Monday, December 30, 2013

joe the jolly bartender

joe the jolly bartender
always had a smile
he was a solid sender
and everybody liked his style

no poor sap was so down and out
and so desperately blue
that joe wouldn't give him a happy shout
from across the avenue

when joe was working nights
at tony's bar and grill
it was always a pleasant sight
to see him pouring those drinks with a will

those innocent and good of heart
and not inclined to scowl and hiss
accepted joe as he played his part
never suspecting something amiss


but those of more skeptical mien
saw something beneath the sheen
of joe's ever present bonhomie
and impervious sanguinity

beyond where the neon sign shone
and the memories of those it shone upon
did anyone really know
where he went when he wasn't being joe?

a suspicious fellow named tate
decided to investigate
tate had dreamed of being a detective
but reality had been more selective

and dealt him an everyday fate
a job unpacking and packing crates
at a well known hardware store
whose sway extended from shore to shore

his motive he never professed
it might have been sheer orneriness
but he got it into his dome
that he would follow joe home

the opportunity came
so without second thought or shame
on a desolate windswept night
he kept the outward bound joe in sight

it proved easy to keep on joe's track
he never seemed to look back
but proceeded at a steady pace
with no particular style or grace

the streets fell away like leaves
and tate began to believe
that perhaps he was wasting his time
and his suspicions were not worth a dime

joe suddenly was not there
tate had no time to stop and stare
but hastened to the spot
where his last glimpse of joe he had caught

a window covered with soap
held a sign saying "never lose hope"
this cryptic exhortation
produced a curious desolation

in the consciousness of poor tate
to its message he could not relate
but of something it seemed to remind him
and then he heard a voice behind him -

no one could remember when
or if they ever saw tate again
he became one of those, i fear
whose fate it is to disappear

the city with its winking face
swallows souls without a trace
they just go and don't come back -
who can keep track?


joe the jolly bartender
always has a smile
he is a solid sender
and everybody likes his style

no poor sap is so down and out
or so desperately blue
that joe won't give him a happy shout
from across the avenue

Monday, December 16, 2013

road poem

spiders weave, and flies escape
clowns wear noses and magicians capes
everything is what it shall be
whales laugh in the deep black sea

between the oceans the highways wait
for wanderers to take the bait
big wheels whispering in the rain
yellow moons over the shadowed plain

call them alice, samantha or flo
dames will come and dames will go
but a pal is a brother, you know
when the road calls, you got to go

down the highway and over the hills
we've got our booze, we've got our pills
past the factories, past the old mills
stoked to the gills, looking for thrills

craving adventure, desperate for love
laughed at by the gods above
angels and devils can play their tricks
we're on a one-way quest for kicks

down darkened highways smoked with dreams
when nothing is really what it seems
because every darkened window and door
hides more secrets than can ever be explored

past silent houses where dogs sleep on chairs
as cats watch over them with gracious airs
cinderella brings stepmother her evening tea
because that is the way it will always be

waves of music suddenly blast
out of the hidden fellaheen past
a shack on the prairie, window alight
solid in the windy night

bus stop annies in the shadows of the docks
clodhopper clems sit beneath the clocks
the bus from des moines is an hour late
but it will not affect their fate

silent pawn shops, all night cafes
hotels that have seen better days
bums clutching bottles in lionish paws
because the night obeys no laws

railroad bulls who once had hearts
now practice moloch's murderous arts
empty boxcars with flown away souls
can't get no more jelly roll

moctezuma and railroad bill
in a souvenir shop outside boot hill
wait for john henry's promised return
because the world will never learn

cabeza de vaca with his thumb stuck out
gives a final desperate shout
as william mckinley driving a tramways bus
leaves him behind in a cloud of dust

the final kick just out of reach
end up on a deserted beach
the ocean is the last motel room
its whispering surf the voice of doom

Sunday, December 15, 2013

pals, part 7: resolution

click here for previous chapter

click here to begin at the beginning

though they did not exactly fly
the days did in fact go by
despite some pathetic half hearted resolutions
to life i had no solutions

and it went on as before
with no crescendo or roar
and try try as i might
against my fate i could not fight

every night jane
walked through my brain
again and again and again
not really driving me insane

i was too defeated for that
so i finally put on my hat
and one night made my way back to ray's
i still remembered the way

nothing seemed to have changed
nothing had to be explained
bertha was behind the bar as usual
as always smiling and schmoozical

henry and jane were there
at me they did not stare
but gave me a cursory nod
as if they did not find my presence odd

henry continued what he had to say
as if never noticing i had been away
and jane listened to him intently
she had also not noticed i was gone evidently

or more likely they just didn't care
so i sat down in my chair
then decided i really needed a drink
so off to the bar i did slink

i could hear them chattering away
as they probably had every day
with complete obliviousness
to my disappearance so unmysterious

o henry couldn't you see
that jane meant everything to me
i thought you were my friend
but you brought my life to an end

i returned with my drink to the table
as i was perfectly able
and though my brain feebly resisted
it was if i had never existed

we walk through life in a dream
too polite to scream
too disciplined and well bred
until the waters close over our head

the end

the missing spoon

"and so, you obstinate creature, you persist in denying your guilt?"

"but i didn't take it, madam, i didn't! i swear i didn't!"

mrs morthwicke did not conceal her contempt. "what say you, mister stanforth?" she asked the lean, somewhat wolf-faced gentleman standing on her left.

