connie & butch

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.


for Connie

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