The Lady and the Tramp


Candles and shadows, whispers and echoes,
windows and mirrors, lit by the moon’s glow;
and on the card table, the hand that life dealt
you. Win or lose, living’s a gamble.
If you came from where I did, the odds are
against you. If you don’t like the odds, go
find a rainbow.
They say we have souls. Is that what the body
knows? They say life’s a dream. Ever hear
someone scream?


Being and begetting, struggling and
enduring, all of it bewildering as time
passes and the church bells ring.
Like cold rain running through her
veins, the chilling feeling as Delphi
walks the ghetto streets each day,
shivering even when the sun is
blazing. While across the city
where the girls her age look so
pretty, strolling in their fashionable
clothes along the tree-lined lanes
and avenues, is where she prays
she’ll live someday, somehow,
Shadows stalk her shivering steps.
Life shifts through a freezing mist,
as gunfire crackles and sirens wail
and her fate is sealed with coffin nails.


A loaf of bread, a crown of thorns,
to make ends meet I sell my blood.
That “bank” is the only one I can make
a deposit in since the recession began.
“Take it all.” I told the blood lady the
last time I was there. “I can’t afford
to make anymore. The next time you
see me I’ll be in a morgue.”
The economic recovery is going slowly,
they tell me. Just enough jobs are created
each month to keep up with the population
growth, almost. The young and the
desperate get first dibs on the starvation
wage gigs that provide no benefits.
Old hands like me, doomed at fifty-three,
can fade from the scene. We’re just walking
dead letters, which the Republicans hope
will never be delivered to Medicare and
Social Security. A decade or so without
food or shelter or medical attention should
eliminate that budget problem.
The place in Jersey where I went to sell
my kidney got raided the day I was supposed
to get my surgery.
I need to find another body parts chop shop,
and quick.
Blood and guts are all I have left.


Crawl for cover,
feel death’s finger
slide up your spine
as bullets fly and your
buddies die.
Think of your mother,
brother, sister, father,
lover, your Uncle Sam
who got you into this
jam fighting for your life
in Vietnam.
Tell the rosary on the beads
of sweat that run down your
face, neck. Turn a deaf ear
to the moans and groans all
around you that send shocks
through your bones.
Now you are alone, wasting
away in a back street cheap room,
shot to shit at sixty-six from all
the bad habits you picked up in
combat: drugging, boozing,
hiding from the enemy which
came to be reality.
You survived the ambush that
day and many more that came
your way.
But they made you pay.


Dirty rain and crack cocaine,
some in the cellar feeling for
a plump vein to puncture that
will shine an inner light on the
darkness of the ghetto night
and send a glow through the
body and soul.
“Come with me on my dream
odyssey.” Mother’s little
helper whispers. “Feel the glory
of being free from poverty and
misery, at least temporarily.
Beware, though, it will cost you
your life if you OD.”
If you could call this a life – drive-
bys and gang fights, poverty and
urban blight.
They were born into a combat zone.
More soldiers in Chi-town’s
conscripted army of the damned
would die each year than in Iraq
and Afghanistan.
“Come with me on my dream odyssey!”
At least they knew what they were
dying for. No more, no more.


Curls of color crowd my work in progress.
They look like tear drops or rain drops or
the outlines of alarm clocks.
I squiggled one on the canvas and then kept
them going, for no reason I can fathom.
Maybe they are a code which holds
the DNA for the painting I am attempting?
A race with time? a nursery rhyme? an
ode to the sublime?
I stare at them through the smoke from my
breakfast of champions.
What’s next? Where am I going with this?
In this strange bedlam we inhabit, wedged
in between monkey and human (and being
stoned in addition) anything can happen in
my imagination.
I remember the story Henry Miller wrote
about the angel he painted when he was
loaded. I never painted an angel. Maybe
I’ll find one hiding in my canvas when I
connect the dots or tear drops or alarm clocks,
whatever is curled up?
An angel today, a devil tomorrow, nothing
unusual for an artist’s studio.
This is the sort of place one comes to ponder
good and evil and to confront that meeting
between thought and instinct, peace and
violence, greed and giving, which we all
share if we dare.


