Saturday, October 6, 2012

Greetings and Stagger Lee

Over the past few years I've been practicing narrative poems. I've finished long pieces on Demeter and Persephone (This Drifting World,) the American southwest (The Multidimensional Adventures of Jesus, Coyote, and Crow, a.k.a. Los Viejos,) and the Christian nativity stories.

I've been wondering what's next, then Dylan's latest cd came out. It quotes from so many sources it would be a fool's game to try and name them all, but what Dylan always comes back to, and quotes the best is the deep world of Americana. What Griel Marcus has called, "that old, weird America."

And then the other day I was thinking about my Uncle Barney and how he taught us kids how to read the racing form, shoot pool, play rummy, and shoot craps. I got to thinking about what a fast action activity craps is - and then I got to thinking about Stagger Lee and Billy D'Lyon.

I also got to thinking that my next project would be a series of American poems, and this is the first one that came to me:


No game quick as craps
dollars down
dice tumble
points made
or not but
money gets grabbed.

Players best be
sober and sharp

that night
under a yellow-moon
street light

Billy D'Lyon was

Stagger Lee
was not

and when they were done
Billy adjourned to the bar room
with a hand full of greenbacks
and Stagger Lee's brand new Stetson hat.

Two things faster than craps -
crazy and bullets.

Stagger Lee calls, "Billy, yo…"

hands up palms out
says, "Oh no…"

smokeless .44

Stagger Lee shoots poor Billy down.

Billy clutches at air
against the high gloss bar
to the dirt black
scuffed black
heel gouged
bar room floor

neck on the rail

hat pushed off his head

eyes stare straight ahead
glassy and dead.

Stagger Lee drops his .44
retrieves his Stetson
dusts its brim
walks out those swinging doors
and steps right up, ladies and gents,
to the scaffold gallows
like it was church
on Sunday morning.

Stagger Lee
all snake-eyes
looks down at his boots
and as the hangman takes his hat
thinks -

ain't nothin' finer than a Stetson

ain't nothin' colder than this cold wind blowin'

Ain't nothin' slower
than this goddamn trap door...

(There are many versions of this song, here's the one I first heard as a high school kid.)

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