Monday, December 24, 2012

bob the bum's christmas

bob was a bum
his brain was in a constant hum
from drinking whiskey wine and gin
o what a state they left him in

he was in for the long haul
and did stumble trip and fall
from tijuana to bangor maine
landing on sidewalks feeling no pain

no barroom light was e'er so dim
as not to shine through fog to him
and he would crawl on hands and knees
through their doorways, if need be

up to the rail he would slink
hoping some kind stranger would buy him a drink
but since the truth can not be hid
hardly anyone ever did

so, if the tale can be believed
bob found himself on christmas eve
in west new york - or was it hackensack?
looking up at snowflakes as he lay on his back

and every flake was a memory
of all that he had hoped to be
and as they piled up on his face
he thought he heard a far off trace

of a happy song of long ago
through the more rapidly falling snow
and then amidst the wintry whirl
he spied the face of a little girl

the little match girl - no surprise
and then before his wondering eyes
the little drummer boy appeared
then st peter with his long white beard

the ghostly trio cleared their throats
st peter and the girl struck notes
on harps that they had brought along -
the three began to sing a song

"since this christmas may be your last
let us sing of good times past
before the crackling family fire
before your straits were not so dire

when end of year brought promise bright
and happy children's pure delight
at presents purchased with honest wages
you laughed at winter's furious rages - "

the song went on, the words grew faint
but on the wind he heard the plaint
of a little girl at a tavern door
crying "daddy, daddy, please no more

come home before you spend all your pay"
yes, that was the song of yesterday
now he was tired - oh so tired -
beneath the snow the bum expired

Sunday, December 16, 2012

pals, part 3: dangerous

click here for previous chapter

click here to begin at the beginning

night turned to dawn
the world moved on
on the details i will not dwell
but evening finally fell

i told my brain, don't start
but with a palpitating heart
i made my way back to ray's cafe
wondering what i would say

for i was trembling with fear
that jane would not be there
but if the truth i could tell
i was also afraid of the strange spell

she had cast on my fevered brain
that i could not explain
and i told myself i believed
i would actually be relieved

if she did not even show
and then i could safely go
back to the warm embrace
of the life i had learned to face

life just goes on and on
another night, another dawn
what is wrong with that anyway?
that would be hard to say

now jane had entered the mixture
and changed the whole picture
could i ever go back again
to the way i had always been?

in my brain i heard a roar
my steps brought me closer to the door
i pushed it open with a force of will
and then everything grew still

that is, in my own perception
to everyone else, without exception
nothing in the room, or the world, had changed
everything was still the same

again, henry was not there
but seated in "his" chair
as if she had every right to be
was my woman of mystery

she was looking down at the table
as though she were not able
to unravel some mysterious rune
or hear some forgotten tune

i approached with some hesitation
and fearful trepidation
she suddenly raised her head
"oh, there you are," she said

as if it were the most natural thing
my presence to her to bring
i steadied myself on the table
and responded as well as i was able

"i will only be a minute"
i brought back a glass with liquor in it
what could be more civilized?
a hurricane whirled behind my eyes

"as i was saying", she resumed
and started in on what i would soon
recognize as her obsessions
which branched off in many directions

like henry she was a fund of knowledge
perhaps not learned in any college
of wide repute - but rather
the strange fancies the wind would gather

and scatter to the desperate brains
of those who walk in wind and rain
and seek to look behind the curtain
of this world so flickering and uncertain

she expounded on the "new hope"
but scorned the masons and the pope
einstein and darwin, freud and marx
were only fit to feed the sharks

it all made perfect, and no sense
i was her perfect audience
her flow of words fell down on me
like raindrops on a calm blue sea

then suddenly - she stopped
i thought perhaps she wanted to cop
a cigarette - and offered my pack
but she was staring out the window behind my back

i turned and looked -
nothing - she shook
her head - "for a minute i thought
i saw - wait - i forgot - "

and with this and other mumbles
she jumped to her feet and stumbled
out the door - leaving me
in a cloud of wavering mystery

perhaps at this juncture
i should take the time to puncture
any thought you might entertain
that jane was a "dangerous dame"

and in view of what i will relate
as to my and her ultimate fate
that she was some kind of "femme fatale"
and not just an unfortunate gal

another speck of human dust
wandering blind , as we all must
who fell in with the wrong crowd -
the roaring in my brain is getting loud -

part 4: reenter henry

Friday, December 14, 2012

ace of night - 3. davenport 7 - 5297

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

no dame tonight.

all right, i had been wrong before. and chuckie wouldn't be in harry's office forever, and i did not feel like looking at him or listening to him again that night - or any night.

i finished my free drink, left a half buck tip - pretty generous, i thought, considering my situation - for the bartender, and got up off the stool.

i was halfway to the door.

"hey, pal, got a second?" the bartender was holding something out to me.

i went over to him. it was a matchbook he was holding. "just take this. it might interest you, might not."

i didn't feel like arguing with him. "sure, why not?" i figured there was a phone number written on it, or an address. i took it.


he just nodded, turned away.

i started to head back down harry's dark hallway.

then it hit me. jeez, what a chump i was - was i losing my touch, and my mind? i had been away for too long. way too long.

it was some kind of frame! some cop - probably chuckie - would brace me, they would find the matchbook on me and the phone number or address on it would be the number or address of some poor slob harry had just had bumped off - probably in a very messy way, as he liked to do.

or, the matchbook had some fingerprints on it that - you get the idea.

i got close to the wall, and took the matchbook out of my pocket. not wasting any time, i held it in my handkerchief and rubbed it over good, even the nine or ten matches still in it.sure enough, there was a phone number - just a phone number - written in it.

