Nassau Street Dub

Here’s the dub version of “Nassau Street Song,” copyrighted in 1987 by University of South Carolina Press

Click the arrow above for sound.

 

Mad Luke went down to the shanty town

To find the mon dat stole he wife.

With whiskey on he pantin’ breath

And wit he brother switch blade knife.

 

He be so mad he blood do scald

And tears gush out he bloodshot eyes.

He curse de two dat cause de strife

Still hoping’ dat it be a lie.

 

But in he heart he know it true –

He seen de looks dat she be given’.

He see dat mon a-hangin’ round.

He heard the wimmins whispering.

 

So he run down the street a-wailin’

Swearin’ he gwine put den underground.

De other folk look out dey door

To see what make dat devil sound.

 

When he get back to he own house

He kick de lock door open wide.

And there in bed be he own wife

With another mon by her side.

 

They rumble in dat shanty house.

Luke cut de mon, den cut he wife.

Dat bedroom be all colored red

Dat just last month been painted white.

 

De police siren scream through town

and lights was flashing everywhere.

And when the police squad show up,

Dey shocked to find that Luke still there.

 

Dey put den two under de ground.

They took mad Luke to the prison farm,

And now them two can’t cause no strife,

And now mad Luke can’t cause no harm.

Osmond Watson, "City Life"

Osmond Watson, “City Life”

Disorder Above Key West

Image

Click the grey arrow above for sound

 

I lifted my head and croaked

Like a crow, and the nails

Vibrated with something like music . . .

James Dickey, “A Folk Singer of the Thirties”

1

Henry David Dobson

Out of action, losing traction,

I slid down South, a bad mistake.

Florida is flat, crawling with con men,

rattlesnakes, swamps, and tattooed

waitresses who call you “Sugar Britches.”

 

Shooting for Key West, got waylaid in Mayo,

Way down upon the Suwannee River,

A taint of a town (tain’t panhandle,

tain’t peninsula), impoverished

in more ways than one.  No fun.

 

Met Loquacia at a juke joint call’d Phas 2,

a concrete block shit hole

not far from the “Bo Gator Motel” where

I was staying – not clean, not well-lighted –

and my money was dwindling.

 

Loquacia was into iguanas, had them

inked all over her skin, crawling up

her back from butt crack to shoulder

blade and up over down betwixt her tits

crawling down under disappearing into her panties.

 

Just got one tat, the name of my dead son,

Thom, one letter from left to right

in the crotches between my fingers.

I open my hand and spread the span,

and poof! his name appears in Gothic.

 

Anyways, I spent my days scrounging,

hooked up, thanks to L, with this cat who claimed

to be from JA, Mo-Bay, but could have been

some South Carolina geechie for all I know,

but he paid me good to make a run.

 

Seems he supplied some squids

at the base up in Jacksonville.

2 kilos of what the geechie calls ganga

stowed in the trunk of my Chevy

in duffel bags. What could go wrong?

 

Long story short.  I’m writing this

from the Duval County Jail.  Loquacia

ain’t darkened the door.  Silver lining,

my rap sheet ain’t that bad: shoplifting,

public drunkenness, simple possession.

 

Working with a public defender, an

idealistic Jewish girl named Rachel.

She asked me about the tats, and sort

of teared up, she did.  Maybe she can get

me off – and by that I mean out of jail.

 

Anyways, here I sit, way

out of action, with absolutely no

traction. a semi-literate Oscar Wilde,

waiting for my upcoming trial

where I’ll sing like Joan Baez.

2

Durwood Jett

Took the back roads to Tallahassee

to avoid the monotony of mile markers,

dead armadillos, and exit signs.

Took the back roads and took my time.

 

Didn’t make it quick enough to see him die,

but my step-mama filled me in,

sucking on a Marlboro like a man,

“A horrible death, a horrible death,” she said,

over and over, shaking her head.

 

I didn’t know what to say. “Too bad.”

“He fought it hard,” she said, “screamed

‘Get that Gotdamn light out of my face,’

then up and passed.”  She’d took a picture

and showed it to me.  Looked like

all dead people look – his eyes froze,

his mouth froze open like a fish.

 

No, my daddy and me didn’t get along,

the house not big enough to hold

the two of us.  Like in that

Springsteen song.  We’d cuss each other

and sometimes come to blows.  Of course,

me 35, half his age, been able whip him

for a while.  He sure whipped me

back then before, cracking a buckled belt.

