Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rue d'Âmes Perdues

A red light burns off Basin Street
2 blocks over, up two flights
over Mac’s Saloon, where I
sipped my bourbon late one night

where old Mac, bow tied and thin
rightly guessed me new in town;
and (as it was just he and I)
set off to lay his story down.

“Antebellum Alabama, son,
is where she was conceived,
an owner and a slave girl
on a howling Hallow’s eve

born onto a kitchen floor
her mamma in distress,
they wasn’t let to dig her grave
‘til someone cleaned the mess.

Her daddy wouldn’t sell her
and he couldn’t make her work,
so she growed up in the shadows
and she studied how to lurk

with the old folk and the cripples
that come over on the ships,
and she learned the scars from fetters
from the ones made by the whips

and she learned about the Voodoo
and the goddess of the waters,
how you got to have Queen Mothers
what to raise up priestess daughters.

She’d steal into the cotton fields
and found her back was sturdy
and her mind bore like a weevil
as she flowered full and purty.

Then on her thirteenth birthday
she saw fit to take her leave
so she slipped from that plantation
like a possum through the sheaves

she wandered down to Mobile
and then into Mississip
and she took to mixing venom
with the honey from her lip

she rode that mighty river
Baton Rouge to old Saint Paul,
spinning like a paddle-wheel,
a purser, shark and moll

and when the mood would strike her
she would disappear for weeks
traipsing through the woods and marshes
to live off the land and creeks

but when the Union took New Orleans
in the spring of ‘62
she stepped off the boats forever
and she called herself LaRoux.

Now they thought they’d seen it all
in this ol’ town of iron lace
but they never seen such hard eyes
set in such a silky face

and they never seen a lady
what they’d be afraid to tussle;
kept a razor in her corset
and a pistol in her bustle.

She opened up a brothel
couple blocks off Basin street
with an altar in the basement
and a lock from Jean Lafitte

the whiskey flowed like water
every night was a soiree;
Madam LaRoux, she soon became
the belle of Vieux Carré

but the rumors started spreading
there was evil at her door,
that her girls must be witches
for the gris-gris that they wore

and how they’d mix up potions
what to cast their spells and hexes,
for to drown unfaithful husbands
or grant wishes by three X’s.

Can’t say it seemed to matter;
she collected wealth and fame,
swellin’ like her reputation
deep and wide as Pontchartrain.

Then one night ol’ Scratch hisself
strode in, top hat & tails
to procure a little comfort,
take his mind off his travails

he bought the bottles off the shelf
and kept the ivories hoppin’ -
the boy knew how to make some friends
and kept them duckets droppin’

and when the house was good and high
he settled on a gal,
a copper skinned contessa,
a Creole femme fatale

but when he tried to settle
Miss LaRoux just shook her head,
said he’s free to shine a barstool
but he wouldn’t foul a bed;

said the girls were all her daughters
and she wouldn’t lose a one
to the dalliance and damnation
of perdition’s seventh son.

When his coaxing turned to quarrel
she just flat spurned his demands
as a ransom poured like pittance
from his hot and sallow hands

he seethed she’d best get out his way,
and glaring, eye to eye,
she squared herself, through gritted teeth,
scowled go ahead an’ try.

The story goes they fought all night
some say was two or three;
he couldn’t never take her
and she wouldn’t let him free

until he got so blind with rage
he let loose such a shriek
that it busted out her eardrum
as he vanished like a streak.

But the devil ain’t no quitter, son,
he can’t stand not to win;
he’d slither ‘round from time to time
and they’s start in again

and so it’s been, that day to this -
her ghost still walks the halls
of a dark deserted cathouse
holdin’ vigil, keen to brawl.

There’s a light comes on upstairs
when that ol’ boy’s about,
might hear a thump, or something break,
or someone cuss and shout

and that’s the devil and LaRoux
still scrappin’ for a soul
she still ain’t gonna sell him
and he still aims to control.”

