Sunday, June 9, 2013

113. "The Lawn's Lament"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by danny delacroix and rhoda penmarq

*Associate Professor of Romance Literature, Assistant Life Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Mrs. Biddle’s Bequest and Four Other Novels of Intrigue by Horace P. Sternwall, with an Afterword by Oscar Levant; 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: “Serving fine beers and cocktails from 7am to 4am daily. Featuring Bob’s Bowery Bar’s World Famous Nickel Hot Dogs, with Mom’s Sauerkraut. ‘I’ve lived off Bob’s nickel hot dogs for years now.” – Howard Paul Studebaker, poet, author of Aubades of the Old West and Cowboy Villanelles. 

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Welcome to Bob’s Bowery Bar, home away from home to the damned, the doomed, and the dead of spirit.

Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet, pulled himself up onto the cracked leather seat of the bar stool and laid a five-dollar bill on the bar.

“Quod erat effin’ demonstrandum,” he said.

“I told ya,” said Howard Paul Studebaker, the Western Poet. “What’d I tell ya?”

“Lovely as a summer’s goddam day,” said Frank X Fagen the nature poet, staring at the five-spot as if it were a beautiful flower or some sort, he could never remember the names of flowers.

“Bob,” said Seamas to Bob, the eponymous proprietor of this dank and dark hellhole, “’tree more Rheingolds for me and me companions, and ya better line up ‘tree more shots of Carstairs whiskey as well, and take it out of this fiver right here.”

Seamas tapped the five-dollar bill with his filthy finger.

Not twenty-eight minutes later (and despite the fact that at Bob’s a mug of Rheingold only cost fifteen cents and a shot of Carstairs only fifty cents) only forty-five cents remained from Seamas’s five dollars.

“We’re runnin’ low, boys, dangerously low,” said Seamas. “Your turn, Frank X.” 

Frank X Fagen the nature poet lifted his emaciated body off of his bar stool.

“Save my seat, fellows,” he said. He stubbed out the last quarter-inch of the Old Gold he had been smoking. “And wish me luck.”

“Just hurry back, for Christ’s sake,” said Howard Paul Studebaker. 

“I’ll be as quick as I can,” said Frank X.

“God speed to ya, Frankie me boy,” said Seamas.

Frank X staggered over to the table where sat the two failed hipsters, Landon “Rooster” Crow and Alice “Sniffy” Smith.

Sniffy was droning on about her glory days in the WACs again, London in wartime, the glorious buzzing of the V-1 flying bombs, and how dashing all the handsome young men had been in their uniforms.

“Excuse me,” said Frank X Fagen, “I hate to interrupt you, Sniffy.”

“If you hate it so much then why don’t you fuck off?” said Sniffy.

“Ha ha, quite risible,” said Frank, “quite risible indeed, Sniffy. But I have heard tell that Mr. Crow is in the market for poems tonight.”

“Make like a breeze and blow,” said Sniffy. “In your case like a foul breeze from the city dump.”

“I just so happen to have a lovely poem which I was planning to post to the New Yorker tomorrow morning,” said the imperturbable Frank X. “But I will let you have it, dear Rooster, for a fin.”

“Fuck you and fuck your poem,” said Sniffy, as high on Benzedrine as she had ever been.

But Frank X had already taken a paper cocktail napkin from his pocket, the exact same sort of Bob’s Bowery Bar cocktail napkin on which had been written the poem that Seamas McSeamas had sold to Rooster. (In fact, truth be told, Frank X had only written this new poem, with a pencil he’d borrowed from Seamas, just a couple of minutes before.)

“Allow me if I may just to read it aloud,” said the unflappable Frank X, who made it a point never to worry about anything at all in life except where his next drink was coming from.

“Tell you what, Frank X,” said Sniffy, “why don’t you wad up that poem up in a tiny ball and then drop your trousers and your undoubtedly filthy drawers right here and now and stuff it –”

“Now, Sniffy,” said Rooster, finally speaking up, his eyes glittering with poem-lust, “we can at least listen to Frank X’s poem, there’s no harm in that.”

“That depends on how bad the poem is,” said Sniffy.

“Ha, ha, well said, my dear Sniffy,” said Frank X, and without further ado he unfolded the cocktail napkin and held it close to his bloodshot and puffy eyes (for he was very nearsighted; he had drunkenly broken his last pair of eyeglasses five years ago and had neglected ever since to buy a new pair), and recited, in a singsong, high and pompous voice the following poem:


The Lawn’s Lament

Please don’t mow me, said the lawn.
I have feelings, too, you know.
But no one cares about me, they just
walk on me, 
and let their dogs poop on me,
what do they care for my feelings, 
my hopes and aspirations, 

because, yes, lawns have feelings too, 
and hopes and dreams,
but no one cares, 
and when I grow too high
that fat human being 
gets out his mower
and brutally mows me down, 
the bastard.

Please don’t do that. 
Don’t mow us.
Let us grow, free, 
waving our little grass fingers
gently in the air
until winter comes 
and we die.

But with luck we will be reborn next spring.

And that human being, 
that fat sweating slob
who so liked to brutally mow me,
perhaps he will be dead by then,
of a massive heart attack.

I can only hope.

Frank X refolded the poem, and stared at Rooster, or at least at the vague pale blob he knew to be Rooster’s face.

It was a beautiful poem, thought Rooster, even better than the poems he had bought from Howard Paul Studebaker and Seamas McSeamas. If he could submit this poem to the New Yorker tomorrow, with the other two, under his own name of course, it might well mean the overnight breakthrough into literary success which had so far eluded him.

“Okay, I’ll buy it,” said Rooster.

“What a sap,” said Sniffy.

Ignoring that last snide remark Rooster took out his old cub scout wallet and opened it, and then he remembered: he only had ten dollars left, two fives, and he needed that ten bucks to buy that lid of reefer from the two Bills, provided the two Bills ever showed up, that lid which he and Sniffy hoped to re-sell to those two out-of-towners at the St Crispian at an enormous mark-up.

What a quandary! Was it to be literary fame, or a quick fortune?

“Just a fiver,” said Frank X, cajolingly, with a thin rictus baring his corn-yellow teeth, “that’s all I ask. Half a sawbuck and the poem’s yours, my friend.”

What to do? thought Rooster. What to do?

And then he remembered, right at that moment were two one-hundred dollar bills in Sniffy’s purse, the money they had gotten from those out-of-towners for a mere two reefers! Two hundred! Why, with that money – and after all it really belonged to him, as it was he who had bought the reefer in the first place – God forbid Sniffy would ever spend any money on anything other than her precious Benzedrine inhalers – with that money he could buy a few dozen poems and still have enough left over for the lid. 

He took out a five-dollar bill and handed it to Frank X.

“Here ya go, Frank X. And if you’ve got any other poems this good, just let me know. Tell Seamas and Howard the same goes for them.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Frank X, and, handing the poem to Rooster he skipped back to the bar, barely staggering at all.

“You’re an idiot,” said Sniffy to Rooster.

“Just trying to help a poor guy out,” said Rooster.

“Did I ever tell you about V-E Day?” said Sniffy. 

In fact, she had, on dozens of occasions, the story changing wildly each time she told it, but Rooster said:

“No, I don’t think so. Tell me about it,” said Rooster, and he put the cocktail napkin in his jacket pocket, along with the other two poems which would assure his place in the literary pantheon.


114. "it's always friends who have stories"

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