 

Can’t quite pity the poor dead bastard,

laying there waxy with his hair slicked back

in that Sears and Roebuck suit, striped tie,

his mouth glued closed, his eyes glued shut.

 

His daddy beat him, and that daddy

beat that daddy before that.  I ain’t

got no offspring, but got my own

business, mind my own business,

so I have the time to take my time,

to take the back roads, to avoid

traffic, to miss all them 18-wheelers in a hurry

to reach them warehouses they can’t abide.

3

Chuckie Brent

When Jimmy Jeffcoat’s meth lab blew,

me and Tiny Wade was smoking a joint

back behind outside the Stop and Go.

 

Boom.  One blast.  BOOM.  Tiny jumped

about a foot and a half, like a bullet or bigger

was headed his way.  “Got damn, what was that?”

I told him I reckoned a transformer blew,

or maybe a sonic boom? but then we heard a siren’s

whoop-whoop and knew that something bad was up.

 

“For sure, it ain’t no Islamic terrorist,” I joked.

“Ain’t nothing in this shitty skank ass town

worth the trouble of blowing up.”

 

* * *

 

We still ain’t recovered from that tornado

two years ago. The kids gone off to college

ain’t never coming back.  Tallahassee, Orlando,

Atlanta  – they got movie theaters and restaurants.

Their parks ain’t littered with them empty canisters

the teens been huffing on all night long.

 

* * *

 

I hear they hauled Jimmy down to Duval County.

He lost his dog and parrot, both burnt to a crisp,

that parrot that perched and shat on Jimmy’s shoulder,

like Jimmy was some long lost landlocked pirate.

“Arrggh,” Jimmy’d growl,” and the parrot’d go

“Arrggh” over and over. I swunny it got old.

 

I suspect Jimmy ain’t laughing right now,

and I know for sure the parrot ain’t,

and that dog won’t keep me up ever again

barking his chained-up ass off all night long.

 

Yep, the sun comes up, and the sun goes down,

And there’s one less loser in this podunk town.

4

Rachel Feldman

Oh, Leah, I’d resign tomorrow

if I could steel myself and endure

mom’s patronizing, smug, I-told-you-so,

but no, I’ll continue to slog my way

through this damned Despond of Despair,

continue to suffer our insufferable DA.

No, I’m good at least for one more year,

my own self-imposed sentence you might say.

 

It’s almost always drugs.  Smack, crack

meth, Ecstasy.  With the resources

we waste prosecuting weed, we could feed

so many food insecure kids.  We need

to get them out of those trailers

into pre-K if this unrelenting

cycle of poverty is ever to cease!

We’re talking Dorothea Lange like squalor here.

 

Let me tell you about these two clients of mine,

Jimmy Joshua Jeffcoat and Henry David Dobson,

as different as night and day, but in

a similar plight.  Unable to make their bail,

they share the same cell.  Jeffcoat’s a creep,

with pitted methadonic teeth.

Dobson, on the other hand, reads Oscar Wilde

and flashes a crooked grin of orthodontic white.

 

Jeffcoat’s doomed to serve at least seven,

if not more, but Dobson wants, as he says,

“a jury of my peers to decide.”  Who knows?

He’ kind of charismatic.  DOB 4/1/75.

He sports a full head of slicked back hair.

A ruddy face, creased, furrowed, but kind.

I’d say he’s suffered way too much sun,

and a few too many dark nights as well.

 

He calls me “Miss” in a formal sort of way,

and he’s practically tattooless, the only one

his dead son’s name, in between his fingers,

upside down from our perspective.

 

Yes, I guess he could be gay, though I hadn’t

thought of that.  But, yes, you’re right, the tat

is indeed a man’s name, and yes, Wilde, could be,

but if I had to bet, I’d bet he’s straight.

 

When this gig’s over, I’ll bugaloo back

to Boca, having done my time.

Might go to grad school, SCAD, get an MFA

in photography.  I’ve learned being a lawyer

is not for me.  Should have listened to my

heart instead of my mom.  Oh, sure, she’s proud

of what’s she made of me, my Ivy League degree,

her youngest brand name of a daughter.

5

Bobby Lee Thornhill

“Please help me help yourself,” my PD said.

“A little remorse could go a long, long way.