davenport 7 - 5297

easy enough to remember. i tossed the matchbook down at my feet. and as it fell into the shadow i saw the gold lettering on the front:

johnny demarco's . best food and drink.

never heard of it.

i made it outside to the sidewalk. nobody braced me.

i started walking down the street. i passed a couple of cabs.

so maybe there was no frame. maybe i was imagining things.

even so, i was right back where i was before i saw harry.

davenport 7 - 5297. what did i have to lose? i decided to call it when i got back to my hotel.

it started to rain. just what i needed. i still had eleven blocks to go back to the hotel and i didn't feel like wasting money on a cab.

then it started to really rain. what the hell, i would take a cab. i was wearing my only decent suit and i didn't want it getting waterlogged. i ducked into the nearest doorway and waited for one.

the rain was jumping in the street when one finally came by. i could barely make out that it was a cab. i jumped out and waved and it came over. i had to jump back so it wouldn't send a wave crashing over me.

i reached for the rear door.

"hey mister, i saw him first! it was me that called him over!"

i turned and there she was. the dame. the one i knew i was g

"no problem, miss. we can share. in fact, i will pay, as far as i am going."

"that's mighty nice of you, mister , but you don't have to be a big shot. i'll pay my way."

"i'm headed for the hotel marmont."

"the belmore - it's one more block."

the cabbie leaned over. "jeez, will one or both of you get in, you are wet enough already."

she got in. i got in beside her, and closed the door.

"did i hear you say hotel marmont, pal?"

"yes, you did." he pulled out.

i turned to the girl. "and what did you say your name was?"

"miss lost lamb. you must be mister smooth."

"the old lines are the best lines. say, a guy staying in a hotel, a girl staying in a hotel, we got a lot in common."

"the belmore is a ladies residence hotel - no gentlemen beyond the lobby."

"one of those places. but maybe i'm not a gentleman."

"then you don't even get in the door."

"ha ha. my name is jeff - jeff josephus."

"i told you my name. miss lost lamb."

the more she talked the more i thought i heard some kind of accent under the all american girl act. frog? kraut? russki even?

"if you say so," i answered. "pleased to meet you. hey, maybe i'll see you around. living so close and all."

"you never know, do you? " she turned and looked out at the rain.

"nice view, huh? very scenic. i used to live around here, but i been away for a while."

she ignored me. i let it go. for now. the cab kept going. we hit mostly green lights.

"we must be almost there," she finally said.

"here you go, pal. hotel marmont."

the meter said three sixty five. i gave him four ones.

"keep it. she can pay you too if she wants."

i got out. it was raining harder than ever. i ran into the hotel without looking back.

maybe she didn't know it, but miss lost lamb hadn't seen the last of me.

4. the wind and the rain

Sunday, November 11, 2012

pals, part 2 : jane

click here for part one

she said her name was jane
a perfect name for a sad refrain
though i knew not at the time
when she locked her eyes on mine

as to why she spoke to me
that remains a mystery
that i can not now dispel
though the story i can tell

"you wouldn't have - a cigarette?"
"sure, " i mumbled, "you bet."
"and a light?"

she did not even say thanks
her eyes were complete blanks
"you live here?" she asked
my brain was not up to the task

i muttered something insensible
even to myself incomprehensible
"i didn't mean here in ray's cafe
i meant where do you live all day?"

"sometimes i live here," i said
"when the place closes i go to bed."
"and where might that be?," she insisted
i was surprised by the way that she persisted

i said "i live in mrs brown's
well within the outskirts of town
for working persons who need their sleep
her prices are not too steep"

her eyes bored into me
"so you value respectability?"
"i just value my rest"
"yes," she replied, "i suppose that is best"

i was now over my initial shock
and managed to almost normally talk
her eyes scanned the cafe
in her curious listless way

she fingered a strand of her hair
and hit me with another stare
"your friend you talk to every night
you seem to think he's pretty bright"

"you must mean henry," i replied
her eyes narrowed (they were never wide)
"henry is not a bad chap
but his conversation is all over the map"

"but i never see you argue -
do you think all his pronouncements true?"
"oh no, " i replied
"it's just that i never take sides"

"i think all talk is the same
just a pulse in the human brain
that releases the pressure of existence
even if it makes no sense"

"i see." she stared intently
"then you might be just the man for me -
what did you say your name was again?"
"i didn't - but it's ben"

"well, ben" - did her eyes slightly glisten?
"i like to talk myself, but no one listens
so i have silently walked to earth
crushed by indifference since my birth

that somebody might hear my views
and not beg off with some excuse
after all these years
almost brings me to tears"

her gaze, though empty, transfixed me
and i answered "certainly
i am sure that your well rehearsed opinions
over my mind will exert dominion"

no further prompting did she need
her words flowed forth with urgent speed
on religion, politics, love and art
and that was just a start

pausing only some alcohol to get
or to light another cigarette
(which i continued to provide)
her soliloquy did not subside

to get a word in i did not try
i could see from the corner of my eye
bertha at the bar dispensing booze
and looking on quite amused

suddenly jane's conversation ended
and silence descended
her eyes turned off their beam
and i awoke as from a dream

she mumbled something i could not discern
to the clock on the wall her eyes did turn
"oh my," she said, "it's closing time
i hope i haven't been out of line

boring you this way"
"oh no, " i heard myself say
the pleasure was all mine
let's do it again some time"

she managed a sort of smile
which i saw as without guile
and left with no more reply
except a mumbled good-bye

as she quickly made her way out
i thought, what was that all about?
i saw bertha wiping the bar with a rag
and realized i was nine-tenths in the bag

i staggered home and fell into bed
curious visions swirled in my head
all i could think of was my new friend and i wondered how it all would end

as my sleepy brain grew dim
henry, i thought - what of him?
is he involved in all this?
is there something i have missed?

