Monday, April 16, 2012

The Rabbi of Chelm

The Rabbi of Chelm

(Adapted from various folktales)







WORKERS 1, 2 & 3



Scene: Stage right there a synagogue in which RABBI made his office and space for worship. In the synagogue is found a desk, chair and lectern, facing two rows of seats. A bespectacled RABBI is seated at desk with a large book, studying contents. Center stage is a house with a long table for eating with bowls and spoons enough for 11 places, a chair for sitting, a fireplace and a bed downstage big enough for FARMER and FARMER’S WIFE. Stage left is the outskirts of town. Here, men are busy digging, carrying rocks, etc. to construct the new synagogue.

Enter stage left, FARMER. In house already are FARMER’S WIFE, GRANDMOTHER, GRANDFATHER, SEVEN CHILDREN, and BABY in a CRIB, being carried around house by two of the SEVEN CHILDREN.

FARMER sits down to eat dinner with family. Various members are yelling, GRANDFATHER snores on through racket, other members laugh, others fight, and baby cries. WIFE attends to baby. GRANDMOTHER chases children. FARMER is visibly perturbed.

FARMER: It is too noisy in here! I want quiet!

EVERYONE stands in montage for a beat, then continues what they were doing, at TWICE the volume.

FARMER stands up, visibly discouraged, and walks out the door, stage RIGHT.

FARMER: I will visit the Rabbi and see if he can bring peace to this house. The Lord knows I can’t!

FARMER walks to synagogue, knocks on door.

RABBI: Yes? Please enter!

FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, excuse me for disturbing you; I realize you are busy with the plans for the new synagogue, but I have a question for you.

RABBI: (gently) Well, what is it?

FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, my house is full of people. It is too noisy! Tell me what to do!

RABBI: (closing his eyes and stroking his beard in thought). Here is what you do. Bring your rooster and your chickens into your house.

FARMER: That is a funny thing to do.

RABBI: Do you want to solve your problem or do you want to debate points of comedy? Take it or leave it. I have work to do (gesturing to his desk).

FARMER: Yes, Rabbi. Of course. The rooster.

RABBI: And the chickens.

FARMER: And the chickens.

FARMER races back to his house, grabs rooster and chickens from back yard, and brings them into the house.

WIFE: Dear, WHAT are you doing?

FARMER: Do not worry, my love. It is for our own good. The Rabbi said as much.

FARMER sets rooster and chicken loose in house and sits down to soup. Same ruckus as before, with added noise of rooster crowing and chickens clucking.

WIFE: Well?

FARMER: (Throws down spoon) It’s STILL too noisy in here!

Brief montage as before and then noise commences. FARMER rises and saunters back to synagogue. RABBI has taken a seat outside synagogue, whittling wood or some other activity.

FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, I have done what you asked. I put the rooster and the chickens in the house. But the noise – it is worse than ever!

RABBI: (Without looking up from his woodworking) Then you must put your horses and your sheep in the house.

FARMER: (repeating Rabbi) Horses and sheep in the house.

RABBI: (stops abruptly) Take it or leave it.

FARMER: (More confused than ever but turning to leave, still facing RABBI) Take it…or….leave….it.

FARMER returns to house, fetches horse and sheep and herds them indoors. MOTHER has incredulous look on her face.

WIFE: Now what? Don’t tell me –

FARMER: Yes, the Rabbi said so.

FARMER lets horse and sheep loose in house and sits down to warm himself by the fireplace. Same ruckus as before with added noise of horse whinnying and sheep baaing.

WIFE: (To FARMER over his shoulder) And how is this helping, please explain?

FARMER: (Sighs and stands up). It is STILL too noisy!

With slow, discouraged steps, FARMER returns to RABBI, who at this point is gardening a plot, hoe in hand, outside the synagogue.

RABBI: (Now looking up from his row of radishes and feigning surprise) You are back!

FARMER: (Ignoring RABBI) Noise! Noise! Noise! I cannot stand it anymore!

RABBI: Now, your donkey and your cow.

FARMER: What was that again, dear Rabbi? I am going deaf, I think, from the noise. I thought I heard you say, “Donkey and cow.”

RABBI: (Looking up from garden) In fact, you did hear me say that. Let me say it again. (More slowly this time) Now put your donkey and your cow in the house.

FARMER scratches his head, shrugs and walks back to house with look of resignation.

FARMER: Well, I can’t be any more crazy than I am already.

RABBI hears FARMER talking to himself and laughs silently to himself. FATHER returns home and brings donkey (who fights him the whole way) and cow in house.

WIFE: Let me guess.

FARMER and WIFE: The Rabbi said so.

Again, FARMER takes seat by fire. Ruckus as usual, with added sounds of cow and donkey. In utter despair now, Father stands, walks over to his soup, which has grown cold, and then surveys the chaos in the room. He retires to his bed where WIFE is already fast asleep. Ruckus continues (LIGHTS OUT) until morning (LIGHTS ON) and sound of rooster perched on bestead wakes WIFE. FARMER hasn’t slept a wink. FARMER drags himself from bed, takes another look at ruckus, still in a white heat from night before, and drags his feet from house over to synagogue, where the RABBI is poring over plans for new synagogue.

FARMER: (Yawns, stretches, irritable) Rabbi, Rabbi! My house is like a barn! I cannot stand it!

RABBI: (Turns and feigns surprise at FARMER’s appearance) Oh, my good man. Here is what to do. (Looks around to see if anyone else is hearing the great demonstration of wisdom he is about to impart to FARMER). Take all the animals out of the house.