Even if you don’t really feel it,

Try feigning it, you know, like an actor in a play?”

 

“No ma’am, I can’t.  I won’t.  In fact,

I’d love to kill him all over again.

Watch him jump when I pump

them shells in place, watch his face go white,

them tiny rodent eyes terrified

as I suggest he pray –

“Boom – “before he can mutter ‘Our Father’ – boom –

bits of brain and skull splattering

sticking to the concrete block wall behind.

 

“No ma’am, remorseful I am not.”

 

Some icy thing shot up her spine,

like she was looking at Satan himself.

 

“It’s cause what he done to that

little girl,”  I said.

 

She shivered again

and crossed her hands across her chest.

6

Henry David Dobson

When I put my hand upon that bible

(its old leather cover was cracked),

I wondered how many hands, both black and white,

were as steady as mine taking that oath.

 

I slowly raised my right hand and swore

to tell the truth, the whole truth,

nothing but the truth – so help me God.

I said it as if the Lord was as real as you and me.

I looked each juror softly in the eye,

the way Jesus might, if he was on trial.

 

* * *

 

They claimed I had to know the 4  kilos

were hidden in those bags, mashed

under wads of dirty clothes.

 

“No, sir, I did not,” I said. “I swear,

I did not know, would have hid

them better if I had.”

 

The fat man snarled; his sarcasm dripped,

“We’re supposed to believe you didn’t look?”

“No sir,  I don’t believe in snooping

through other people’s property.”

The fat man lost his cool, sensing he might lose,

raised his voice, “What about the smell?

The patrolmen could smell it, the K-9s went wild.”

 

I sighed an exhausted sigh and said,

“With all due respect, sir, I’m no dog;

plus I lost me some olfactory in the Iraqi war.

You can check my records on that,” I said.

 

* * *

 

My PD, she played a role as well,

was less a Yankee, more of a good ol’ gal.

She appealed to the jury’s sense of fair play.

 

“Let us hope,” she said, hand on heart,

“we have not come to that sad day

when we’re so cynical

we ‘re incapable of

mustering a reasonable doubt

in favor of a fellow human being.

“He could be your brother or son.

Let us hope we can still manage

to muster a reasonable doubt.”

 

* * *

 

There’s nothing quite like getting out of jail.

You feel so free it’s almost worth

getting locked up to get out again.

You look up and see clouds overhead,

and in your car with the windows rolled down,

you can feel the wind blow back your hair

as you bid adieu to that goddamned town.

You’re free to take this road or that,

free to head north, south, east, or west,

free to holler a rebel yell – you’re free again –

on ’95 headed south to Key West.

The Back Roads to Tallahassee

Image

 

Click the grey arrow above for sound.

 

Took the back roads to Tallahassee

to avoid the monotony of mile markers,

dead armadillos, and exit signs.

Took the back roads and took my time.

 

Didn’t make it quick enough to see him die,

but my step-mama filled me in,

sucking on a Marlboro like a man,

“A horrible death, a horrible death,” she said,

 

over and over, shaking her head.

I didn’t know what to say. “Too bad.”

“He fought it hard,” she said, “screamed

‘Get that Gotdamn light out of my face,’

 

then up and passed.”  She’d took a picture

and showed it to me.  Looked like

all dead people look – his eyes froze,

his mouth froze open like a fish.

 

No, my daddy and me didn’t get along,

the house not big enough to hold

the two of us.  Like in that

Springsteen song.  We’d cuss each other

 

and sometimes come to blows.  Of course,

me 35, half his age, been able whip him

for a while.  He sure whipped me

back then before, cracking a buckled belt.

 

Can’t quite pity the poor dead bastard,

laying there waxy with his hair slicked back

in that Sears and Roebuck suit, striped tie,

his mouth glued closed, his eyes glued shut.

 

His daddy beat him, and that daddy

beat that daddy before that.  I ain’t

got no offspring, but got my own

business, mind my own business,

 

so I have the time to take my time,

to take the back roads, to avoid

traffic, to miss all them 18-wheelers in a hurry

to reach them warehouses they can’t abide.

Snow Day

Image

Click gray arrow above for sound

Drooping mimosas,

bent like old beggars,

weighted down with icy teardrops

presage the possibility of

snapping limbs and downed lines,

no heat, no Internet.

 

This so-called accumulation ain’t even an inch.

