbiturates, and assorted amphetamines.  The string-tangled puppets formed a mass on the marble floor, arms around each other, they moved in a lockstep back and forth.

 

             Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, riding down Santa Claus lane

 

             They laughed and chattered as they moved like a drunken spider from left to right.

 

             Get me out of here, phantom.  Kopec confronted the enigma, breathless and sweating.

 

             Its the same outside.

 

             Get me out of here phantom.

 

             Theres a place to hide.

 

             He followed the black robed figure through the throngs.  In the corner of his eye, he saw the tarantula descending the wall.  A clock was striking midnight; black confetti began to fall.  Puppets were catching fire from the smoldering pipes.  The odd pair twisted through labyrinths, descended stairs, the robed mannequin and the shabby poet.  They slipped down dungeon-like halls, through dusky cellar chambers and down torch-lit spiraling stairs.  They turned a final corner and the robed puppet paused.

 

             Merry Christmas!  The phantom smiled. He pointed a bony finger at an egress marked Deaths Door.

 

 

VI

 

 

 

                                CINDERELLA

 

 

                                                     wore glass slippers,

                                                     married a prince,

                                                     now changes diapers.

 

 

POETS GONE WILD

 

I press play, palms sweating, hand trembling

and suck in one last gasp of oxygen as Poets Gone Wild

explodes, in full blazing color, on my television screen.

The camera pans a drop dead pandemonium of hip, hot,

happening wordsmiths, all mobbed, in rows, of book browsing

Bedlam, between the shelves of a swinging library.  Hell bound

Haikuists, Sultry Sonnetteers, Tripping Traditionalists, Badass

Beats, Down and Dirty Lyricalists, Proseiacs, Tankkears, Nit and

Gritters, let it all hang out, with bespeckled bravura, as they recite,

declaim and wave lethal chapbooks at the boob tubes screen.

The camera zooms in on the shows M.C., Randy Rhyme.

Rakishly retro in his tweed suit, bow tie, battered loafers,

Randy gazes provocatively at the leering viewer with a

lets do it expression on his professorial face.

Beside him, in the close up, is the buxom, bun-haired,

brian storming beauty, Avan Tguarde.  Avans onyx eyes

sparkle, behind her coke bottle glasses.  Her conjugation

grinding teeth, glisten with a secretive smile.  She is coyly

caressing a copy of her latest renegade rhetoric, Totally

Blank Verse.  Taunting the turned on audience, her ink pen

red fingernails precociously play a game of peek-a-boo with

the creamy pages, parting them slightly and then squeezing

them shut.  It is like a tense, tantalizing fan dance from the

risqu  poetess, wanton, salacious.  Will she? Wont she?

At a wink from Randy, Avan folds the vexing volume shes

been fondling and tucks its spine between her voluptuous breasts.

Heart pounding, breath heaving, face flushed, I grip the arms of

my living room chair, feeling like the lost mountaineer, who,

gasping for air, is miraculously thrust, by a force of nature, into the

summits aperture, cradled safely in the valley between its majestic

peaks.  (But knowing the impending storm is treacherously near.)

Suddenly, shockingly, Avan throws back her head and, with an

expression of erotic euphoria on her librarians face, brazenly yanks

open the teasing book and exposes the naked pages of Totally Blank

Spread em baby!  Someone shouts.

All hell breaks loose.  The poets go wild.  They push, shove, pummel

their way, from every direction, into the cameras eye, spreading their

pages, exposing their rhymes, brandishing their chapbooks in a brash

and bawdy bookworms bacchanal.  A fight breaks out.  The battling bards

commence to bashing one another about the head (giving new meaning to

the expression Slam).  Spectacles fly, books are flung, pen duels develop

(giving new meaning to the term penmanship).  All at once, shelves are raided.

A food for thought fight erupts.  As volumes are hurled, the camera backs

away from a free-for-all which rivals the famous scene from Animal House

I fall back in my chair in a faint.

 

 

NOBODYS PERFECT

 

It is dark in the room.

The curtains are drawn.

I sense evil in the shadows,

an evil more relentless than my own.

There are bars on the window.

Restraints dangle from my bed.

I am back in the psycho ward.

I sense from the evil, I will never get out.

For your hands are defiled with blood,

a phantom emerges from the shadows,

and your fingers with iniquity.

Your lips have spoken lies,

and your tongue muttereth wickedness.

You live in the dark like the dead,

and you weave a spiders web.

Right. So, when do they serve breakfast?

 

 

CAT-NIPPED

 

The fat cats feed on the nation

The strays their hope for salvation

The hip on jubilation

The cool on calculation

Its a dogs life

 

 

HOME ALONE

 

The loves you dream in sleep

fade away forever

and you face the day forgotten.

 

 

 DEEP

 

Nowhere is everywhere when nothing is anything

and everyone is anyone when no one is someone.

But everything is nothing when something is anything

and everywhere is nowhere when somewhere is anywhere

and no one is anyone when everyone is someone.

So no one is somewhere and everyone is nowhere

and nothing is everywhere.

 

 

 POETS CORNER

 

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.

Down the black hole of your non-life,

I scribble 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.

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.

 

 

DEAR ROCHELLE

 

             This morning I bought a $1000 suit. It is still not quite clear to me why I purchased a suit for so much money nor do I fully understand how it came about that I bought the kind of suit that I ultimately did.