FARMER waits a beat – for it to sink in – and runs home and one by one removes the barnyard animals from the house – chickens, rooster, donkey (still fighting), sheep, horse, & cow, almost putting GRANDMOTHER out with them, until he realizes what he’s doing. After returning to the house with GRANDMOTHER, he sits down before the hearth. Same ruckus as before – without animal noises. Manipulate to show it is not quite as noisy as the last scene. GRANDPARENTS dancing; some children playing; others fighting; etc. All activity takes place within arm’s length of FARMER, a contented smile on his face.

FARMER: (Standing) Let us all take breakfast out in the pasture today.

FARMER’s family exits stage left. During the previous scene, WORKER 1, WORKER 2, and WORKER 3 return with shovels, digging foundation for new synagogue, and MRS. DISHER takes up her position lower stage right, just in hearing of WORKERS.

WORKER 1 suddenly stops digging. Straightens his back with a groan and suddenly strokes his beard in thought.

WORKER 1: (To no one in particular) What are we going to do with all this earth we’re digging up?

WORKER 2 (Suddenly stops digging). I never thought about that. (Turning to WORKER 3). What, indeed, are we going to do with this dirt?

WORKER 3: (Now no longer working either, but stroking his beard in thought): Ah! I know. We weill make a pit and into it we’ll put all this earth we’re digging up for our synagogue.

WORKER 1: But wait a minute. That doesn’t solve the problem at all. What will we do with the earth from that second pit?

WORKERS dumfounded for a moment – then in moment of inspiration WORKER 2 puts a finger up.

WORKER 2: I’ll tell you what. We dig another pit, twice as big as the first, and into it we’ll shovel all the earth we’re digging now and all the earth from the first pit!

WORKER 1 and WORKER 3 congratulate him and return to their digging with WORKER 2.

MRS. FISHER and MRS. LISHER enter stage left. MRS. DISHER turns to MRS. FISHER and MRS. LISHER as they walk by. After a while, WORKERS exit stage right.

MRS. DISHER: Well, did you ever hear of such bumble-headed foolery?

MRS. LISHER looks at MRS. FISHER and both nod to one another.

MRS. LISHER: What is it now, Mrs. Disher?

MRS. DISHER: Well, I was just about to tell you, Mrs. Lisher. But it seems you’re not interested in what I have to say, so perhaps I’ll tell about the lunacy coming from the mouths of these men instead to Mrs. Fisher.

MRS. FISHER: It may come as a surprise to you, Mrs. Disher, that neither Mrs. Lisher, nor myself (gesturing to the rest of the village) nor Mrs. Hisher, Mrs. Bisher, Mrs. Kisher, Mrs. Pisher, Mrs. Gisher nor Mrs. Epstein, have any interest in your latest gossip. So we bid you a good day, Mrs. Disher.

(MRS. FISHER AND MRS. LISHER exit stage left.)

MRS. DISHER (brought to the point of tears) Oh, why is it no one will speak to me anymore?

RABBI: (Overhearing Mrs. Disher) Were you talking to me, Mrs. Disher?

MRS. DISHER: Oh, Rabbi, Rabbi! Why is it no one wants to hear my gossip anymore?

RABBI: (With tape measure out, measuring desk, podium, etc.) Well, perhaps you’ve answered your own question, Mrs. Disher.

MRS. DISHER: (Suddenly contrite at realization of RABBI’s words) It’s true then. I’ve heard rumors. But now you stand here and tell me to my face that I am a gossip?

RABBI: (Gentle bit firm) Which is more, my good woman, than you’ve done for anyone else here in Chelm.

MRS. DISHER: Oh, Rabbi! Rabbi! What shall I do? How can I change my ways?

RABBI: Ah, it is not for me to change your ways – but you must want to change them yourself.

MRS. DISHER: Oh, I do! I do! What should I do first?

RABBI: First, you must buy me a chicken.

MRS. DISHER: (Taken up short) How’s that again?

RABBI: Go down to the market and buy a chicken. Do it as quickly as possible, and return to the synagogue. On your way, pluck off every single feather from the chicken as you run back. Not a single feather should remain. Do you understand?

Nodding, MRS. DISHER runs off at once, exit left, and a few moments later returns in a run, entering exit left, throwing chicken feathers everywhere plucked from a rubber chicken. MRS. DISHER hands bare chicken to RABBI.

MRS. DISHER: Here you are, Rabbi. Just as you asked.

RABBI: (Taking the chicken from MRS. DISHER) Oh, you’re not done yet. Now, you must go back and pick up every single one of the feathers you dropped along the way to the synagogue.

MRS. DISHER: (Dumbfounded) But…but….but that’s impossible. The wind must have carried every single feather all the way into the next kibbutz by now. I could never recover every single one of those feathers as you ask.

RABBI: (Returning to his measuring the furniture) That’s true. And that’s how it is with gossip. One rumor can fly to many corners, and how could you retrieve it? Better not to speak gossip in the first place, it seems to me…

MRS. DISHER: (Burying her face in her hands, sobbing) Oh, Rabbi, what shall I do now?

RABBI: Well, I would start by asking for the forgiveness of your neighbors here in Chelm.

MRS. DISHER: Yes, Rabbi. I will. Right away. (She turns to leave, but stops.) Well, all except for Mrs. Lisher. You know, of course, what I heard is that she’s…

RABBI: (With one hand wagging his finger and with the other holding out a feather, letting it drop). Uh uh uhhhh…. Remember. Feathers. (He lets it drop and they both watch it fall to the ground.)

