This is a comic narrative poem in Southern speech, more precisely “Texas Tawk” – a language I more or less forgot over the years.
Parental guidance warning to Ladies and Gentlemen reading who may not like having exposed out in public how they think and what they do. There is not a shred of political correctness herein.
“Poetry, schmoetry,” the poet Richard Wilbur
quotes one of [his fellow WW2 recruits’] saying, though he adds
that he had “warm and amusing relationships with
almost everyone, partly because,
mostly country Texans, they were enjoyers
of words — good storytellers and inventive cussers”
Notes can be found at https://alteritas.net/GXL/?page_id=4562
1 – Junk Piled On
Virgil and me set off to Sparks City with the two
fat cats who’d bankrolled the operation and insisted on
tagging along for the ride. That city, which it ain’t, sucks.
The stops along the way themselves leave considerable
to be desired, details of which y’all’ll shortly hear.
Now Virg, not since tender youth himself the virgin
his name evokes, maybe for that very reason
fixated on liberating others from that sorry state,
consequences be damned, had a number of things
occupying his mind, which works okay on a single
track but encounters difficulty when issues surpass
two or three. You see, leaves were poppin’ out all over.
It was glorious Spring time. Distractions were rife.
Like Indian paintbrushes suddenly unclad, the ladies
were doing their damnedest to show and showing well —
adversity which can drive a man to fortify himself
with hard liquor, this to keep thoughts down to a few
and in manageable rows, which I’d wisely foreseen,
packing provisions for the trip, hip flasks of bourbon
plus some extra bricks of the fine product, the weed
we hoped to turn a decent margin on in Sparks City,
we’d camouflaged, along with a gun, under a lot of junk
piled on in the pickup truck’s locked tool box.
2 – No One Seemed to Mind
I’ll tell you why we took the route we did, putting
it to the springs across miles of broken asphalt
past rundown shacks in the woods. Our bankers, Partners
the expression they preferred, wanted to see
some rednecks in the raw. You’d’a thunk one look
at me and Virg sufficed. Anyway, they got their wish.
Where we were was a place you could damn well do
what you please — whole place was run by rednecks.
Only two rooms left at the humble inn we chose
catty corner a parking lot from a strip club.
Virg wanted to see himself some ladies au naturel.
The Partners shared this taste. So we toked up, crossed
the lot, plunged past a blast of air-conditioning
into a dark space where near nudes sat in
phosphorescent light, nonchalantly flicking
ashes off in the air. The main event was on the floor,
where two Ole Boys, pool cues brandished
what looked like menacin’ly, were in strident
disputation about the sister of one, girl friend
of the other, maybe vice-versa, in any case
a dirty blond at best verging on legal age.
Both gentlemen suffered noticeably from lack
of blood in their alcohol streams. The bouncer, paid
to ward off untoward, that is, uncompensated
attention to the girls, at first appeared alarmed.
But one Ole Boy invited the other please to step
outside, a different jurisdiction from the bouncer’s own.
Delighted at the prospect, the Partners excused themselves
as if to take a leak, then headed out to watch the fight.
Always leery of stray gunshot, I stayed inside.
Virg, who’d lost his youthful love of fisticuffs,
had anyway not gotten past the bar, his own attention
captured by one or another of the ladies over there.
That was some powerful shit we had. I lost track
of my thoughts, caught up in what was flickering
on the screen and then, on the jukebox, a sad
tune I hadn’t heard, Homer, by HubCap Brown.
So I didn’t notice Virg had disappeared.
Nor, when the Partners came back with the two Ole Boys,
backslapping buddy-buddy, the female catalyst of what
turned out not to be a brawl but a meeting of minds
was also missing in action. No one seemed to mind.
We closed the place down, me the last one out.
Back at our room the door was locked. Virg had the key.
I had a mind to pound on it, wake him up, but somehow
got that more than a roll in the hay was goin’ on in there.
I wobbled to the truck, fell hard asleep in the cab.
3 – Skinny-Dippin’ with Alligators
Johnny? First sound I heard at dawn, Virg
shaking my shoulder, hand cupped over my mouth.
Behind him, the dirty blond, who closer-up had a lazy
left eye. Not much of a looker but her every bodily
part brand spanking new, waitin’ to be wore out.