             It is a terrible suit.  It is the sort of suit which one might, but probably would not, wear even to ones own funeral. It is a hand made, single breasted, summer wear,  dull (dull, dull, dull) deep dark blue suit and when I put it on it immediately suggested to me everything that can go wrong with clothing.  

             It was on sale for half price but that had nothing to do with it.  There were swank suits all around me for $500. There were glamorous suits all around me for $500   There were staid and stately suits for the same amount of money and, in fact, there were cheap, tawdry, flashy $100 dollar affairs which not only looked much better on me but looked more expensive than the one I bought.

             It is a ghastly suit.  It was the worst suit in the store.  The only reason I bought the thing is because I felt sorry for the salesman.  He was a very old man, Rochelle, and he was impossibly inept. The store was literally jammed with people and yet he couldnt make a sale.  He was short, and by that I mean he was so short that he had to climb upon a stool to take the clothing off the racks.  And he was slow.  He was so slow that customers were walking away from him even before he managed to get to them.  He was so slow that every single patron he did manage to get either abandoned him or was stolen by another salesman.  And he was stupid, or more accurately, he was senile.  He would forget, not only what the customer wanted who he was waiting on, but he would forget who he was waiting on in other words, he would take my suit to that guy and bring his suit to me.    

             I, of course, stayed with him.  I stayed with him while he precariously climbed upon the stool.  I stayed with him while he slowly rummaged through the clothing rack.  I stayed with him while he even more precariously descended from the stool and brought my selection to another person.  I stayed with the old man until I no longer could stand the sight of the old man and until I finally shouted: Ill take anything.!

             Aside from that it was a pleasant day.

             Love.

   

             Rex

 

 

MR. LUCKY

 

Hit pal?

Ill stand.

The man stands.

Fold.

Raise.

Im out.

In.

Whats it gonna be Slim?

Four Jokers and a DUI. 

Whats the odds of drawing that?

Think SOMEONES dealing from the

bottom of the deck? Think SOMEONES

getting off watching me sweat?  Think

SOMEONES drooling over my last

unemployment check?

See and raise.

Raise again.

Fold.

Im out.

Whats the limit?

Whats the limit?  Whats my limit!

The luck of the draw right?  Was

that the Munster or the Adams family

I grew up with?  Hell On Earth High,

Animal House that I attended?  And

that lottery in which I was somehow

entered bingo buddy!  Vietnam!

No limit.  Cash, check, titles, do it.

Wow!  Maybe I should just fold right now.

Take whats left and buy a gun, blow out

my brains and really please SOMEONE!

Pay or play Slim.

Call or crawl.

Marriage?  Scary music plays when she

enters the room.  Job? Ha!  Kids were all

alumni of the regional Reform School.

Ill see you and raise you, I smile, with

the keys to my car, wedding ring, dentures,

six quarts of blood, eyes, ears, nose, shirt,

my one good lung and Whats Left Of My Brain!

Four aces.

The fat man spreads out his cards.

Least I got to do my Howard Beale rant.

 

 

 OVER HERE

 

The theater lights darken.

The audience falls silent.

The velvet curtains part, briefly, then close.

A spotlight beams down on a giant elephant,

standing on its hind legs at military attention,

dressed in camouflage, jump boots, helmet,

holding a rifle to its shoulder and

saluting the audience with its trunk.

Over there.  The orchestra starts to play

an old war tune.  The floorboards creak as

the great glob marches.  Over there, over there

the audience softly sings the heroic tune.  Hands

clap out the rhythm, there are whistles, hoots.

We will fight for the right over there.!

The rafters rattle and the floorboards explode

as the rhythm turns to rock and the elephant

high steps on the shaking stage pounding out the

drum percussion with his stomping boots, twirling

the rifle, tossing it into the air, leaping,

cart wheeling, catching it on the fly.

God Bless America!

The music abruptly changes and the audience

shrieks and cries.  The velvet curtains open and

the frenzied crowd goes wild.  An army of marching

elephants fill the brightly-lit back stage in a back drop

of gushing oil derricks with the elephant trainer waving

atop a bunting covered tank, smiling, tipping his cowboy hat.

The walls rumble, the balconies tumble, the ceiling caves in.

All thats left is rubble.

 

 

 

VII

 

 

 

                                DO NOT USE THIS ELEVATOR

 

                                                     It wont be us

                                                     As for us

                                                     Whatever lies in store

                                                     Rustles in the dark

                                                     Waits in frozen pose

 

 

CARNIVAL

 

 

             Fog shrouds the buildings, wraps the antique streetlamps.  We can see nothing.  The monsters sweep us blindly through maze devils and demons, banshees and goblins, witches, warlocks, vampires and cretins festival costumed creatures lurching drunkenly through the labyrinths. Or are they?

 

             Were walking in circles!

   

             Deserie clutches my arm. Thunder rocks the rain lashed streets, lightening flares.

 

             Look for the church! I shout above the chaos. Try to spot the steeple!

 

             Deserie seems an apparition, herself, pale, frenzied.

 

             We had been lost in the mountains, driving dizzily through the dusk, in the ancient black, Bentley which the hotel had provided for us, when we saw the lights of a city flickering in the valley.