part 3: dangerous


a sinking boat
a flowing stream
a rapidly expanding dream

a windswept grave
an empty tomb
a room within a room within a room

a crashing wave
a darkening beach
a hand just out of reach

an echoing note
a rising moon
oblivion - and none too soon

Monday, November 5, 2012

ace of night - 2: another old friend

to begin at the beginning, click here

i walked down the hall from harry's office to the bar. it was dark, just the way it used to be. not a very classy touch. for a guy like harry, who wanted to move up in the world and not be a bum any more.

like i said, harry didn't have a lot of imagination. if i wanted someone to bankroll me, it looked i would have to look elsewhere.

but i didn't want to think about harry. i wanted to think about the dame i was going to meet at the bar.

i went through the door to the bar. it was empty. not even a bartender.

no dame.

hey, maybe i was wrong. like i said, i have been wrong a few times before.

or maybe she just hadn't shown up yet.

either way, i decided to cash in the free drink harry had promised me. if i could find the bartender.

i looked down the bar. "anybody home?" i called down it.

"yeah, hold on." i heard a phone click down around the side of the bar and a bartender in a white shirt and a red bow tie came around to the front and walked down toward me. "you must be the guy getting the free drink."

"that's me."

"first customer all night and you get a free drink."

i didn't have anything to say to that. i didn't like the guy's looks. he was big, but not what you would call a gorilla. more like an elephant - big, but soft. soft. like all the punks you saw these days.

"what'll it be?"

"scotch and soda, no ice. make it a double. i suppose a double counts as one drink , right?"

"sure, pal. if you say so. it's not worth arguing about, is it?"

" i guess not." see what i mean? not worth arguing about - what kind of attitude was that? in my day we looked for things to argue about - and fight about - just to stay sharp. but i didn't say anything to the guy, just let him fix my drink.

maybe i was getting as soft as he was. as all these punks were.


in any case, my thoughts were interrupted by a voice behind me. a voice i would recognize anywhere.

"well, look who's back. if it ain't jewboy jeff josephus. how's it going, jewboy?" and chuckie callahan, the pride of the homicide department, slapped me on the back hard enough to knock me across the bar if he hadn't opened his mouth first and warned me.

"couldn't be better, chuckie." i gave him a quick once over. he hadn't changed a bit since i had seen him four or five years before - a little bit thinner maybe, no better dressed, and looking just as mean and just as dumb as ever. "are you back, too? or maybe you never left?"

"where would i go? this is my home." he sat down on the stool beside me and smiled with his orange and green teeth. "so, hitler didn't get you, huh, jewboy? maybe we should have given him a few more months."

"i was thinking the same about you and the king of england."

the bartender put my drink in front of me. chuckie gave him a look - i could say a mean look, but that was the only kind he had.

"coming right up, detective, coming right up." and the guy went back to get whatever free drink chuckie was entitled to.

"so you never went anywhere, huh, chuck?" i asked, just to keep the friendly conversation going. suddenly i had an overwhelming feeling that i had had this conversation a million times before in a million different lifetimes, but it passed.

"no. but i was involved, you might say. involved. you might be surprised. "

"yeah, i would be."

"there was a lot of spies and fifth columnists around."

"and i bet you shook down every one of them."

"hey, same game, different players."

the bartender came back with chuckie's drink - a bloody mary - a lot faster than he had mine. chuckie gave him another look and he disappeared back to the end of the bar.

"you look a little thin, chuck. you not eating right? maybe you got syphilis? with the war on, you got those sailors coming in from all over the world. you got to watch out for those guys."

"very funny. i see you still got your smart jewboy mouth. but, no kidding, times have been a little tight." he took a sip of his drink. you couldn't tell if he liked it or not. same old chuckie.

"tight, huh?" i answered him. "where i been - "

"jeff, jeff." he held his hand up exactly the same way harry had. "i don't want to hear it." he took another gulp of his bloody mary. "let me guess - you parachuted into hitler's secret hideaway with with four hundred pounds of dynamite strapped to your back."

"something like that."

"great. wonderful. but that was then, and today is the first day of the rest of your life." he gave me his extra special mean look, with mustard and onions. "what are you doing here, jeff?"

"just a social call. looking up old friends." i took a sip of my drink - not the most double double i ever had.

"yeah? well, i am here on business."

"always business with you, chuck." i remember years ago i asked chuckie where he got off shaking down everybody in town when he was just a lousy homicide detective and he told me "hey, everybody can kill somebody, right? even if it's by accident. i figure they are just opening an account."

now he said, "i am here on harry's business." he looked around the bar. "which, as you can see, doesn't look too good."

"appearances can be deceiving."

"i wish. just a word to the wise, harry may not the best guy to be palling around with just now. unless things start looking up for him."

"thanks. i appreciate it."

"i hope so." chuckie leaned right into me. "you know, jeff, i am not as unpatriotic as you seem to think. even though i think we were on the wrong side of the war, with the commies and the king of england and all. but in consideration of your service, i am going to let you slide this time - one - one time. "


"now the next time i find you trespassing on my balliwick, i am going to have an itchy palm - maybe a double itchy palm. you understand?"

"you were never hard to understand."

"i mean not to be." he leaned back and sighed. "now i got to check up on harry. poor harry. it doesn't look good for him. "

"does it look good for anybody?"

"you got a point there. where is this great postwar boom i keep hearing about?"

"i couldn't tell you." i shrugged. "maybe you could cut harry a little slack on that account?"

