The Bearded Lady

Vol XXVII, The Bearded Woman


Second Act: The Bearded Woman

Part 1: The Ballad of Booth
Part 2: Strangers at the Catafalque
Part 3: Our American Cousin
Part 4: Peanuts and the Horse
Part 5: Nevermore
Part 6: The Flight to Garrett’s Farm
Part 7: Blood in the Water


Third Act: Characters



First Act: Settings



Elizabeth Connor, tonight I dream of you
as I drive down to Wal-Mart in the rain
and squint at the sign in broken glasses.
In my torn jacket, I pull an empty cart
down the aisles and throw in packages.
I pass a fruit stand and remember apple trees
from that afternoon we spent letting the sun
dry our wet clothes, watching the clouds,
and remarking that some look like Eskimos
riding elephants into a gas station.

Who is this bearded man in front of me,
in a green army jacket and leather boots,
buying a swimsuit magazine and cigarettes?
His name is probably something like Melvin.
He probably lives at home with his mother.

I remember you, Elizabeth. You lived
on the outside of town where your father
had a hard time getting out of bed some days.
In an old farmhouse, you grew up
in your sister's hand-me-downs, dyed
your hair red, didn't care much for poetry,
liked to snap your fingers to soul music,
and stood around in a circle laughing
with the boys from Jackson.

So I wander the aisles, half expecting
to find you staring at a can of beans.
Further in the dream, we hug and kiss
and I ask where you have gone all these seasons.

Will you be home tonight? The store girls
are starting to pull out the shopping carts
and throw out discount items, cracked bulbs
and torn dolls. I stand in the lane, the packages
digging into my side. I nod to the checkout girl
when she asks if that's it. Will the pickup truck
be parked in your stone yard? Is your mother
washing dishes and your father drinking beer?

I pass the now empty spot where we met,
and ask the lamp post "Are you Elizabeth?"
I drive all night through avenues wet with rain
to stare at Main Street with the shops closed.
cursing the stop signs. But can I still knock
on your screen door? Can I sit in your arm chair
as you light incense? Or is there nothing left
and I should abandon my car at the red light,
walk out into the plaza, interrupting the town
in its thirty year nap and swim in the fountains,
emerging with fistfuls of copper coins?

Oh my love, redhead, my silly girl, what dream is this
where every rock this car passes over sings another melody
in the song of the houses and building that pass in the rain?




The Storm

I remember abandoned city streets
like rows of fossils and broken windows
that kept us from danger. I don't know
why the church bells rang those days
over the city every quarter hour like
a funeral march honoring better days,
but birds sang next helping to remember
something else was living in the world.

I remember I'd met her that evening
as she stood on the porch of her apartment
draped in a green coat and laughed at
the way I held the newspaper to stop
the rain and when she suggested we
meet again the next night gave me another
song to sing even after she had shut
off the bedroom light and fallen asleep
with her back to the wall. Watching from
the balcony that afternoon, I remember
we stood on the rusted iron grating with
rolled-up jeans and held empty coke bottles.

"Ah hell, I don't remember a time
when the sky wasn't crying."

"Sometimes it keeps me up all night."

"All those tears broken on asphalt
but nobody cares or even notices
because it's just a little rain."

I remember in the apartment below
a screen door swung open and a boy
began to dance barefoot on his front porch
in a newspaper hat. Blind to the world,
he leapt through the air waving his hands.
And now, despite those long afternoons
when we were not sure what it was
we were waiting for among those ruins
but celebrated even in the face of the storm.



Key West

I brought back stones from my walks.
and Roseanna, who cleaned for us,
tucked them in my suitcase whispering
Americano Perezoso. I think because
the Atlantic Ocean at the front door
gave her shivers, and her burnt feet
clacked like quarters against the stool
as she reached over the bathroom sink
to stuff cleaning rags to her breasts.

Oh Roseanna Marquez, I spot her
one night sitting at a bar outside
Whitehead Street and stared too long,
I spoke no Spanish and knew
of no other way to say she was
dark as a Tiki doll made of stone and mud.
Clasping onto a Hurricane, she dangled
her legs, too short to kiss the floor,
into the air for the wind to toss her
past market out among the palm trees
or even further, over the breakers.
Turning her into a porpoise past
where the fishermen couldn’t see.

When we reached the end of the country,
I thought only of Roseanna, star of the sea.
Still broken, we told stories about
an unknown highway leading off starboard
and how beauty tossed its ugly head
in even the last of places a man could flee.