 

             Shangri La?  I quipped.

 

             Dunno about that. Deserie studied the tour guide by the interior light.  Whatever it is, its not on our map.

 

             Maybe the maps as outdated as our vintage loaner car?

 

             Nothings as old as old Bentley.  Deserie patted the dash.  Maybe Noahs Ark.

 

             The car was a riot.  It was a mystery it ran.  I immediately nicknamed it: Our Honeymoon hearse.

 

 

 

             Night fell swiftly, as we descended the steeps.  I wrestled the black shadow down the long winding roads, between the snow capped mountains with their bends and sweeps.  The chasms were treacherous.  We held our breaths.  The city in the valley seemed nestled in death.  My joke got less funny.  We reached the bottom with our crossed fingers cramped, amazed that we made it, civilization at last.

 

             We parked near an old church on a narrow, cobbled lane -- a grim, gaunt structure with a tall bell steeple.  But the roller coaster ride was not over.  Bonfires, lanterns, fireworks lit the streets.  The old city was mobbed. There was a carnival or some sort of festival in progress.

 

             One big party. I Groucho Marxed my eyebrows at Deserie, after I danced around the Bentley and opened the passenger door.

 

             That was your vow.

 

             She gathered her skirts and slipped out.

 

             Life in the fast lane.  I crooned. Life on the edge. The trip to nowhere.

 

             I think we found it.

 

             Jugglers, acrobats, magicians mingled amidst the throngs, vendors, fortune tellers, phantoms on stilts everyone was costumed, everyone was masked.  It reminded us of Mardi Gras or The Day of the Dead, or that one Halloween night in Greenwich Village when everyone turned out.  But there was something disturbing about this festival. The revelers seemed too strident, their fervor directed, madly, at itself, as if  madness was what they were celebrating, their march a lockstep into hell. Like bats in a belfry they swooped and swarmed us in the night.  My pockets were picked. Deseries purse was snatched.  Before we knew it, everything was gone identification, money, even the keys to the car.  We were swept up in a maelstrom which made no sense. The streets had no names, the shops no signs, the buildings no numbers, the clocks no hands.  There were no policemen, except the costumed kind. The revelers wouldnt talk to us. They didnt seem to speak at all.

 

             A flash of lightening illuminates the stormy sky.  The city looks like a demons dream, as we jostle with the mob.  The fog shrouded dwellings with their balustrades and balconies, their high shutter-less windows, seem to gaze at us like ghoulish skulls, gruesomely grinning.

 

             Deserie!

 

             I feel her fingers slip from mine.  I twist and shove.

 

             Deserie!

 

             I turn and try to push the marching monsters back. But the procession keeps coming and Im helplessly swept along.  

 

 

 TERMINAL

 

Clickety clack, clickety clack,

no going back, no going back

clickety clack, clickety clack

I can see nothing.

Darkness fills the window,

as the Midnight Special

races along the track,

uphill down dale

My head feels foggy,

my body numb like

being in bedlam where

everything is upside down.

The club car is empty.

There was a party going on

booze, babes.

Maybe I passed out?

Your passport has expired sir!

I remember that irritating

conductor who came around. 

Excuse me?

Your passport has expired sir!

End of the line!

The trains whistle is suddenly

shrieking like a banshee in the night.

Station bells are clanging.  The

clacking steel wheels grind.

End of the line! End of the line!

The metal doors slide open.

The cold come inside.

 

 

NIGHT

 

Back and forth, bats fly past the window.

 Under the bed, creatures hide and cackle.

 A psychos eye peeks through my keyhole.

 I dream of angels lost in sorrow.

 I was somewhere, lost in the night, the darkness

a trap filled with terror and cries.  Footsteps

pounding fast, nowhere to hide, the madness

was luminous.  I followed its light.

 

 

THE DAMNED

 

Half man, half shadow, he rose ghostlike from his bed,

 his troubled sleep and his troubled life

like the frenzied flight of a bat.

 Light streamed in from the windows parted curtain.

 The room was thronged with ashen men and women.

 It was from a coffin he had risen,

black and padded with white satin.

For as much as it is the almighty Gods ordination, 

spoke a tall, pale phantom,  that flesh hath soul and

thereby is empowered with a spirit, so also may spirit

retain the prison of the flesh, even when it leaveth

the flesh and liveth as a thing apart.

Dressed in the garments of the grave, still and silent,

 the gathering stared with blank expressions

in his numbed direction.  

And so, forever, as a thing apart, even from all thus

parted the damned must dwell in the realm of the damned,

 neither flesh nor spirit, neither living nor dead.

 

 

MOTEL HELL

 

 

             Satans eye, slipping out of sight beyond the shifting sands.  A blind eye now to the denizens of the desert, but still burning in the memory of each scorched skull. Now night, and once again, the million flaring stares, peeking through the peepholes of the skys black mask and the bright mad moon the howling wind

 

             The door flew open.  Clem looked up from the motel ledger as his brother, Chester, lurched into the room.  In the hawkish light of the cabin office, Chester looked like nothing so much as a wayward desert ghoul.  His tangled beard and disheveled hair, glistened with sweat.  His slept-in custodial uniform was in disarray.  Have a nice nap Chester? Clem shifted uneasily behind the metal desk. Chester stared at him without expression.  He clutched a crumpled sheet of motel stationary in his gnarled fist.