"i am afraid it's as plain as a pikestaff, madam," he replied, with his long fingers firmly clutching the gray lapels of his frock coat. "the spoon is missing. no one else had the opportunity to take it. if there is only one possibility, it must be acknowledged, no matter how distasteful. therefore - ". he gave a rueful shrug.

"do you hear that, miss?" mrs morthwicke asked the weeping maid. "mister stanforth solved the case of the jackberry diamonds. he saved the life of the queen from the mad turkish anarchist. am i to take your word, or his?"

"oh, but please, madam, please," the girl cried. she looked around wildly. outside the windows tall trees could be seen waving in the wind, amid a few gusts of snow. "it's so cold out! and i didn't take the spoon, i swear!"

hanson, the butler, was a bit disconcerted by the proceedings, and not from any sympathy for the maid, whom he had regarded as a sniveling, incompetent creature, with no personal charms to offset her inefficiency. it troubled him that the missing spoon had not been found, either in the girl's chambers, on her person - thoroughly searched by mrs allen, the housekeeper - or anywhere else. but in the face of mrs morthwicke's cold fury, and mr stanforth's reputation, he kept his peace.

"please, madam, at least let me stay until morning! listen to the wind outside! how it howls!"

"i am afraid i can not allow you in the house a moment longer. take her away, mrs allen."

mrs allen stepped forward and escorted - virtually dragged - the weeping maid away, followed a few paces back by the solemn chanson.

"an unpleasant business, mister stanforth," mrs morthwicke observed, when they were gone. "i thank you for your assistance."

"unpleasant indeed, " mister stanforth replied. "but from my perspective, a trifle."

"i see no reason to further inconvenience the other guests. shall we join them?"

"if it is your pleasure."

mrs morthwicke rose from her chair, and mister stanforth followed her across the long room. as he did so he passed his hand over his inner vest pocket, ever so gently caressing the outline of the small silver spoon contained in it, and the hint of a smile crossed his lips.

for while it was true that mister stanforth had indeed solved the case of the jackberry diamonds (among many famous cases) and had saved the life of the queen on more than one occasion, it was also true that he enjoyed playing malicious pranks, especially on the more anonymous members of society.

Monday, December 9, 2013

seventh son

there were five customers in the bar.

a sheriff with a big gut hanging over his belt, a floozie with a heart of gold, santa claus (he wasn't really santa claus, he was just dressed up as santa claus to stand beside a black kettle all day and solicit money) and two nuns who had also spent the day asking people for money.

and joe the jolly bartender , who was trying to keep everybody in a good mood, in spite of the winter storm raging outside.

the door opened, letting cold air and a little snow in.

reed came in.

"whiskey, reed?" joe asked him.


joe poured the whiskey.

"you know what i just did?" reed asked him.

"no, reed, what did you just do?"

"i just killed a man."

"do tell?"

"i do tell. i just did an honest day's work." reed looked around the bar. "which is probably more than any of you parasites can say. a man paid me to do a job and i did it."

reed threw the whiskey down his throat and slapped the glass on the bar. "the son of a bitch begged for mercy. i told him to look in the dictionary under 'm'".

"i think you've used that line before, reed," joe told him.

joe looked over at the sheriff. "did you hear that, sheriff, reed says he just killed a man."

the sheriff didn't look up. "in what county?"

"hell, " reed answered, "i don't know. it was down the road. way down the road."

"the county line's just across the street," the sheriff told him.

reed ordered another shot of whiskey.

they all fell silent.

the door opened again letting in more cold air and a little snow and a seventh customer.

well, you can just guess who it was.

Friday, November 22, 2013

jfk poem

jfk was shot
people thought about it a lot
they came to no conclusion
was it all a mass delusion?

a billion narratives sprung
from every brain and tongue
a trillion songs were sung
and have only just begun

in eternity oswald waits
behind the window of fate
in eternity jfk waves
to a trillion spellbound slaves

in eternity jackie's smile
lights up the universe in style
in eternity lbj
straightens his tie and looks away

in his office j edgar hoover
the timeless prime mover
stamps "secret" on a file
whistling all the while

in the shadow ruby lurks
ready for fate's appointed work
and the ghost of marilyn smiling floats
above a windswept swirl of shredded notes

in the dark forest of zapruder
a quadrillion lonely brooders
watch the endless loop of film
which grows brighter and never dims

the magic bullet spins
washing away the sins
of all who came before
and all who stand upon the shore

of the new world brought to birth
crying out for all their worth
my story is the true one
if you don't like it, i've got a new one

by probabilities reckoned
a new narrative every millisecond
a story for every taste
get yours before it's too late

a rainbow of endless stories
in their proliferating glories
for a quintillion happy minions
entitled to their opinions

Friday, November 15, 2013

the last romantic

harold smith, a romantic soul
had a desperate resolute goal
he pined for the lady emmeline
and dreamed to ask, "wilt thou be mine?"

fortune favored harold not
and brushed him aside without a thought
the stars looked down on him unseeing
and cared not for his inner being

his fellow humans likewise cared
not a whit how harold fared
in pursuit of such romance
as might be granted him by chance

the city's drawing rooms are lit
by flashing eyes and sparkling wit
amorous hints and flashing glances
in which all manner of promise dances

but outside on the avenue
are those for whom the wind blows through
sad fantasies and ragged clothes
no love song, but the croak of crows

for such as harold, in the mist
the tale has no redeeming twist
no jolly songs around the hearth
no escape from this abandoned earth

the moon looks down on her rough sibling
no teardrop from her eye is dribbling
her face is smooth, her smile is cold
at every story ever told

his humble plaint was never posed
the book on harold now is closed
owls and bats look down askance
at dreaming love's last graveyard dance