On Rumors The Only Restaurant in Town Has Closed

When June comes again, tell the boys to read Lolita
and wait on brown flaps somewhere else.

If they bring up that lot, where the dishwasher caught us one night
trying to tie down summer in each other's button holes,
peel the last banana for the woman, who pounded her fists on the piano,
the afternoon I left all of my old love letters lying on the table,

but if you forget even that, all I really meant to tell you
now that the last strawberry salad has been eaten is that once
after closing, we drove to where the Amish girls died in a fire,
and I almost heard a voice saying

“Soon you will lose everything,
so you will wander until you forget the shape of your ears
and it will only be many years later on returning home
you will realize the best way for a man to remember
is to be hit enough in the heart so his arteries harden
to the point where he can not keep down happiness
and vomits it up like a man allergic to penicillin or Boston cream pie.”



The Night Dances

The last time I saw Elizabeth, she was
trying her best to foxtrot past February.
In our striped socks and hospital gowns,
the rug before the window became
a ballroom. While the parking lights
twinkled over the Fisher Price Radio,
she wished for ruby slippers, a glass carriage,
and a twelve piece band, but all we had
was the moon like an eight by ten postcard.
So I showed her how to kick her feet
like the king in Memphis. I admit
trying to slip the dress of her shoulders,
but the night nurse always came
too early to lead her back home
where a banquet of oranges and ice cream waited.



Route 60

Because someone has left a bushel of
brown stamen apples on the side of
the road this evening, I remember
you Thomas, already an angel at eighteen
with a gun in a guitar case moving through
some juke joint town. So for a few minutes,
before I kick the box back into the woods
I stand among the weeds for all the lost.
I don't think we were made for this world
with you asleep on that hill where the caskets
spring out with summer’s first rain, and me
walking these blocks until someone buys
a winter coat for the very last crimson girl.




Another long face, far past thirty.
His hair won’t cover burn marks
from a runaway grease fire so he
clutches a blonde guitar and goes
stumbling, tonight, through the metro.

When the bank has broken you
what else is there to be afraid of?
Is it worse to spend all winter
in a one room, grown thin on Ramen
or go diving for subway quarters?
Is it better to have already fallen?

I ride each evening, with the dead,
strangers to whom I’ve never spoken.
Gone in the clack of a door, now
just a shadow at the end of the car,
no palms left to squeeze my dollar into.

At Seventh and Metro, I stop and watch
them fleeing. I have lain awake all night,
my stomach empty as a rice bowl
and my throat the urinal of a baby dragon.

I have held her tight by the flames
of imaginary fires.

Listen now.
This is Saigon. I’ll love you when
all of this is gone. We will eat
poppy seeds and cabbage.

It will not be enough, but we will bear it.



The Roads of Home

The roads leading out of Jackson
were tangled ivy, two lovers
stumbling to put on their clothes
that winter as we leaned against
the county sign and waited
for the stars to burn. To leave
from here, one would have to cross
miles of briar patch and crows
on a tin fence wailing a litany
of a blind man’s prayer so instead,
we found the grey ghost and headed
home along back roads as the radio
sputtered for daughters who left us,
the vegetable garden gone belly up,
and the dumpster where our dead dog’s gone.




Plopped down five dollars, he won’t meet eyes
with the shop girl, sixty years before her dotage,
who clucks around, kissing infants on the head.
In the aisles of KB Toy Store, my father found
a lawn mower filled with rubber, rainbow balls
which when rolled – shook like exploding kernels
pulled clumsily along by a sheath of plastic.

It is late April. And his brother's mind is all gone,
maybe to spark again at Fisher Price, to remember:
a young wife chain-smoking in a Ford pickup bed.
Daisy Dukes frayed, the shock pads all worn out.
Pregnant, she doesn’t know, there’s always less time.
Christmas, in the same house, twenty years later,
snored like black bears, sleeping on shag floor,
in the shadows of a Magnavox, he did not wake.

There something we’ve lost in Jackson town
as he deserts his gift at counter, and we spend
the rest of this afternoon bathed in the half light.
But to even speak of it, would make it snow again
and Zorro would have to ride into the sunset all over.



Second Act: The Bearded Woman


The Bearded Woman

"A green girl isn't easy for any mother to love.” - Wicked

The Ballad of Booth
(in which Booth and Belle are introduced)

Good evening, gentlemen.
I've finally risen from the grave.
You can call me Charles J. Guiteau
or Hinckley if you'd prefer.

In the southland, we drank strong whiskey.
I wore some son of a bitch's stolen boots
and hobbled along on one bad knee.