 

             Seems a might cooler.  Clem stammered.  Reckon well catch a break if the wind dont shift?

 

             Epiphany.  Chester whispered.

 

             Excuse me Chester?

 

             EPIPHANY!  Chester thundered.  He stormed across the room and slammed the crumpled paper on the desk.

  

             Oh. Clem poked his horn rimmed reading glasses (which he had been peering over) back to the bridge of his nose.  I guess you done writ me another poem Chester.  He sighed as he picked up the page.

 

                                                     I wake up, the nightmares still there.

                                                     I wake up to panic and fear.

                                                     I wake up to doom and despair.

                                                     I wake up, theres death in the air.

                                                     And my rooms like a tomb sealing me in.

                                                     And the clock on the wall is spinning its hands.

                                                     And I hide in the dark from the unknown again.

 

             Thats a right purty poem Chester.  Clem forced a smile. Epiphanys a right fine title.  He fished an aspirin bottle from the desk and swallowed a handful.  Chester, reckon you might take a look see in cabin 3?  If you feel rested.  That slicker couple ones with the Benz and thet little fluffy dog what bit your leg --  they been callin and complainin, complainin and complainin...  Chester slow down bro Chester! DONT YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT NEEDS FIXEN?

 

 

 NOCTURNE

 

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.

r 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.

 

 

COME IN FROM THE NIGHT

 

Come in from the night.  The whore said.

Experience delight.  Dont be so uptight.

If it feels good, its right.

 

Come in from the night.  The sharp said.

Roll the winning dice.  Luck is yours to ride.

Your jackpot glows inside.

 

Come in from the night.  The keep said.

Drink till you get tight.  Drink till its all right.

Drink till black is white.

 

Come in from the night.  The store said.

No one is in sight.  The cash register looks so

bright.  There is no wrong or right.

 

Come in from the night.  The jail said.

You took anothers life.  Your conscience was not

your guide.  Death Row is your price.

 

Come in from the night.  The priest said.

Come into the light.  You lost eternal life.  Repent

before you die.

 

Welcome to the night.  The grave said.  Welcome

to the night.

 

 

RUN

 

             She stood a long time and looked down at the hospital bed where the Indian lay tied up and dying.  His blue-gray body had taken on a faint flush of color since she had examined it last the night before.  The flesh of his face looked less stony and ashen, and his chest moved perceptibly beneath his hospital gown.

 

             She listened carefully to the sounds outside the door.  The shift was changing.  There were voices, footsteps, laughter in the distance, the sounds of a cart rolling slowly down the hall.  She studied the high-tech tangle of wires and tubes, gauges and dials, which ran in a cris-cross pattern from the medical monitors to the nose, temples, arms of the Indian, enfolding his comatose figure like some alien spider.

 

             Tonto.  She whispered.

 

             Behind her in the darkness, special deputy Horace Camby sat slumped in a chair.  His head was bowed and his arms hung loosely at his sides.  His scalp, raggedly removed from the back of his neck to the front of his forehead, hung over his face like a fury black mask.  His throat was cut and the dome of his head was covered with blood.

 

             Tonto.

 

             Her hands moved swiftly and deftly over the pale sleeping figure, removing the clamps from his head, the oxygen tubes from his nostrils, the needles from his arms, and the bands from his wrists.  She watched the lean muscled frame shiver and twitch, curl and recoil under the movements of her touch as the pallid face trembled and perspiration broke out across the ash-colored brow.

 

             Rise and shine, Tonto.

 

             It was like surfacing from the depths of the bottom of the sea where monsters swam through murky waters and seaweed waved like witch hair across the ocean floor.  Greenleaf awoke with a start.  He did not know where he was: the roadhouse floor?  A cell in prison?  A

vision in white floated wordlessly above him.  A radiant, motionless woman with a halo of gold.

 

             Sleep well Tonto?

 

             Greenleafs head was throbbing and he could scarcely breathe.  His chest was a burning, pulsing cavity of pain.  He rolled on his side and peered at the small white room, the medical monitors, the girl from the roadhouse whom he had last seen in a wedding gown now standing before him dressed in a nurses uniform.  He dropped his legs carefully over the side of the bed.  He sat huddled in the darkness shivering with cold.

 

             Wheres the money, Princess?

 

             He was not sure whether he was awake or still dreaming.  Nothing made sense.  Nothing seemed real.  The girls emerald eyes enveloped him like fathomless seas.  Like the sea from which he just surfaced, filled with monsters and mysteries and treasures buried in its deeps.

 

             Theyre going to hang you, Tonto.

 

             She laid a newspaper across his lap and spread its pages over his knees.  ROADHOUSE MASSACRE... BADLANDS BLOODBATH ... the headlines leaped out at him in the wan window light from the rumpled pages.  He saw his name mixed in with a jumble of words beneath a black and white photograph of a room crammed with corpses ... red devil psychopath bandit leader ...

 

             A chill went up his spine as the girl moved across the room and the mutilated policeman suddenly appeared seated before him.  Blood flowed freely from the burly mans throat, streaming down his shirt front and forming a long dark patch.  Blood beaded on the scalped

mans temples and dripped from his ears.