MRS. DISHER: Yes, of course, Rabbi. All my neighbors.

(As MRS. DISHER exits stage left, WORKER 1, WORKER 2, and WORKER 3, enter stage right, carrying heavy loads on their backs.)

RABBI: Ah, my good men, these must be the rocks for the mortar?

WORKER 1: They are indeed, Rabbi. Where do you want them – over here?

RABBI: Oh, my kind sir, did it not occur to you that you could have rolled these rocks, so large and round as they are, rolled them, I say, down the mountain from which you retrieved them. How much simpler it would have been for you!

WORKER 1 (scratching his head and then looking at WORKER 2 and WORKER 3, nods): And that, Rabbi, is why you are the Rabbi and we are not! Thank you, Rabbi. By my grandmother’s hat pin! That is a most excellent idea!

At signal from WORKER 1, WORKERS turn on their heels, and begin returning in the direction from which they came, rocks still on their shoulders.

RABBI: (With a look of disbelief, pushing his spectacles up on his forehead) Wait, my good sir. What about the rocks?

WORKER 1: Oh, don’t fear. We have them snug. They won’t get away from us – at least not until we get them back to the mountain top to give them the big roll down. (Laughing with other WORKERS) Thanks again, Rabbi – you’re a real lifesaver!

(WORKERS exit stage right and RABBI shakes his head. He then begins a search for his eyeglasses which are still perched atop his head – searches podium, desk, behind desk, behind podium, etc.)

RABBI: Where are my glasses? (Then, straightening up into formal posture as if about to deliver a lecture.) Indeed, where are my glasses. (More formally still) Let us assume they were taken by someone. They were taken either by someone who needs glasses or by someone who doesn’t need glasses. If it was someone who needs glasses, he has glasses; and if it was someone who doesn’t need glasses, then why should he take them?

(RABBI looks around room again before returning to formal lecture posture again.)

Very well. Suppose we assume they were taken by someone who planned to sell them for gain. Either he sells them to one who needs glasses, or to one who doesn’t need glasses. But one who needs glasses has glasses, and one who doesn’t need them, surely doesn’t want to buy them . . . So much for that.

(RABBI looks around again, this time, in other places, under the door, under the desk, etc. before again returning to his formal lecture posture.)

Therefore . . . this is a problem involving one who needs glasses and has glasses, one who either took someone else’s because he lost his own, or who absentmindedly pushed his own up from his nose to his forehead and promptly forgot all about them!

(Pause a half a beat.)

For instance . . . me!

(Triumphantly, RABBI sweeps thumb to forehead, signaling the end of his lecture and the recovery of his spectacles in one gesture.)

Praised be the Lord, I am trained in our ancient manner of reasoning. Otherwise I would never have found them!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Fox's Confessor - Chapter Six

When Father Overbee drank he often thought
Of St. Augustine (“To The Burgundy,
Thence I came…”) but refused to think what brought
Him to such a pass: he knew the company
“The Legless Fox” kept was most nights only
“Me, myself and rye.” So he thought it strange
To have someone other than a barfly
Or transient intrude on his solo binge:
Parishioner or not, encounters made him cringe.

Tonight’s visitor in natty long coat
And pin-striped three-piece was holding in hand
And close to vest a fancy leather tote:
That’s where, thought Father, lawyers keep contained
Such secrets convictions that sins defend…
The priest avoided making eye contact
And turned to his drink as the stranger scanned
The room for signs of life. In fact, he attacked
His beer: shall I be shit-faced tonight, or just shellacked?

Before too long, though, half way through the priest’s
Latest coat of liver stain, the stranger spoke –
Not to him – to imaginary guests –
Or so it seemed. Perhaps the priest mistook
The man for his appearance: homeless folk
Have taken to wearing upscale suits
, he thought.
Intrigued, he listened to the stranger talk.
A beer later, the stranger began to shout,
Then looked at – or through – the priest, and quickly ran out.

“There goes the evening’s divertissement…”
The cleric said, and, shrugged to silence, sipped
His glass and munched at a free assortment
Of nuts and snaps at the bar. As he tipped
His glass to drain it, someone lightly tapped
His arm. A fat fellow sat a stool away
And watched the glass the priest held as it dripped
Its final drop into his mouth. “Good day,”
He said. “I’m Lonnie Cash. Are you enjoying your stay?”

“Good day – evening, sir. I’m actually not
A regular guess – I came for the cashews
And stayed for Wilmaukee’s Best. Look at that…
Late fer New Mexico and no excuse.
A bishop-forced vacation – can’t refuse.”
“Are you a priest by name of Father Andy?”
Asked Lonnie barging through the priest’s obtuse
Palaver (Although that’s not quite the way
That he put it later to Peyton: “He was high!”)

“Who needs to know? You can tell Mrs. Conway –“
“Are you a priest?” (Although still dressed in his blacks,
He had his Roman collar stashed away
In his back pocket.) “Whew, this ‘Headless Fox’
Sure’s gotten busy tonight. ‘Matter facks,
I am – or was – or…whaz on your mind, son?”
“We’ve got a guest in Six-sixty-six –
He’s very ill, you see – and a Christian –
And he’d like to have a priest to do confession.”