Friday, November 8, 2013


under a blue familiar sky
polly baked a cherry pie
the farmhands fell down in a coma
overcome by its aroma

through the fields the effluvia spread
the hands fell down as if struck dead
and through the corn rows, stern as sin
john the baptist came again

john, cried polly, half in fright
why are you here before midnight?
the end approaches, john replied
i am just along for the ride

dark clouds appeared like flying banners
but polly did not forget her manners
she kept her wits as she was able
and asked john to sit at the table

in a calm collected state
she put some pie upon a plate
and poured a glass of orange juice
for catastrophe was no excuse

john tentatively took a sip
outside in the apocalypse
the sky had turned to darkest night
and demons howled in rare delight

as prophesied in ancient screed
the fearful four on flaming steeds
filled the horizon from side to side
the gates of hell were opened wide

from duty polly did not swerve
she thought a cup of tea might serve
before the world was finally gone
polly put the kettle on

but before the water she could pour
the pale rider came through the door
no time for lengthy lamentations
or exculpatory explanations

"john, it was so nice knowing you"
"polly, i really liked you too"
then death, with a knowing glance so sly
finished off the cherry pie

Friday, October 4, 2013

a pastoral

ah corydon, poor corydon
why beats thy heart so sore?
phyllis is aflame with love
and walks along the shore

and yet she never looks thy way
not even when the breeze
from distant lands and distant skies
should give her gazing ease

but looks away, away, away
awaiting her true knight
with nary glance for her poor slave
ne'en a shadow in her sight

thou piteous piteous wight
lost neath heaven's blue eye
thy chance of love is slight
what canst thou do but ply

thy pipe through meadows green
thy song through forests dark
thy love unheard unseen
to which only phantoms hark

Sunday, September 15, 2013

the peaceful village, part 2

part two of two

click here for part 1

the monster curled his sneering lip
and slouched against his silver spaceship
and considered the little town
and whether to swallow it whole down

he had traveled through all time and space
ravaging worlds with an ill grace
sometimes he got bored
and wondered if he should cut the cord

which bound his fragile existence
to a universe which made no sense
and then on the radar of his ship
another world would make a blip

and he would think, just one more
and land on its blue or grassy shore
terrorize the population
and leave behind him desolation

he had once been wild and free
but now he suffered from ennui
and could hardly summon the energy
to level a village or uproot a tree

and the creatures he crunched between his jaws
sometimes almost gave him pause
the neurons in his brain grew loose
and he wondered, what's the use

but his fragile ruminations
were cut short by the sensation
of a living creature approaching
on his radius encroaching

it was none other than johnny smith
who had taken it upon himself forthwith
to challenge this monster in his own domain
and did it not for fame or gain

but because it was the thing to do
his resolve was firm and his heart was true
though such considerations
on the monster's brain made no indentations

he only detected a pest
and you can just guess the rest -
or can you? can you say
with total assurance who carried the day?

is there a final cosmic text
to describe what happened next?
or only endless wind and rain
obscuring what happens again and again

stories unfold and refold
are over and over again told
all hear what they wish to hear
as into the fog they peer

in endless universes
you can supply your own verses
johnny might get eaten
or the monster might get beaten

or johnny and the monster become good friends
and head off to some other earth's ends
or both be hit by lightning
as they are heroically fighting

in endless possibility
there is a dark city
where the monster slices the pie
and johnny is a private eye

in the window there is a dame
who plays her own game
playing johnny and the monster for chumps
as they endlessly take their lumps

on a street with no beginning
where all the suckers are winning
and the wise men bide their time
until the final flower of crime

when the final case is cracked
the last lion and tiger tracked
as the saints and angels slumber
for a good time call this number

the peaceful village, part 1

part one of two

once there was a peaceful village
with no murder, rape or pillage
everyone did honest labor
and was friendly to their neighbor

every door was opened wide
so that folks could come inside
all elders were respected
no crime was ever detected

they had no silver, jewels or gold
but through the valley a river rolled
bringing water to boundless crops
that folks could eat until they dropped

mom and dad got up at dawn
and polly put the kettle on
all day long they did their chores
so that they were never bored

grandmothers were round and wise
and made excellent blueberry pies
grandpa though his hair was grayed
enjoyed his pipe beneath the shade

little boys ran and spread the news
little girls minded their p's and q's
it was the way that it should be
for all of eternity

and then one day a shadow fell
across the world they knew so well
thunder rolled across the land
the distant horizon was fearfully scanned

nightmares visited young and old
strange tales around the fire were told
people kept their doors shut tight
and could hardly sleep at night

outside the village a monster lurked
skulking in the fog and murk
waiting for the silent hour
the unwary traveler to devour

no longer could the children play
even in the light of day
birds abandoned the cloudy skies
the villagers scanned with frightened eyes

laughter was replaced with fear
throughout the long and dreary year
the leafless trees felt winters chills
and the monster laughed behind the hills

things might have gone along this way
and the village perished, who can say?
but fate would not be so forlorn
because a hero had been born

johnny smith, a faceless sort
showed little sign, by all reports
of standing out among the crowd
not too quiet, not too loud

even johnny's mom and dad
little suspected that johnny had
the stuff of heroes in his being
none indeed were so farseeing

the night was dark, and wet and drear
the little household huddled in fear
mom and dad and johnny and sis
as the rain against the windows hissed

dad whittled at his favorite stick
you could hear mom's heartbeat tick
sis stared into space and wiggled her toes
then johnny from the table rose

his algebra homework he put down
and looked around with a puzzled frown
he listened to the rain and scratched his head
i think i'll go for a walk, he said

sis looked puzzled, dad looked sad
mom cried, johnny, are you mad
this is something you must not do
outside, certain death awaits you

aw gee ma, don't talk like that
said johnny, putting on his hat
my clouded brain needs a fresh air shock
i will just walk around the block

so without saying anything more
johnny walked over and opened the door
and disappeared into the wind and rain
would he ever be seen again?