 

             Theyre going to try you and convict you, Tonto.

 

             The girl reappeared before him in the darkness.  She laid a shirt and trousers beside him on the bed.

 

             And then you will die.

 

             Greenleaf rose carefully to his feet.  He needed air.  His head was spinning.  He was not quite sure he wasnt still asleep one grim nightmare followed by the next.  He studied the golden haired girl with a mordant disbelief.  He half expected her to disappear.

 

             Theres a car outside.  The girl said matter-of-factly.  She glided to the window and leaned against the sill.  Its owner wont need it.  He wont need this either.  She touched the pocket of her starched white uniform where Greenleaf saw the pearl handled impression of an oversized gun.

 

             The night nurse will be here soon.  Its time for your medicine.  They want to make sure that youre fit, Tonto, for your execution.  Doesnt that kill you?

 

             A cold blast of air blew across the room as the girl lifted the pane of glass and slipped outside.  She turned and faced him, a wraith-like presence in the uncertain alley light.

 

             Run, Tonto.  Run.  She whispered.

 

 

VIII

 

 

                                ONE LONELY NIGHT

 

                                                     One lonely night, riding a train,

                                                     I saw a girl flash by in the rain. 

                                                     She looked at me, then she was gone,

                                                     down the opposite line, destination unknown.

 

 

TELL ME

 

In the darkest corner of the room

On the longest night I ever knew

I watch you with another man

Whispering nothings like we used to do

 

In the deepest chasm of my soul

With a heartache no one can endure

I pretend that I dont really care

Our love is truly at an end

 

The music wraps the night in dream

I hold you in a memory

I hold your body tenderly

I hold your heart inside of me

 

Tell me that it isnt true

Tell me that you love me still

Tell me no one else will do

Tell me, tell me, tell me true

 

In the darkest corner of the room

On the longest night I ever knew

While the music wraps the world in dream

I hold you, hold you close to me

 

 

 WOMAN UNKNOWN

 

Never the one, always a dream,

never your eyes longing for me,

never your heart beating with mine,

 never your touch deep in the night,

never your smile, never your kiss,

never your tender embrace,

never your soul to soothe me through life,

never your tears for me to erase,

only the wind, only the rain, only the dream,

only the prayer, only the hope that youre

really there, only the wish you will appear.

 

Others have come, others must do,

they are alright, but theyre never you,

woman unknown, ghost of a dream,

haunt of my soul, my everything.

I know youre there, down the next street,

in the next shop, the next bright caf,

under the moon, under the stars,

down the next lane, in the next bar.

 

Are you alone, in misery?  Are you lost too

searching for me, walking the streets,

strolling the parks, marking the days,

an ache in your heart?

 

Suddenly, I see your face, part of the crowd,

coming my way, aglow in the dark, stopping

my heart, taking my breath, making you smile.

I see that you know me too, man in the night

walking toward you, woman unknown.

 

 

IN DREAM

 

Lost in the moons glow

We chased the dream shadows

Down the lanes of loves wonder

Through of hearts mysteries

Holding each other

We waltzed round a rainbow

Dancing on stardust

To our own melody

 

Goodbye my darling

Its been good to know you

Farewell my angel

Your love swept me away

So long my lady

May sweet dreams enfold you

Well walk again in the moons glow someday

 

Through the glass darkly

The moon casts your shadow

In dreams I pursue you

Through the soft veils of sleep

I see your smile in the sunrise

With the first glow of morning

I hear your voice on the wind

I feel you with me when twilight descends

 

Farewell my lovely

Its been good to know you

Goodbye my darling

Our love will never fade

So long my lady

May sweet dreams enfold you

Well dance together

On the stardust again

 

 

LET IT GO

 

Let it go

Walk away

We were fools

Sad to say

 

What went wrong?

Whos to blame?

Why did our love

Fade away?

 

We were young

We were gay

Long ago

Far away

 

Hearts as one

Souls the same

We chased rainbows

Raced the sun

 

What went wrong?

Whos to say?

Was it just life

Gone astray?

Did we wake up

From a dream?

All we were

Died one day

 

Hand in hand

Through good and bad

Side by side

Through thick and thin

We shared laughter

Joy and pain

 

Let it go

 

 

 

                                YOU WERE THE ONE

 

                                                     You were the one.

                                                     You were the one.

                                                     Its over and done.

                                                     You were the one.

 

                                                     The heartaches begun

                                                     The sad days will come

                                                     I sure blew that one

                                                     You were the one

 

                                                     I had my fun

                                                     Playing love on the run

                                                     Sexy and young

                                                     Saucy and fun

 

                                                     I sure got stung

                                                     I sure was dumb

                                                     I had lifes plum

                                                     You were the one

 

                                                     You were the one

                                                     You were the one

                                                     Son of a gun

                                                     You were the one

 

 

PERDITION

 

The morning sun I never see

The evening stars arent meant for me

I ride the road of misery

It just travels on

 

The world was born to dark and light

Good and bad

Wrong and right

I took the wrong turn on the road of life

It just travels on

 

The sun comes up

The sun goes down

I ride the night

And Im hell bound

I ride the road where nothing meets

 

Its a long and lonely road

It just travels on

 

 

 

ARM

 

             The door flew open.   Clem watched his brother Chester stagger into the room.   Half asleep, Clem was seated loosely on a tall metal stool behind the cluttered  motel office counter, arms hanging at his sides.  Under the hawkish yellow lights, his brother looked like nothing so much as a wayward desert ghoul.  Chesters  hair and jacket, even his black tangled beard, were caked with blood.  There were burn marks on his face and hands.  His clothes were blackened by smoke.   His arm was broken.  It dangled and swung as he lurched toward him and fell forward.