* * * *
Delirium – dying delirium,
Thought Lytlewood, once more in the lobby.
He pounded on the call-bell like a drum
And Peyton Cash appeared almost instantly
Behind the desk. Or the insanity
Of an old man.
“I’d like to take my suite.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Lytlewood. Here’s your key.
I would suggest you take the stairs tonight
As the elevator is cranky – and it might –“

“You expect me to take six flights of stairs?”
“Of course not, Mr. Lytlewood, go straight
On down the hall and there’s elevators
To left and right, but take the one on the right.”
But Lytlewood shot a severe look at
The man. “You damn well know I’ve been before.
Who’s taking care of baggage this late
At night?” Even Peyton Cash – cool cucumber
Extraordinaire – struggled to keep composure.

“We’ll…We’ll have them sent up A.S.A.P….”
“What kind of place you run–“ Whatever else
The aging thug thought he was going to say
Was lost in vertigo and closing walls –
He gripped the desk to ride out the crippling spells
Of nausea, letting fall to the marble floor
The dossier from Music. When the chills
And shakes subsided, Peyton standing there
Beside him, both saw its contents spilled everywhere.

* * * * *
As Father Overbee replayed the scene,
Bizarre and of a piece with how his night
Was shaping up, his presbyterian
Instincts assumed a sober defense of rite
And sacrament: while he agreed, despite
His clodded judgment, to see the sick man,
He told the thumbless fellow – as he spat
Tobacco juice into a brass spittoon –
“Sish sishty-sish, huh? Good nummers for confection…”

“Well, Padre, spurt it can’t hurt spurt can it?”
“I’ll need a hole and stoly oils – a stoles
For extreme inaction – what? Bah! Emmit fit
To drivel meself and get a couple miles
To walk –“ “Oh, don’t sweat spurt the details
There Padre – just spurt go and do your thing.
The little stuff are just the devil’s
Excuse for spurt to make the ol’ purse strings
Of pig tails – or is it honey spurt for the bee stings?

“Shit, I don’t know – the point is spurt…Well, shit,
What was my point?” “The rask of gitting lust
In detools?” "Ex – spurt – actly! Did I hit
The hammer on the tail?" "– I think I mussed
Your name, Mr….?” “Lonnie Cash, your host…
I’m owner of these here praymises, too.”
And Lonnie, pausing half a second, thrust
His hand at Father Overbee and threw
A look at his piled empty glasses. “Want to play through?”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fox's Confessor: Chapter Five

The Burgundy was Lytlewood’s retreat
From larger universes. Renting peace
Of mind, he found his refuge bittersweet –
At once a cure for the common disease
Of life, and sure reminder that when lease
And rent come due, the vacancies remain
The first concern. In its halcyon days
The hotel spilled with bouquets and champagne;
Today, it’s real estate prostitutes Mnemosyne –

A fact the hotel’s current state drove home
As Lonnie drove Lytlewood into view:
The faded facades of dismantled Rome
Could never have filled Caesar with more rue –
Its garish art-deco and neon threw
Enough electricity to trace its dark
Abandoned silhouette. As evening grew
It spread its stain against the sky in stark
Majestic hints of heydays and high water mark.

With tears of practice, Lonnie got the hang
Of driving without thumbs. – But Lytlewood
Soon realized he wasn’t worth a good damn
For carrying bags – This bed is mine I made...
He was left with baggage at the colonnade
That announced The Burgundy’s grand entrance.
As Lonnie went to park in back, he stood
And saw the hotel’s old ways – a sentence
Scrawled above the arch to welcome with faux-pretence:

Check Your Cares At Door, Ye Who Enter Here!
With a short strained sigh tucked under his breath
Against nostalgia, he opened the door
And stepped inside. In crossing underneath
The jamb, he thought he heard the hotel breathe,
Exhaling years and years of quiet years…
The lobby’s marble floor echoed with
His falling steps – like mourning – without tears
He thought – or echoing for years and years. And years…

A furtive movement caught his eye: someone
Retreated into the office behind
The desk – as if to avoid detection.
But Lytlewood was rather disinclined
To follow up. Instead he looked to find
A concierge or bellhop. Then the bar
Recalled him to its modest doors; they dinned
The clank and hum of business, familiar
Enough to guide him back to find his old north star.

He was too weak with his sickness to think
To want his old proclivities: a box
Of choice cigars beneath his arm; a drink
In hand to start the night…Scotch – hold the rocks!
The Burgundy’s bar – called “The Legless Fox” –
Had naturally attracted Lytlewood –
Though few guessed his big shoes would leave the tracks
Of little Reynard behind...And once, I could…
He weakly pushed the swinging doors and stepped inside.

There were only three others in the room:
A bartender toweling a whisky glass
Behind the bar, another pushing broom,
His back to Biggy, and – seeming out of place –
A single patron crouching comatose,
Nursing drinks at the bar’s far end, his mood
As black as his attire. And then a voice
Yanked at Biggy with its unlikelihood.
It’s good to see you again, Mr. Lytlewood.

As Lytlewood knew that the gangster’s life
Was full of strange and bloody things, and one
Was just as soon accustomed to mooncalf
Grotesques, stupid lore and superstition
Of underworld and overlord, as to gun-
Downs and garottes, the sign and sacrament
Of thuggery itself: still, the phenomenon
Appearing now before his eyes was different –
Virgil Strong – not quite spirit, not quite corpulent.

