Wednesday, November 26, 2014

a changed man

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

on finally being released from jail after the unfortunate series of events at estelle's party, seamas mcseamas decided to amend his ways.

he figured that three things had brought him to his sad pass - poetry, booze and women - and that it might be a good idea to give up at least one of them.

why give up poetry? it didn't cost anything. he could always find a pencil and some sort of paper, and even if he couldn't, he could compose deathless verses in his head.

it wasn't that hard to cadge a drink. especially after he had been out of commission for eleven months, all his old pals would surely be so happy to see him, they would be begging him to accept drinks.

seamas decided to give up women - at least for now.

with that settled, he headed for bob's bowery bar. he would let his old pals buy him two or three drinks - maybe four - then head to mrs mcgrady's over on houston street. his old room would have been let to someone else, but mrs mcgrady, good old soul that she was, must surely have kept his things - including his precious manuscripts which would bring him eternal fame - in storage. and maybe she would have another room for him, or his old room might even be available again.

all that could wait. right now he needed a drink.

seamas pushed through the door of bob's.

it was just as he remembered it. how could it be anything else?

after his eyes adjusted to the gloom - it was bright and sunshiny outside, though cold - he realized that it was empty, except for bob himself behind the bar.

seamas looked over at the clock. it was only a little after nine. surely the place would fill up quickly, with people elbowing each other aside in their eagerness to stand him a round.

he approached the bar. bob was staring into space, with that mean look he had. most people's expressions sort of softened when they stared into space, but bob always looked even meaner than usual.

"remember me?" seamas asked with his biggest smile.

"sort of. maybe." bob's lips hardly moved when he spoke.

"seamas mcseamas. one of the celebrated poets - chief among them, if i may say so, ha ha, - who regularly gathered in this revered estabishment."

"those bums."

seamas felt a moment of panic. "you mean - you don't mean they are no longer welcome?"

the toothpick in bob's mouth shifted from left to right. "they can come in before five o'clock, as long as at least one of them buys something. i don't want them in here at night. they were annoying people, and just taking up space."

"heh heh. i always thought of bob's as a welcoming place - a home away from home for the most desperate and downtrodden - a safe haven from the bluster and turmoil of the grasping material world."

"it still is - if you can pay."

"i - uh - was sort of hoping for a free drink myself - to celebrate this beautiful morning."

bob just stared at seamas.

"to celebrate that i just got out of the tombs - after eleven months."

bob's expression softened ever so slightly. "oh yeah, i remember now. that's all those clowns talked about for months." bob straightened up. "yeah, i'll give you a drink. one small rheingold draft."

"thank you."

bob looked over his shoulder toward the kitchen. "a guy came in about half an hour ago and ordered a breakfast special. then he left before he got it. you want it? it'll be kind of cold."

a tear almost formed in seamas's eye . this was getting better and better - like an o henry story. "um - can you heat it up?"

the cold look came back in bob's eyes. "some people will complain if you hang them with a brand new rope."

"ha ha. i'll take it," seamas assured him. seamas was not particularly hungry - he had not been too proud or in too much of a hurry after eleven months to pass up a last breakfast in jail before being let out - but he figured he might as well fill up as he didn't know where his next feed might come from.

bob went back in the kitchen and came back with the special - a cheddar cheese omelette with scrapple and whole wheat toast and with only the slightest trace of grease forming on it - and seamas accepted it and the draft beer gratefully.

he started to take the special and the beer over to a booth but stopped. "could you spare one more thing,mate?"


"something - anything - to write on."

"sure. how's this?" bob reached down and produced a slightly torn paper bag.

"thank you."

bob nodded. a customer - a surprisingly well dressed man with a rolled umbrella and wearing a homburg - came in and bob turned away from seamas to serve him..

safely ensconced in a booth away from bob's sight, seamas took a sip of the rheingold, the first "real" booze he had in almost a year, although he had tasted horrible "hooch" in the tombs. it brought a real tear to his eye.

he finished the breakfast, but still nobody showed up that he might cadge another drink from.

suddenly he felt sleepy... with a deep peaceful tiredness... he head fell forward on to the counter, barely missing the greasy plate...

he was back in his cell, but through the bars of the cell he could see green rolling hills....

there suddenly appeared before him his old mentor and tormentor st columba, the patron saint of poets... with his blue eyes and long red beard more blazing than ever...

"mcseamas,!" cried the saint, "you fraud! are you back among decent folk now, ready to pollute the earth with your wretched doggerel and your pitiful posturing! oh, for shame, for shame!"

seamas was walking through the green hills, but the saint's voice could still be heard - "and your poor old mother, your poor old mother who wanted you to be a priest or at least a respectable citizen or at least a half decent poet who wasn't a complete fake and a drunken jailbird ... you embarrass the whole irish race and the whole human race with your unspeakable tripe..."

the green hills had turned into a steady rain of green tigers and red and orange crows ... mother macree and finn mccool ... and the cremation of sam mcgee and they're hanging danny deever in the morning... hailed as the greatest poet since tom moore... the irish answer to that british bastard kipling... the saint's voice had turned into a featureless roaring rain...

seamas woke up. he could still hear the roaring... it was the toilet flushing behind his head in the men's room of bob's bowery bar.

the paper bag bob had given him to write on was looking up at him from the table, beside the plate with the scant remains of the breakfast special.

seamas took the pencil he still had from the jail out of his pocket. the dream had properly inspired him. he was determined to start over, and write a really good poem that st columba and st patrick and his mother could be proud of.

the hero

let me sing you a song of a hero true
who knew what a hero had to do
who braved the wrath of gods and men
whose strength was the strength of a hundred and ten

they tried to break his spirit bold
and threw him out in the wind and cold
those perfumed kings and smooth cheeked priests
with the hearts of worms and the fangs of beasts

but their evil plans were too little too late
he had a weapon they could not confiscate
a weapon that flashed from shore to sea -
the golden sword - of poetry!

yes, the poet will go where the warrior fears
and shed his light in this dark world of tears
no slavering monsters, no serpents cruel
shall walk and slither when poets rule

when darkness is chased and the sun comes round
a glorious sight will the demons confound
and clouds will part above the waves
that break on a world of angels - not slaves!

seamas put his pencil down, satisfied. that was the real stuff, the best thing he had ever done.

now if fagen or howard philips stone or rooster or one of his other pals would show up and buy him a drink, life would be very heaven.


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