Poor Belle in a moth eaten coat.
Eyes closed, her lips puckered.
I prayed her bones were firm
and fucked her, pale, gutted.
Caught the wind in her knees

Now she's a girl in the photographs.
Snapped on her daddy's borrowed camera.
She swore each time the sun danced.

I have changed my bed sheets twice,
and though it is nearly summer,
grown my hair long. I will be fine.

Born and scared out of diners,
we took to love among the stones
or parking lots after the theater
as love went out to pasture
or wherever it is the bad things go.

(There were no babies for the bearded woman. Far past twenty eight, thinned on Cheerios and yeast pills, she resided in a rusted carriage over red dirt clay.
Nicked herself each time she shaved
and died her hair auburn ten times.
Not once lured by window offices, talk of London before the ship comes in
or New York, alive before the crash.
Rather, she didn't listen to boxes they threw quarters into, as he bent an oak tree swaying into her breasts.)

The night they played Follies, I stood in the corridor and cried.
She called me John Wilkes Booth.

Strangers at the Catafalque
(Booth and Belle drift apart)

Darling, open the window but a crack,
wipe the toothpaste off the sink again,
and if the oven isn't clean, mold will grow.

I hate you.

I hate you too.
Now we will never live on the moon.

(They swear among the stapled playbills, the dollar picture frames, the pimple on her chin, the leaky closet and Wednesday evenings in the highest balcony, where snakes wore ties sharp as razors and bent to smell bougainvilleas on their ladies.

At intermission, she wondered what it was
that music of the night, came drifting on her near the waters.)

I rode then with a forty one. I did not listen.

If I came back to the river,
would you know my burnt face?
Would you wrap your hands on my shoulders,
if I cowered under a cape?

For I, John Booth, have fallen
out of a dozen farmhouses on fire to live again.

I would meet you in Holborn, London in shoulder length gloves
so we could live and die, my wooly girl, among the blue waters.

(It was a night tune.)

Our American Cousin
(Belle falls for another)

We thought to marry in the spring
scatter backwards into the prairie.
On the way to heaven I passed
among all the people we knew,
I heard a woman weeping in the dark.
as the love died deep in my heart.

It is I, John, who saw these things
as I emerged from dark dungeons
or was it a bunkhouse in Lincoln?
Ankle broken from a two yard leap.

Oh! I killed Booth this afternoon.
I mean poor Booth died this afternoon.
Do not talk to me about the weather.
How the heat's burned the riverbanks away
or how hard rain will bring it back again.
You could not stand to hear how the horse killer
waited in the wings with fresh cut flowers.
He had to sit up in all night diners to hear it.
I just wanted to run my tongue to his lips, John.

No matter what we may call one another,
everyone we know will crawl into the darkness to die
My mother drunk, pulled out of a diner again.
Or my uncle fresh home from shore leave.
And it wasn't just the sun came back again
I too, after the cast had sung around the piano
returned home to you. I was no one's wife.

You old drunkard, tell me now, why are you dreaming?
A few dollars to my name, and wife at nearly thirty.
I could not tell her anything.
Screamed at her on city streets.

Let her thumb a ride in the wind.
I knew why she wore black lace.

Disappointment and spleen.
He has forgotten even Queen's English.
The servants are visiting Samarra
Sheep stray to pasture, colts kick mud
Dust off my pillowcase, and I am gone.

John stands broken under stained glass.
He has widowed all but the plains.
Long summers in the parlor, he will not turn his back.
What he sees that moves in the silence, I cannot say.
Drinks mint julips and waits for one who never came.
Dreams of red hair, cannot balance records on the Victrola.
Grown to wrinkled bones, no hair on chest.
Cannot even hang himself.

(She always loved the dark haired ones.
but didn't meant to do it, jumping like an electric spark. She couldn't stop from shaking. And followed him under the garage too late, too far to ask for nothing and clamor home over potholes.

She fell like a woman backwards from a bridge. Prayed for the darkness to not break her ribs and faster than black water fell into sin. Made love looking through an open door. Danced as they wanted then played ragtime.

Why? It was not the wild burned in her. Wanted touched where a child would never grow, Wanted to know if it'd kill her, it nearly did. Locked up a seashell with fire in her crotch, she would not even keep the lights on. Thought the act would shoot the moon down. She has forgotten what she knew then.)

Leave a seaside tavern and a boardwalk
whose server spills beer in the summer dark,
I think it was here once, that love we sought.