I thanked him for the story
as I spun around to leave,
said I found it fine and fitting
for that howling Hallow’s eve

and I thought I heard him snicker
as I stumbled to the street;
heard a church bell toll for midnight
as the wind whipped at my feet

and I caught a little flicker
coming on, a crimson dim
in the window up above me
and I looked back on a whim

and I froze where I was standing
as the gale and laughter grew
when I saw the windows boarded
like the door I’d just walked through;

the sign for Mac’s Saloon was gone
and hanging on the wall
were three X’s dripping scarlet
in a high and hasty scrawl

and I didn’t hear the thunder
and I couldn’t feel the rain
as a desperate, hopeless terror
drug me somewhere south of sane;

Two blocks off of Basin Street
beneath a pale and haunted light
is where I lost my soul, when I
consoled the devil late one night.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bad Manners

Slipping down a fraying
sliding down a shifting
I draw a breath and
try to
ignore the squalls that
howl through;

and you demand discussion
unwitting of the bludgeon

tucked away behind my teeth
from its bloodied sheath.

Your fury and
weave the answers
to your questions

I know my brow is burning
as my whetted tongue
is churning;

I know enough
to cage it,
stifle and
assuage it

to stand between the pin and shell
and keep this rancor locked in hell.

You find me cold, unwilling,
a stoic
who’s killing

still I cannot
argue -
ancient rages
mark you -
a brokenness precedes you
a history impedes you
from reaching what it is you seek.

A tear
rolls down
and sears
your cheek;

the wraith who wreaks
and wracks that place
I won’t allow
to wear
your face.

There is no solace
in my

as I’m chewing up

Thursday, October 15, 2009


His hand caught
in the firm grip
of his mother
on the platform


regarding me
as children do
in a dimly innocent
wholly impolite way

knowing nothing of
who I was
or where I’d been
or what I’d done
that day


pretended to read
my ticket,
looked around
here and there
as if I had something
or someone
to look for,
until my eyes finally
and locked
on his


His mother,
seized by a sudden need
for something
secreted away
in her outlandishly large
loosed his hand
and dug
and dug

so with a half-turn
and one
he slowly counted down

four broad buttons
on my overcoat,
like four bright
in an elevator

without a word,
his mother
was busy and


he knew
(rich man,)
I knew

(poor man,)

what he was



Thursday, October 8, 2009


I cannot write an elegy
with elegance or empathy;
I may be a narcissist
and of course you’re deeply missed
but I can’t get past the vision
of your last and worst decision

I cannot write an elegy
in broken-hearted sympathy;
though it does not make me proud
nor would I say these things aloud
I’ve lost you in your misery;
I cannot write this elegy.

Should’ve seen your mama cry
heard the whispers asking why -
was it fear or bleak depression
overpowering regression

Off the wagon, off the meds -
what was going through your head?
had to laugh into a cough
how you’d smirk and shrug it off

It was impulse, not intention -
just a reckless self-suspension;
not a plan to make an end
or sad reunion of your friends

she’d crash through the bathroom door
cut you down and love you more -
would’ve made a killer story
darkest night and dawning glory

I cannot write an elegy
with wisdom or profundity;
I may be a selfish ass
lacking tenderness or class
but, you know - revolving doors
sorry you got stuck in yours

I cannot write an elegy
with lily-scented poignancy;
I can’t say it’s not appalling
that no tears of mine are falling
but reduced to honesty -
I cannot write this elegy

At the service I recalled
found a marker and we scrawled
on the floor, we signed our names
before the carpet layers came

I’d forgotten, and resent
that I wondered what it meant
as your sister choked her way
though her grief to have her say

It was too long since we spoke
too much stout and shiftless smoke;
it was no one’s job to save you
don’t regret the love we gave you

and I bet as things went black
you shed a wish to take it back;
Jesus saves, the devil rents
a misstep’s undue consequence

I cannot write an elegy
befitting of your legacy;
although more than you’d confess
in both breadth and giftedness
there was far too much remaining
such a waste defies explaining

I’ve given up this elegy
but maybe failing is the key;
if our best should bear our witness
let our worst become forgiveness;

I will you, if you can me -
I could not

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Steel toes
and classic rock
dice thrown on
the loading dock

barcodes on
the racks and stacks
bitter coffee
pallet jacks

pictures of
the wife and kids
in a wallet
on the skids

in the bathroom
second stall
taped wall to wall

route the day’s
hide the forklift
driver’s keys

pick and pull
the orders when
the boss gets all
pissed off again

six to three
the whistle blows
classic rock
and steel toes

fill the bar
on Friday night
for beer and wings
the title fight

All in for
another pitcher