Bea, like bumblebee, her name turned out to be.
Johnny, we gotta get out of here, his shirt on inside
out, like he’d pulled clothes on in a mighty hurry.
Never figured Virg much of a white knight,
but here he had a damsel in distress dressed
out in white halter, jeans from which I thought
to avert my eyes. This Bea’d had some problems
at home. Not hard to imagine what they might be.
She’d hit the road, but the road’d hit back.
Ended up with the Ole Boys we seen last night.
They had some kinda job for her on down the road,
an offer she had no way politely to decline.
We all try to run away, sometimes way too soon.
Once you start to run it’s powerful hard to stop.
Bea now needed desperately to elope with Virg.
But the Chevy was mine. I had those keys.
Hold your horses, Virg. Forget about them pricks.
What about our Partners in crime? Track us down with dogs
if we absconded with the shit. And I ain’t giving it away.
Seems Bea’d got him in the sack, not hard to do.
Besides, the Ole Boys had sold her to us, the Partners
cutting that deal on my behalf when they were outside
and designating Virg to try out the first test drive.
She must first-a taught him a trick or two, then turned
on the charm. Like lovers do, more than one-night
stands, she tol’ her story how she liked it told.
A whole passle of folks were hot on her tail, father,
brother, and the Law. Plot was fuzzy there, but I got
the point. She needed to get to Sparks City too
where there were trusted friends to take her in.
This Bea had sump’un which drew me to her side,
though an inner voice warned me Virg was a door
for me to hold open for just the while she barged through
before the damn’d thing slammed shut for good.
I usta to could fall in love, took the fall
so many times, got nervous ’bout goin’ up
on heights. But who am I to say? Someone wants
to skinny-dip with alligators, that personal choice is theirs.
Afterwards friendship comes in, and Virg, he was my friend.
So I put her into neutral, we pushed her across the lot,
the front door open so I could hop into the cab.
Coasted out of earshot. They clambered in. I hit
the switch. The show got on the road.
4 – Howdy, D’jeet Yet?
We high-tailed it like bats out-a hell, Burma shave
signs flashing by so quick Virg, who liked
readin’ ‘em off one by one, couldn’t keep up –
‘bout the only reading he ever did anyway.
I drove, a’ways looking back, ‘cept when Virg
and Bea climbed over the seat into the cubby hole.
I wud’n’t gonna stop till miles stretched between us
and the Partners and their new partners, the Pimps.
I had a map we’d brung along, found the least obvious
path of escape, one that dwindled right off the map.
I drove on and on, hopin’ for a road house we could
stop and eat, but we weren’t goin’ nowhere, just fast,
and there was nothin’ nowhere. All I could do was dream
of food, like in HubCap Brown’s song ‘bout mashed
potatoes, ‘cept that I have most all my teeth.
Before too long asphalt gave out to gravel and ruts.
Then a storm brew’d up, the sky grew dark,
then split in half. Couldn’t see a dad-gum thing, pulled over
to wait out a deluge the likes a-which I never seen.
Virg and Bea crawled back up front. We sat there
a bit, the rain pounding down, windows fogging up.
It was a real turd-floater, ‘nuff to strangle frogs.
Bea was sittin’ between us, shoulder brushin’ up
like accident’ly, moist and bare against my own.
Hot and sweaty, she smelled mighty good.
Virg had an old eight-track he’d brung along
I begged him not to play. Never shoulda hummed
any HubCap a-tall, just got him started off.
He got it out-a the glove compartment, where
he’d also moved the gun, and slid it in, a tune
he loved, HubCap’s I’d Go to Jail for You.
Hung up on the tune, not sure of the words, Virg made up
words of his own: When I get there, I’ll shut my eyes,
think of you. Not HubCap’s words, but Virg, he had
some right idea. He done his time, knew in the pen
they do to you what can till you figure out how
to do it back again to them. And Bea was jail
bait for sure, once you got a close look. Even here
out in the sticks, the Law casts a prejudicial eye
on big disparities of age — lessun you’re related.
The sky finally cleared. We drove on till we got
to a gate and, a piece behind, a trailer house set up
on blocks, surrounded by hovels and sheds. A geezer,
crusty coot with straggly hair, was rockin’ on his porch.