But that was before all the boxes packed.
Now stuff change among the dust in his jar.
Stay tonight in the city of angels,

I’ll tell you what I don’t know on women.
We’ll drink until Jim Beam kicks off the dark
for the passing of the people we were.

Under stars, we never found the right ones
or crossed paths in the same theater halls.
We slept together, but clung to plain air.
Others come at dawn, we were never here.
Undefined in time by the atmosphere.

Peanuts, the Horse
(Booth mourns the loss of Belle)

(Before true love, we danced with wooden chairs. But not the bearded woman,
who rambled town in a jalopy that never broke. The engine hung on floss and tin can wires. Her feet too small to touch the pedals. She is gone now. I guess we will miss her.)

She performed for spare pennies on weekend shows.
Carried a broadsword too big when she'd ride.
It clanged a junkman through the countryside.
A midget prince carried her down courtyard stairs,
where she woke to find no boulder rolled away.
There was no touch of remembrance in her face.
Just mud. Water. Whatever else she'd fallen into
following the flaming crosses in a man's sandals.

But once stopping at a pauper's grave,
she stood with breast erect, was happy for a time.

The night they raided Minsky's
I fear I would not have made it home if I had stopped to dance.
I insisted on camosiles even in the summer rain.
Gone to smoke before it could reach the ground.
The Ferris wheel held tight, for a third time that night
I gave up the ghost, walked barefoot to stare
as God tried to drown Walnut Street in the rain.

Eve would not stare Adam in the face
as they lay by the saplings, unfilled gardens,
empty roads, or whatever it was those days.
Thunder crashed, she wouldn't speak of what was lost.
Or even lay a hand on me. If there wasn't another night,
I'd turn into a blackbird dancing on the highway.

(What became of the dancing horses
who walked home with skirts held high?)

Late on the circuit, we graze like satyrs
easing ourselves into the corner chairs.
While one old girl scares her last quarter
back out of a pinball machine. She's stopped lighting
candles in corners, hoping for brass beds and lost years.

(Where did they scare the last of the band?)

They held them down on King's Lane.
Doing the Tennessee Waltz under reindeer antlers
where the pastures of the Lord
emptied out onto plane view drives.
Nothing remains of her backside.
Beer splattered across her blouse.
Hair burnt brown in July's heat.
Or how she moved in a crowded bar,
back when they shook unbroken and free.

He never could name the dancing girls.
Kept hens of Voltaire and Robespierre.
We were gifts to the gamblers
in corsets and threadbare gowns.
I pirouetted, caught, a hawk in their den,
danced on dirty floors, unbilled in community shows.
As the old men dying of emphysema
undressed me with their good eyes.

Under the lamps of the gambler's cage,
I'd hunt her breasts, snow mountains to rain.
Stockings light enough to show calluses.
Asking what remained for the last of the aged dancers.
Unmarked daisies left on the front door?
Or her back carved like a bitch caught
on the wing and prayer of a fiddler's dime?

(Booth destroys his own myth)

(He won't talk of Virginia tonight, or a girl left waiting on a front porch. He’ll drink until his breath is two hundred proof,
and he can lay down iron rails in his path.
Nevermore shall he stuff her into a rag of an overcoat. We’ve listened all night to a parlor of ghosts. This is the day of the dead.)

Do not touch me. Not tonight. Not ever.
I have suffered all my life in a half made bed.

I rode a quarter horse then through a dead girl's valley
the day the fever finally brought Old Wilkes down.
He'd grown to bones on the bad waves of the sun.
I was born too late, I had a bonnet full of hop seed,
ash leaves spread in my hair, I could not save him.

I did not drink rot gut when you sang with the band.
We were two streetcars running in opposite directions.
No more summers spent bowing to your breasts in shower
as they hunted us like alpacas grown fat with manes.

I was driven across the mountains with a compass and map
as she slept on the floor, Saint Francis driven into the snow,
our old car finally blew a tire, smelled of cooked pretzels.
I starved in the heat, but even that would not kill me
so I hunted for a tavern on Hill Street and begged to die.

You might see me in another town.
Dethroned of guns at the border line.
Hair grown long under a trucker's cap.
With another woman, yet to catch the flu.
Just a prayer really, a woman's name.

For in the end, there was no last great watering hole.
Only a family of cow skulls buried under the rocks.
That which has been borrowed is finally returned.
The smoke that blinded us has been turned to dust.

With cold morning feet, we lived along the mountains
Forgot not only death‘s stench, but also dancing flies.
Smoothies on Saturday mornings, dresses hung to the floor.
At dusk, she lit candles to stop the dark.

