I walk this rutted alley from The Club to Skeet’s Cafe
with my son, dogging my grandpa’s hill-climbing heel,
my old man’s voice in my head talking about my long
dead punch-happy uncle whose clothes I still wear.
I imagine nighttime excursions of raucous Irish brothers
chasing moonlight blood and lust. Now silent to my son
in sunlit afternoon, heard faintly as barroom whispers,
echoes choked by the scuffing gravel beneath my feet.
Feeling nameless now as drunks who crawled here blind
with hope, searching money, a misplaced pint or reason
not to lay back down. They realized their blood in broken
Highlander bottles, found the strength to make last call.
The ice man told secrets of these sagging back porches,
the angry early-morning brogues of immigrant women
laid on suits and hay hands dancing lightly downstairs
from Dirty Jean’s whorehouse. She always tipped in trade.
I come searching for my family, Gaelic ghosts, fast fighters,
sure friends, who sip whiskey on a wood box in the lunch-
break shade, lilt Celtic ditties, bring tears to your eyes
telling heroic lies in the resonant voice of St. Patrick, himself.
This back door playground of hard working men, dirt and stone
more honest than the clean swept curbs out front, knows
the pleasures and pains of the flesh, the soul – the grunts
and bruises, lost faith and aches of spent life and hunger.
Where after years in these thrown-away shadows, toothless
grins and vacant eyes broadcast the degree of hangover
acquired on a fixed tab. These guys who financed Phillip
Morris’s Early Times, Old Crow’s who made Jim Beam.
A stark, gray world of weeds and dust; chinkless bricks
and weather-faded wood; torn, yellow blinds and cardboard
window panes; all exposed to the raised leg of a mongrel
Blue Heeler marking the stoops of dead and unsung kings.
I came to discover Eros in the mirror of the back bar,
betraying reflections of buzzing neon coded riddles to be
ciphered on the journey always out the back door. But ghosts
tell less than dead men know, and more than I want to hear.
Don’t we all suffer ironic deaths from exposure? A sad
heritage of no regrets? These ghosts of sheepherders
and miners, ranch hands and railroaders embrace me.
They claimed this wasteland mirage, an oasis of spirit.
I smile at coughing laughs from open doors, smell booze
breath sweet as dying lilacs, feel a rough hand squeeze
the back of my neck, and taste the warm vanilla froth
of unrefrigerated ice cream politely offered in a dirty bowl.
Behind Skeet’s, gone now, his strawberry pie not forgotten,
my son is ready to move on. The Cabbage Patch and cemetery
will have to wait. He’ll exhume those ghosts soon enough. We’ll
gas up, buy Coke and Bud, and drive to Wisdom tomorrow.