It was Lytlewood, after all, who first
Appealed to Music’s Machiavellian
Propensities, suggesting, worse to worst,
Divine authority cows even villains –
“A taste of blood will only whet the thirst,”
He said to Music, “but feed the will on fear
And even vice and crime are all but forced
To pay the gods respect.” He helped, therefore,
Convert dishonest souls to Music’s strident care.

Oh, sir, the ghost continued, why surprised? –
You act as if the boys had hacked your tongue
Instead of mine. But you must have realized
We’d be waiting here – with spring in step and song
In heart – and ready to bring you along
With us
. But Lytlewood simply stared
Down the bar, long and cool. Don’t get us wrong,
Mr. Lytlewood – no expense was spared –
If you’re to die, we’re here to make sure you’re prepared.

It’s Music’s little pastime, Lytlewood
Suspected – testing him around the edges,
To see if age and pleasure had destroyed
His hardness, mollified his ancient grudges
Against the world. If Lytlewood budges,
So Music speculates, then who else might
Betray me? Sham sureties, bogus pledges –
Surely these more than bullets took the fight
Out of Music? Still, there’s something here that’s not quite…

“Say, Virgil, you keep referring to ‘we’
And ‘us’ – but I see only us in the place,”
The gangster thought to say – with levity
To show he’d play it out. Don’t remember us,
Good man? – Remember Eddie the Puss?
That’s Eddie Pusarchik right over there
At Table Eight. Recall how you hopped him
Up on smack and made him rape his mother?
I think he whacked his father, too – for good measure.

Then standing over there by the jukebox –
That’s Tony Romula. No? You had him kill
His brother over phony rotten stocks
In city real estate. Talk about shill
And shell games: A regular Cain and Abel,
Those two. If Jimmy hadn’t played both ends
Against the middle, skimming from the till
On top of all…I always said, you bends
The rules enough and nothing in it recommends.

And Hector “Horsey” Harriman is here –
The stable trainer for Mr. Music’s
Arabians? If I’ve the story clear,
The bookie – Parrish Bowes, was it? – tried to fix
A race in which Achilles’ Heel, Music’s
Prize thoroughbred, was running. Hector slipped
It’s feed a mickey; Bowes slipped him greenbacks;
And didn’t Music have you have Hector strapped
And dragged behind Achilles ‘til his spine was snapped?

Oh, he’s there by the cigarette machine
With Bowes now…What became of Bowes again?
That’s right. Once you got Hector to come clean –
Before his last ride – you “found” Parrish in
Bed, committing fornication
With Mr. Music’s mistress. What a knack
You had for fabricating a fiction.
Didn’t you show him counterfeit Kodaks?
Is that what makes a fellow swallow Clorox and Ajax?

As Virgil Strong continued his catalog
Of Lytlewood’s auld lang syne alumni,
Biggy’s gaze began to drift like fog
From face to ghostly face to – suddenly
He sensed almost simultaneously
Two curious facts: the barkeeps were gone
And, he noticed, during Virgil’s litany
The barfly in the corner tying one on
Was following this one-sided conversation.

…Again involving Mr. Music’s mistress –
What was her name? Oh, hell!
(Sorry, Sir!)
But that’s it! Hell – hell – Helen Crosby! Yes!
I’m sure of it.
Strong paused. It makes me sore,
I must confess
(It’s just a harmless figure
Of speech, Sir, but apologies, of course!)
As I was noting, it’s just like a whore
To fail to keep appointments. This will force
The Master’s hand – and you know how he hates remorse.

“What do you know about Helen Crosby!”
Interrupted Lytlewood. “And who the hell
Are you! I’m dying, as you correctly
Surmised – but look, the joke was going swell
Until you mentioned… Helen.” His voice fell.
“Please tell me. What the hell is this about!”
Exactly so, dear Mr. Lytlewood. Hell.
And we have just the place for down and out
Fatalities like yourself. Let me explain it

By taking all your questions one by one –
No, better yet, let this answer for all:
This cocktail party (which cannot begin
In fact until Ms. Crosby’s arrival)
Is in your honor. For being faithful
To the Master, we’d propose a fitting toast –
Except the whore prevents it – so until
She shows, the Master has but one request:
It would be best to ignore that nosey goddamned priest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fox's Confessor: Chapter Four

Lost in sorrow’s thickets, the cleric missed
The coming thunder, steel gnawing down
On steel, the grind that crushed and pushed and pressed.
And Lytlewood, abject with abstraction,
Ignored the nearing lights of the station.
In lonely vigil, only Lonnie heard
The train approach the town – its combustion
Now sweeping like fate’s engine forward toward
The platform, a cargo of revelations on board.

The gravity and steel strained to a stop
Before the platform. Nervous clustered knots
Of those awaiting departure took a grip
Of bags and baggage, memories and regret –
And those awaiting arrival of debt
Assumed and endured now scattered to see
Before being seen, hoping to forget
The argument, the tiff, the row, or free
One's conscience from some latest infidelity.

Amid the crowded station’s fervid come
And go, the thick-chested man rose and reached
For baggage overhead. His head went numb
And slumped over – until darkness encroached
Upon his sight and gravity unstitched
His dozing mind in momentary dread.
But catching himself, he stood again, latched
One hand to bag and one upon his head.
His feet felt for the platform with the weight of lead.

Through his faintness Lytlewood thought he saw
An obese figure make its way from shadows –
Waving to him, the man lacked thumbs, his jaw
Hung like a dog’s. In clean accounting rows
The memories started adding up and rose
To meet him – that same fat body hog-tied
With phone cord; that same jaw in twisted throes,
And thumbs jumping from his hands as the blade
Performed precisely: action owed and suffering paid.