The lunchbox has finally landed.
Shut in the hallway of a long steel building
where whispers five years later were heard.
Who knew we were among the lost?

Spanish rose and cast a stone across the stone lot.
Was it our young love never had enough heart?
What were we supposed to do, lie on a futon
and wait until all the blood drained out?

They put new rouge on me to keep you away
And pushed me once again into the chorus line
I’d of been hungry so long in the southland.
Would stay up until old ladies clawed at the dark.
What are we to do if we sit up until the sun
and do not find what we were looking for?

Mister Death stared at me in the broken glass.
I could not escape your love, he waited for us
years in and out, dancing on telephone wires
to take what was never ours to begin with.

I wanted to clamor on, tried to whip my horse,
and chase the sky across a mound of old dust,
but could not outpace the heat of shadows
that followed me long into the prairie.
So I fought without country or wife
through the hills, all I wanted was
to hold hands until the trees swayed.

So I rode until the water swallowed me
So I learned to live in cement boxes
So I fall asleep to wind over water
So I died in ditches with the locusts
waiting for the clang of a corpse wagon
throwing in those who had not made the night.

(Then the flood came to tear away Fulton Tower and then to break the dam on Peachtree Lane. As hail stones rattled against the weather vane. Main street stripped of hobos and shopping carts for fear of black rain. It was just a shift, a dancing of the Earth to the farmhands who buried themselves in blood. Grew fat on whiskey, talked of football and pussy.)

It brought me to my knees in sod and soil.
Hell it even stripped me of my name.

Which was never Wilkes really, that was what
I called him when he came back from the desert
having grown his nails and mustache long.

Just a boy, arms too weak to spur a mare,
The union laughed at us, poor sick dreamers
and the love we’d thought we’d taken.
And really all was left was a black dress.
A prop she’d stolen from a part she’d never play.

Remember me with a lisp, I could not even say the names of others.
Remember me, you never even knew my name.

The Flight to Garrett’s Farm
(Booth is haunted by love lost)

(There is no map to sideshow city.
The streets and alleys not even named.
The engine smoked like lucky charms.
We rambled then under a dark moon.
Burned our elephants rather than bury them.

A bearded woman never bares her breasts.
Beware, she says, there are worse things to loose than blood. Grows old and grey in a silk dress. Gorges herself on chocolate cake. Clangs her little iron window shut,
and screams obscenities at crows.)

They never could take Hickville out of the girl.
Couldn't teach the girl to drink or wash her clothes.
She made her own soap, waited for the vegetable wagon.
And lived in a stack of garbage where rent was always due.

I followed him once late autumn, out of the wreckage.
Clutched a gash on his palm, where a fortune teller found no love lines,
but an empty map where the shadows would not leave.
Just a child, he could have thrown me into the magnolias
or with a finger traced the embroidery on my legs
as he did in Santa Monica, when we nearly outrode the storm.
For ten minutes he tried to untie my old lady gown.
Only to wake at dusk to feel my hair, to see if the world was there, was flat.

Did I love you?

How many cakes did you bake? How many did you try to?
No one else would eat them.
Nobody wanted your dance either.
Your purples ruffles. Your cramps. I did.
If that's not love. Then what is?

I saved my dark hopes and a bag of oranges to the end.
And in these yellow pages, I could not find an after-life
so I chased the yellow ocean, saw ghosts dance in fields
Men fiddling to scarecrows. Women curtsied to straw.
I rode through torch lit towns for a girl that was never you.

You would find me forty miles east of Venice.
Learning how to whittle movie stars from deer bones.
By the time I make it back, mother will have turned
to a ragged heap of chamomile and bones.
My daddy disappeared into the hole in his boots.
They will feed me dirt in the fields.

But for now I cannot follow, wherever it is you have gone.
So I, John, brother of Edward, will hold this woman to an oak
and she will suck on my fingers like the tip of a buntline gun.
I will slap her rump, like a bird too late to up and fly away
and with my good hand hide her weak eyes from the sun.

Now look here, Joe. Here's a chance.
I was born with black hair around my lip.
Nothing wrong with a honey pot dry as sand.

Spirit, take these visions from my sight.

Look here, Joe. I stole the curtains, blankets too.
And once I even stoled his nasty old car.
All's I'd to do was lie on a spring box.
In a lime green frill, I didn't even need to plug his bugger, Joe.
He gambled with the Devil. Served him right.

Take them now. I beg you. Please.

Joe. Joe? They's shutting out the light.