part 2

Sunday, September 8, 2013

pals, part 6: devastation and retreat

click here for previous chapter

click here to begin at the beginning

"an early night, ben?"
jane casually enquired, and then
although it may have been my imagination
i thought i saw a deputation

of angels of compassion
(but in no emphatic fashion)
flit across her pale face
but they quickly passed without a trace

i was at a crossroads
my brain staggered under heavy loads
and its barely connected parts
after a few fits and starts

stopped functioning altogether
and i didn't know whether
i was dreaming or awake
or if the world was real or fake

how much time went by?
i will not even try
to approximately calculate
but it probably determined my fate

jane's eyes began to glaze
her brows she slightly raised
there was nothing left to say
i knew i had better be on my way

my brain contracted with cosmic fear
i mumbled a goodbye she probably couldn't even hear
and staggered away with a flea in my ear
(to use an old fashioned expression so drear)

the night was dark - what else would it be?
but somehow i was able to see
my way home to mrs brown's front door
as i had done so many times before

it was late - very late
no one wondered at my fate
or questioned my steps on the stairs
as they had their own cares

mrs brown slept the sleep of the good
and the other boarders understood
that everyone's world was their own
in which they could silently squirm and moan

replays danced and twisted in my head
i tried to remember all that was said
in the fateful hour just flashed
in which all my dreams had crashed

one thought especially thundered
through my brain as i wondered
what henry and jane were saying
about my premature straying

if i had stayed one minute more
my head would not be in this uproar
now i could picture henry's smirk
because i had been such a jerk

beer and pretzels they 'd be quaffing
as at me they were laughing
and then another terrible thought
went through me like a shot

i could picture their lips moving
in conversation most improving
i could hear their voices rise and fall
as they never mentioned me at all

not even in mockery or scorn
i might as well never have been born
the little man who was not there
vanished into thinnest air

i felt a strange reassurance
at contemplating this possible occurrence
and with this thought so deep
i finally drifted off to sleep

but not without a final musing
on the dream i was losing
but the dream was - what?
maybe it was no dream - but

images of henry and jane
fell like raindrops in my brain
henry turned into a yellow dog
and jane to a doorway in the fog

to be continued

Monday, August 5, 2013


dante wrote about heaven and hell
things he presumed to know very well
in his smooth and elegant rhymes
he chronicled all things and all times

he knew the living and the dead
all were lined up in his head
saints and sinners, early and late
he assigned them each a fate

and when the final judgment sounds
and st peter makes his last go round
and the check is cashed for the human race
no smile will flit across dante's face

as he stands beneath old eden's tree
unfazed by any mystery -
all very edifying, no doubt
but what did he really think about?

i bet dante had some folks back home
and a little gal he could call his own
and a faithful dog who trotted by his side
and a favorite chair by the fireside

a home cooked meal and a hearty brew
a good cigar would be welcome too
when curfew tolled at the end of day
heaven and hell would be far away

Monday, July 1, 2013

ace of night, part 5: carla

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

carla stood under the awning in front of the hotel belmore and watched the cab disappear down the dark street.

she shook the rain off her coat and her beret as best she could and went inside.

the girl at the front desk was reading a romance comic and blowing bubblegum and hardly glanced at her when she crossed the lobby and headed for the elevator.

the lobby was empty. the belmore was a women only hotel - no men past the front door - and unlike some other similar establishments that carla had stayed in, it was very quiet, the way she liked it, with no nosy chattering females filling the hallways and lobby.

the elevator was empty too, and she did not see anybody in the corridors leading to her room. was she the only person in the place?

she heard voices - not too loud - in one of the rooms. she felt reassured for some reason.

when she got to her room she took her time getting her wet clothes off, drying herself off, and putting a bathrobe on. there was a small lamp on the table beside the bed and she turned it on, leaving the overhead light off.

she had plenty of time - almost four hours before she had to go out again. she would allow herself one cigarette and then have a nap. she had a perfect internal clock and could always wake up when she wanted.

she did not have to look outside to see if it was still raining. she could hear it, and the wind, louder than ever. she hoped it would stop or at least let up before she went out again, but what could you do? she never worried about things she could not control.

as she blew smoke rings toward the ceiling she thought about the guy in the cab, jeff. what a jerk! but maybe she should have been nicer to him, strung him along a little, set him up to maybe use him down the line. she might need some help, someone to watch her back. even an oaf like that.

but she had been feeling lousy, in no mood to turn on the charm, and he had caught her off guard. thinking about it, she realized he had reminded her of larry, even though he didn't look anything like him, with that same smirky bulldog way.

did bulldogs smirk? whatever. maybe he would pop up again. like he had been so happy to point out, he was just across the street. maybe she would sound him out, see if she could use him. but she didn't want him around tonight, that was for sure.

