David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
The Dinner Party

 

                                      after Byron

 

                                            i

 

It still seemed like a hell

Of an idea, she thought, and thinking,

Just alone the smell,

The way they'll be stinking,

And certainly she tried to tell

Him just as much, linking

Her similes ungainly, commonplacely,

As if a touch of it sufficed to trace the

 

Entire ghastly picture—

"Gracious, Phil, it got to be bizarre."

She gave him a pretty good lecture

Laced with a car-

load of ain'ts and many a stricture

Just as agrammatical and far

More emphatical, denying good decorum, tense,

Making such precious little sense

 

That the mild-mannered man

Was shocked, reduced to tears,

Wrung at the hands and wailing.  You can

See her railing as the moment nears

For our principal narration—

Frau Binder and her peers,

Supper at the Grand Seville.

I hope I'm not condemned for overkill.

 

                                            ii

 

She was indeed a mousy sort of thing,

Worried with worry, strained,

Given to work her wedding ring

Or crack her knuckles, explained

Her universe with common coinage, sing-

ing the praises, real or feigned,

Of Norman Vincent Peale,

And seldom bartered prayer for squeal.

 

She had lived her life for chatter

And the kids, Ducky, Marvin, Susy Q,

And watched the latter

Leave the nest, deserved a rest through

Thirty years of rearing, settled at her

Job and spouse, the tried and true

Zenith in the parlor,

Watching the soaps with grisly pallor,

 

A trip to the Baptists when the feeling

Struck, the family pew,

At most contained and seldom reeling

With the Light—she'd sue

For damages that most call healing,

Return to Schlitz, her favorite brew,

Moderately priced,

The closest thing she knew to Christ.

 

                                             iii

 

His stroke was in the spring,

Sudden as an axe, cleaving her sanity.

That brusque vital man, everything

Feeding her vanity,

Stroking her sense of self, and all she'd bring

To it was platitude, inanity,

Wilmer struck down like meat, a pillar

Of strength with a meaty pillar.

 

He spent three months on Rehab,

Trying to make a fist,

To curl his toes and blink, a slab

Of voiceless flesh.  So difficult to resist

His plight in that drab,

Anonymous institution, a feel more twist

Than shock, painful as adolescence

Grinning at its own senescence.

 

He settled on the chronic list,

A hose in his ample tool,

A side of beef, a human cyst

Scenting his stool,

Attendants, nurses, interns failing to assist

Her in her need, stuffing cruel

Faces.  What didn't fit they'd bag it,

Report it to the senior maggot.

 

                                               iv

 

The word might seem obscene,

Distorting her sentiment with rhyme,

And yet some extreme

Portion of her troupe in time

Agreed, sipping at coffee in the lounge, a schem-

ing worried set, prime

For a generous regret.  But take to house

Your addled mother, drooling spouse?

 

Fairer to say that some had tried,

From cot to camper stool,

Lifting their loved ones.  Chide

If you will it's no fool

That tires of mopping dribble, faeces, drool

With guests about, a bashful bride,

Her fickle mate

Turning his back on a family trait.

 

The guilt was great enough,

Larger than decubitus,

That this attendant, that, was rough,

That no one seemed to fuss

At Freddie, Marge, enough

But let them seethe like sacks of vermin, pus,

And loll their heads and wink

Like mad idiots in their stink.

 

                                               v

 

Let's lighten up the ugly just a bit,

Regard the hopeful in a narrative

Too grim for mass consumption, scarcely fit

For any relative

Whisking a loved one to the county pit,

Eschewing drink for sedative,

Charmed that grandpa's twice removed,

The family tree improved.

 

Such trees produce peculiar limbs.

Let's speak of Phil.

Gay as a speckled trout he swims,

Kneading the air each visit, a will

Of scented Silly Putty, dispensing his gems

Of gummy wisdom—"You're never ill

That thinking's not the cause.

A pill's no contract, just a clause."

 

Or Meisten's ruddy son,

His florid politics, his hearty laugh,

Somewhere to the right of Genghis Reagan.

You've seen his photograph,

The flag in his lapel, a steady gun,

Protector of the golden calf,

His humanism strictly local,

Stern as an eagle with a dose of social.

 

                                            vi

 

Three stanzas go to Sedder's sister,

That shriveled gnome fumbling beneath the sheets

To check his Texas catheter,

Feverish as a tax collector, culling cheats

From dressing data, linen.  A casual blister

Would arouse maternal teats

As tested as the fiercest nun

That ever felt a hand upon her bum.

 

She'd phone the board of health

And vent her ire, recount such gross misdeeds

As might convert a Croesus in his wealth

To shed it like a string of beads

And enter the needle's eye in stealth,

Mumbling official creeds,

A bureaucratic shuffle of such awful squeeze

That camels coming after pass with ease.

 

She'd phone the mayor, county court,

The local churches, synagogues,

Demand from rabbi, priest, a full report,

Dial for the meanest cogs

In the mighty mechanism crushing her dearest Mort,

A sorry lot of papered dogs,

And settle back with gin and tonic,

Her temperament more terminal than chronic.