Blood in the Water
(Booth destroys Belle’s myth)

Because she could not bear to be ravaged like fresh earth
she would not call us lovers, and sent me back to the shed
to saw off a shotgun barrel and to catch pneumonia.

Nor would she let me grow more than three day's stubble
for I looked like a union boy who died short of water.

The south has falling. Every rebel driven to his grave,
and last I wandered into her bed, she pulled me into ivy.
The walls covered with masks of dancers, gone long ago
and the radio told reports of a storm come through.

Late October, they carried her across the street to a neighbor's.
Dead on a wooden board. I walked home without wife or child.

It is too late to recover what we were.
Children, a stray vulture flew away with her heart.
Our mothers have hung her effigy in the rain.
We buried her where the dog nearly drowned.
The moon, a stray bitch, growling at what it claimed.

As a girl with lice, they burned her belongings.
Now a stranger stares into the mirror where she shaved.
They ask how she kissed without tongue, lonely and afraid.
I will never answer them. They will ask more of the same.

Let them think you at peace,
scattered in the suburbs.
Let them curse and despoil you
as a bitch, a whore, a tramp.
I flipped you over,
I would not let you lie face first,
and now the wolves cannot find where you are laid.

I give you back to Brand Boulevard
after the beers spilled,
to the hills where you couldn't follow
where the lights shone

I give you back to your father's fisherman beard.
You try to follow his footsteps, always too big for you.
I give you to the horse killer so you can suck his lips.

(She is gone now in late December’s lights.
Stay across the river, you are still unmarried. All her petticoats and books have been sold.)

It is late - she is lost then found in the fog again.
She hung prayers, written on scraps, onto pear trees
asking if we would find the love we search for.

After everything it was Belle,
her voice I can not mimic.

"Tell me John, who were we? What was it worth?"
A stray kiss in a parking garage, a spare cupcake?
Now I must know. What decision have you made?

Stray knots cut from of my hair.
Years passed and I wrote this.

I was an assassin, and I had to kill my true love.
I left our bodies near the stalled car with headlights shot.
She's missed a spot above the lip and one near her heart.
It does not matter now. Somewhere she is born again.
She stands in the doorway, stares coldly at end of day.
She does not even know I am looking for her.

I will leave you here.
Back to your parents, girl. Go on now. Go.

Mecca-lekka-hi, mecca-hiney-ho




Third Act: Characters


Three Birds

All evening, the black girls keep busy with the fake hair laid out on the table
like the remains of zebra, while I watch Elizabeth dance.

"Do you love her more than the moon? The rain?"
The girls ask as they wash and wrap.

I find the scar on the tall one’s shoulder
from the time she tried to fly from a moving car.

She braids the hair of the young mother
who makes a baby from bed sheets
the night the nurses take her to roost on the roof.

Besides them, an old woman cracks nuts with her knuckles
and waits for me to read to her from an airline magazine.

This is how we spend our days in Western.
Waiting to fly, traveling shoes tied, counting
the number of birds that fly into the window.



They Don’t Talk, Silly

Tell me what was the punch line to
our joke about two talking monkeys?

This morning, I remember flamingo shirts
on Fitzroy Street, alligator boots, a boa
the size of an ostrich, and your wish
for a penguin in a bathtub, but I fumble
when it gets to primates. You did only
tell me once in Amston, the morning
we helped your mother draw cups
of milk for the blind cats. I think
it had something to do with the time
we carried Maria, the golden retriever,
for miles so she'd sleep by the creek
but all she did was gnaw on the sand.



Robert Ford Is Chased By His Doppelganger behind a Magnolia Tree

He spun the barrel and it danced for a minute
like the mad horse I rode out of Pilate City.

Maybe because I spent all summer sleeping
with his favorite whore along the Matamoras

or how I chased him through twelve towns
to square off like scorpions loose from their cage,
but all I know is right before his arm turned
out to be a tree branch and I picked my flask

up from the mud, I knew for certain I would die
so decided I would never fall in love.



The Horse Killer

Carried a board in the back
of his rusted Ford pickup
and stood over the fallen,
in the dark of the killing fields
a few feet from a sandbox,
rolled its tail against the wood.

“Get up, you fucker” he yelled
at the animal like it was the wife,
he caught down in Tinley Town.
And in that moment of silence,
before the creature rose again
he almost took his pocket knife
and stabbed the animal dead.

But night came across the lake
too dark to see your hands, but
never one to accept his fate,
the man abandoned his truck
to walk the half mile home,
further from the promised land,
muttering “it is a good season
for yelling olly olly oxen free
all along the valleys of the dead."