 

             Help me Clem!

 

             Chester clung to the counter like a downing man a rafts edge.   His head was bowed and his body trembled. There were tears in his eyes.  His crusted mouth was drooling.

 

             Im hurt bad Clem! They durn near killed me!

 

             The pale clerk rose slowly, adjusting his glasses.  His brothers eyes were wild, filled

with fear and panic.  He saw no open wounds or lacerations

 

             You should of used a fuse on that there Caddy tank Chester.  Clem pulled the motel ledger from beneath his brothers toppled figure.  His thin lips pursed.  The top page was smudged with smoke.  The binding smeared with red.  He must have carried that city slicker over his shoulder. Clem brooded. He should have drug him to a hole.  His brother had no sense at all.  

 

Fuels dangerous, Chester.  Thought you might know better.

 

             Hed never wipe this off.  Clem shook his head.  Hed have to start a new book.  The records would be all messed up, lest he attached the pages from the previous lodgers and that wouldnt do.

 

             Caddy tank!    Chester lurched up like a madman.  Werent no Caddy tank, blew me!  Were the chopper exploding!  The fire and the boulder!  It was like hell!  He whimpered. 

 

             The brothers turned abruptly from one another and gaped out the window.   Headlights swept across the motel parking lot.    A dark sedan pulled up near the office.    A lone man sat inside.  The plain car looked official.  The brothers eyed it warily.  Their bodies stiffened as they studied the man behind the wheel.

 

             Best go in the back Chester.   Clem straightened his suspenders and put on his clerical visor.   Well talk about this later.

 

             The man behind the wheel had a dark sallow face.  He wore a drooping bandit moustache. On his head was a baseball style cap.  FBI was lettered on it.  

 

             You stay in there Chester.  Clem called nervously after his brother.  You dont come out till I get you.

 

             The man emerged from the car.  He had dark curly hair.  He was rough and rangy.  Clem caught a flash of a 45 holstered beneath his dusty Bureau windbreaker.  Clems pulse was racing as the man strode through the door. His flesh felt clammy as the scowling agent approached the counter.  When Clem he saw his eyes sweat broke from his pores.

 

             Stragger.   The man held up a badge.  FBI.   Im following up on a call you made last night.  You told the Black Water police you had two suspicious men staying here.   Couple of Indians,  one was armed.

 

             Clem swallowed hard and heaved a sigh.  Chester was into something.  Least the feds

werent on it.

 

             Them men is gone, sir.   Like I told the other.  Them men looked dangerous. Lord

knows what they was up to. Were lucky were alive.

 

             Whos we?  The agent glared at him and scowled.

 

             Clems face turned white. 

 

             Agent Stragger took the ledger from the counter and studied the entries inside.

 

             Me and my brother Chester.   Clem stammered. This motel is ourn.

 

             Whats your name?

 

             Names Clem.

 

               Wheres your brother, Clem?

 

             The agent tore a page from the book.  His moustache formed a frown.

 

             Hes away.  In town I reckon.

 

             The agent looked around the room and lit a cigarette.  He blew the smoke in the nervous clerks face.  Something was eating away at the back of his mind. His eyes looked wary.

 

             Is this their entry?  Room 5?  J. Smith?  J. Doe? There was a license number entered here.  How come its been scratched out?

 

             Clems palms were sweating.  He tried to smile.  The agents eyes were serpents.  They bore through him like  fangs.

 

             Really didnt notice sir.  Clems legs were trembling.  He played with his suspenders, fingered the visor on his head. Maybe one of them done snuck in here and scratched it out?

 

             Was the car a Cadillac?

 

             Smoke trailed through the agents nostrils.

 

             Cant rightly say I recollect.  Maybe it were, maybe not.  Might have been a Buick.

 

             Well enhance this page on a computer, see if the numbers stand out.  Im going to send an agent around to dust room 5 for prints.  Make sure you dont rent it out.  A police artist will be with him.  You and your brother Fester help him out. Give him descriptions of the men who were here.  Make sure Fester sticks around.  I dont want to have look for him.  Were too busy to play around.

 

             Thats Chester, sir.

 

             What?

 

             Chester not Fester.

 

             Someone get cut?

 

             The agent held up his hand.  The long blunt fingers were stained with dried blood.  Clem watched the agents eyes wander along the counter.  They moved from it to the floor and to the spotty path that led to the washroom door.

 

             Yes sir.  My brother.  Clems voice was shaky.  Earlier in the day.

 

             That why he went to town?

 

             Sir?

 

             Did he go to town to see a doctor?

 

             Yes sir.  The doctor.  Cut real bad.  Been too blamed busy to clean it up.

 

             Place is a real bee hive.  The moustache smiled.   Can I use your washroom?  He vaulted the counter and strode toward the back.   He dragged on his cigarette and dropped the butt on the floor.