 

                                             vii

 

The four were human, I suppose,

Grotesques, in short, the natural state

Of human-sort.  Such species grows

Peculiar in this late

Bleak century.  If I chose

Another set at random, some six or eight

Examples of the race from either gender,

Their sorry lot would set you on a bender.

 

A wider circle prowled the ward,

Anonymous as tombstones,

Clairborne, Douglas, vacant, bored,

Steering their grisly crones

Along the tile, wresting a desperate chord

From screeches, groans

More dissonant than any twelve tone misery

Cooked on an avant-garde rotisserie.

 

This wider circle grieved in part,

Massaged their sense of loss,

But sculling mariners seldom start

With leering dribbled albatross

As mascot for a maiden voyage.  They chart

Their journey, mate to boss,

And if they list in oceanic tide,

The skipper seldom drooled before he died.

 

                                              viii

 

For some allegiance is a dreadful vice,

The type that sends a callow youth to war,

That puts one's wits on ice.

For sake of glory mice will roar

And functionaries take their slice

Of the corporate apple, crafty at the core,

But craft is seldom genius in the end,

And death will rather steal than lend.

 

There's such a thing when care

Becomes enough.  Solicitation of a larger type

Is morbid in the best of settings.  There

Genuflects are known to take the pipe

Rather than renounce their pomp or prayer,

And Gretta Binder was a zealot ripe

From 8 AM till Pilate left his post,

Succoring her Wilmer with a mealy Host.

 

"Oh Wilmer, honey, take a spot of tea,

And here's your bedpan if you have to go.

Miss Thomas has to check your pee.

I'll use this cup.  Don't let me throw

It out.  And let me tune that old TV.

The proper station stimulates your flow.

That colored nurse might take an awful fit,

So please don't stuff your jug with shit."

 

                                              ix

 

There was a touch of pathos in the way

Our Gretta hovered, lifting a cup to lip,

Ensuring he was covered.  And then she'd pray

And bite her tongue and grip

A rosary procured one Saturday

When fundamental values took a fancy flip

And lighted on the Holy Roman Church,

Leaving her Bible thumpers in the lurch.

 

A swarthy weasel of a priest

Began to shove his wafers in her craw

When confidence and faith had nearly ceased.

The Holy Writ became her law

And sustenance.  She pieced

Together hymn and matin, faster on the draw

Than Satan, and seldom juked the Eucharist,

Devout as any snake that hissed.

 

Poor Wilmer captive in his bed

Could scant resist her plaintive version,

Fumbling at the beads beneath his spread,

Her grand conversion,

Yet dribbled water seldom doused his dread

Or pacified a natural aversion

To waterways a Savior seldom charted.

He may have been too poor-in-hearted.

 

                                               x

 

With Sleepy, Sedder's sibling,

She aligned, a stout defender

Of the Papal Brie from nibbling

Rat and Protestant pretender.

The former had a fix on Rudyard Kipling.

A dose of Gunga Din was known to send her.

He carried Holy Water to her weary spirit.

Her zeal was such that even Christ would fear it.

 

A certain Mormon in their midst

Was greeted like a sewer backup.

The honest sort had hugged and kissed

Many a dreadful since his crack-up,

And few there were that he had missed,

But kissing didn't quite stack up

With Gretta's Sleepy Sedder,

To think he'd rather court her Mort than bed her.

 

They watched him fondle Meisten

In the corner, fuss at his pillow,

Wipe his silly grin,

Whisper sweet nothings at the hapless fellow,

A rope of snot descending from his chin,

Who answered nothings with an angry bellow

And blinked and chortled like an ape in heat

And sucked his food and wriggled in his seat.

 

                                             xi

 

Such ministrations were not lost

On Meisten's son.  That florid ex-Marine,

Defending the national pride at any cost,

Was bound to find such goings-on obscene.

The ladies might have crossed

Their sagging bosoms at the lusty scene

Of Burton Randolf groping at their dearests,

But Harry's indignation was the fiercest.

 

Fairer to judge that Burton wasn't gay,

Nor any other of the Joseph Smith persuasion.

The Tabernacle exercised its sway

Over many a genital evasion,

Though followers were known to stray

Through corridors more Kinseyian than Asian,

Eschewing drafts of coffee, tea,

But bedding down with stranger company.

 

The raging bull that tramples

On a pansy will often scar a daffodil

In process.  Such coarse examples

Carry crosses.  They burn to kill

The widest spectrum that the pollster samples,

The Democrats that fill

The Senate, all anthropoids of certain hue—

"They'll bus the planet fore they're through."

 

                                            xii

 

When Phil appeared the tempest jumped

Its jar.  He sauntered debonair

From room to corridor and bumped

His hips, wielded a geri chair

Like Cleopatra, pumped

At their spotted hands with vapid air—

"And how is pretty Ruth today?

The weather's inching grim, I have to say."

 

Phil's mama was a Breckenridge.

The family once had money.

In time their hopes were in the fridge

From gambling debts to runny

Checks, a smidge

Of graft more murderous than funny.

The father choked on rancid beef.

The mother burst a vessel in her grief.

 

A county claimed its charge

When funds depleted,

A swarthy heap upon the barge

That trawls with the defeated.

The barge was large

But soon depleted.