The moment Lonnie saw old Lytlewood
He knew that something about him was wrong.
He seemed an apparition as he stood
As if about to faint. “It’s been too long,
Mr. Lytlewood!” His words seemed to hang
Too long before Lytlewood made reply:
“You…what? – why you?” “I’m here to help bring
Your baggage and things to The Burgundy.”
“Lonnie Cash – yes, that’s your name? – I’ve come here to die.”

* * * * * *
“I shit you not, Peyton, it’s what he said,
On God’s honor,” Lonnie explained back at
The hotel. “Also, he said he’d be dead
In hell, he said, before the night was out.”
But Peyton half-listened and, half in doubt,
Regarded Lonnie’s news as if received
Without the bona fides of proper bullshit.
“I think, dear brother, you falsely perceived
(Big words always got to Lonnie) and thus believed.”

“Well, all’s I know is he don’t look so good;
He got these shakes – and driving here I saw
These dizzy spells possess him. Lytlewood
Ain’t Lytlewood is all’s I’m saying now –
He even told me, ‘Take it nice and slow
Through downtown’ – which added a whole half-hour
Because we drove by this old whorehouse so
He could, I don’t know… something to remember,
He said, holding hard the while to some kind of folder.”

When Lonnie finished Peyton began to hum
And think and hum and…. Lonnie blurted, “What!”
The office light was shedding from its dome
Unsettled shadows on Peyton’s balding nut.
He leaned into the cone. “Well look, here’s what
I say we do: if Music’s golden goose
Is getting ready to kick the bucket –
We need some way to find out what that goose
Is going to do and whether it’s meant for us.”

“Remember that Music demands his men
Have to be registered Catholics to play?”
Continued Peyton. “He held confession
A good way to keep his men honest and fey
For blood." “Fey?” “Shut up, Lonnie, and listen –
So Music kept on his payroll a real,
Honest-to-God priest who heard all the sin
And nonsense of Music’s men. Then he’d squeal
Afterwards to Music. The trick would never fail.”

“What trick?” “Oh, Lonnie, clam it, for Christ’s sakes!
The trick was to confess and keep close tabs
Ensuring no one came with higher stakes
To Music’s table. Nothing up for grabs –
You see? You put a fear of God in rubes
And they won’t play you for one, or abuse
Your confidence. So we find a priest that gabs;
We make it so he don't know it, set him loose
On old Lytlewood – and if he doesn’t refuse

He’ll have to be thinking Music's being thorough –
And maybe he’s dying for sure – well, will
He refuse a priest? One way or not, we’ll know
If Mr. Biggy Lytlewood is ill
To death.” “And where’ll I find a priest that will
Want to?” Peyton smiled wide. “Well, as I see….
That rummy from St. Placid’s fits the bill –
And it so happens that he’s currently
Buying up the bar. He goes by Father Andy.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fox's Confessor: Chapter Three

“Holy shit. That’s what we are, my dear friends
In Christ” – Father Andrew Overbee sat back
From pen and desk. Holy Shit? That depends
On more distinctions than thy rhetoric
Hath dreamed,
he thought, No, no. Better to stick
To boilerplate, Andrew, and besides, it sounds
All too Protestant…
He knew his homiletic
Style already put him well out of bounds
With Bishop Linseed and his diocesan hounds.

So Father Overbee killed his sermon
For Sunday in utero, crossing out
Its only sentence. Best goddamned line on
Things in a while. But wasn’t meant to be,

He thought as he cast his gaze at
A page torn from Time he’d tacked to his wall –
The famous Holbein sketch of Dean John Colet –
The softened eyes affixed, half-skeptical,
As if gauging the grill of a confessional.

Instead of starting over, Father Andrew
Blew flatulent ruminations from his lips.
He rolled his eyes, paused, and suddenly threw
Down his pen. He looked at his fingertips
And joined them – then let the steeple collapse.
Leaping up, he took, in three strident bounds,
The distance from his chair to his relapse:
The beer can’s hatching crack – this best of sounds!
Thought Father Andrew – provided motive and grounds

For his recovering recovery
From alcoholism. He downed the can
In three hungry gulps, then belched: "Oh-verr-bee-
You-lush"" He knew that his next confession
Would include a Budweiser commission
And half a case of Milwaukee’s Best
Beforehand, to muster up enough spin
To twirl around the usual manifest
Of sins – to save, of course, his mortal best for last.

So Father Overbee began to move
From room to room, wandering the rectory
In search of ideas to rescue and love,
To mollycoddle in discovery,
And raise the blade of reality
(As Abraham would unbloodied Isaac)
Above his intellect: Thursday's homily
Of fear and trembling – mental disconnect –
And fear and loathing –Deny! – usually to redact

On Sunday morning: In his years (the last
Eleven at his current assignment –
The moribund St. Placid’s) as a priest
For God’s Rabble, Father Overbee spent
His time interring old ground for talent
He may or may not have buried alive.
The Long Ago of youthful resentment
Had softened into middle-aged reprieve
Confirmed with liquor – all the better to believe.

It was a bargain he made with his flock:
The parishioners keep a friendly distance
And, playing the equidistant cleric,
He guarantees some kind of real presence
By keeping faith in words, an allegiance
That split infinitives into sermons
And baptized syntax with sly inference.
Yet even as God’s shadow determines
The form,
he thought, matter’s meaning dims the world with sins.

