He’s a junky for the tune. He can’t kick it, the kick he gets,
like one Saturday— he was ten —and the Governor came to town
to see his father, drove all the way from the capital like he would
do once in a while ’cause they were friends, pals really,
the Governor and his dad, horny pals from the old days,
boyhood days, before they both sold their innocence.
That was the Saturday he and his daddy nearly killed the Governor
out in the Gulf in a furor and frenzy. Exhausted they,
wrung out after hours praying for sailfish but deliver’d
only of sharks, them babies at that.
He was still known as just that dreamy “Piano Kid”
with this visceral-ethereal—even, you might say, godly—way
with the Beckwith Empire his mother had installed for him
in the parlor of their boarding house,
a haven for odd-balls of every sort,
Pelican Bill the Fisher-a-men,
Mister Magic the Stupendous,
Rose the Rive Gauche Chanteuse,
and Gustavo the Engineer (father of the folding flypaper tent),
just to name the most notorious,
the ones with felony criminal records,
various scars, and obscene amputations—sinners
all—always in the kitchen fixing mustard and boloney sandwiches
while he was forever fingering his beloved A Minor Fugue, the
Chopin, as it continued to this very, very day.
Photograph by Diana Young, Emerald Beach, Biloxi, Mississippi, 1987.
Photograph by Diana Young.
You go down to the pier with a croaker sack full of chicken
necks where a man disguised as a pile of gin- and sea-salt
stinking rags asks “Is they rancid?” He’s an old man. You
can tell by the tufts of white ear-hair wiggling in the
breeze off the Cat Island Sound. You can also tell by
his thin, dry liver-y lips. You can tell when he says
“You do what you want widdat mop-head you call
a crabnet, kid, but them necks? They ain’t rancid,
yer wastin yer time.” He blinks his rheumy
blue eyes at you, but not in a ass-grabby kinda way.
You can tell he’s no perv. No, his problem is visionary.
He can barely see through cataract membranes
translucent as a softshell crab, dreamy-like.
He simply can’t see the truth, that you’re no stupid kid
standing barefooted holding a tattered crab net in one hand
and a burlap bag of way gone chicken necks in the other.
You may look stupid, but you know you ain’t
and that’s what matters in the game of life.
So you stun him by—smart as any kid on the make—saying;
“Fuckin-A, I’ll do what I please.”
Then you dump the necks onto the pier’s planking,
hoping the gnarly gristle and scraps of flesh
are rancid enough to satisfy the old fart. Mites
swarm. A seagull strafes, eyeing those necks, his
breakfast if he’s quick and lucky.
The gluey-mouthed man says nothing.
He is silent as an unwanted guest.
He shakes his head. White hair billows
on the breeze from Cat Island, whips
fantastical whorls of white mane
and white ear-hair
mad ear mustaches.
Must have taken years of grooming
to get ’em like he wants ’em.
You wonder whether you care what he thinks.
Carefully with crusty fingers Whitey fingers open
your tangled crab net and says: “Rotten net.”
He grumbles as he begins picking at net threads.
Parchment hand and finger skin patchy in spots
seared by melanomas, scaly knuckles, claw nails.
He rips. He ties. He reties. He hums.
It is no tune you recognize.
Being just a smart-mouthed kid,
how could you know what songs
he wasted his youth on?
Now his hum is more of a purr.
Some cat this old fart.
You don’t want it to end.