Monday, April 8, 2013

104. "the poet"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by roy dismas and eddie el greco

*Assistant Professor of Popular Literature, Associate Skee-ball Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Hooray for the Damned! 47 Previously Uncollected Stories with Unhappy Endings by Horace P. Sternwall, with an Afterword by Oscar Levant; Olney Community College Press.

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

Landon “Rooster” Crow and Alice “Sniffy” Smith, failed hipsters, still sat at the same table in Bob’s Bowery Bar at which they had been sitting for over an hour now, waiting. 


Waiting for the “two Bills”, Bill Grey and Bill Leighton, to return with a “lid” of marijuana, which Rooster and Sniffy hoped to sell at an enormous profit to two well-dressed idiots they had met in the musty stairwell of the Hotel St Crispian.

Sniffy as usual was oblivious to the passing of time, soaring on the high attained from her seemingly endless supply of Benzedrine inhalers, jabbering on and on, about herself, about her life. 

To hear Sniffy tell it, she had had the most interesting life of anyone in the history of humanity.


She really was profoundly boring, thought Rooster, and he didn’t know why he loved her, but he did, even though she had never, in all of the nearly five years that they had known each other, shown him the slightest sign of physical affection, and precious little of any other kind of affection.

“Y’know, Sniffy,” said Rooster, “I’m starting to think ‘the two Bills' may not be coming back.”

“What do you mean, interrupting me in the middle of a sentence?”

“Oh, sorry, please go on.”

“Okay, so, as I was saying —”


Sniffy stopped speaking, for once, and both she and Rooster turned to look at the man who had just spoken.

“Absolute shite.”

It was the Irish poet Seamas McSeamas, standing there next to their table with his hands on his hips and a cigarette in his mouth. 

“You heard me,” he said. “Absolute shite. Even standin’ over there at the bar amongst a crowd of drunken loudmouths and over the plaintive tones of the lovely Billie Holiday herself wailin’ the blues on the jukebox I could still hear your grating voice across the barroom, woman, talking shite nonstop.”

“Hey, now, buddy,” said Landon. “It’s a free country.”

“That’s right, pal,” said Sniffy. “I have the same right to talk shit — or shite as a bog-trotting peasant like yourself would put it — as anybody. And if you don’t like it you can find some other dive to cadge your drinks in, or you can stuff your ears up with the filthy lint in your pockets, it’s all the same to me.”

“Ah, yer a woman wit’ spirit, I can see that,” said McSeamas.

“Fuck you, you Mick oaf, and fuck off before I smash this beer mug in your face and make you uglier than you already are if that’s possible.”

“Faith, I think I’m fallin’ in love,” said Seamas.

“Okay,” said Sniffy, “I’d hate to waste good beer in the act of breaking the jaw of an importunate boob, so let me just finish this off first.”

And she raised her almost-full mug and began to drink, deeply.

“Begorrah, I think she really intends to wallop me,” said Seamas.

“Yes, I think she does,” said Rooster. “You should go back to the bar, Seamas.”

“But I heard yez were payin’ for pomes. Studebaker over there said yez gave him a fiver for a pome he’d written.”

“Well,” said Rooster, “I did, uh, give him a loan of five dollars —”

“He said ya bought a pome off him for a five-spot.”

“Well, all right, what if I did?” said Rooster.

“Ah, that was good,” said Sniffy, lowering her beer mug and licking her lips. “And now I’m going to rearrange your face for you, Seamas.”

“Now hold on, little missy,” said Seamas.

“And why should I?” said Sniffy.

“Because I too have a pome I will sell yez for a fin.”

“I wouldn’t buy a poem off you for a counterfeit subway token,” said Sniffy.

“This pome’s a good ‘un,” said Seamas. “One of me best.”

“That’s not saying much,” said Sniffy.

“Rooster’s bosses at the New Yorker think a little differently,” said Seamas. And it was true, thought Rooster. McSeamas had a poem in the magazine at least once a month these days, each one of them probably bringing the Irishman as much dough as Rooster made for a whole week of mind-numbingly tedious fact-checking.