It floundered where the wisest hold their breath

And grunt and stink and pray for death.

 

                                               xiii

 

The son declined to deign

His mother ill.

He deemed her wasted brain

To be a frill,

A touch of character that came

To coat the geriatric pill,

That came with wisdom, beauty, age,

And if she seemed to snort with rage

 

Or wallow in her stew,

He knew he'd bring her up to snuff

Before the week was through—

"Oh sure, it's tough,

My sweet, to chew

Or pass your gas or sweat enough,

But happiness is often like a gem

Consumptive poets bury in their phlegm."

 

The week was past

Before he caught it, and weeks

Thereafter fast

Before he bought it—the leaks

Of poets cast

No gem-like fire on Emma Peaks,

Whose composition was no kin to Keats

But mostly Rorschach dribbled on her sheets.

 

                                               xiv

 

In such a state we find the best

Of men, Phil Peaks and Harry Meisten

Struggling to acquit themselves, hard pressed

As princes at the guillotine they're sliced in,

A royal banquet for the stressed

But bargain priced in

Even lighter times,

As difficult to match as double rhymes.

 

Frau Binder drew those anguished souls

Together, the daffodil and trampling bull,

Two offspring with their geriatric ghouls,

And rather slaughter pride than pull

A pansy, she clipped their tools.

The pansy flowered full.

The bull became a steer.

Transitions of the like are often queerer.

 

Miss Sedder joined the other three.

She stood along the ground

And aped the grandest troupe since Calvary.

From dizzy height to safe and sound,

The foursome made a splendid company

(A maggot likes a mound)

And gathered as we've noted in the lounge

To savor the latest gossip they could scrounge.

 

                                              xv

 

Strangely Harry Meisten calmed our Gretta

When fancy Phil proposed an evening out,

A sumptuous entertainment for the older set, a

Dinner party fit to raise a gout,

And if our Gretta was a bit upset, a

Skeptic where her usual faith was stout,

She hastened to arrange the grisly feast

For carrion comfort better off deceased.

 

Such principals are bound to lift a lid,

The Meistens, Peaks, Binders, Sedders in a clot,

Eight wholesome sorts whose lives were in a skid

Toward slobber, stench and rot,

And if such terms grow wearisome, I did

My best with dribble, drool and snot.

Their synonyms from various thesauri

Are scarce as teeth in hens, or brontosauri.

 

Yet after all it was a splendid notion

To give those tortured stiffs a needed break

From pureed beef, decubitus, A&D lotion,

And Howard Meisten, lolling like a senile drake

From dose of Mellaril or other potion,

Would trail a scent of flowers in his wake

Down the elevator shaft.

To coop the poor man up so long was daft.

 

                                            xvi

 

Logistics of a sort

Required to take a loved one out to lunch,

To speak one's mind or land in court,

Are far removed from dining such a bunch

Of rancid blossoms, inclined to snort

Or root for acorns in a crunch,

Incontinent as buzzards dropping pellets

On Moonies, Krishnas, Popes and other zealots.

 

The van was properly equipped

But ill-prepared to tidy up a chin.

And then they'd need be shipped

With some expedience, a gentle kin

Like turkeys on a skewer gripped

And trussed from cheek to shin,

The catheters concealed, the piss bags drained,

Umbrellas safe at hand in case it rained.

 

Hope that roots in human hearts

Prevailed again in this bleak setting.

By casual fits and starts

They pried assent from each MD, petting

The pertinent authorities, old farts

Perhaps and hard to budge, but betting

On the longer shot—the shot was heard

Around the ward.  Easter Sunday was the word.

 

                                           xvii

 

My God, you're leaning hard

On symbolism!  I hear a chorus whining

From the pit.  As if the card

Was dealt improper.  Such souls could take refining.

Your Milton was a bard

That countless eons need defining,

And yet he justified God's ways to man.

I'm not pursuing such a plan

 

But rather setting avarice to rhyme,

And mercy, pity, stench and stink,

And other odors more sublime

Than Milton in his blindness cared to stop and think

Or even took the time

To consider.  This barge might swim or sink,

But Gretta and her gruesome friends

Will dine in style before my story ends.

 

Be patient with a poet

Who came to rhyme so late in life

The country nearly claimed him.  I owe it

To a superintendent's wife

Who saved my doggerel when I would throw it,

A prosody of adolescence rife

With similes one seldom finds in verse,

As catchy as the universal hearse.

 

                                              xviii

 

We'll thin things down a bit,

Restrict our scope

Before you have a fit.

Address the Pope

You land in it.

My hope

Is simply bald description.

Let fools and bigots cheer at the restriction.

 

Let's start with Gretta's bonnet,

As prim as any nun that clipped a hedge,

Carnations, asters, lilies on it,

Whatever ornament her weary soul could dredge,

And though she scanned her Monet Monnit

With diction setting Webster's mind on edge,

Her taste in fabric felt like Rod McKuen,

As colorful as any pot he'd stew in.

 

I'll tantalize you with her jumper,

As powder blue as Jesus in the crib,

A hatpin lest some colored mugger jump her,

A lilac sash that doubled as a bib.