a sudden thought popped into her mind. what if he hung around outside tonight, saw her go out again? then she laughed at herself. at three in the morning? and maybe in this rain? he would have to be the most puppy dog guy in the world to do something like that, and that wasn't this guy, whatever else he was.

no, that was the least of her worries.

she put the cigarette out in the ashtray beside the lamp, and turned the lamp off. it was nap time. carla could often - not always, but often - dream what she wanted to dream about. tonight especially she wanted to dream about being back on the beach in portugal or morocco with larry, only this time she would get the better of him, instead of the other way around.

but as she started to fall asleep she saw the guy in the cab instead, that she was so sure she could handle.

and then she remembered how crazy larry had been, and how jealous, and how sure she had been that she had him all set up for the double cross -

but he had double crossed her instead -

he had got her good.

to be continued

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

the bargain

night was falling.

a train whistled in the distance.

it was time.

twenty years.

he had stayed in the shack for twenty years, as instructed.

and now it was time.

he walked out of the shack.

he closed the door behind him. he did not lock it, as he had no key.

the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

he started walking down the hill.

he had kept his part of the bargain. would they keep theirs?

even if they meant to, a lot could go wrong in twenty years.

he came to the old tree, which had marked the limit of his walks during his time in the cabin.

he passed the tree. he did not look back.

another two miles, and he should come to a big rock, and a curb and a dip in the road.

a car or truck should be waiting.

he made good time. the night was clear. the path was not too narrow.

his mind was a blank. he noticed the trees, the rocks, and the leaves and pine needles on the path.

it wasn't too cool or too warm. he took his jacket off and slung it over his shoulder.

suddenly, he was there.

and the vehicle was there. a station wagon, looking pretty much like the ones he would have seen twenty years ago.

a woman was leaning against it. in the darkness he could not tell her age or if she was good looking.

she didn't speak, but waited as he approached.

"you from jenkins?" he asked.

"of course." she had a husky, smoker's voice. "you got anything in that jacket?"


"the jacket. let us see the jacket."

us? he took the jacket off his shoulder and fanned it.

"throw it over here."

as he tossed her the jacket the rear door of the station wagon opened and another, bigger woman got out.

the big woman motioned for him to lift his arms, and she patted him down.

"i guess you can't be too careful."

they ignored this. "get in the front," the first woman told him. she handed the jacket back to him.

he relaxed. everything was going to be all right. why would they go to all this trouble, leave him up there for twenty years if they were not going to keep their end of the bargain?

he got in. the seat was pushed back, there was plenty of room. the first woman got in the driver's seat. there was a purse between the seats and she took her time getting a cigarette out of it and lighting it. the other woman got back in the back seat, behind him.

"want a drink?" the first woman asked.

"uh - i wouldn't object to a little one."

"there's a half pint in the glove compartment. help yourself."

sure enough, there was a half pint of dewar's in the glove compartment, unopened.

"um - you got a cup or something. i wouldn't want to -"

"just drink it. it's all yours. it's a present from jenkins."

"we're not whiskey drinkers anyway," said the woman in back. it was the first time she had spoken. "we're more beer drinkers. schlitz. we like our schlitz."

he broke the seal and opened the bottle and took a sip. as soon as the liquor passed his throat he knew something was wrong.

he heard the engine start up. it was the last thing he heard.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

the flower

by pamba*

translated from the akkadian by horace p sternwall

there is a flower
that will only open
when time stops

o traveler do not wait
upon the sun
but hasten from this place

this wall of the dreams of kings
this palace of beggars
this council house of skulls

did you dream of stopping time
it has already devoured you
as the sand devours the sea

as tilgath devoured babylon
as nabopolassar devoured assyria
as alexander devoured egypt

as the owl devours the mouse
o traveler do not wait
but hasten from this place

that those who laugh
at the wanderings of men
may send you a drop of rain

a tear from the eye
of the beast
that devours you

* pamba (c 1 ad - 50 ad) was one of the last poets to write in akkadian. nothing is known of him (her?)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

the aesthete

i awoke quite weak and weary
from a dream of aesthetic theory
heard cats fighting in the street
and the windows rattle with wind and sleet

the leering, winking night
was a symphony of fright
the radiators cold as death
the air filled with my frozen breath

i put on my shoes and socks
took a dollar from my cigar box
though my debts i could not tally
from my garret did i sally

to the street so dark and drear
with no companion but my fear
and the lights of kentucky fried chicken
toward which my steps did quicken

and found the street so dark and fearsome
oh if only i could hear some
of the voices from the past
to wash away my guilt at last

some fragments of long ago
which with the wind would blow
my all-encompassing despair
through my wet and whispering air

and leave me just a shell
on the dark doorstep of hell
happily devouring my share
of the colonel's crispy golden fare

a basket of legs and wings
to my journey finally brings
the glow of stilled and final time
i never found in art or crime

Saturday, April 13, 2013

on the corner

i stood on the corner all my life
and never got lost
and everything in the drugstore
i knew what it cost

the pizza parlor
behind my back
the echoes
from the railroad track

the endless movies
in my head
the roads down which
they never led

the distant highway
with its phantom trucks
the silver rolls royces
and the big bucks

everybody's dreams
or only mine?
the flicker of a match
or endless time?

i want to jump in the river of darkness
and wash my life away
let that shiny moon rise over my grave
and let them never find me the next day