He looked us over good, stood, then peered over
right into the cab, almost had a hissy fit,
then said, like to long-lost family jess recognized:
Howdy, d’jeet yet? – hospitality I figured
havin’ something to do with Bea. He sat us down, went
for a mess of bacon and beans, a clay crock.
Then in Mason jars he served us up right there
in the yard some of the best moonshine I ever had.
Homer, his name, didn’t think much of folks,
why he lived way out there, his only friends
pythons kept in barrels they slithered outta at will.
Them and the wildcat he let out at night. She keeps
the pole cats away. Personally, don’t mind their smell.
She dudn’t like it. She don’t like the smell of nobody but me.
Homer didn’t mind people when he had music to play,
cuz that’s what music’s for. Whisky, weed too.
Bea herself didn’t care much for hooch, preferred
to ours the stuff Homer had a patch of back in a plot
hidden in the pine trees where the sun shined jess right.
We offered Homer some of ours, but he demurred:
Affects my memory, when I gotta play, not like Johnny Corn.
We drank a while, shot the shit, finished the jug,
polishin’ off the beans with crusts of stale bread.
Then Homer got his ax, strummed a chord or two,
launched into his version of I’d Go to Jail for You.
5 – Yonder Out of Sight
Even Virg could tell Homer’s voice sounded famil’yer
as could be. I know your Christian name, he asked,
what-cher fam’ly name? – Brown, the old cuss replied.
I’m known as Homer Brown. Virg’s eyes went wide:
Related to HubCap Brown? Homer looked off into space
like somethin’ was hoverin’ up there on high.
We’re related for sure. I can’t tell you exactly how.
From the way he sung though, you could place a bet,
Homer shared the blood of Waldo HubCap Brown.
If Virg and me had been the Pimps we mighta cut a deal,
Homer’s hankering exposed out for all of us to see.
Virg and me, we bad enough boys, used to cheat,
pilfer and brawl. You know we was slingin’ dope,
holding a stash we stole. But there are lines I won’t
cross. Pimps are the scum of the earth, leeching like
gov’rnment off somebody else’s honest work.
Homer must-a gathered we were on the run
from sump’um Virg said ‘bout the glove compartment.
Y’all wanna hole up a couple of days, stay in the shacks?
The snakes won’t bother ya. I’ll feed ‘em good, keep the cat in.
Anybody bouncing down that road, you hear ‘em in time to hide.
Just park your truck yonder out of sight behind them trees.
So Homer got his public, Bea and Virg, time to cavort.
Me, a city boy, Daddy, when I was young,
used to take me out to hunt in the Piney Woods.
I liked it there, felt safe, like at Homer’s place, so
reckoned it wise to stay there a while, bide time.
Virg, too, needed time, had holt of a wishbone
he prayed to break his way, shacking up with Bea.
Thing was, I kept thinkin’, I seen her first, by rights Bea
should-a belonged to me. But Virg, he was my friend.
We heard real music out there, HubCap I never knew.
Homer put special feeling into one I love, Mashed
Taters and Gravy. Thanks be, no one came down the road.
6 – Moon Woman
Gotta fess up here, been makin’ fun of Virg,
‘bout how he thinks things through so careful slow,
item by item, like it might someday all add up.
But it was Virg whose lights went on, not mine.
However long we camped at Homer’s place, we’d
be dumber than the dickens now to go to Sparks City.
The Partners could easily ferret out our contact there,
just had to wait us out, easier than shootin’ fish.
He’d been talking with Bea about all this.
She found it funny we’d stole her too, same time
we stole the dope. Or vice-versa. Or both at once.
Thing about her friends in Sparks City, they were
reliable as could be. They were Injuns, she said,
wouldn’t deal with normal white folks, let alone
with scum like the Pimps. Cordin’ to Bea, they had a good eye
for a deal, liked much as anybody to roll smoke.
These Injuns would deal with Bea. When they learned what
the Ole Boys done to her, they’d deal with them too.
Johnny, she part Choctaw or Coushatta or sump’m.
I saw her tat-too. He spared telling me where it was.
It’s in some kind of Injun lingo. H-A-S-H-I T-A-Y-I-K.
He spelled the letters out one by one, way he does.
Means Moon-Woman. Soon as we dragged ourselves
out of Homer’s, we’d find a phone, she’d call’em up
and negociate a way to off-load our shit.