"no, no, that's not how it works. that would set a bad precedent. where is the respect , the respect for the law, if you let punks get by without paying? even an old established punk like harry?"

i didn't have any answer to that. chuckie tossed down the last of his drink and got up and headed down the hall.

leaving me alone with my thoughts. and the empty bar, and my weak double scotch, and the soft punk bartender staring at me from the end of the bar from under his bushy brows,

and still no dame.

3. davenport 7 - 5297

Sunday, November 4, 2012

near and far

edna the elephant and ruby the rhino
they were the best of friends
and they splashed in the mud together
out where the rainbow ends

so near and yet so far
no matter who you are
when the rainbow turns to black and white
and fleeting day to endless night

at the sunset's scarlet dance
they hear the hunters jeep advance
and the helicopter's blades
sing a murderous serenade

so near and yet so far
no matter where you are

and they splashed in the mud together
out where the rainbow ends

Thursday, November 1, 2012

all souls - a fragment

'tis the night of all souls
and the world's full of holes
demons pour through the skies
with their burning red eyes

seizing helpless human creatures
they feast on their finest features
and turn their purest essences
into obscene excrescences

oh eldritch night! how fearfully fated!
for this have humans waited
through eons of woe and terror
crime and folly and error

only to come at last
to this unholy blast
which leaves to darkened heavens sight
the icy wastes of endless night

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

pals, part 1

pals should be true and blue
pals should be there for you
but since the truth will set us free
let me tell you what my pal did to me

i was working for the phone company, northern line
and didn't think much at the time
about anything but getting smashed
after my monthly check i cashed

a kindly soul named mrs brown
ran the cleanest boarding house in town
i was her most faithful boarder
and she kept my life in order

fried eggs in the morning, a sandwich for afternoon
mashed potatoes at evening, smooth as a breeze in june
clean sheets every night
things couldn't have been more right

but sometimes a strange restlessness
came over me, i confess
and under a mocking moon
i would head for the local saloon

bertha boone, the bartender
was a solid sender
her heart was halfway good
and you always knew just where you stood

my tab was just so much a month
and though there was no free lunch
i could sit with half a glass
as flickering shadows behind me passed

the free lunch was just a memory
an ancient tale told hesitantly
by my pal henry's uncle dan
an intermittently taciturn man

henry himself seemed without guile
we used to chat once in a while
that's why i refer to him as my pal
the only one i had, withal

henry was a deep cuss
never made much of a fuss
unfailingly polite
night after night

he could discuss any subject
and would never object
to any opinion or party line
even mine

if i advocated anarchy
he would smile pleasantly
if i pleaded for world government
he would nod a half assent

all opinions are the same
he asserted without shame
just something to pass the time
without reason or rhyme

this easygoing attitude
he extended to the passions rude
and affected a weary glance
toward love and romance

and would laugh at any poor john
who'd become a female's pawn
and professed but little respect
for the fair and gentle sex

at his views i felt no shock
but liked to listen to him talk
i mean, the price was right
and so passed night after night

but the universe slices and dices
even the humblest paradises
and my serene little world
into a dark abyss was hurled

she didn't seem blessed or cursed
we hardly noticed her at first
she sat in a corner of the room
portending no particular doom

one night henry didn't show
i had no place else to go
i just sat there like a lump
feeling down in the dumps

and then the anonymous lady
apparently not afraid of me
came over and sat in henry's seat
without missing a beat

and looked at me with an eye
that was neither wet nor dry
that wasn't blue or gray or brown
and she didn't smile or frown

she seemed neither young nor old
fat or thin or hot or cold
and only aroused in me
the faintest flicker of curiosity

little did i know
that this feeble flicker would grow
into a bonfire of despair
into which my soul would dumbly stare

part 2: jane

Saturday, October 27, 2012

ace of night - 1. a friendly conversation


i flipped my butt into harry's wastebasket and sat down.

harry leaned back and looked at me. he didn't look like he'd changed much since i saw him last. if anything, he looked meaner than ever.

"that wasn't very polite, jeff." he reached out with his long gorilla arm and pulled the wastebasket closer. he shook it, made sure the butt was out, and put it back down. "and you could set the place on fire. i wouldn't like that."

"very polite? where i been --"

harry held up his hand. "jeff, jeff, stop right there. i don't want to hear about where you've been. i don't want to hear your sad story. if you want to tell your sad story, i got the phone book here - " he picked the phone book up and slapped it back down on the desk - "and you can look up the sad story department under 's' and tell it to them. i hear you guys start to tell your sad stories all day and i'm sick of them. i can get a bag of sad stories cheaper than a bag of peanuts at the polo grounds. "

i just leaned back - in what felt like the same uncomfortable chair he'd always had - and looked at him. "you going to offer me a drink?"


"why not?"

"because this is my office, not the bar. stop at the bar on your way out, and buy - b-u -y, yourself a drink."

"come on, harry, stop trying to act tough. you wouldn't have let me in here in the first place, if you didn't want to hear me out."

harry laughed, that little laugh he had that you could hardly hear. "all right, what can i do for you?"

"it's what i can do for you. i thought you might have something for me."


"maybe? when maybe?"

"whenever. i'll let you know."

"so, can you let me have a little something, keep me going until you let me know.?"

"you mean, pay you before you do anything? no. no, that's not the way i operate. never was."

"i don't know, harry. it seems to me it was. "

"your memory is at fault."

i shook my head. "i don't know if i like this new world i come back to. it seems different somehow. colder, or something."

