Tuesday, January 29, 2013

94. "The Ballad of Holy Joe"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

*Associate Professor of American Studies, assistant checkers coach, Olney Community College; editor of Whiskey and Baked Beans: The Western Poems of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 1; Olney Community College Press. Made possible in part by a generous grant from Bob’s Bowery Bar on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “No credit cards, no credit, and no whining!”

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

In Bob’s Bowery Bar, Landon “Rooster” Crow and Alice “Sniffy” Smith continued to wait for the return of the “two Bills” (Bill Grey and Bill Leighton) with the promised ounce of marijuana. 

Sniffy continued to jabber, she was going on and on about her days in the WACs again, her glory days in the war, London and Paris and all that crap, when suddenly a shabby unshaven man approached their table.

Oh, no. 

It was Studebaker, Howard Paul Studebaker, the poet. But, unlike Rooster, Studebaker published his poems widely and in fact was considered one of the chief voices of the hearty “Western School” of poets. But Studebaker was also a notorious drunk and a sponge, and he never failed to attempt to borrow money from Rooster every time they met, despite their only rudimentary acquaintance.

“Rooster,” said Studebaker, looming over the table unsteadily, “loan me a fin.”

“No,” said Rooster. “I must have lent you seventy-five dollars over the years and you’ve never paid me back a dime.”

“Just got another poem in the New Yorker, should get a check any day now. Pay ya next week.”

“Absolutely not,” said Rooster.

“Sniffy,” said Studebaker, “loan me a fin.”

“Screw,” said Sniffy. “Can’t you see we’re talking here?”

“Here,” said Studebaker. He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his jacket pocket and tossed it onto the table. “Brand new poem. Wrote it today. Sell it to ya for five bucks.”

Rooster picked up the rather dirty sheet of paper, unfolded it, and read the following, neatly typed, but with a ribbon that needed to be changed.

“The Ballad of Holy Joe”

Holy Joe came into town 

with just a bible and a sixgun.

He preached the word to all and one, 

heathen, Jew, and Christian,

and if the people heeded the word

he let them live, but if they didn’t, well,

he let them have a bullet in the heart

to send them on their way to Hell.

No, Joe didn’t give a good goddam 

for their excuses or rationalizations; 

he just cocked the hammer on that .45,

and pulled the trigger, and then,

ignoring the womenfolks’ lamentations,

went to the saloon and had lunch.

But then one day he came on the gang 

of bandits known as the Wild Bunch.

He preached them the word, 

out in their hide-out in the canyon

called Robbers Roost. And when they laughed

at the word he pulled his famous .45, 

and he was fast, but not fast enough;

fourteen bullets tore into the flesh of Holy Joe,

and just like that he was not alive. 

Whether he went to Heaven or Hell I do not know.

But that was the end, the brutal sudden end, 

of the man they called Holy Joe.

Damn, thought Rooster, why couldn’t he write poems this good? This was the sort of things editors loved, and it would probably get accepted at the New Yorker in a heartbeat. He pulled out his wallet.

“Okay, Howard,” he said, “here’s a fiver.”

Studebaker snapped up the proffered five-dollar bill with his grimy fingers and without another word turned and reeled toward the bar.

Seemingly oblivious to what had just transpired, caught up as usual in the story of her own life, Sniffy resumed her jabbering about her glory days in the ETO.

Rooster folded up the sheet of paper again and put it in his inside jacket pocket. Tomorrow he would retype it with a new ribbon, adding the words, “by Landon Crow”, and then drop it onto the desk of the poetry editor at the New Yorker. 

Maybe now, maybe now they would publish him!

Sniffy jabbered on, oblivious.

(To be continued.)

95. in the war

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

93. "a penny in the pistachio machine"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

inside herman's all night drugstore on seventh avenue, jake the bellhop wanders the aisles followed by lullaby lewinsky

94. "The Ballad of Holy Joe"

thanks to jackie jones for this film clip from her extensive files