by LINH DINH
Tony pays $280 per month for a room
Merely two blocks from the cracked bell,
Now more dinged than ever, but only
To the eagle-eyed. 7th and Market
Is no free-fire zone, but street noises
Disrupt sleep all night long. Honks,
Sirens and drunken shouts jab into
His already anxiety racked dreams.
Tony often wakes with a headache.
With no kitchen, everything’s nuked,
Or fried, surreptiously, on a hot plate.
Soon he may burn everything down.
On each floor is a shared bathroom.
“One of these guys shits on the toilet seat,”
Tony sighs, resigned, sort of, to such shit.
Tony was born and raised in Kensington,
A traditionally Irish slum that’s now
Irish, Puerto Rican, Black and Vietnamese.
Ever heard of a Kenzo Mouthwash? Look,
It’s when you bite on the curb as someone
Like Rocky Balboa stomps on your head.
The last time I was there, a young woman
Had just been shot, and as I was snapping
Her large candle-and-teddy-bear shrine, her
Teenaged sis shouted at me, “Hey, you can’t
Take photos! This is not a show and tell.”
Tony was delivering pizzas in Philly,
But that felt deadly, so he got a similar
Gig in Cape May, on the Jersey Shore.
On a good night, he’d earn 200 bucks,
Sometimes even more. Tony bought a
$40,000 home, then sold it
For a 20-grand profit. A dead uncle
Also left him 50,000. This was Tony’s
Financial, social and philosophical peak.
What is your apex, buddy? Ah, don’t say,
“The years before I was born,” or, “The decades
After I croak.” Say, “The moment they’re nabbed.”
(In drug rehab, Tony met Tina, whom I’d find
Dwelling in a Camden tent city. Freckled,
Redheaded and petite, she said she was
A former Miss New Jersey. She was cute.)
Though he has never heard of the word “busking,”
Tony has been busking for two years. He freaks
Strumming and singing in public so, this day,
He swills two cans of Pabst beforehand, outside,
Since he can’t afford to get buzzed inside a bar.
“I’m too old to be arrested for public drinking. Plus,
I wouldn’t be able to pay the fine.” Diffident,
Tony stands in the back corridor of a nearly empty
Commuter rail station, in front of a Dollar Store.
“FROZEN FEATURE OF THE WEEK. $1.”
With luck, he’ll cover his beer investment,
Plus enough for reconstituted meat.
Backpack and Nut Indexes
by LINH DINH
Forget the DOW or Nasdaq, I give you
The backpack index. Meet Aslim, a
Purveyor of backpacks and purses
At Philly’s half dead mall, the Gallery.
It’s back to school time, so backpacks
Should fly off the rack, but not this year,
Since everyone is broke, after years
Of drowning wages, or none at all, yet
The cost of anything has gone way up,
Including the price of nuts, which have
Been crossed from your grocery list, for
Who needs snacks, when there’s not enough
Quarters and dimes left for regular meals?
Out of nuts, rice or beans, you can sell blood.
Out of blood, you can sell your lower half
For half an hour at a time, or else
Have it shredded overseas, under the flag.
Like a nutcase, you lunge forward, yelping,
“Better to kill ‘em here, I guess, than there,
Though I hardly know which country I’m in.
Even home, I no longer know where I dwell.
Fighting for nuts, I’ll leave my nuts right here.”
Nutless, you will be deemed a hero, fool or freak,
As you roll down the street, with your small flag,
But at least you’ll eat with what’s left of your jaw,
Though you may have to loiter outside all day,
Behind a sign, “HOMELESS VETERAN. PLEASE HELP.”
Nutless, you’ll recall that hazy, sweet night
In your Chevy, after much Schlitz, when she
Rotated those dice in her winsome way.
Tom Fischer’s Tavern
by LINH DINH
Even blind, you can tell
What kind of a bar you’re in
By listening to the canned tunes.
Sinatra’s “Summer Wind,”
Cash’s “Ring of Fire,”
The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,”
Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,”
Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,”
Then, most unexpectedly,
Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,”
Which I’ve never heard in any tavern.
Arlo’s rambling confuses the barkeep,
An Italian-looking woman, maybe 32,
“What the hell is this?” “Arlo Guthrie,”
I pipe up. “ It’s Woody Guthrie’s son,”
But she has never heard of Woody, so
I try, “Do you listen to Bob Dylan?”
No, she says, so that’s that, but at least
Now you know where you are, a trough
For middle-aged white guys. It’s afternoon
And we’re in Westmont, New Jersey.
Some bars are black and white, but more
Are almost exclusively black or white, and
Seldom will you see an Asian guy, like me,
Save in California or Hawaii. In Philly’s
Chinatown, there is no neighborhood bar.
In beer commercials, though, everyone
Drinks, laughs, flirts and celebrates together.
Here, they’ve been talking about food,
As in fried chicken, pig’s feet, beans and rice,
And grandma’s killer egg and potato salad,
But now the chatter turns to water parks,
So a 55-ish gent tells the smiling barkeep,
“I can sit on one of those tubes all day long.
It’s most relaxing, and you don’t have to get
Out of the water unless you have to poop.”
“To do what?” She asks, looking alarmed.
“To poop. Ahhh, it is relaxing to soak
Your butts and privates in that water.
It’s only, like, four feet deep, you know,
So if you’re fat, like me, your bottom scrapes
The bottom, as you glide along, in that water.”
Shaving hell, we too will frolick until
We turn to some bottom material.
Like sediment or memory, we’ll blur
To our true shape, leaving nothing,
Not even an icky smell, in Westmont.
Outside, flags everywhere and a sergeant
Named Rambo, I kid you not. Here, I’m safe
And whisky comforted. That’s fair enough.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.
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