The Vanderbilts themselves would never dump her

(I cannot drop a hint or tell a fib),

As radiant as the day of Resurrection—

Her patent leather shoes were insurrection!

 

                                              xix

 

A stanza goes to Sleepy in her frock,

As sprightly as a poet at a wedding,

But such a face in frill and lace would shock

Even Whitman waking from a bedding

To view it in the naked light of day.  They mock

That master for his meddling

With culinary feasts of either gender—

But what rough beast would dare to bend HER?

 

Phil Peaks approached the grand gala

In lilac suit and buckskin shoes,

In Western tie.  He was a cheerful fellow

By any standards you might choose,

A dilettante perhaps and know to sell a

Policy or two that left his debtors in the juice,

And yet to see him prancing by

You'd never think he'd ever stink and die.

 

We pause for the impressive,

Harry Meisten primed in battle dress,

His World War uniform, perhaps a touch obsessive

In its braid and hash and press,

The swagger stick he clutched possessive,

Tapping the bright regalia on his chest,

Strutting like Himmler in his prime—

One stanza for such brilliance is a crime.

 

                                              xx

 

Enough!  What care have we

For such restraints?

I'll set the Muse on your complaints

And take to bed a grander company,

Ironic shifts, such stabs and feints

As might reduce the misery

Of verse that speaks to data banks,

Such academic cranks

 

As deem the only statement just

That's gleaned from image

And precision fussed

Into vapidity.  I gauge

The wider public's raw and mussed

(You've seen their rage)

From chin to chin,

As eager for some structure as a saint for sin.

 

Be well advised that farce

Is on its way.  Just Saturday

I penned six stanzas of some force,

A couplet that exploded on my way

To the toilet.  The source

Was scented, I must say,

But fertile, a muse

As sacrosanct as any one might use.

 

                                            xxi

 

Let's widen up the rhyme scheme just a bit

To lend a tad of juice to my sestet,

But keep the couplet rigid as a coffin

Or its contents, a pret-

ty grin to greet you in the offing

(Don't fret, cadavers often soften)

And hasten to describe the other foursome

Before this commentary grows boresome.

 

Consider Meisten leaking in his chair,

Clutching at space like Popes at straws,

A smear of pomade in his hair

(Teach us to care and not to care),

The controvert of all God's laws,

And pious bleats and empty saws,

Suited up like Pilate for a Mass,

With hoot and whistle, rooting in his ass.

 

The slight of Wilmer Binder creaks

Our load, strapped to his chair

And grunting like a toad, fouling the air

That wafts about his diaper,

The plastic bag that traps his leaks.

No Guiness book of records really speaks

To his condition, man's awesome ambition

Reduced to this grotesque and our contrition.

 

                                            xxii

 

Mort Sedder was no real exception

To this catalogue of ghoulish seniors.

He had fallen on his own lean years,

His eyes like dimes with no direction,

Form or focus, a grin without connection

Gracing his obscene course

Toward the elevator, as Sleepy gripped

His FM radio, slightly ripped

 

On gin and tonic, skirting the spotted fish

That cluttered up the aisle

Afloat on inner anguish, arthritic swish

Of fin and claw, hard put to smile,

Inching their own bleak way the final mile

Toward mortal banquet, a tasty dish

Of larvae in their craws

(I write the poem, not the laws).

 

Emma Peaks, transmogrified from side

Of beef to siren, wired to her geri

Chair like grief to Satan, defied

Description, a powdered face unsavory

As most of Francis Bacon.  Phil tried

His best to gussy up her merry

Breast with scent of lace and blossom,

The whole effect more terrible than awesome.

 

                                               xxiii

 

Enough again!  You're mixing metaphors.

A spotted fish with claws

That inches on all fours?

You give me pause

That virgins can be whores

And Hitler Santa Claus.

Let's get those cards above the table

And stick to just decorum if you're able.

 

Besides, the meter's unwinding.

I'm finding

It the nastiest drag.

You toss in that old hag,

And pretty soon you'll preen and brag.

What a nerve!  What?  I'm minding

My own business.  It's simply yours.

Leave off a while and do your chores.

 

Could Buddha take a hint

Or Christ give up his stint

At loaves and fishes?

All right, I'll heed your wishes,

Carry out the trash and do the dishes,

But even Jesus must have spent

Time in a pretty gummy aquarium

To hook a fish that multiplies ad nauseam.

 

                                               xxiv

 

The load that tumbled toward 6-1

Was nastier than any one

A porter hurtled.  It was alive,

So to be speaking, and known to thrive

On paradox and porky fun,

Such folly as might stun

A Dryden creeping from the tomb

To spark a bit of satire in our gloom.

 

They cackled like a hoard of geese

(Let Dryden rest in peace)

With grisly hoot

And raucous bleat.  It failed to cease,

From dribbled leisure suit

To spattered boot,

From lolling chin to mealy grin,

A clutch of hearty devils sick of sin.

 

I'd pay my landlord's rent with pride,

Attend the funeral if he died

And stroke his spotted hide

If one of them proved quiet

Or changed his diet

From such unseemly riot,

And settle back with manuscript, demanding

A peace that passes mass's understanding.

 

                                            xxv

 

You've had enough?      

