Thursday, December 24, 2015

'It’s Christmas . . . For Those Heaven Bound And Those Forever Banned'

(ca. 1963) 
Their eyes blear,
their voices coarse,
they wander from tavern to bar,
full of fear
and cheap remorse;
they know death is not far,
and that the Lord on high
will not come for them;
He would rather drop
a bomb on them;

He does not heed their grumbling,
He does not hear their curses,
He does not hear them mumbling
as they scrabble through their purses
and their wallets made of plastic
for the price of a glass of Ortlieb’s
or, tripping the dark fantastic,
perhaps also a shot of Schenley’s.

These are the damned, these
who seek but know not pleasure,
damned once,
damned twice,
damned thrice,
and damned once again for good measure.

Their eyes bloodshot,
their noses bulbous and red,
their flesh carbuncular,
where it is not the color
of the belly of a week-dead
these are my friends.

I see them at Pat’s,
at the Huddle,
and at the Green Parrot;
I see them at the VFW,
and at the Knights of Columbus;

Some of them even have wives
or husbands as the case may be;
many of them have children,
even grandchildren
(unlike bachelor me);
they all have homes of some sort
a rowhome, apartment, or rented room,
most have jobs of some kind,
working at the Heintz factory
or at Philco or Tastykake,
but this is their real job,
sitting in a bar, staring at
the TV playing I'm Dickens, He's Fenster,
sitting silently,
or talking petulantly,
this is their calling
and their place,
in the legions of the damned.

Yes, some sit silently on their stools
but most will talk at the slightest
provocation, or even if there is none,
even if they have nothing to say
which is nearly always,
because the hell they carry within
loves to overflow into the hell
outside them.

At last the bartender, last call
long called, stands in his coat by
the door. “This is not a hotel,”
he yells. “You don’t have to go
home, but you can’t stay here.”

One by one they shuffle through the
door and out into the cold,
into the night, from one hell
into another, and off they stumble,
to rowhome, apartment or rented room.

Gay colored lights are strung 
outside the windows of the modest homes,
and along the shops on Fifth Street,
for it is Christmastime,
the anniversary of the birth
of the Savior, of someone’s savior,
but not theirs, not these,
who are beyond saving;
It’s Christmas on the streets of Olney,
and a gentle snow begins to fall,
on these the damned who have
nothing to look forward to
but another hangover.

It’s the eve of Christmas Eve,
the cold wind licks their faces,
the snowflakes find their way into
the collars of necks whose scarves
have been left in the sawdust of the
barroom floor.
A shortcut is taken through Fisher Park,
but the scrubby grass is slick and wet;
a fall is taken down Dead Man’s Hill
where the children love to sled
on their Flexible Flyers:
down, down he tumbles, down and down,
until finally he lands at the bottom,
in the slush and jagged ice,
where, in pain,
which means at least not dead,
not yet, he lies on his back,
howling at the universe,
the snow rushing down
heedlessly into his face,
and somewhere among the rowhomes
on Nedro Avenue, a dog replies,
howling also, and then another on
Sixth Street, and yet another on Spencer,
and soon a whole chorus of dogs join in,
drowning out the screams of the human,
or of what once was human.
Yes, it’s Christmas,
for God and man and dog,
for those who are heaven bound
and for those forever banned
from paradise.
This is Christmas,
Christmas among the damned.


Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Shaun, and a very Arnold Schnabel Christmas to you and yours!

Aneka Obat Bius said...
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