"yeah, well take it up with jesus, or truman or betty crocker or whoever is in charge. because it ain't me."

it wasn't the time or the place. i decided to give in. but down the line, harry would pay. he would pay like no man had ever paid before.

it's a funny thing about me - i can kind of predict the future. not exactly, not one hundred percent all the time, but still - i am pretty good at it. and the whole time harry was talking, i was thinking about what was going to happen when i left his office. it was one of the reasons i played it cool, why i let harry ride.

because when i got up and left harry's office i was going to meet a dame. and not just any dame. i was going to meet a dame who would almost be too hot for me to handle. who would take me to the end of the night and the edge of oblivion and let me look into the winking eye of the abyss. could i make it back?

i couldn't wait to find out.

"well, okay," i told harry. "if that is the way it has to be, i guess that is the way it has to be.

harry gave me a funny look then, like he hadn't expected me to give up so easy. well, he hadn't, had he?

"not going to try anything funny, are you, jeff?"

"who, me?"

he leaned back in his chair. "a lot of things have changed around here."

"i'm sure they have."

"one thing that has changed - i got more people - actually quite a few people - looking out for me now. not that i can't look for myself, you understand. but with all these people looking out for me, you know what?"


"i got more time to look out for myself. and with more time to look out for myself, i can do more good for myself. and the more good i do myself the more people want to be my friend and look out for me even more. and it just goes on like that."

this time i didn't bother to say anything.

harry went on. "it's like - like - what do you call it?"

"perpetual motion?"

"yeah - perpetual motion. or you throw a rock in the river and it keeps making circles - more and more circles."

"until they finally hit the shore."

"yeah, but the shore might be in china. anyway, i got lots of new friends."

"that's good. everybody can use friends."

"friends like the mayor, the police commissioner, some city councilors and judges -"

"just some city councilors and judges?"

"for now. well, jeff, i think this fascinating conversation is over. unless you got something else."

i pretended to think a little bit. "i might have something that might interest you."

"and you're just remembering it now? it must be good."

"well - it's - it's not a sure thing. not right now. it's just - a possibility, you know what i mean?"

"i know what you mean. you know, another thing that has changed - i'm not so interested as before in these one time deals." harry gave a little shrug. "you know how it is, you plan them, you bankroll them, more and more people get involved, then some little thing goes wrong, and the whole thing goes down the drain. i've come to prefer more steady sources of income, you know what i'm saying?"

"sure. but i still think you might be interested."

"okay, what is it? a bank? a payroll? don't tell me a jewelry store?"

"no, nothing like that."

"like what, then?" harry rubbed his eyes to show he was impatient.

"you hear about this new thing - the atomic bomb?"

"yeah, i read the papers from time to time. what about the atomic bomb?"

"well - like i say, it's not certain, but i think i might - might be able to steal one or two of them."

harry looked over my shoulder at the door and laughed his little laugh. "that's great, jeff. you got a fence lined up for this bomb, huh? or maybe you could take it out on broadway under your coat like a watch or a tie - hey buddy, want to buy an atomic bomb?"

"no, no - we wouldn't sell it. we would use it ourselves."

"oh? for what?"

"to rule the world."

and then harry did something i had never seen him do before. he laughed, really laughed. laughed out loud, like john q citizen at an abbott and costello movie.

"that's good, jeff," he said when he finished. "that's really good. it's so good, i tell you what i am going to do. i'm going to break my own rule. i'll call out to the bar and tell them you can have a free drink. but just one." he held up a finger. "one."

i stood up. "thanks, harry. and thanks for your time." i wasn't surprised. i knew harry didn't have any imagination. or know how to think big.

at least i had a free drink out of it.

and i had a date with a dame.

2. another old friend

Saturday, October 20, 2012

the unread book

a flower, a branch, a bird, a cloud
a book not to be read aloud
a life that passes in an hour
a winding stair in a ghostly tower

a laughing child, a shuddering sage
the dream of a forgotten age
a lizard on a moss grown crypt
a poem in an unknown script

o wanderer, the day is done
look as the disappearing sun
casts a light on the darkened sea
for what has been will no longer be

what has been written will not be read
the living will no more mock the dead
the rain will fade into the sand
and darkness hold all in its hand

Saturday, September 22, 2012

education of a cad

once there was a maiden fair
 who spent her life in a morris chair 
and when she heard the clock strike three
 and saw it was still not time for tea
 she ran her fingers through her long red hair

 miss jocelyn jones had never been kissed
 so she became a satanist
 when she met the lord of the flies
 and listened to his lies
 his advances she did not resist

 prudence peters was detected
 disrespecting the family by whom she was protected
 and so they turned her out of doors
 amid the winter's harshest roars -
 with sin her path soon intersected

but of all the melancholy tales
of trusting and betrayed females
 there are none so sweetly sad
 as of those whose who met a certain cad...

 the honorable charles st charles, of cheltenham and bath
 through the ladies cut a swath
like a louche latin or lustful turk
 he made of maidens much short work

 and filled the highways, roads and lanes
 with cast off kates and jilted janes
 of such behavior from a son
 of civilized christian albion

 what can one do but sigh?
and turn a chastened eye
 toward heaven's sorrowed gaze
 and hope and pray for better days...

 the honorable charles had his detractors
 who thought him the worst of malefactors
 but had his sympathizers too
who thought eve's daughters deserved their due

 of blame for tempting the poor lad
 spawn of a drunken sire and mother quite mad
 orphaned indeed before the age of ten
and early taken up by sporting men

 even as a smooth cheeked lad
 there was a certain way charles had
 of always seeming to acquiesce
 in anything his fellows pressed

 upon his burgeoning consciousness
 sometimes more, but rarely less
 he would nod polite approval
 and never ask for the removal

 of any new or old temptation
 and with little contemplation
 allow himself to plunge headfirst
 into each appetite or thirst...