Of course the going's rough.

But settle back, our journey's not complete.

They'll quiet down before we hit the street.

The van is primed, the driver tough.

There's plenty a shock he's had to greet.

And if you can't imagine their arriving,

In Vietnam he learned to do his driving.

 

Yet battle stars for bravery

Were no credentials for that unsavory

Lot, a sluggish mess of slime

And faeces it seemed a crime

To thrust toward broad daylight.  Poor Mavri

Slipped it into first in time

To beat the scene.  But then relented.

An income is a salary no matter how it's scented.

 

A host of carrion trundled

Up the walk, four geri chairs

Clacking on the cracks, the dreadfuls bundled

Up like geese in sacks, fondled

And fussed and free of cares,

Like converts to the Church, in pairs,

Into the Ford—Meistens, Sedders, Binders, Peaks,

As cute as any rat that squeaks.

 

                                            xxvi

 

I typed that stanza in the AM

After a certain mayhem

Of a sleep.  I dreamed

That fools won't budge unless you pay them,

A man that schemed

To sell Venetian blinds that seemed

To take off like a kite

But dropped their loads like dynamite.

 

But dreams don't match

This nightmare I've devised,

Long held in thought but scant revised,

A hearty stew to catch

Such flies as Byron prized

Or scratch

A quadriplegic's back

Or save the gourmand from a heart attack.

 

So eat your full

Before the evening's over.

And if the going's dull

I'll write another

And pull

You back to dig a crack or smother.

The geriatric set is fertile soil

For the poem that festers and the rhymes that boil.

 

                                             xxvii

 

Such extremes as we describe

Are seldom witnessed by the tribe

Of man.  Perhaps I err

In couching them in humor.

Is this simply diatribe

Or something other,

Something wrought from my despair

Picking the bones of man's unanswered prayer?

 

Oh yes, I halt my levity

For the briefest brevity

Of stanza.  You who have pursued

Material gain, rude

Power, fame, without trepidity

Or sense of loss, glued

To ambition like a fly to faeces,

Are a sad species,

 

Impervious to rhyme,

Biding your time

Until a greater master speaks

To your condition.  What sublime

Consolation is the meeks'

Inheritance, an earth that creaks

Arthritically, the one you've scoured,

Chasing a fly that turns, in turn to be devoured?

 

                                               xxviii

 

The master fly that charts our course

Has no remorse.

It lingers at the source

Of avarice and pride

And seems to side

With all a simple man denied,

But each of us could cheat the master plan

On Mavri's van

 

Just in the simple way we touch.

It's not too much

To kiss

Or comfort.  An aching heart resists

No true affection.  Such

Souls as sweep to the rhyme and twists

Of this sad farce

Are not in essence coarse

 

But simply twisted,

And even flies must die

(We can't determine why),

A fate insisted

And resisted

By

All living creatures.

What pretty mask distorts God's features!

 

                                              xxix

 

My God!  I came for humor

Not for Lent.

You seem to have a pastor's bent.

It's either doom or

Hug your neighbor.

There seems to be a Christian in your tent.

I'd rather cut this silly class

Than see you riding homeward on an ass.

 

I'm sorry but the van will quite suffice.

Besides, the weather's nice,

Meisten and Mavri in their glory,

Exchanging many a battle story

(No need to worry).

I'll put the homilies on ice

And rev the engine for the final mile,

So stark that even Sisyphus would smile.

 

So kiss your brother's burro

If you can't his lips,

And squeeze your mother's hips

And bugger Satan when he slips.

I'll never borrow

Sorrow

From my soul again.

And if you must just lick my can.

 

                                             xxx

 

I chose the word Seville to match

A rhyme.  There's no such diner

In God's blighted universe.  And yet the finer

Diners are similar.  It takes a bit of scratch

To enter.  They'll seldom serve a minor

More than Mammon and catch

Their customers with rib of beef.

You spend the aftermath in gastric grief.

 

What grief was hurtling

Toward their door, Howard Meisten grinning

Like a duck in drag,

And Emma Peaks, that slavering hag,

Mort Sedder, Sleepy's addled snortling,

The elder Binder like a manic stag,

Gripping his middle antler and the vinyl hose

That fed the bag beneath his pretty toes?

 

The final thirty yards were on macadam

As broad as any stricture lent to Adam,

But studded with the latest guzzlers,

From Coupe de Ville to Datsun,

Such various puzzlers

In between, obscene from grille to muzzlers,

As humankind devised in troubled sleep,

Counting the various parasites that creep.

 

                                            xxxi

 

The hostess was a pretty thing,

As cute as many a starlet pressed

From last year's mold, and dressed

In tightest sheath, her breasts

Like knots upon a string,

Pouting instead of shouting,

As ill-prepared for Mavri's crew

As someone Biblical (I wish I knew)

 

Who turned and ended pillar,

Salty as the pork in grandpa's cellar,

While hubby carried on without her

And started up the world again

(Such tales are grim)

From Coupe de Ville to Mavri's van.

The story's straight

But ill forecasts our gruesome eight.

 

That perfect smile was trained

Like athletes for the meet,

Designed to greet

With feigned

Courtesy whatever entered from the street,

But smiles were shortly to be strained

Like grandpa's piles when Mort ascended,

All courtesy rescinded.