Didn’t first buy the idea that Bea was part Injun,
tattoo or not, her Granny full-blood. But as a boy
I had noticed Injuns don’t look different than the rest of us —
probably been too many peckers in their woodpile.
Plus, liked the idea of having Injuns on my side for once.
Took some time to get away from Homer’s place.
You know how it is. We had dope, moonshine to spare.
Homer made a run into town for provisions,
once we said we’d stay. Bea – could’t believe it – knew
how to cook, went to forage in the woods for stuff
to put into stew. I dunno, mushrooms, things like mushrooms,
nettles, funny lookin’ berries, water lily flowers.
Whenever she could get Virg satisfied she spent time
with the pythons, followin’ ‘em ‘round, seein’ what they did.
Even made friends with the cat. Then she went to the stove,
a sight to see, barefoot like she was, in the kitchen.
Homer liked his meat, didn’t really mind which kind.
So he’d take his gun, go into the bush and bring down
whatever moved, long as it looked tasty good.
He preferred his squirrel to birds, armadillo to fish,
though, like me, when he was a boy, he used to tease
crawdads out of their hidin’ in ditches with bits of bacon
tied onto string. Bats, for him, was the best meat,
but he couldn’t stand to shoot’em, and they’re hard to trap.
So he made do with nutria, a succulent swamp delight.
There was a bunch of ‘em living over there in the slough,
which the pythons knew better than to eat themselves.
Between the two of ‘em, we had good chow. I was high
most the while, Virg, beside himself gone on Bea.
Homer and I got a little testy, frustrated’s more the word.
But he sang a lot of songs and sometimes I played along
on his ax. Homer’s favorite was without a doubt
Ain’t Got Too Much Living’ Left Inside of Me.
Homer’s was a nice place till we had to take our leave.
7 – Ala-Ga-Zam, the Alligator Man
Took us half the day to find a phone that worked.
Then we had to find some dimes. But Bea did get through.
Perty soon she came back all smiles. Said she’d talked
to the Chief. The Injuns were buying in. We jess had
to go a piece down the road to a town called Noose,
go to the travelin’ road show there. If we kept
close to the Headfeathers and Tomahawks booth,
they’d find us, cause they’d know to recognize Bea.
It was to be a friendly operation, so Bea told Virg
there was no need for the gun, leave it in the truck.
Noose came by its name hones’ly. There had a’ways
been a bit of lawlessness in that neck of the woods.
Only way to bring in law ‘n order was to hang
the bad ones up one by one – talkin’ about white ones too.
These days, Noose is a fine place to raise big families,
how come Swamp Carnival comes twice t’a year
to Noose, there bein’ so many young’uns, nothin’ else
to do ‘cept play in bayous with gators and snapping turtles.
Swamp Carnival gave the kids something diff’rent to do.
Didn’t have kootch shows. It was good, clean family fun.
When I was a boy I a’ways got sick at carnivals.
After, never cotton’d much to care’mel or cotton candy,
though it was the rolly-coaster made me up-chuck
those roasted marshmallows and a Mars Bar.
I’m not the only one, never seen a sideshow
didn’t smell like puke and piss. Good lesson
for kids out there to learn: puke and shit and also sump’um
else — tell you about that later, kids — is what makes
life turn. Plus food, a place to sleep, once in a while ‘nuff
hot water to warsh up, clothes to wear, a place
to get out-a the hot and the cold. That’s the start of the list,
goes on, depending on your peculiar wants and needs.
Also a-course, there’s the oppertunity to talk
and lissen to others, laugh a bit, share stories,
make a friend or two. ‘Z what humans do, right?
We found the midway and the sideshow, following
the trace of smells. Had to git pass all kind-a temptations:
Duck Pond, Ballons and Darts, lots of queasy rides,
Tilt-a-Whirl, Zipper, Ferris Wheel. Others I never seen.
Easy mark he was, Virg made us stop to throw
softballs at enough bottles till he finally won Bea
choice of any gift on the top row. Couldn’t believe it,
she was jess like a little girl, took the pink teddy-bear.
Ala-ga-zam, come see The Alligator Man,
a carny barked out. Sword-Swallower, Crawdad-Woman,
Lovin’ Werewolves, Amorous Pythons, Siamese Triplets.