 

             Plumbing aint working, officer.  Clems voice was strained.   I can let you in the room next door.  Nice and clean, fresh new towels.

 

             Just want to wipe off my hands.  The big man turned and smiled.  Maybe run a comb through my hair.

 

             That locks plumb busted!  Clem called after him shrilly.  You cant get in!

 

             Thats OK.  Ill fix it.

 

             Stragger kicked in the door.  Chester was seated on the toilet, holding his broken arm.  He was biting on his wallet, squirming with pain.

 

             Works better with your pants down.  Stragger said pleasantly.  Oh, thats right, plumbings out anyway.  Guess if it was working youd have washed up some.  Stragger studied the tortured blackened figure.  Lookee here, Clem.  He turned back to the clerk.  Clem stood white as a ghost, his arms frozen at his sides.  Your brothers back from town.  Why dont the three of us take a little ride?

 

 

IX

 

                                PERCHANCE TO DREAM

 

                                                     In a doorway, a frail old lady lies asleep.

                                                     The street is crowded with tourists, shoppers.

                                                     No one drops a coin in her cup.

                                                     I do, I want a peaceful sleep too.

 

                                                     Written with John Colgan

 

 

FADE TO BLACK

 

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 burned 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 just 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 MAN IN THE ALLEY

 

                                                     He stood shivering,

                                                     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 took a step forward,

                                                     although he had nowhere to go.

 

 

ATTIC

 

The light from the window makes strange patterns around the room.

I sit and smoke and watch its 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 room, fever bright with harsh, dead light, an incandescent haze.

I take my notebook from the bureau and try to read its pages.

I try to see the war in what is written but my mind is given over to

ghost shapes on the wallpaper, the whiteness of the notebooks paper.

The scrawls and scribbles take me nowhere.

KARRUMP! KARRUMP!  Get down! Get down! KARRUMP! KARRUMP!

The rafters in the garret, creak heavily with the high winds.

The smoke from innumerable neighborhood chimneys float colonnades

across the sky.

 

 

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS

 

drifter digs

you open the door and flop into bed

a single naked 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 a wall

sipping rye and blowing smoke while the demons shift around

 

the music wraps the night in dream

I hold you in a memory

 

 

                                SMOKEYS

 

                                                     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.

 

 

                                BACK OF THE YARDS  

 

                                                     The smell of blood would hit them,

                                                     as soon as they turned our corner,

                                                     and wed watch them from our porches,

                                                     change from docile to demented,

                                                     jostling in the cattle trucks,

                                                     which rattled past our houses,

                                                     hauling the herds each morning

                                                     to the stockyards down our block.

 

                                                     Inside, the prodders would poke them

                                                     to the slaughter rooms in a procession,

                                                     wild eyed, bellowing, and shaken,

                                                     where the mallet men would kill them,

                                                     spiking their skulls with swift, strong

                                                     blows, before they hung them by the

                                                     chains which dangled from the ceilings.

 

 

KATRINA

 

The faceless strangers come and go,

As shadows sweep across a land,

Where mists envelop each pale ghost,

In towns that disappear like smoke.

 

Through days and nights that pass like

Sleep, I wander through an endless

Dream, where all that was has been

Erased and all that is is empty space.

 

Last night I crossed the barren plain.

I met a man who had no name.

He had no body, had no face.

He came and went without a trace.

 

He told me: Since the wind began,

Whatever was has never been.

Whatever will be wont begin,

And what is not will never end.

 

The cities rise and fade away.

They vanish into destiny.

And all is lost to memory.

 

 

LIFER

 

Like the death moan of a hopeless Brontosaurus,

choking on fog and sinking into prehistoric darkness,

the noon whistle blows its agonized drone over the

docks, lines, mills, bins, tech shops, foundries, smoke-

smothered labyrinths.

Legions of laborers, dressed in blue, green, gray work drabs,

pour out of the industrial buildings from every direction.

The mass march maneuvers through the maze in a sun dazzled

lockstep, swelling, mingling, massing, merging, doggedly shuffling,

until they dead-end at the cafeterias jam-packed entrance.

Everyday, I imagine that Im in a Hollywood penal flick

The House Of Numbers, or Alcatraz, or on cold rainy days

Fritz Langs spooky, silent movie Metropolis.

It didnt feel that way before they cut our pay, pensions,

health care, vacation days. I guess were all just serving out

sentences here, anyway, like Ive heard some preachers say.

 

 

SACRED RITES

 

Moon shadow was spiritual in the ancient Sioux way.

She spoke to the wind, the moon and the stars.

She married Night Walker on the top of Bear Butte.

It was a ceremony the Sacred Mountain had waited centuries to see.

That night, wild game crackled on spits.

There were drums, dancers, holy chants.

Night Walker was a descendent of Medicine Men.

High chiefs traveled to Pine Ridge from faraway lands.

That was the legend.

Red Leaf drove in a daze.

His head was pounding.

His body pulsed with pain.

Was the Sacred Mountain getting closer?

He squinted through the desert blaze.

If he could make it to the mountain, his soul would return.

The jeep rocked on its wheel rims, bent out of shape.

Broken glass covered the dashboard, floor boards, seats.