 

                                            xxxii

 

Four geri chairs upon the walk

And finally struggled up the ramp.

The briefest rain had put no damp

On Sleepy Sedder ogling like a vamp

Or Philip's vapid talk

Or Harry stalk-

ing Gretta Binder.  His load was in the rear,

The senior Meisten grinning ear to ear.

 

Kurt Mavri wedged the door

As Sleepy slipped her dearest through,

Mort Sedder dribbling on the floor,

Saliva on one shoe,

The other graced with something more

Odoriferous, a clot or two,

While Emma Peaks came on thereafter,

A pretty sight encountering laughter,

 

Shock, astonishment, dismay

As ill-concealed as Wilmer's tool

(To mention it seems cruel?)

Or Howard Meisten's list and drool

Or Harry's bark and bray

In battlefield array, a strutting fool,

But fools are numerous as witches in their covens

Or functionaries stoking Hitler's ovens.

 

                                               xxxiii

 

Oh yes, we've made a lot of them,

That human phlegm

Strutting like Satan in his coffin,

That clutch of maggot-life, doffing

Their braid to such as Him,

That thing, that heap, that grim

Specter of a human, his voice the grimmest lullaby

That ever laid a culture down to die.

 

A Goethe, Schiller, Heinrich Kleist?

You'd think they even thought up Christ

To serve with their Beethoven

And salted it with Mozart even

And snuck in seven

Apostles, whatever they could determine

Arayan.  But levity aside, whoever thought

The race that cooked up Kant could serve such rot

 

As Goering, pompous, preening,

Or Streicher, that mess

Of worms that fed on twenty million, more or less,

More sinned against than sinning,

And some lined up and grinning

Like Meisten in his battle dress,

Just different hash and different braid,

To journey home sans limbs, tool, soul, betrayed.

 

                                              xxxiv

 

I had a distant uncle on the SS team,

Werner by name and quite obscene,

The commandant of Berchtesgaden

(He later reaped official pardon)

Who had a spat with Himmler's queen

(He had for her a hard on)

And ended on the Russian front (another stunt)

To sniff at death instead of cunt.

 

His strategy with Binder's wife

Would capture your imagination,

A hearty whiff of cyanide,

The kind that Goering tried.

Lest Binder send him off to war

He'd do him in with Paris green, an ample ration,

Strychnine for the other six,

And pick their teeth for silver and for kicks.

 

But such as Werner are in chains.

Only their memory remains

To haunt us.  The strains

Of Wagner linger on

Perhaps in Bayreuth, Frankfurt, Bonn.

Where our eight have gone

To supper only disco dares to drawl

To the gents that jiggle and the grubs that crawl.

 

                                            xxxv

 

Four geri chairs were seen to skirt

The salad bar,

Where florid types recoiled from caviar

And gaped with grimace more bizarre

Than serves an ancient flirt

For rapt allure,

Trying to land an adolescent fish

With creepy scent and swish.

 

No fish were landed by our crew.

The hostess steered them through

Such anguish as the sacrificial Jew

That Pilate slew

On Calvary.

The simile's unsavory

But apt to tease.  Who didn't stand along the ground

And clap and squeeze and eat their pound

 

Of suffering flesh?  And then the flesh

Was fresh,

The chaser sweet,

A tasty dish

To eat,

Old Pilate's treat.

We've dined that fine for twenty billion years

On saints, messiahs, seers and queers.

 

                                            xxxvi

 

Enough!  I catch your bent.

Indictment of the human race

Is your intent,

As if such carrion as your eight were sent

To ape and trace

Our every gesture.  You can't erase

The good that's being done,

The mercy, laughter, pity, fun

 

With such despair.

So clear the air

Before I lose my appetite.

Dispense with prayer

And tipple just a mite.

I'd rather see you roaring drunk than tight.

Those dinner guests deserve a better fare

Than pureed beef and geri chair.

 

Besides they've parked them

Fit to raise a fuss.

Your story's Mavri's crew, not us,

And Kafka's done his best with pus

In jars and gems in phlegm.

We're tired of him.

Just tend to dinner for a weary guest

Who wants to laugh before he gets depressed.

 

                                              xxxvii

 

A certain couple in the nether room

Were filled with gloom,

Impending doom,

Their marriage on the skids,

With several kids,

A house and car, a stereo.  Sid's

Job was selling airplanes to the rich.

His wife was felt by some to be a bitch,

 

But nice enough by the usual standards

Applied to landlord's

Wife or vestal virgin.

Such as Grace required no urging

From this or that greasy sturgeon.

Her appetite was know to burgeon

At the sight of something male.

Many a male had feasted on her tail.

 

Tonight they slummed for certain,

Something quick like Burton

And Liz might have devised

And revised

Before they split.  The curtain

Rises on the duo flirting

With a sticky menu.  As such they passed their days,

Whining and dining at the latest craze.

 

                                              xxxvii

 

"Oh Sid, there isn't much to choose.

I'd try the steak; it's likely leather.

And then the salad's bruised.

I've seen the dressings that they use.

Perhaps they'd rather

Punch their home fries out than bother

With the slicer.