Tell the truth, don’t much like all them freaks,
presty-digitation, cutting ladies in half,
naked or not, pullin’ things out-a hats, throwin’ knives.
But that’s where our friends the Injuns were waitin’.
When the Swamp Carnival came to Noose they drove
over from the reservation, booked a show, dressed
up in Injun regalia, head-dresses and buckskins.
Then demonstrated on volunteers from the audience
their skills with bows and arrows and tomahawks,
which they throw better than white people knives.
Real Injuns dressed up to perform like Injuns?
That didn’t make any business sense to me.
Probably a cheaper way to do it. But I’m not here
to blame the Injuns. Everybody’s gotta earn a livin’.
If you’re an Injun, a Stunted Dwarf, a Bearded Lady,
a Tattoo’d Circassian or a Lobster Boy: sorry, bad
luck, but better to get paid to act out who you are
opposed to Workin’ Hard at Who You Ain’t –
way HubCap put it, and he had it right.
The Chief was short a right arm, had a lazy left
eye too, like it run in the family. The arm,
either he’d under-estimated a gator’s reach
or sump’un went badly wrong with a tomahawk.
Chief threw good southpaw though. Couldn’t be the arm
he started with, the gator wud’ve chomped that one off.
We didn’t get to watch much-a the show before
one of ‘em spotted Bea, climbed down from the stage,
doffed his head-dress and invited her up
to a round of applause. Seems Bea’d done this kind-a
thing before. She took a bow, or whatever it is women
do when they cross their legs and bend down, went
right over to the target board, refused the blindfold
and stared right back at the Chief who, with Bea
smilin’, not even a flinch, spun tomahawks at her,
landing one on each side of her face, close as a shave.
The last he put delicately between her knees.
At this point, I began thinkin’ I’d had maybe
too much dope. So I turned to Virg, to see how
he was takin’ all this. No one had invited him up.
And there was a strong-lookin’ Injun standing between
him and the stage stairs they had escorted Bea up.
But Virg was smilin’. Bea was the woman of his dreams.
Woman could do that, could probably do ‘most
anything. Virg, you’ve come to see, was in love.
8 – One Smell and Another
Soon the show was over. The Chief came down to see
me, not Virg. Done the right thing. Bea musta tol’ him
I ran the show here on the road. It was my truck.
He took my right hand in his left, way amputees do,
shook me greetin’s in a manly way. Got the samples,
he axed. I shore did, but it made me nervous passing
here in plain view of these upright Christian families.
Don’t worry, the Chief said, Peckers can’t tell the diff’rence
‘tween one smell and another. The Injuns proposed
to try it in their peace pipe during the intermission
up there on the stage. Folks like to see Injuns smoking,
don’t expect’em not to drink. Injuns do what they want.
So they climbed on the platform, leaving us below,
all sitting in a circle with Bea, now adorned with beads.
Out-a his pocket, the Chief pulled this peace pipe
made from bone, danglin’ bright feathers, same colors
as the tomahawks and the head-dress.
He lit it with a lighter, looked like a Zippo, took the first
toke, held it in for a long while, then passed it on.
Round the circle, all of ‘em held it in real good.
Solemn enough, these Injuns, contemplatin’ the value
of smoke for its own pleasure but for the market too.
Second round went even better. They couldn’t hold it
in anymore. One by one they burst into fits of giggles.
Good sign for our business venture, I thought.
I knew it was powerful shit but didn’t know how it
affected Injuns, sensibilities different from our own.
Bea came down from the stage, tol’ us deal done.
They’d cancel the last show, meet us in an hour
at a place Bea somehow knew, a clearin’ in the pines
down a country road, called H-U-M-M-A O-F-I,
which means, she said, Red Dog or Dog Red, dependin’
on how you thought of blood and blood ceremonies.
Can’t tell ya why it was Dog. The so’l was red,
but weren’t no dogs, jess a swamp, more like a slough.
We’d finish the deal there, hand off dope and money,
long as the buyers got a chance to make sure the shit
was the shit they’d had up on the stage. Fair enough.
Knew it was the same, had had a lot. No problem letting
‘em check and see. They’d jess get that much higher.