Sunday, September 16, 2012

outlaw blues

an outlaw is always on the lam
from society's total scam
he gets it while he can
waiting the day when he faces the man

another doorway, another night
dreams interrupted that never take flight
a junkshop of memories, mostly bad
mom and jack daniels, with their smiles so sad

over the river the smile of dawn
taunts the outlaw to get it on
the man is sleeping, in his penthouse high
and the outlaw is left to wonder why

someday, in a shining hour
the man will come down from his tower
to face the outlaw's wrath
at the end of his heroic path

but when - when - when?
the sun is rising yet again
the outlaw stretches and blinks
the bottle beside him winks

"though the way be long and cold
and my dreams get a little old
o friend so faithful and true
what would i do without you?"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

tears of a clown

my tears flowed like wine
because you said you'd not be mine
and then they flowed like cheap champagne
because you caused me endless pain

they flowed like seltzer water
because you were the devil's daughter
they flowed like chamomile tea
because you meant the world to me

i scanned the darkening skies above
dreaming of eternal love
desperately searching for a sign
that you would finally be mine

alas, alas, my dream came true
now i can only say to you
i hope the times of sad regret
are ones that we can both forget

frankie and johnny: a villanelle

frankie pulled out her gat
her eyes were pools of hate
johnny put on his hat

don't look at me like that
johnny saw it was too late
frankie pulled out her gat

on the window sat a cat
silent and placid as fate
johnny put on his hat

you dirty stinking rat
you was always second-rate
frankie pulled out her gat

why don't we have a chat
our differences are not so great
johnny put on his hat

a breeze wafted through the flat
"you had your chance to be straight"

frankie pulled out her gat
johnny put on his hat

Friday, September 14, 2012

modern age

this is the modern age
so they tell me anyhow
things used to be one way
but they are different now

how fortunate we are
to live in these bright times
when the burning fires of truth
have devoured history's lies

how terrible the darkness
in which poor humans lay
farewell to folly's shadows
hello to bright new day

i hope that none among us
dwell fondly on the past
now let us all march forward
for we are free at last

nature's way

see how the little seagull
floats over the stormy sea
see how the little termite
devours the mighty tree

see the little mosquito
spread oceans of disease
as in the river's placid flow
the crocodile take his ease

see the platoons of scarlet ants
munch whole sugar plantations
and the humble tsetse fly
devastate human nations

see the smiling monkey
slowly peeling a pomegranate
as wind and wave and eternity
erode the spinning planet

Thursday, September 13, 2012

town tramp

there's one in every town
one that gets left behind
when the other girls head for broadway
or hollywood and vine

there's something about her
something not quite there
you think she'd be long gone
but she's still here

marked for trouble
from the day she was born
daughter of darkness
child of scorn

they whisper behind the curtains
snicker at the general store
you'd think she'd have had enough
but she comes back for more

len jones is a deacon in the church
bob jackson has a spotless reputation
but their eyeballs always follow her
when she walks past the trailways station

tommy wilson is the quarterback
on the undefeated high school team
but even on the night before the big game
she haunts his dreams

at night she goes out walking
with her handbag trailing low
she must be going somewhere
but where is there to go?

she wanders past the pool hall
saunters past the five and dime
she looks up at the moon and stars
but stops at the county line

a mother's prayer

the angels will be waiting in heaven
when they strap you to the electric chair
they'll be waiting in heaven, joey
if they listen to a mother's prayer

if they listen to a mother's prayer
for justice to be finally done
for the truth to be finally triumphant
as bright as the rising sun

this world is fallen and twisted
and drowned in a swamp of sin
to save her helpless children
oh how can a mother begin?

you were such a beautiful child
maybe just a little bit wild
but deep down you were just pretending
your inner light burned neverending

your soul shone forth for all to see
but you aroused the jealousy
of those who want to drag things down
there are plenty of them in this town

who can't see in front of their noses
and always see thorns not roses
who are blinded by truth and beauty
and think denial is their duty

no, it wasn't the nicest neighborhood
but i always taught you to be good
yes, it was a mother's secret hope
that you would be the first american pope

now that hope will not be fulfilled
thanks to mister district attorney de ville
but what will be his own fate
when he answers for his lies at heaven's gate?

for the jurors who were led astray
by his perfidy i have this to say
i hope you never feel the pain
i felt that day walking away in the rain

the angels will be waiting in heaven
when they strap you to the electric chair
they'll be waiting in heaven, joey
if they listen to a mother's prayer

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

a strange story

a strange story comes from the antarctic. on the morning of september 13th 17__, a vessel captained by the famous captain blackbeard was searching the waters directly north of the enderby abyssal plain in search of the giant cranch squid, when a longboat was spotted floating on the water. as night had fallen, it was impossible to make out if there were any inhabitants on board.

"we shall wait until morning, " announced the captain, with his habitual caution. "if it is still there, we shall ascertain its exact situation, and the situations of anyone who might happen to be on board."

"but captain," protested little nell, "there may be a map of the location of buried treasure on board the boat, or even a chest of treasure itself."

"indeed," added sinbad the sailor," see how low in the water the stern is. there may well be a treasure chest weighing it down."

"your point is well taken," replied blackbeard.

"we can hardly afford to miss this chance," cried the medicine man. "especially considering how poorly our fortunes have gone since setting out on this unfortunate voyage, nominally in search of the giant cranch squid. after ten long months - no treasure - and no squid."

"very well then," answered the captain. "the matter is settled. nellie, light a torch. lower a boat. an extra tot of rum, my lads, for every jolly jack tar who volunteers to board yon mysterious vessel - treasure or no treasure!"

"i volunteer!" cried sinbad. "i will board the vessel first. who's with me, eh?"

"i!" answered little nell. "i shall carry the torch!"