Couldn't we go to some place nicer?"

 

"Oh Grace, there is no other place

On Easter Sunday.  Everyone and his brother's

Dining out.  Besides, it's no disgrace

To settle on the simple.  Display a trace

Of humor.

There's such a grimace on your face

You'd think you'd stopped off at a stable.

Ignore the grease stains on the table."

 

"My God, dear Sid, what's coming here?

It seems to foul the air"

(Teach us to share and not to share).

"That horrid man is dribbling snot,

And then the others in a clot.

They've parked them there

Beneath the chandeliers.

I haven't seen such filth in years."

 

                                               xxxix

 

"Ignore them Grace, it's just an apparition,

MAN'S AWESOME AMBITION

REDUCED TO SUCH GROTESQUES AND OUR

             CONTRITION.

I think I read that once

Together with another bunch

Of platitudes.  So order lunch

Or breakfast if you can't your supper.

Don't let your lower nature get the upper

 

Hand.  Demand a glass of water, wine,

Refine

Your sensibilities.  Take pity

On your colon.  I know it's not a pretty

Sight, such swollen frights, more like swine

Than human.  Such cards lie often in the kitty.

Just order up and play your hand.

Let Milton justify God's ways to man

 

And such as Byron dine in splendor.

That swarthy fellow's Wilmer Binder.

I sold him several policies

Before I switched my companies.

I never thought he'd end here.

Grace, for God's sake, pull yourself together.

I'll order several burgers and some fries.

Ignore whatever crawls or flies."

 

                                             xl

 

Howard Meisten, doubled toward his hands

To juke erect and wink and leer,

Was ordered beer,

The rest old-fashioneds.

They issued bleat and groan, such queer

Cacophony as never heard by ear,

And sucked gefilte fish with straws

And licked their craws

 

Like porcupines in stress,

The linen napkins on their breasts,

The strangest host

That ever laid a bridge to toast

Or dribbled dress.

Let restaurants boast

Exotic fare or meager,

No guests had ever been so eager.

 

Not so the others at their pork

Or lima beans or basted stork.

Some blew their cork.

Some resisted, others craned

A neck.  Some refrained

From comment.  Others strained

To keep their faces just as bland

As nature could permit or understand.

 

                                             xli

 

Another couple were of coarser means

And eating up, beyond their dreams,

From penny saved to petty schemes,

Plowing their lobster under

With gastric thunder.

What cosmic blunder

Bade them choose this Easter Sunday

For full repast before the ash of Monday?

 

The male was brawny, unemployed.

Plumbing was his trade.

With sniffs and leaks he played.

The pipes of princes he had toyed

And fussed and prayed

Into proper fit.  He made

Them hum and gurgle like an aqueduct,

But lately they had chucked

 

Him in the street

To plumb the sewers of defeat.

Marsha, his wife of seven years,

Was filled with fears.

She earned her income clipping ears

On pimps and steers.

They lived from check to check,

A second mortgage on their neck.

 

                                               xlii

 

Thus plumber plumbed hairdresser

In the dead of night.

He laid his pipe.

The fit was seldom tight

But leaked three children, Wright,

Junior, Maybeline and Chester,

A pretty Bruce or Esther on the way

(Teach us to stray and not to stray),

 

We find them rooting gloom

In the sumptuous dining room

Of the grand Seville.

It may have been a tomb

(Teach us to kill or not to kill),

That plush décor of pomp and frill,

A sepulcher for plumbers and their pets,

Plumbing their regrets,

 

And how much money for the tip?

Even the babysitter had a grip

On their lean wallet.

However fate might call it,

No two were ever less equipped

To give old Mavri's crew the slip

With bland composure,

Will Binder gripping his exposure.

 

                                               xliii

 

"Good Christ, girl, don't look up.

There must of been a muck-up

Under the chandeliers.

Imagine, a stuck-up

Place like this, bunch of old farts and queers

Sucking at shots and beers.

It's a damned disgrace.  My God,

The oldest one is whipping out his cod!"

 

"Wright, honey, don't excite yourself.

And put that awful language

On the shelf.

It's better for your health.

We'll manage

Well enough.  Enjoy your drink.  Here's to health,

Fame and riches.

Ignore those grisly sons a bitches."

 

"But Marsha, one of them is peeing

On the floor.

What's more,

They're dressed like gypsies.

That ugly whore

Next to the Marine is straight out of Poughkeepsie's

Lowest cat house.  I think she was the madam.

The rest I never knew from Adam."

 

                                               xliv

 

And so the language went, from cup to lip,

Perhaps a hundred in that table setting,

The largest contingent fretting

And regretting

That they'd ever gave the kids the slip

And chose that Sunday for an outing.

The ones with children at their side

Were least to let the moment slide.

 

They kept the waitress, busboy busy

From agitated group to dizzy

Couple.  The manager was frazzled

Trying to account for that grizzled,

Frizzled

Lot of seniors.  His charm fizzled

After twenty minutes chasing scorn

That few maître d'hôtel had ever borne.