The solipsism was never his style
But he had separated himself from
The world, pursuing faith in partial exile.
His library consoled – but played it dumb
When critical interrogations came
And knocked on his door. His caged parakeet,
Jeremiah, waited, perched in the front room.
Preparing Father, this shrill paraclete
Enthralling souls that came in off the street. Twit tweet!

Twit tweet! The song sung now pulled him up short –
For day had long since concluded its terms.
Who should want counsel now?! With a brusque snort
He reluctantly dropped everything: the forms
And manners of life, mysterious charms
Of social survival; due sacrifice
To quotidian gods; liturgical norms
For ordinary life – which all suffice
To say his fellow man became his daily cross.

The knock foretold fulfilled the prophecy
Of Jeremiah’s song – announcing each guest
A ghost of grief for Father Overbee.
Half-heartedly hiding his mild disgust
He met Mrs. Conway, parish liturgist
And secretary. Halting her entrance,
He quickly stepped out on the porch and made fast
The door behind him, stealing a quick glance
At something she was holding in her vein-blue hands.

“A good evening to you, Father Andy,”
She said. And her sour-tart smirk said in turn,
I piss you off when I call you that, don’t I?
“And to you,” he replied. “And your concern?”
“Oh, well, I just wanted to come and return
This bit of mail I’d taken home by…chance.”
As he took it he noticed it was torn.
“I think it’s something of some importance,”
She added as he saw the seal, “– from His Excellence.”

He waited for Mrs. Conway to leave
Before attending to the envelope.
Prepared for all, he was not so naïve
To think its contents held any good hope
To come: it was, after all, the Bishop.
Upon a careful read, he went inside,
Retrieved a beer and came back to the stoop.
The Six O’Clock – its whistle opened wide –
Resounded in the distance. He sat down and cried.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Fox's Confessor - Chapter Two

“Holy shit…” Biggy groaned, his eyes shut tight,
His mind in momentary suspension
Before resuming gravity’s upward float –
For he was dreaming of resurrection
And drowning, day and night, a rising sun,
And light and light…His hooded lids snapped wide
To see the first golden tendrils of dawn
Unfold across the rooftops. From his bed
He tried to consider which kingdoms to divide.

But something was wrong. Had he but believed,
Body and soul, in the body and soul,
And not the body only, he might have lived
To see his life in more than terms of will.
But it came to pass that the world was ill-
Conceived this morning. Lytlewood awoke
And found the world the way he left it – still
One fact, but now divorced, as if it broke
From his will, amputated in a single stroke.

He raised his skull from his pillow, a head
Burnished in laurels of foxfire crimson
And balding in corruption, noble, staid
As Caesar’s bust. But the latter season
Of his pate belied the high green of June
That flourished, trunk and limb, beneath his clothes.
Still, as he swung his feet from bed linen
To floor, with shaking nausea bile rose
To meet his false youth with age, his vain works with days

Long passed. “Today I die,” said Lytlewood
To his burnt reflection in the smoked glass
Surmounting his nightstand. Half out of bed
He hunched and stretched his hand where a small mess
Of sleeping pills had spilled. The half-darkness
Half-hindered his search for the telephone.
His hands concieved receiver and mouthpiece
Plucked from the cradle. Clenched at like a bone,
He put it to his ear and, not waiting for a tone,

He dialed. Waited. And spoke like one
Who learned to talk to himself, one marooned
With his own voice for more than a million
Seasons. “Yes. I want you to go and find
Two airplane tickets to Miami and
The cleanest whore in town. I need to go
Away awhile… What? I see. A demand.
Not a request. Well. Music would know.”
He hung up and woke up: Where Music sends, I go.

Biggy Lytlewood was not one to call
Rapacious, but he knew how to “acquire.”
The Money – not some, not even most – but all
Was his task as underworld stockbroker:
Attracting attention among the higher
Dominions, thrones and powers, Reynard Lytlewood –
His name before his name became bigger –
Determined his own course, for bad or good,
Relieved a man of his gold as any stone of blood.

He took a comet’s path in his career
Among the other orbiting bodies
And watched from his own insulated sphere
The rise and fall, the wax and wane, surcease
And excess, this universe of chaos.
To his game surprise, he survived, and thrived
To see that murder, bribes, and rank abuse
Of power, sex and money, had moved
His orbit into circles more and more depraved.

Of these, none had more perfect compass than
The machinations of Frankie Music –
His was a total system: he the sun
Around which revolved Lytlewood’s logic
Of tally sheets and body-counts. In quick
Succession Lytlewood rose through the ranks
Of Music’s syndicate. His bailiwick
Was making Music the Baron of Banks
And himself, touched as Midas, horrid as the Sphinx.

It was the face of that deceitful god
Of waste and nothing, that blood-lusty beast
Of riddle and mirage, which now with stolid
Expression stared at itself, holding fast
Its gaze upon the bathroom mirror, cast
Out deep (and thus in deep) to find the cause
Of sickness. Impassive as a clenched fist
He knuckled up the passing pain, his face
Unmoved, its golden whiskers creasing time’s increase.

When pain subsided, it left Lytlewood
In weary contemplation: what to do
Now that mortality had come and stood
Beside him? Say farewell? Miami grew
Insignificant – and whores the more so.
He doused his face and neck from the basin
Of shaving water. Suddenly he knew
Where he would go – a place half way between
Where we would be going and where he had been….