On our side, I let Virg count the money, cause
he a’ways likes numbers, seein’ they come one
after another in reliable rows. Twenty grand,
the sum. You might think a lot for Injuns to come up
with all a-sudden. But these Injuns’d been in business
for a while. They don’t gamble, help others to do it.
Jess want the freedom to trade, only be left alone.
Things went well. When we were fine’ly shakin’ hands,
everyone takin’ into account the Chief’s missin’ one —
I swear you not — fireworks started goin’ off back over
the pine trees. Last night of the traveling roadshow.
Swamp Carnival was gonna have to move on.
Bangs kept comin’ a second or so after the eruptions
of light. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, miles away.
We watched these blossoms bursting out in silence
then heard their booms, the streamers already ash.
We drove far enough towards somewhere big
to find a fancy motel we figured we could now afford.
Took a whole suit, ordered room service ice and whisky
plus some Coke for Bea. Food was no good. We didn’t care,
all properly tired from our long and profitable day.
So Virg and Bea took the door to the other room, Virg
keepin’ the stash bag. I fell asleep in front of the TV.
9 – When to Lie
Shee-it, Johnny. First sound I heard at dawn, Virg
shaking my shoulder, this time no hand on my mouth.
We got big trouble. She gone, she took the cash.
He didn’t get into any nitty-gritty but that night
she took him for quite a ride, spurred him on till
he passed out in a drowsy tangle of arms and legs.
Soon as he pried his eyes open, he went groping for her,
who’d held her body, not soul, most of the night long.
Figured she’d gone to the crapper. She didn’t come back.
Thought he’d better find the keys. He’d put ’em on
the chester drawers beside the gun. They were there,
the keys, but not the sack of loot off his side-a the bed.
Without pulling on his boots, he rushed outside.
Took him a while, standin’ there, to think things through.
This here Bea’d taken not just Virg but me for a ride —
though I gave her credit for havin’ left the keys.
In my mind’s eye I saw her out there in the dark,
little stash bag hanging across her comely hip,
one of them smooth legs thown into the headlights.
Maybe there was others expectin’ her out there,
Partners, Pimps or Injuns, don’t know. We ain’t gonna
go to Sparks City to find out. The story’s almost over.
Virg didn’t care about the money: Bea’d left him.
Was all that mattered for him. So for a couple-a
days I was stuck with him playin like a broke record,
more like a jukebox full of HubCap tunes you’ve heard
for sure: Just Testing My Love, The World We’ll Be
Together In, Wherever I Look All I See Is You.
Born in heartbreak, heartbreak makes us sing.
Those who can’t sing for shit jess mumble along,
manglin’ the words. Don’t matter a bit. We all
know what the words are cause we all got down
pat what it means to want, briefly hold, then lose.
Virg was all eat up, crippled sick with heartbreak.
The test of true friendship is knowing when to lie.
Cudn’t. Virg knew, we know, they never come back.
Now the only life left to Virg and me, now on the run
from our own home town was the road before us,
through the forest, past thickets and brambles it’s easy
to lose the way in, hovels someone else calls home.
10 – All There Was Before
I was riding shotgun, should’ve been at the wheel.
Just above the trees herds of purple clouds
stampeeded wild across swollen bruises in the sky.
The wind kicked back at Virg’s hands, his knuckles
gripped hard to the naugahyde-wrapped rim.
Hail pelted the windshield, piled up in slush
on the shoulders and the cracked asphalt slabs.
A funny kind of twilight came down on Virg and me.
He turned: Sorry, Johnny, Screwed up Bad.
He was quotin’ HubCap a-course but it applied.
Then at that very moment, things got real loud.
A twister crossed the road a football field ahead,
ripping up the Lord knows what, turning into junk
all there was before. I saw the makings of a house
whirl by, fiberboard panels in the air, dish-pans,
a closet of clothes. I swan a barbecue pit flew by.
The Chevy rattled and shook but stuck to the ground.
Then Virg leaped down from the cab, tossed me
the keys, headed the direction destruction went.
Silence returned with a strange light. Cross the clearing
I could see his back as he strode single-mindedly away.
Never saw the man again, know he ain’t coming back.
So I gassed it, rev’ed her up, laid some rubber out.
How I got here now and where I went then
there is no way I can say. In HubCap’s words —
you know the song — My Only Home’s the Road.