 

Some shrieked for checks and fled

That sucking dead

Apparition, impelled by such dread

As seldom feasted out or fed

On their usual tidy souls,

That nest of vipers, ghouls

Sucking at prime filets,

Picking their teeth and dribbling on their trays.

 

                                             xlv

 

"Harry, I know it's ghastly.  And Ruth,

You've never seen a vision so uncouth.

But Bob, don't look around.

You won't endure what looking found

By prying rocks from dubious ground,

Such larvae in a mound

That even maggots seem exotic.

All buzzards feed on the necrotic.

 

And Billy, stick to your spaghetti.

The poor boy's so upset he

Dropped his fork.

And what to do with darling Betty?

She's fiddling with her pork.

Raphael, replace the cork

And save the Beaujolais for later.

Who's the SOB suggested that we ate here?

 

Millicent, please don't stare.

It's simply not polite.

They're probably out just for the night.

I know it's such a nasty sight,

And now they're getting tight.

Just order up.  I'll take mine rare.

What'll it be for you, my pretty dear?

Oh God, that old man's piddling in his beer!"

 

                                            xlvi

 

Or—"What nerve is this?

They even let them piss

In public.  I'd kiss

The ass of any man

Who choked the creep that planned

This horror show.  I'd kiss his can

And carry out his trash

And cash

 

His checks

And bring him home for supper with the wife.

I'd follow him all the days of my life

And dwell in his duplex

Forever.  As for the hex

The other put on me, that sex-

ual pervert, I'd set him free

To grovel with his rosary,

 

A bead for every wrinkle on his brain.

The jerk's insane.

I'd train

Him well enough.

He'd find the going tough.

I'd rough

Him up a bit

And set him down to eat his shit."

 

                                              xlvii

 

The widest survey might be taken

From the customers that night

But some have taken FLIGHT

And can't be reached.  Others, shaken

Profoundly, couldn't answer soundly.  Perhaps a trite,

Meaningless cliché, quite

In the way of the general crowd.

Others, certainly less cowed,

 

Would take the larger view

On Binder's, Sedder's, Meisten's spew,

The leaks of Emma Peaks.

Their stoic, noncommittal stance speaks

For itself.  And such as you?

Well ask yourselves.  Maybe freaks

Are your purview, a dose of the horrid

More to suit than something torrid.

 

No one slit his wrist, I guess.

Or rammed a car or joined the Guard.

Or overdosed or stabbed his chest

Or voted.  Mankind, it seems, is soundly blessed

With resilience.  Things get hard

They quote the Bard

Or shake their beads or raise a stink,

Then ever down toward dreamless sleep they sink.

 

                                               xlviii

 

How serious I've become.

You'd think my story's done.

As if tragedy weren't one

With humor.  Just check the faces.

In every grin we find the traces

Of greater pain than fun.

A smile is just a shrug at fate,

Who seldom smiles at what he's ate.

 

The mystery we've charted

Has merely started.

So what if certain customers departed?

The glue that sticks to flies

Will catch a larger prize.

Even Herr Maggot cries

In terror,

Yoked by his greed to human error.

 

So sit a while and eat

Your rib of beef.

Dispense with grief.

Chuckle at the human meat

Across the street.

But those of you who cheat

Our lonely triple rhymes

Would kick the ladder that the cripple climbs.

 

                                             xlix

 

Oh yes, what resolve does human humor

Serve beyond the faintest murmur

Of protest?

A jest

Is doomed like all the rest.

And such as we are pressed

In final patterns,

Nurses, interns, priests and slatterns.

 

The shift of my grim wit

That brought poor Mavri's crew to sit

For dinner at a diner

Had no finer

Motivation than a bit

Of profit.

I'll sell this hopeless cause

To Santa Claus

 

To print in limited edition,

Full of hope and contrition,

A tad of pity for the poor,

Bored,

Broken-hearted word

We find in 1980 fact or fiction,

The faintest tedium of curse and verse

That ever set a corpse to hearse.

 

                                             l

 

As for our dinner guests,

They're also laid to rest,

Meisten, Peaks,

Fussed at ten for streaks

Of faeces on their chests

Or faces.  At best

They are asleep, at worst,

Cursed.

 

At nine that night

A lesser soul took flight

From greater pain.

We will not see her again

(Teach us to strain

And not to strain),

Sucking her daily bread,

Not dead

 

But expired.

We say that of the tired,

The recently retired,

The unspoken

Broken

Taking flight.  I was hired

To tidy up their stool.

I doubt they'd find this poem cruel.

 

                                            li

 

Father, Son and daily bread,

Dottie Walkerson is dead.

Let the pretty lady lie,

Stretched to sleep with lullaby.

Let the anthem and the hymn

Rock to this grim

Farce.  Let the creak of passing litter

Calm the child and babysitter.

 

Let the Muse enjoy her sleep.

Let the joy of chorus creep

Onto ward 6-5.

Let the broken heal and thrive.

Let the sorrow and the pain

Never come again.

Let the rhymes that fill my verse

Usher out immortal hearse.

 

Let the ruins clap their hands

With greater joy than death demands

Of our lean wisdom.

Let the fountains kiss down

Slopes of innocence toward Eden.

Let the eater free the eaten.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Dottie's dead, we CANNOT fear it.

 

                                              1981