- CounterPunch.org - https://www.counterpunch.org -

Three by Linh Dinh

Strumming Broke



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.



With luck, he’ll cover his beer investment,

Plus enough for reconstituted meat.



Backpack and Nut Indexes



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,


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



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.


Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)


Poets Basement is now on Facebook. Find us as http://www.facebook.com/poets.basement.

To submit to Poets Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at counterpunchpoetry@gmail.com with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx – use “Save As” to change docx files to “.doc”).  Expect a response within two months (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions). Submissions not following the guidelines may or may not receive a response.

Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

For more details, tips and suggestions, visit http://crowvoice.com/poets-basement. Thanks!