Roy Brown on the Corpse of Manfred Von Richtofen, April 22, 1918

The coroner kicked the gurney out into the light,
and lowered the sheet to show the bastard beaten,
stripped without hope, and his lips ready to whistle
Blue Danube to the angels with blood still in his eyes.
Can I say I wanted to hold him to the dirt floor
because I knew for certain I would never die?
Even if I waded into the Somme cursing the thunder,
Et was in no arcadia I could find. I had skinned
the lion of his mane and slipped into the night.
Not even the hawks that fled from the burned field
around his broken cradle can follow me anymore.
Nor the ghosts who hovered over his body, hauled
not to Cavalry but over a path of soot and rain
like Judas, who daddy said, hawked his silver
for a woman’s silk against his lips and heard
the wolf dog scream in every alley long before
they dragged him down in the potter’s field.
We are the fallen navigators. Children of swine.
We drove our brothers face first into the Earth.
and now not even the King’s Army can stop
the oil spilling from my lips as the Baron dances
like a king of flames and rubble against my wings.



Mary Magdalene at the Gethsamene Bar and Grill

She can open a bottle with her incisors
or against the buckle of her burlap sack,
but it is half past two in Jerusalem now
so she flips the switch and the wise men
drink their last sips in the ghost of light.

She must have heard the thunder, sleeping
with some caravan and walked the roads
to Golgotha hiding her face, but didn’t
stop to sign the cross. It wasn’t there.

Now, we drink too much on Saturday nights
but no one, even me, talks of death anymore
for I know what one would miss to leave here,
the way she holds a wash rag to her face
laughing at her gentleman of the night;
and how she brings my palms to her lips
laying kisses where the nails were laid.





The poem was first inspired by Alan Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California.”

The Storm
Several images within this poems were suggested by Elizabeth Bishop’s “Visits to Saint Elizabeths.”

On Rumors the Only Restaurant in Town Has Closed
The title of this poem was influenced by James Wright’s “In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia, Has Been Condemned.”

Route 60
The crimson woman is an allusion to red hat ladies, a social organization for women approaching and over the age of fifty.

The line about the baby dragon is a reference to a phrase in Stephen King’s The Stand, “A mouth that tasted as if a baby dragon had used it for a potty chair."

The Bearded Woman

Part 1

“The Ballad of Booth” is the title of a song that appears in Sondheim’s Assassins.

Lines 3 to 4 - Charles Julius Guiteau was an American lawyer who assassinated U.S. President James A. Garfield and John Warnock Hinckley, Junior was the attempted assassins of Ronald Reagan.

Line 5 - Cf. TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, line 17, “In the mountains, there you feel free.”

Line 7 - Accounts state that Booth injured his leg when his spur snagged in a decorative U.S. Treasury Guard flag while leaping to the stage after assassinating Lincoln.

Line 8 - Cf. Belle, as played by Daisy Duck, in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, “Ebenezer? My eyes are closed, my lips are puckered.”

Line 10 - Cf. William Hurlbut’s The Bride of Frankenstein, “I hope her bones are firm.” I am interested in this film particularly due to its role in Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights.

Line 17 - Cf. James Wright’s opening of To The Muse, “It is alright”.

Line 19 - Cf. Robert Browning’s Love Among the Ruins

Line 27 - Cf. Gillian Welch’s Red Clay Halo

Line 31 - Cf. Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5

Line 36 - This image was suggested by the ending of Sondheim’s Follies, in which Buddy returns to the half demolished crumbling theatre.

Part 2

Strangers at the Catafalque refers to a premonitory dream Lincoln had shortly before the assassination, in which he saw his own corpse resting on a catafalque in the East Room of the White House.

Lines 41 to 46 - Cf. the bickering scenes in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, most noticeably the line in Act 1, “You wanted to live on the moon.”

Line 52 - Cf. The Tempest, Act 1 Scene 2, “This music crept by me upon the waters.”

Line 53 - John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln with a single shot Deringer .41 caliber gun.

Line 54 to 55 - These lines describe the deformities of Erik from Phantom of the Opera.

Line 56 - Cf. Finis Bates’ Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth which contends that a Booth look-alike was killed in a barn house while Booth eluded his pursuers.

Line 59 - An allusion to “The Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.

Part 3

Our American Cousin, by Tom Taylor, is most famous performance for its April 14, 1865 production at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. during which Booth shot Lincoln.

Line 66 - Cf. Revelations 22:8, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things”

Line 68 - This is reference to another famous assassin, Billy the Kid, who barely escaped the town of Lincoln with his life.