Seamas brought a wrinkled paper cocktail napkin out of his pocket and unfolded it. 

“I got it all wrote down on this napkin,” he said. “Finest effin’ pome I ever wrote, and it’s yours for a mere five dollars.”

“Take that cocktail napkin,” said Sniffy, “roll it up in a wad and go to the men’s room and shove it up your —”

“Now hold on, Sniffy,” said Rooster, burning with ambition. “The least we can do is —”

“I’ll read it to yez,” said Seamas. “But first how about a wee shot of whiskey and a short Rheingold just to wet me whistle.”

“No way,” said Sniffy.

“Okay, be like that,” said Seamas. “I’ll read it with a parched throat then. It’s a little ballad I calls ‘A Poet’, and it goes something like this.”

He cleared his throat, held up the piece of paper, and began to read.

A poet came down from Burnside,
his pockets filled with trash,
but to him these pieces of paper
were as good as any man’s cash.

He wandered into Main Street
and stopped in the middle of the way,
in between Big Joe’s Saloon 
and Rosemarie’s Soul Food Café.

“My pockets are filled with paper,” he cried,
“on which are written such beautiful things
that they will exalt the most debasèd soul
and to the crippled give wings!

“These poems I offer to you, dear friends,
and all I ask in return
is free beer and whiskey and tasty food,
and perhaps a reefer to burn;

“I also ask that you not deny me
the favors young girls might bestow
upon a handsome troubadour
underneath a shady willow.”

But alas his words fell on ears
indisposed to poetic beauty,
and a group of ruffians
began to beat him most stoutly,

with fists and beer- and soda-bottles
until he fell into a pool of his own blood;
they kicked him with their boots,
and then dragged him through the mud

tied to the fender of a model T.
and left him unconscious in a ditch
out by Farmer Jones’s place,
And when he came to he said, “Son of a bitch.”

Then he got up and hobbled toward the lights
of the farmhouse, and when he knocked
Farmer Jones’s daughter Emily opened the door.
“What happened?” she asked, quite shocked.

“I am a poet,” he said, “come down from Burnside,
my pockets filled with trash,
but on these pieces of paper are writ poems
as good as any man’s cash.

“I wonder,” he went on, “if I might trade
a poem or two for a bath and a hot meal
and some poultices for my wounds,
and then, perhaps, you and I can get real.”

Sadly for our man, Farmer Jones was right there
sitting in his chair, and he got up sighing,
and easing his daughter aside, he threw a punch
that sent the poor bastard flying.

And so our poet dragged himself away
to sleep in some filthy abandoned shack,
shivering, and in pain and misery.
But — no need to cry alas! alack!

No need, indeed, for these sad events
only gave your man the raw material 
for the poem which now you read
over your bowl of breakfast cereal.

Seamas paused, and then folded up the cocktail napkin.

“So what d’ya think?” he said. “Worth a fiver?”

Without a word Rooster took out his wallet, and removed a five-dollar bill. This left him with only ten dollars, which he would need for that lid of reefer, should the two Bills ever return. He handed the five to Seamas, Seamas handed the poem over to Rooster, and then the Irishman immediately turned and skipped back to the bar, holding the five-dollar bill up like a flag.

“I can’t believe you bought that stupid poem,” said Sniffy.

Say what you will, thought Landon, as he put the poem carefully away in his jacket pocket, right next to the poem he had bought earlier from Howard Paul Studebaker. Say what you will, Sniffy, he thought (but decidedly did not say, and anyway she had already resumed her previous monologue on her favorite subject, herself), but tomorrow I will have not one, but two excellent new poems to lay on the New Yorker’s poetry editor’s desk! 

And, maybe — just maybe, if he pulled off this reefer deal and made a bundle — maybe he should start coming in here every night and buying poems. Why should he go to all the trouble of trying to write poems himself? Poems which no one ever liked anyway.

Yes, luck was finally starting to come Rooster’s way, and high time, too.

Sniffy talked on.


And Rooster? 

Rooster dreamed on.  

(To be continued, to the end of the endless night.)

105. "i'll have to talk to my friend"

thanks again to Jackie Jones for this video from her extensive vaults

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