Monday, April 8, 2013

traveling man

rome new york

poor boy, far from home
thumb out between troy and rome
pa went bust and sold the farm
the world is full of woe and harm

muncie indiana

women in muncie have sad eyes
wear blue dresses and make pies
they leave them on the windowsill
for passing boes to eat their fill

joliet illinois

the girls all laugh at the poor boys
standing on the corner in joliet illinois

paris tennessee

the sheriff in paris tennessee
doesn't care for you or me
he sits in front of the courthouse wall
and hardly ever moves at all

waycross georgia

folks drink doctor pepper and moxie
and go to movies at the roxie
everywhere there's lots of dust
they stomp and breathe it, because they must

laramie wyoming

tom thought adelaide was sweet
they went to the diner across the street
they had coffee and pie and such
she looked out the window and didn't say much

sheridan wyoming

there was this hippie got on the bus
he didn't look like one of us
had wraparound shades and a long red beard
he was a cannibal, we feared

elko nevada

hank lies in bed in the dark motel
outside the world is hot as hell
pearl stands in the doorway, if you please
desperately waiting for a breeze

death valley

the vulture in the endless sky
smoothly sailing, high and dry
looks down upon the rattlesnakes
and scorpions in the long dead lakes

end of the road

seeing the sun set in the west
that was the thing i liked the best
and when we reached the pacific coast
that was the thing i liked the most

the road goes on

in greyhound stations a strange light
falls across the benches at night

Thursday, April 4, 2013

a walk on the beach

a tiresome windbag and a crashing bore
walked along a pebbled shore
the windbag spoke of the meaning of life
the bore of his unloving wife

a seagull watched as they grew near
and saw the windbag brush a tear
from his pale and fluttering eye
beneath the gray and cloudswept sky

the seagull had no notion
of the cause of the windbag's emotion
but scanned the wide and desolate beach
for edibles within his reach

alas, alas, the windbag cried
as he scanned the detritus of the tide
my life its course has near run through
but i have not received my due

o why is humanity imbued
with inexplicable ingratitude
for all that i have striven
why is no acknowledgement given?

the bore now caught the seagull's eye
like his, it was exceeding dry
and seemed to wander as the windbag
on his one note continued to drag

the horizon showed no mighty ships
but a bag of wise potato chips
caught the seagull's pertinent gaze
the wind had blown the bag a ways

the unbroken bag contained a feast
to delight a human, bird or beast
a potent mix of salt and grease
to fuel a creature's inner peace

the windbag with the bore kept pace
as raindrops began to hit their faces
the wind picked up, the tide grew higher
the windbag's voice did not expire

they continued down the beach's curve
but from their natures did not swerve
each one talked, but nothing said
until the sinking sun turned red

the night grew dark, and damp, and cold
across the waves their voices rolled
the windbag swore, the bore insisted
the seagull forgot that they existed

Saturday, March 16, 2013

pals, part 5: no escape

click here for previous chapter

click here to begin at the beginning

in the pitiless whirlwind of the everyday
where we never know what to say
and time shreds our dreams
and throws them in the universe's disappearing streams

sometimes a moment comes
when we hear the sound of pounding drums
cutting through the constant buzz
like a message that ever was

as henry resumed his spiel
explaining what was and was not real
my eyes apparently became so glazed
that even henry was fazed

he stared at me and then
said, " i hope i'm not boring you, ben"
i tried to laugh it off
and with a mendacious cough

i said, "of course not, henry
your conversation always fascinates me"
he gazed at me in silent contemplation
and then resumed his dissertation

on the secret causes of world war one
or maybe the exact moment the universe had begun
in his even voice, as always before
nothing less, but maybe something more

my mind and eyes kept wandering to the door
as they had never done before
henry, who was actually somewhat perspicacious
eyed me in a manner not quite gracious

suddenly he stopped
his face took on the look of a good cop
"i am boring you," he exclaimed.
"no doubt i have only myself to blame"

although i did not get down on my knees
i was full of apologies
"i am sorry, henry," i mumbled
on my secret had he stumbled?

but what was my great secret?
what did i have cause to regret?
my feelings were no nebulous
even i would be incredulous

if i tried to in words to explain
what i felt about jane
who still had not come through the door
as i glanced at it once more

now henry, following my glance
looked at me askance
"expecting a visitor?"
his eyes into me did bore

"ah, just as i thought all along
the same old sorry song
you are certainly not the first
it happens to the best and the worst -"

"please," i heard myself say
"i have had a long day
and your wisdom, though rigorously distilled
is still a bitter pill

i think i need some fresh air"
and under henry's incredulous stare
i slowly rose from my chair
looked at the door - still no jane there

and departed the premises of ray's
oh how many nights and days
had passed, since once immured
in my seat, i had so stirred

before closing time was announced
in my step there was no bounce
as i stepped out into the night
had my old life taken flight?

or was this only a blip
in the steady downward course of life's trip
from nothingness to nowhere
into the darkness i did stare

my feet i began to move
as i felt it did behoove
me to leave ray's behind
was i losing my mind?

