“Well this stuff will probably kill you/ Let’s do another line.”
Tom Waits, “Heart Attack and Vine”
On Dummyline Road east of Slidell,
I’m standing at the counter of a dirt-floor,
concrete-block shit-hole of a juke joint
doing shots of shine
with my main man Alphonse DuMar.
There’s a black bluesman sitting on a stool
in the corner blowing bad harp,
and by bad, I mean not-good, shitty, shrieking.
I wish he’d shut the fuck up.
I’m the only white cat in this joint,
the proverbial peanut in the Hershey bar,
as we used to say back in the day
before the PC Police put the nix on colorful language.
The shine burns going down, sears my esophagus.
I shout up to Mr. DuMar,
who stands six-four-and played tight end for Tulane.
“The body ain’t no temple,”
I holler over the harp.
“It’s more like a nation,
with little white blood cell armies
that attack invading viruses,
and if you abuse a territory,
like your esophagus,
it might revolt, attack your capital ass,
rising up in a cancerous insurrection.”
Alphonse shakes his big black shaved head.
“Don’t be talking no shit like that in here, mon.”
Just then, like an answered prayer,
the harp ceases its screech.
Vowel rich intermingled speech instead.
In my head that song by the Box Tops clicks on.
Lonely days are gone
I’m a goin’ home
My baby, she wrote me a letter
Problem is I ain’t got no baby —
or no home for that matter.
Been sleeping in my van for the past six months.
It’s parked outside next to a portable sign on wheels,
one of them signs with removable letters,
a sign that says
WED NITE CRA FIS
Some thieving teenager named Willie Horton
maybe made off with the W and H.
“This shine burning a hole in my gut,” I say,
and Alphonse say, “Then just one more.”
The shine is poured,
the glasses raised,
and I brace myself for a slug of fire.
I don’t even hear the pistol go off
but feel the shot rip through my gut,
and scrunch over and howl
like Lee Harvey Oswald
on that day in Dallas.