His uniform was in shreds. His dogs tags choked his neck.

He could walk faster, Red Leaf brooded, as he steered the creeping

jeep, if he were able to walk. He could swim the white rivers, leap

the quick streams, race through the forests, if he still had his legs.

Rainbow trout flew through the air.

Silver water cascaded down golden cliffs, crashing, careening along

tree lined river banks.

Rainbow trout leaping

A rainbow arched across the sky.

The jeep rattled down the desert road, Red Leaf slumped inside,

until it hit another roadside bomb.

 

 

WHEN JOHHNY COMES MARCHING HOME

 

Right back at him and whatever it was

went right through him, body and soul.

The feeling was a sensation of falling.

With the falling the dull pain, as always,

came back into his head and it was an

effort just to breathe. Lonigan walked

slowly, paused often, his fathers winter

dress coat flapping around his legs, his

fists pushed deep in its pockets.

He felt like a ghost in a dream, as the snow

swirled around him along the drifting streets,

a shadow on the loose with no one to claim it. 

The days seemed a maze of make-believe since

his discharge.  The shadows of his past seemed

dislocated from his present. The present seemed

a shadow of whatever state-side was supposed to

be.  Shadows, snow swirls, ghosts of dreams

At the Celtic bar, Lonigan slipped in from the

cold. It was still early in the day and the bar

was all but empty just a few other jobless

Joes sipping pints in the semi-dark, everyone

avoiding each others eyes.

Any luck, lad?

Tommy slid a pint in front of him as Lonigan

sat at his corner stool.

Not this round, Thomas.

Lonigan pulled the rumpled job section from his

suit coats inner pocket and laid it across the bar.

Then this rounds on me.

Tommy tapped the mug.

Circles round no goes, words like loosing lottery

tickets, any AD a possible, every life negotiable

I am a soldier of misfortune and

Lonigan scribbled on the margin of the newspaper,

as he browsed through the help wanted listings.

I fought that holy war on the desert sand. 

He sipped his pint and searched his fate.

 

X

 

LIFE'S WEARY WANDER

 

lifes weary wander

a white road lost

 

 

BLIND MICE

 

The world began

without a plan

and soon may end,

moan the toxic winds,

as the children skip along

and sing their songs,

beneath my window,

about witches, spiders,

bridges falling down.

 

Ring around the rosey (They sing.)

a pocket full of posey

ashes, ashes

 

PLUTONIUM up I monitor

the market on my new PC

POETRY down OIL is still

Royal ECOLOGY in Entropy

 

Oranges and lemons

say the bells of St. Clemens

 

Buy Sell Buy Sell Buy Sell

I type in furiously.

 

I owe you five farthings

say the bells of St. Martens

 

Dollar signs, like visions of sugar

plums, dance before my eyes.

 

Here comes the candle

to light you to bed!

The children sing.

Here comes the chopper

to chop off your head!

 

 

FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

 

Words again,

some frantic scrawl,

yet crystal clear

in their overlay of the ordinary,

like surfacing from a trance.

 

The harried dog hurries along

sensing he doesnt belong.

 

What a jolly fellow!

The literati laugh.

 

So this,

it seems to happen quite often,

feverish and unexpected,

and in the full swing of the season

the festive luncheons, gala parties,

languorous mornings in bed.

 

Do you remember when

a tiny caravan

crossed the night

of stars and sand?

 

Does it matter?

 

 

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

 

I dine with Nobel laureates,

Drink with mobsters.

I came up hard as diamonds,

unpolished and uncut.

I read books, people, paintings, palms.

My wife is a scientist,

white mice calypso in her laboratory,

minerals mambo.

I learned how to paint from a Holocaust Jew,

his specialty was rainbows.

My fiction is dark, violent, mesmerizing.

God is dead.

Literature is dead.

The age of art is over.

Im told.

Sister Wendy is my patron saint.

She has a picture and a poem of mine

tucked away in her cloister.

I paint fate:

dolls who dream, marionettes who emote,

toys and puppets with hearts and souls. 

I paint what I see, tell what I know.

 

When Rex was 18 he died, momentarily. He left

 his body and traveled to another dimension.  This 

experience changed his life.  Mr. Sexton paints

another kind of reality.

 

                                                     Mac Gilman    Gilman/Gruen gallery  

 

What is reality?

 

 

WHO WILL SAVE US?

 

Who will listen to our cries

when the long night comes,

and the world is upside down?

Who will help us?

Who will heal our pain,

when the seal of silence reigns

and the protest just begun

is swallowed by the tongue?

Who will tell our story?  

Who will listen to our cries

Who? Who?

The owl watches in the woods

creatures foraging for food.

Who? Who?

His big eyes blaze

and his talons raise

as he swoops.

 

 

ECHO  

 

Listen to the wishes in the well

Listen to the wind atop the hill

Listen to the ocean surge and swell

Listen to the tolling of the bell

 

Listen to the prophet on the street

Listen to the cop along the beat

Listen to the laughter in the bar

Listen to the shouting from afar

 

Listen to the patter of the rain

Listen to the story of the dream

Listen to the thunder and the storm

Listen to the rhythm of the song

 

Listen to silence of the night

Listen to the love birds in their flight

Listen to the whispering in the dark

Listen to the beating of your heart.

 

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