nobody called my name
the street looked just the same
the yawning emptiness of the night
somehow felt just right

a few hours alone in my room
would not be a sentence of doom
and so without remorse
i set forth on my new old course

my paychecks i would save
to booze i would no longer be enslaved
and so i had made up my mind
but fate could not be so kind

and to my doom i was lured
for a voice behind me i heard
my head i could not restrain
from turning - and there was jane

part 6

Monday, March 4, 2013

pals, part 4: reenter henry

click here for previous chapter

click here to begin at the beginning

we walk through this world alone
with secret dreams and silent moans
in impenetrable dark
with only an occasional spark

what was jane to me
but the same old mystery
that envelops the trillion separate earths
of a trillion separate births

the whimperings and curses
of a trillion universes
abandoned and forlorn
never asking to be born

what had jane seen that night
that had caused her to take flight
was it any business of mine?
a casual observer might well opine

here i must confess
i am beginning to digress
i return to my narrative line
next night i was right on time

at the end of another day
in "my" seat at rays cafe
jane was not there, to my chagrin
and then - henry walked in

after greetings all around
the bar he found
and lovingly caressing his drink
into "his" chair he did sink

my world had been turned upside down
but henry didn't laugh or frown
in fact he hardly glanced at me
but looked around quite placidly

at the assembled denizens of rays
who did not seem to be changing their ways
they were staring at their suds
as if eternity was in their blood

nothing seemed worth a mention
then henry turned his attention
to me - his features rearranged
and he said "you've changed"

i had the wherewithal to say
"everything changes every day"
he replied quick as a cat
"you don't get off as easy as that -

i think you will agree
that nothing gets past me"
"no," i replied, slightly nettled
"i didn't know such a thing had been settled."

henrys eyes grew slightly wide
and he casually replied
"no reason to get testy, old boy
i didn't mean to annoy

it has been a while since we met
and i must confess i forget
where we ended our last converse -
did we leave the world better or worse?"

a fool could plainly see
that henry was trying to placate me
in his usual easy way
so why did i hear myself say -

"i don't know how i lasted so long
without your dance and song
your infinite knowledge of all events
your deep wisdom and profound sense

of all that has been and will be "
henry just stared at me
as if i had grown a second head
and then he said -

"my, aren't we in a lather
i thought you enjoyed my blather
or if not actively enjoyed
at least were never annoyed -"

henry's eyes narrowed and then
he opened them wide again -
"ah" he exclaimed with a trace of glee
"i think i begin to see -

you are showing all the signs
most of them not benign
of a guy who has had his brain
hammered by a dame

yes, i see it now only too well
one of them has cast her spell
maybe on purpose, maybe not
i never would have thought -"

i felt i'd been punched in the gut
"never would have thought what?"
"oh, i didn't mean to upset you"
henry took a sip of his brew

"we can talk about politics instead"
a whirlwind roared in my head
henry nodded and winked
i didn't know what to think

and where was jane tonight?
nothing seemed right
i really didn't know what to say
about this game i didn't know how to play

part 5: no escape

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ace of night, part 4: the wind and the rain

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

there were no messages for me when i got inside the hotel.

not that i was expecting any, but i always check.

just like i always look both ways and behind me when i cross the street.

you got to gamble, but you can't be too careful.

i walked up the three flights of stairs to my room.

i don't like elevators.

did i ever tell you what happened to me in an elevator in budapest in 1944? but that is another story.

i walked down the corridors.

one thing about the place, it was quiet.

i stood outside the door of the hotel room.

how many doors outside how many rooms in how many hotels in how many cities in how many continents had i stood like this -

my sixth sense told me everything was all right.

i still wished i had a gun. i needed a lot of things - that was high on the list.

i put the key in the door and opened it and went in.

i switched on the light. nothing. just like i expected. my powers of prediction were still working pretty good. good enough, anyway.

i needed some sleep but i knew i wasn't going to get any.

i had gotten pretty wet, so i got my suitcase out and changed my clothes.

i could hear the wind and rain outside.

i couldn't stop thinking about the dame in the cab - what did she call herself?

miss lost lamb.

i went and looked out the window,

it was raining harder than ever.

i hoped miss lost lamb hadn't gotten too wet getting out of the cab.

she was right across the street.

so close, so close.

i could say, she might as well be a million miles away.

but i know better.

fate has a way of stepping in.

especially if you know how to handle it.

i got a cigarette out of my pack and started to light it with my lighter.

then i remembered the matchbook.

davenport 7 - 5297.

i went over and sat on the bed and picked up the phone.

the line was dead.

not too surprising, in a dump like this.

but now i was curious.

and i wasn't going to sleep anyway.

i didn't feel like going back out in the rain.

i figured i'd go down to the front desk, use the phone down there.

yeah, that is what i'd do.

davenport 7 -5297

it had a certain ring to it.

part 5: carla

Monday, February 18, 2013

first poem

columbus sailed the ocean blue
napoleon met his waterloo
nero fiddled while rome burned
joan of arc was roasted to a turn

george washington cut down the cherry tree
patrick henry wanted to be free
abraham lincoln freed the slaves
blackbeard rests in a watery grave

cleopatra was fond of snakes
moses was found in the canebrake
isaac newton got hit by an apple
jacob with the angel all night did grapple

delilah cut poor samsons hair
solomon sat in a golden chair
benedict arnold was a traitor foul
old ben franklin was wise as an owl

confucius had a lot to say
buddha sat in the shade all day
friar tuck and robin hood
robbed the bad to feed the good

methusaleh lived to be very old
jesse james was an outlaw bold
bob ford shot jesse in the back
all pride and manhood he did lack

florence nightingale tended the sick
the tower of babel was made of brick
noah built an ark in the rain
goliath by little david was slain

all these things i learned in school
i am a barely tolerable fool
always keep your powder dry
and wait until you see the whites of their eyes

Thursday, February 14, 2013


you look so fine, baby, coming down the stairs
with your eccentric millionaires
a mellon and a dupont on each arm
how could you ever come to harm?