Line 69 - At some point during his flight to safety after assassinating Lincoln, Booth managed to hurt his ankle. It’s believed this might have been due to the leap Booth took onto the theater stage from the theater box where he shot Lincoln.

Lines 70 to 72 - Cf. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest

Line 86 - Cf. Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, “And when she came home, she was nobody’s wife.”

Line 92 - Cf. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter IV of Volume II

Line 94 - Cf. The Appointment in Samarra as retold by W. Somerset Maugham

Line 107 - Cf. Robert Lowell’s A Mad Negro Soldier Confined at Munich, “Like a trolley-pole sparking at contact, her electric shock.”

Line 109 to 112 - Cf. the anecdote of a woman jumping off a bridge which is recounted in the Mexico City section of Camus’ The Fall.

Line 116 - Cf. Coalhouse Walker in E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime

Line 130 to 131- “You Don’t Know About Women” is a song in Larry Gelbart’s musical, City of Angels.

Line 138 - Cf. Line 14 of Gwendolyn Brook’s A Lovely Love, “Definitionless in this strict atmosphere.”

Part 4

Right before leaping onto his horse and heading toward the Navy Yard Bridge, Booth struck “Peanuts” Burroughs in the forehead with a knife handle.

Line 144 - Cf. Thurland Cuttaway, Red Wing

Line 145 - Suggested by “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” from Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin

Line 150 - Cf. Mark 16:1-8

Line 155 - Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Mary’s closing words are “I fell in love with James Tyrone and I was so happy for a time.”

Line 156 - Cf. Rowland Barber, The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Line 170 - Cf. Christopher Marlowe, Piers Gaveston, I.I. 58, Edward II

Line 188 - Suggested by “Hawk in the Dive” from Nan Knighton’s Scarlet Pimpernel

Part 5

The title of this section is borrowed from Edgar Allen Poe’s the Raven.
Line 199 - Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe was the wife of American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The couple were first cousins and married when Virginia Clemm was 13 and Poe was 27. Shortly afterwards, Virginia contracted tuberculosis and died of the disease.

Line 215 - Cf. Tennessee Williams Streetcar Named Desire

Line 217 to 220 - I am indebted to the play, Matthew Modeine Saves the Alpacas, for several of the images involved in this sequence.

Line 254 to 266 - Cf. Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail

Line 267 - Cf. “Where Will You Stand When the Floor Comes?“ from Alfred Uhry’s Parade

Part 6

Garrett’s Farm is where Booth eventually took refuge, and where he was finally caught and killed by his pursuers.

Line 293 - Cf. the funeral scene in Alexandro Jorodowsky’s Santa Sangre

Line 300 - Cf. Rent

Line 306 - Cf. the ending lines of Dickens’ Great Expectations

Line 312 - Cf. Fiddler on the Roof

Line 323 to 328 - Cf. the Jud Fry character from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma

Line 330 - The famous stage actor, Edward Booth, was brother of John Wilkes Booth.

Line 331 - Buntline is a long-barreled Colt Single Action Army revolver brought to the public attention by Wyatt Earp.

Line 334 - the Char Woman from Stave Three of Dickens’ Christmas Carol

Part 7

Line 354 - Lincoln, after the assassination, was carried across the street from Ford’s Theater to rest in a neighboring house’s bed because he could not make the long, rocky ride back to The Whitehouse.

Line 360 - Cf. Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats

Line 370 - I attempting to allude in this section, perhaps poorly, to the myth of Eurydice’s rescue from the Underworld.

Line 382 - Cf. Robert Lowell’s Randall Jarrell

Line 393 - Cf. Pee-Wee‘s Playhouse. Jambi, the genie’s magic word.

Roy Brown on the Corpse of Manfred Von Richtofen, April 22, 1918
The day on which Brown shot down Richtofen, better known as The Red Baron.




Allegheny was published in Chelsea. The Storm was published in Poetry Motel. Key West and Three Birds were published in 2River. On Rumors The Only Restaurant in Town Has Closed was published in Stray Branch. The Night Dances and They Don't Talk Silly were published in King Log. Route 60 was published in The Oakbend Review. Saigon was published in Moral Machination. The Roads of Home was published in Potomac. Rollerball was published in Zygote in My Coffee. Roy Brown on the Ghost of Manfred Von Richtofen was published in Forge Journal. Robert Ford Is Chased by His Doppleganger Behind A Magnolia Tree was published in Mannequin Envy. The Horsekiller and Mary Magdalene at the Gethsamene Bar and Grill were published in 491.