The moon was gone. Black clouds closed
over the city like the lid of a coffin.
Thunder boomed and the winds picked up,
blowing through the windows of the inferno
below him like an angel’s breath, soothing
the body, not the soul. That would always
stay trapped in Hell.
Tim sat on the roof of his sweltering tenement.
He watched the tiny, hobo fires shivering by
the tracks beyond the slums, that dark jumble
of buildings falling down.
He imagined himself running along side a
freight car as the train slowed to make
its turn, grabbing a rung and climbing on,
another lost soul on a ghost train, going
nowhere, going anywhere, ghost town bound,
maybe not tonight but soon.
Staccato images of hardscrabble slum life
flash before him with the lightning,
a battle no one can win, or survive, not without
becoming more dead than alive.
“Nowhere” was better than here.
Anywhere was better than here.
Anything was better than nothing, and here
nothing was all there was for him.


Remnants of wreckage tangled
together, Franklin Foster wanders
the downtown streets in tatters.
Mouth open, feet dragging, pale
eyes staring, horns blaring, as he
ghosts across the busy intersections.
Franklin remembers falling, screaming,
howling in his nightmare, arms
flailing, legs kicking, clutching,
grasping, plunging. Finally he
awakened. Nothing was clear,
as Franklin slowly picked himself up
from the gutter, neither the past
nor the present, nor the future.
The future? Franklin almost remembers
a line by Shakespeare, something
about day to day in a petty pace?
Other memories emerge, shadowy,
fleetingly – faces, places. All gone
with those winds of time that life
erases. The crowds bustle past.
Like a ghost in a dream, Franklin Foster
shadows through the flow, a step
at a time, although he has nowhere
to go.


Dead bodies never look like the persons they’re supposed to resemble.
There’s something missing in them – no matter how you make them
up or clothe them.
Kristy’d been to her share funerals, although she was hardly eleven.
No wonder everybody’d be all shook up and crying at them, before
and after they’d be buried in their plots – despite the elaborate decorum.
Dead ain’t pretty. Sure ain’t nothin’ you’d want to be.
Sure ain’t no redemption nor salvation.
There’s a livin’ dying which is more disturbing.
She’s see’d that too, over the years, since they moved from the bayou
to Uptown Chicago, after the big storm hit them, and they had to relocate,
as her parents put it, and find shelter with their relations, when she was
hardly going on seven.
But as soon as they were hunkered in another storm struck them,
the recession; and they were as bad off as they were in Louisiana only
now there were more of them, and all turning into corpses together,
with no hope whatsoever, more dead than living.
Her spindly legs dangling from her perch on the El train’s railing,
a little hooded nonentity in her raggedy parka of faded denim, Kristy
rivets her pale blue eyes on the flow of pedestrians, streaming along
the busy street, toting their shopping bags, pocket books and purses.
It’s just like hillbilly hand fishin’, Kristy thought, wade in and snatch
a catch, run like hell and you’re survivin’.


At the factory, Ramon and me would
slit boxes, all night, on treacherous
machines. A run of long oblongs and
then a run of squares, and then the other
way around, then vice versa; to be loaded
on conveyors for the crews down the line
for printing and strapping, to pass on in
stacks to the fork lifts who hauled it all
to the trucks on the docks.
Feeding the slitters and clearing the jams
was the main challenge. The machine
settings were merely simple adjustments.
But fingers could be lost in the operations –
not exactly the job of choice for an aspiring
artist and classical guitarist.
“What you humming, amigo?” I would ask
Ramon. “Is that a new composition, or is
your stomach growling?”
“My stomach was OK, my friend, until I
saw your new painting.”
Somehow we managed to get through each
shift without being mutilated, although many
times we were both high on the stimulants
we took to keep us awake, after classes all
day. “Maybe you paint better with no fingers,
my friend? Maybe you don’t paint no worse?”
“Your music sounds like machine noise, amigo.
Can’t tell the difference.”
Ramon got killed in Vietnam. I got drafted as
well; but I was spared the danger of that big
slitter the politicians keep running to maim
and murder each generation, which they
operate so well.