"and i!" cried the medicine man. "i shall man the left front oar, right behind nellie!"

"and i!" cried the wandering jew.

"and i" cried the jesuit.

"andI i!" cried the queen of clubs, shaking her curls.

"and i!" shouted the queen of spades, louder than all the rest. the moonlight glittered on her eye patch.

"oh, i shall go along," drawled the jack of diamonds, twirling his mustache.

"then we have a crew," exclaimed sinbad. "well done, comrades, well and truly done!"

in the twinkling of an eye the boat was lowered into the curiously placid water. with sinbad waving his cutlass and little nell holding the torch aloft, the little craft fairly sped along the surface toward the dark and silent vessel drifting in the mist.

(professor thunderby paused and relit his pipe)

and yet the drifting vessel seemed to remain curiously out of reach.

"harder, comrades! harder!" cried the medicine man. "pull with a will!"

a curious phosphorence played around the elusive craft, taunting the straining rowers.

finally they drew abreast of the silent craft. but they had lost sight of the ship behind them.

(professor thunderby's pipe went out again. the embers in the fireplace, likewise, flickered into darkness...)

sinbad reached out with a grappling hook and seized the gunwale and pulled the drifting vessel close to the longboat. a desperate shout went up from the weary but jubilant oarpullers.

little nell held her torch over the stern of the captured craft, which rode low and heavy in the water.

"look!" she cried. "look ye! here be no treasure!"

on the bottom of the boat, luridly lit by the flame of the torch, lay a body! the body of a young woman!"

"is she dead?" cried the medicine man, looking over the shouder of sinbad.

"dead?" he answered. "dead? aye, she looks like she's been dead these hundred years!"

voyage to star 25, part 2: mrs wilson's diner

for part one, click here

maisie was a philosopher
nothing disconcerted her
she had seen all the pictures, heard all the tales
still had a little wind in her sails

though her mind often seemed to drift
she was always on time for her shift
and had won mrs wilson's trust
without breaking through her solid crust

tonight, though, mrs wilson seemed vexed
well, perhaps just a little perplexed
her agitation gave maisie pause
and she wondered what was the cause

"some fellers came in tonight.
they just didn't look right."
maisie could hardly be more surprised
though nothing showed in her dark eyes

mrs wilson had run the diner for four decades
she was not a blushing maid
her patrons were not from the top drawer
maisie had never seen her discombobulated before

"um - what did these fellers say or do?
did they actually threaten you?
where was leroy? he's never around - "
maisie laughed " - when you need him, i have found"

"it wasn't what they did or said -
but i could see right into their heads!"
"well", maisie replied with opacity
"i never knew you had such a capacity."

"their evil ideas were fairly bursting forth
from their skulls with walpurgisnachtian froth - "
this was not mrs wilson's usual manner of speaking
maisie wondered if her brains were leaking

"well, leroy should be around soon
why don't you go on over to your room -"
(for mrs wilson lived right behind the shop)
" - and laudanum why don't you take a drop?"

"no, i don't want to sleep
who know what terrors in the deep
from which i may never return
may writhe and slime and slash and burn -"

maisie replied with a smile half bright
"but isn't that true every night?"
she proceeded to put her apron on
and wished mrs wilson would run along

"oh look, here comes leroy now"
around midnight leroy craved some chow
at morning noon and twilight too
his stomach rumblings would come due

leroy enforced the law in the little town
always had a smile, hardly ever a frown
he had a rusty badge and a billy club
and he was everybody's bub

he had a gun in his holster he had never drawn
in miscreants' faces he would yawn
and say why do you have to make a fuss
yes, leroy was an amiable cuss

"glad you decided to come round tonight
mrs wilson has had a fright"
but when maisie turned around
mrs wilson's agitation was not to be found

"it's nothing, leroy, don't worry yourself"
mrs wilson took a pie down from the shelf
"i was just being a neurotic old frump
sometimes i get down in the dumps"

incurious leroy, nowise upset
on his favorite stool down his carcass let
and with his customary yawning and stretching
said "maisie, my dear, tonight you look particularly fetching"

"and you too edna, you look as good as this pie"
leroy thoughtfully rubbed his eyes
things were back to normality
and proceeded with customary informality

some of the regulars came and went
a few hard earned dollars they spent
leroy continued to eat his fill
and maisie leaned against the grill

outside it started to rain, then thunder
maisie began to idly wonder
what had upset mrs wilson so
perhaps, she thought, i will never know

she heard a car pull up outside
and then the door flung open wide
leroy did not look back or up
but slowly put down his coffee cup

two customers stood in the door
that maisie had never seen before
they were very neatly dressed
their shirts were ironed and their ties were pressed

but such details seemed hardly germane
as they stood there in the wind and rain
their features maisie had never before seen
their eyes were red and their faces were green

Monday, April 30, 2012

the lady and the cowpoke - a fragment

you ride the range
you man so strange
would you like an apple or an o-range?
don't pick up that cat, it's got the mange

she was a good old kitty cat
and did her duties with eclat
but life has wrestled her to the mat
now there is no more this in her that

i'm glad you dropped by
look at the sky
my oh my
how time does fly

are you sure you don't want some tea?
the gypsy made it especially for me
despite its curious pungency
it really contains no mystery

poor man, you look pale
let me tell you a tale

once there were three princesses
with scarlet, gold and sable tresses
who always wore white satin dresses
and by a witch were given three guesses

as to which kingdoms they would rule
after they had finished school
and which emperors were the biggest fools
in which to sink their claws so cruel

a crimson cloud across the sky
drew the golden princess's eye
and with a sad and mournful sigh
she sat on a rock and began to cry

o sister, cried the scarlet maid
what has made you so afraid?
have all our secrets been betrayed?
and all our rescuers waylaid?