down in the shadows, behind the band
that's me with a tray in my hand
but you need not be impressed
i'm serving the chauffeurs, not the guests

i know your new friends would never believe
that you could ever plot to deceive
with your baby eyes and perfect smile
but i have walked with you many a mile

on feet of dreams down a highway of lies
under burning, black and rainy skies
but why speak in symbols, why talk in riddles
your hell is real and i'm in the middle

remember the gray nevada sand
when we walked into vegas hand in hand
the bus blasted by with its black exhaust
but we never stopped to count the cost

vegas - the american vampire night
lit by money's undying light
24 hours of non-stop cancer
the tunnel of love for two cons without an answer

third time unlucky, you always said
the third mark we rolled turned up righteously dead
you took one look at the sucker's i d
your eyes got wide and you said to me

this guy's the boss of the whole east coast
but, baby, i still love you the most
no need to be scared of this dead mother
as long as we are true to each other

and remember the cafe in laramie
when i became you, and you became me
and the world was buried in cold and snow
it was not so very long ago

now that i think of it - yes, whenever
i'd wake up from a dream of love forever
your eyes were always clear and bright
checking out everything, everything in sight

when we held up the liquor store in ukiah
i thought i heard the heavenly choir
but it was the deputy's turn to die
you saved me then - now i wonder why

and what would mrs purvington-smith
say if she knew who you hung out with
and the things you did and the things you knew
and the jokers and johns you conned - the whole crew

and mr and mrs burford jones
would shiver in their upholstered bones
and cry for their mamas if you ever admitted
to all the murders you've committed

remember the time on 34th street
when you got blisters on both feet
we went into larry's sandwich shop
the rain began falling, drop by drop

and there was that pink cigar smoking god
callahan from the vice squad
but he just nodded and stirred his tea
stirred his tea, so wearily

larry's was kind of declasse
the american sub was his forte
you liked yours so much you ordered two more
the rain began to really pour

a guy at the counter with a purple face
told a sad story about the seventh race
the hustlers and losers and shoppers outside
went by in a single watery tide

at times like that it seemed to me
they were all slaves, and only i was free
the world wasn't old, the world wasn't new
the world wasn't anything, but i had you

Saturday, January 26, 2013

swinging doors (short version)

nobody ever walked
through those swinging doors
not even billy the kid
in his sunday best

or jack the ripper
in his carpet slippers
or jesse james
with his brain in flames

who wouldn't play
abe lincoln's games
or general grant
with his railroad track

who shot poor jesse
in the back
or bob ford
with his flaming sword

riding to chicago
in the dining car
with a glass of port
and a cuban cigar

or robert e lee
with his cup of tea
who paid the bill
for poor quantrill

or queen victoria
with her daffodil
asking andrew carnegie
to please sit still

or cora peal
in her negligee
teaching edward vii
the truth and the way

or nellie bly
with her apple pie
or j p morgan
with his cloudless sky

or john d rockefeller
with his shiny dime
making sure the trains
always ran on time

look out the window
of the smoking car
no mongol hordes
ever rode so far

as wyatt earp
in his checkered vest
as he blew a hole
in billy's chest

Sunday, January 20, 2013

tomorrow is always midnight

webs of passion
never go out of fashion

webs of betrayal
never grow stale

webs of fear
will always be here

and a web of suspense
never relents

a deadly dame
always wins the game

and a chump who is spurned
never learns

a guy named bob
has to take on one last job

as a boss named mister cass
pours some whiskey in his glass

and his flunky, albany red
laughs at whatever he said

bob is in for it now
he had no chance anyhow

his dreams of being a regular guy
are headed for the sweet bye and bye

he heads back to his lonely room
under a cloud of doom

hardly knowing what to think
he stops in for a drink

he knows it's getting late
he better keep his head on straight

he will have just one
and when it is done

why not two?
what's a guy supposed to do

when it's too late
and he's being swallowed by fate

he is down to his last dime
and it's closing time

just as well
because he has to answer the bell

tomorrow morning at nine
rise and shine

meet two guys named slim and pete
down on desolation street

they have what he will need
to do the deed

suddenly everything's a blur
and he thinks - of her

the cause of all his woe and pain
will he ever see her again?

just make it out the door
don't think about her any more

too bad, bob, too bad
the only chance you ever had

go home and get some sleep
you are in too deep

nothing left but to take a stand
and play the hand

Sunday, January 13, 2013

a ballad

in the merry month of may
my true love broke my heart
i vowed eternal vengeance
but knew not where to start

i went to see the gypsy
her counsel for to seek
but when she heard my tale of woe
even the gypsy could not speak

i went to see the serpent
in her cage inside the zoo
and she commiserated
but could not tell me what to do

i went to see the wind and waves
that beat upon the shore
and they sighed but had no solace
for the sorrow that i bore

in an alley by the docks
i found a pawnshop dimly lit
and i bought a .357
to my hand a perfect fit

in the fog i flagged a passing cab
and directed it uptown
as i chatted with the driver
my face it bore no frown

i felt a peace within me
as the cab approached the gate
of the brightly lit up mansion
where my love would meet her fate

i looked up at her window
as the rain beat on my face
and all the hate within me
disappeared without a trace

a guard approached and asked me
what business i had there
i turned away without reply
indifferent to his stare

the house, the lights, the wind, the rain
like an iridescent dream
all vanished in an instant
as if they had never been

i walked along a river bank
and heard the tolling of a bell
never to think of her again
until we meet in hell