Up North this icy sneeze ain’t nothing,

a sprinkling, a dusting.

School kids at 0 centigrade

probably  line up in Connecticut

outside the Cafeterorium,

like little dragons, their breaths vapor,

their heads hooded,

their hands gloved or mittened.

 

Not at school our young ones.  They’re

outside celebrating a snow day,

scraping crunchy white veneer

to make a stunted sleet man –

Lilliputian, malformed,

a tiny Alexander Pope sort of construction.

 

Many have never seen snow –

or what’s passing for snow –

so they’re Christmas Eve excited.

Later, if the power goes, they’ll enjoy

the lighting of hurricane lamps,

but I sure hope not.

 

Jesus, today has to be my mother’s

very last snow day, and come to think of it,

I’ll not see many more myself,

down here in Dixie, so let the lights flicker,

let the night turn black.

Let nature force us to feel the cold,

to feel alive, cocooned beneath roofs,

comforters, covers and sheets

beneath the dazzle of unseen stars.

The Insomniac’s Ball

Click the grey arrow above for sound.

       As when an old film jumps in the projector,

       You will be wading a dun hallway, rounding

        A newel . . .

                             Richard Wilbur :   “Walking to Sleep”

1

The tick tock clanging of a mail slot

is followed by a thud.  At this ungodly hour?

A hand-written invitation lies at your feet.

The Insomniac’s Ball.  Wednesday morning, one to five,

entertainment provided by Stan Kenton’s Big Band

reproduced mono on hi-fi.  Regrets Only.

How do they know that you are one of them,

whoever they are?  How do they know that at three a.m.

you tend to be tapping out trochees on a headboard?

 2

The building isn’t as nice as you’d hoped.  You rise to the third floor

caged in an elevator, the only passenger.  The hall’s

somewhat seedy, the carpet worn, its roses faded.

You have been given the coded knock.  The first six notes of the 2nd movement

of Beethoven’s Ninth.  KNOCK knock, KNOCK knock, KNOCK knock.

The creaking door opening sounds like Bela Lugosi’s coffin

as eyes adjust to a mazelike apartment, crowded but eerily quiet.

The Stan Kenton LP is scratched, the other guests preoccupied,

unfriendly, drifting through the rented rooms.

3

You peek through a door down the hall

and meet the stare of your dead grandfather,

the one whose room you used to tiptoe past,

a medicinal darkness reeking

of the Great Depression.  As you escape, his memories

trail you like a shadow down the hall darkening

the passing stream of old folks, great aunts and former teachers,

rouged and wrinkled, mumbling to themselves,

some in bedroom slippers, others in stilettos.

4

The library’s quite impressive. A ladder runs along a rail

to reach the volumes way over your head: a textbook

in Sanskrit on Chinese mathematics you must master

to pass that class you’ve completely forgotten about!

a course you need for graduation!

You climb to the top reaching, but then look down

dizzyingly into a snakepit, concentric circles

spiraling with antlike companions from your youth,

descending, swirling, like bloody water down a drain . . .

5

There is a shrine for your departed lovers.  On display

the beds where you once slept preserve the imprint of bodies.

Perhaps a long golden hair lies on the dented pillow,

but you’re not allowed to go beyond the red velvet ropes.

Where are they now – you wonder – what are they doing,

are they even alive, were they ever alive? You’re so

sleepy anything seems possible –

slants of light, cathedral tunes, leaden feet, riveted lips.

Couples waltz by mouthing one-two-three; one-two-three; one-two-three.

6

The oncoming day stretches out like a desert,

like the Bataan Death March, like life plus forty.

Thoughts of daytime responsibilities start to ricochet like billiard balls

without transition cold sheets, institutional whiteness, the ICU –

physicians and nurses whispering about your condition:

BEEP beep, BEEP  beep,  BEEP  beep . . .

You ride the rented hearse of sleep home

to twisted sheets, to creeping light, to the bedside’s time bomb’s

tick tock tick tock tick . . .

The SAD Roundel Rag

 

Click the great arrow above for sound.

Snide winter suns don’t heat

on their blustery ride;

flashily indiscrete,

snide winter suns don’t heat.

Winter suns glide,

bold but effete,

expansive as they slide

over the edge into the deep.

No matter how you search for the bright side,

that lackluster light spells defeat –

snide winter suns don’t heat.

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