the cowpoke listened to the lady's tale
and smiled and nodded without fail
out in the distance he heard a wail
a leaf flew past the window -- next a gale?

the conversation reached another stage
the parrot looks so unhappy in his cage
let's turn the page
would you like to blow some gage?

song of the damned number 21

i am just a lonely moocher
with no present past or future
and the windows watch me well
on the rainy street to hell

and my brain begins to hum
for a taste of opium
and its incandescent streams
of fervid fleeting dreams

i would sell my ragged soul
for the tenth part of a bowl
there's nowhere that i wouldn't slink
for just one more - one more drink

all you mandarins and missionaries
in your mansions museums and libraries
will you know a brighter final fate
than the stranger dragging past your gate?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

i was the one

i was the one
i was there

i walked the dog
i bounced the ball

i fed the cat
i sang the song

i was there
i saw it all happen

when it was over
they came and asked me

because i was the one
i spun the chamber

i calmed the crowd
i sharpened the stake

i pointed at the bird
and the dog ran down the street

i walked up the stairs
i rang the bell

i sold the encyclopedia
i sat on the front porch

lily mae came out
and offered me a glass of lemonade

i accepted politely
and looked out at the street

the crowd was gone
the dog ran under the light

i drank the lemonade
and gave the glass back to lily mae

who waited patiently
while mrs jones looked out the window

but i was not worthy
even though i was the one

i howled at the moon
i grew the fangs

i defied the mob
i wept in despair

i walked the dog
i bounced the ball

i mixed the mint julep
i begged for forgiveness

all these things happened in a single night
a night that never ended

i was there
i was the one

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

in the dark

lift a glass and raise a cheer
to the stuffy bankers of yesteryear
the snooty dowagers, the butlers stiff
the girls named josie, and the guys named cliff

the cop on the beat, with his face so red,
the bookie with his hat tipped just right on his head
the cabbies, the waiters, the hat check girls
the saucy debutantes tossing their curls

the windbag senator, the girl reporter
commissioner johnson and mayor mcwhorter
newsboys, shoe shine boys, cracking wise
all right - break it up, you guys

the playboy spending grandfather's dough
chester - you should invest in our show
i'll get back to you on that, sweetheart
aw come on - all i need is a start

abbie the tailor - his cobbler pal moe
watch through their windows - the whole city on the go
you call that a suit - you call that a hat?
i can do you much better than that

the sky's the limit - it's looking good
if they could see me in the old neighborhood
standing on the corner with benny the dip
just before he gives me a tip

on the fifth horse in the seventh race
how did i ever come to this place?
trying to get the big story?
trying to cover myself with glory?

don't send me again to the debutantes dance
please, muggsy, won't you give me a chance
this story is just about to get hotter
and i can blow it right out of the water

i know the story is pretty tangled
but hey - i got an angle
the cops are doing it by the book
but i think i see something they overlooked

there's never been a story like this before
with horror you'll gasp, with laughter you'll roar
your mouth will fly open, with delight you will squeal
when it all comes together in the last reel

Sunday, March 4, 2012


no doubt, gerald,
you will say that
the devil made you do it

no, aunt ,
the devil didn't
make me do it

nor did i succumb
to a sudden impulse
or ungovernable passion -

i did not need
the money
and was not playing

a prank
or being initiated
into a secret society

i was not
making a statement
about the modern world

or being
lured to my doom
by an evil, scheming woman

i had no plans
to travel to china
or tahiti

no, i stole your
for one reason only -

because i am
totally, irredeemably
corrupt -


on park avenue and 89th street

the wind
tested the leaves of a london plane tree

Thursday, February 23, 2012

page from a notebook

0. the essence of the thing is the thing itself.

1. sense escapes. the thing is left behind.

2. the former expansion of the essence surrounds the thing.

3. the expanded essence is the word.

4. a collision of expanded essences is an affair.

5. affairs are remembered.

6. what is remembered is an affair.

7. the escaped essence leaves the expansion behind, guarding the thing.

8. the thing growls menacingly at the expansion.

9. the escaped essence flies away, laughing.

10. laughter is an affair whose essence has escaped.

11. a thing whose essence has attempted to escape is a laughing matter.

12. but the essence of the thing, which is the thing itself, is no laughing matter.

13. an affair that is no laughing matter is a tough crowd.

14. the essence of the thing is a tough crowd.

15. a crowd with an escaped essence is tough.

Monday, January 30, 2012

reunion in the rain

when you're lost in the rain in a back road in tennessee
on christmas eve in nineteen forty-three
and you see a light in the trees just up ahead
and you wonder if you really wouldn't be better off dead

and you push through the broken general store screen door
the first thing you see is a leg sticking out on the floor
and pappy looks up with a smile in his whiskers white
and asks if it ain't just been one hell of a night

this young lady here came at me with a knife
it was all i could do to snuff out her miserable life
excuse me sir while i drag her carcass outdoors
as soon as i do my time is entirely yours

you know you were here before in another life
on the run with sheriff john brown's brand new young wife
yes you escaped that time - escaped too well
did you really think they forgot you down in hell?

your eyes adjust to the smoky dismal scene
lit by a single lamp of kerosene
there's a knife on the counter, a bible and a magazine
you take a step closer - and can't hold back a scream

it's her on the cover - so dead yet so alive
you left her in laredo in nineteen and thirty-five
and her face you've carried since in your shrinking soul
like an endlessly burning diamond - or piece of coal

the magazine falls from your hand to the sawdust floor
a sudden wind blows through the opening door
it's over now - you know you're finally beat
you hear pappy say, jeff, i've got someone here i'd like you to meet...