“You’re all set, Mr. Lytlewood. Your train
Arrives in town a little after six –
About sundown. At the station a man
From the hotel’s due to pick you up and fix
You up in penthouse suite Six-sixty Six,
As you requested.” Meyer, his chauffer –
Efficient and discreet, handed tickets
To Biggy, sitting in back. Over his shoulder,
Meyer spoke the way he drove – with purpose. “This folder

“As well, is from Mr. Music.” He passed
It back. But Lytlewood already knew
What the file read: Assignment – his last.
So what did it matter which stone he drew
The blood from this time? He guessed his would flow
Soon enough…. But we leave to meditate
On his yesterday and his tomorrow
One whose will is lost to a present state –
To meet another lost in time’s eternal debate.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Fox's Confessor - Chapter One

It is told, then, that Musciatto Franzesi, being from a very rich and considerable merchant in France become a knight...
-Boccaccio, The Decameron, First Tale, First Day

“Holy shit! Lytlewood’s coming to town!”
Lonnie Cash’s huff-puffing bulk almost
Reached the room and his brother Peyton’s frown
Before his fat squeal filled up and crossed
The office doorway. His brother was lost
In thought, his exquisitely thin fingers
Drumming desktop for some sullen sunk cost
The way a hunted animal lingers
With haunting hungers in shadow’s hidden dangers.

“Yeah, Lonnie, he’s coming alright – I heard
About it this morning. One of Frankie
Music’s men had rung in an early bird
Reservation,” Peyton said, his lanky
Frame rising slowly, painfully, frankly,
To greet his brother with the same cool regard
Lonnie’s perpetual anxiety
Always – the way Peyton saw things – incurred.
He watched as the word reservation registered

Within the sallow jowls and sag-heaping jaw
Lonnie would bounce and jounce with confidence
Like pistons as he worked a plug of chew
Embalmed in Juicy-Fruit. His countenance
Made counterfeits of intelligence,
Dismaying his friends, surprising his foes,
And disgusting, with thick-headed offence,
His brother – so it was that Peyton was
Fond of slapping Lonnie’s fat face with good bad news.

“Reservation?” Lonnie repeated. “Here?
“At The Burgundy?” “Where else?” Peyton said,
And pretended more quietly, “My fear
Is that our Mr. Biggy Lytlewood
Wants someone’s due – Music never yet did
Send Biggy but the business required
A heavy hand’s caress, some smarts – and blood.”
The piston in Lonne’s jaw devoured
The news fiercely – then froze his face as he inquired:

“But why…The Burgundy?” A seven-story
Red-brick affair, old as sin, the inn was built
By hands long-lost in graft’s deep pockets; hard
And fast and ramshackle to a fault –
It stood in comic pride, almost at a tilt.
Each room dirty with money’s satin sheets
And ghosting dirty looks from shades of guilt
Down in the crawling business of the streets
Prefigured shapes of darker days and lamp-lit nights.

By the blood-red of its own furnaced brick,
It was then rechristened – and not too long
After Peyton Cash had made specific
Arrangements to get its gain for a song:
The Singerman Arms, owned by Virgil Strong,
Became relinquished compensation for
Arrears to Frankie Music’s sturm und drang.
(Some say Strong’s coffered corpse still minds the store,
Inspiring the Cash brothers to filthier lucre.)

The brothers held court in the dingy nook
Behind the registration desk, itself
Bare but for a leather-bound ledger book
Spilling pages from a cracked spine, each leaf
Holding sacred secret history – no shelf
Of Shakespeare could story such confessions.
Biggy Lytlewood’s own tale had its life
Reserved in The Burgundy’s discrete lessons
Of quick columnar writ and dead letter questions.

“Lytlewood will be on the evening train,”
Said Peyton as he rolled a cigarette
With barely a pinch of weed stuck between
His fingers. “So I’d just as soon as bet
A pin as wage his train is coming late.”
In one motion he lit and took a drag,
Exhaling, “so… be… early.” And he let
The words – a heavy caution – hang like fog
In smoke between them. With no hope for epilogue

The falling silence bore up each second
The office clock was chipping off like ice.
“Sweet Jesus! Peyton – I hadn’t reckoned
We’d see Biggy’s ugly fox of a face
So soon after…after…” And he held his
Hands up – four digits apiece. Each lacked a thumb.
He’d submitted them, a small sacrifice
To Music’s men for dues to something dumb
Of Peyton’s doing: unpaid interest on a sum

Of loans to keep the Cashes’ solvent grasp
On Burgundy’s lease. “You’re going to hold
That on me ‘til death comes for my last gasp,
And no doubt after,” said Peyton. His cold
Sneer of fraternal hate only retailed
The wholesale hurt his brother tried to fling
At him with a wit he rarely revealed:
“You know, Peyton, there’s not a goddam thing
A man less than an ape can hope to be holding

At day’s end.” Sunlight, oily and urban,
Had seeped down through the city’s upper spheres
To bleed the hotel’s dirty blinds and span
Their gridlines across Lonnie’s face. Faint tears
Angered his grey eyes to black, and shudders
Of past pain held him a moment beyond
The surety of hatred the brothers
Made in compact, contracting like hot wind
From furnace lungs that waits for the tongue to expand.

But let’s now leave in uneasy conference
The brothers – unable to speak or know
Their own minds in confident alliance –
And further shape what will come tomorrow
By glancing back at yesterday’s afterglow:
See, already dawn ignites the daily lamp
A final time, should time alone allow,
For Mr. Biggy Lytlewood - his limp
And sleeping form begins to stir to life’s contretemps …