. The Poet's Beat .

. The Poet's Beat .
"A working class citizen is apt to see this country for what it's worth... A miasma of interlocking variations on differing demographics and geographies unlike any other inhabited space in the world. The American Dream. The rolling footloose hills and the upstanding Apache badlands where criminals cut bread with priests and the children of Hollywood. I am no different. Yet I am still brazen enough to think that the world is a playground built by the rugged hands of a hard-working man in order that my fantasies be materialized." -- P.P. Vonnersdale

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Ode to Ernest (2 poems)

These are two poems about the same man, Ernest - the wireline operator I worked with back in my offshore days. They reflect the passage of time that passed between us. He was a seasoned vetern and I was as green as they get. In the beginning, as in the first poem, he was a mystery to me, as was that entire world, and I got much wrong, even the words tattooed on his skin. But even as unlikely a pair as we were, spending months together on an oil platform forces the terms of a relationship and he became endeared to my soul. I learned his ways. I could understand his Southern ghetto accent. We trusted each other. We became a team. And, as in the second poem, I eventually discovered the true meaning of the words tattooed across his fingers...

-Blood and Grit-

He is the silver-back gorilla among us,
a fish-net for a skull cap,
covering curly black hair,
refusing to turn grey like his unkempt mustache
and the few stragglers on his forearms.

Gold flashes behind his blubbery lips,
one sparkling tooth has dislodged itself
and swivels against his thick tongue during conversation.
In what manner it is attached to his gums
I cannot fathom,
but it magically refuses to let go.

He is our wireline operator,
my partner on the high seas,
in dirty overalls and a faded t-shirt torn
beneath his armpits by the acidic chemicals in his sweat.
He slouches on an old ammo box,
watching his machine,
his neck drawn into his shoulders,
his hands dangling limp fingers between his thighs.
I can't help but imagine him
surrounded by jungle foliage overlooking
a pride of lesser gorillas instead.

In him lies the look of a savage pacifist
hiding a core of fierce potential energy.
His anger I'd dare not rise,
nor his ways is it mine to question.
Thirty-three years have taught him all he knows,
he is the large buck, the alpha,
this oil platform is his territory,
that right earned him through blood and grit,
or so says the tattoos etched on his hands.

Only non-filtered cigarettes will calm him,
the fire doing no damage to his calloused fingers
as the cigarette burns away between them,
his smoke becomes my smoke,
we inhale together in the break room,
my lungs stifling a cry of protest,
my ears straining to understand his slurred speech and
soft tone so
that I do not disappoint him when we return to our work.

I am only a jungle ape paying homage to my
pack leader, avoiding his eyes
and bringing a fresh kill to lay at his feet.
It is his will to touch my head or to pound me to my death.

He only turns away,
I am a fly to him,
he finds a clear space on the platform where he can call one
of his many girlfriends,
none knowing of the others,
to persuade her to renew his calling card so that
he can continue to offer that particular girl his unwavering love.


-Blood and Gail-

His roots are as thick as those cypress
giants behind Patterson High School,
a shallow swamp there where black bears make trails,
some that meander across Highway 90,
involuntary teenage fist fights,
daily life,
an unknown world full of fantasy,
but never my reality,
his twisting silver front tooth tells
the tale,
the first one lost,
he'd give it back if he could,
trading ivory for jewelry and
blood for respect,
earning his life on those nights in the

A thick pink slug pushes against the back of those
high-dollar teeth,
when he laughs it
fills the gaping cavity of his mouth,
the distraction makes me question if his
swollen tongue hampers his breathing,
at its fiercest a drowning noise in the black windowless night,
a congested room with too many bodies and
the pounding sound of his dying breath
below me,
crawling through our heads like my grandfather's
derailed train accident at the draw-bridge.

She met him in his Gangsta years,
a formidable era formed on the unmarked turf
of those Patterson playgrounds,
swaying to sultry blues,
her underarms growing wet,
the back of her neck caught the red light reflection on
her damp skin and watered clothes,
prey to the heavy air and fog of
the dance floor absent
a working air-conditioner,
gun shots in the clouds bringing Blood to the door,
no grey hair yet,
hardened passion in his tobacco stained eyes.

He met her as a predator and overpowered her with his
carved their names on the back of his hand,
Blood and Gail,
thick worker's hands refusing to
be tamed,
or to be anything else,
gloved before me now but not to hide his youthful plunder,
those days when he took her and
she took from him everything.

Move on, Blood, move on,
the smooth skin on his exposed stomach defying
a generation of wrinkles waiting to
betray his age,
he exists now in a self-proclaimed peek with
surprising ideas about war and death
and womanly girth,
moving his life along to what he envisions as
a decade closing on his own demise,
he speaks lightly of cancer and smokes
non-filtered cigarettes until they
burn his dark fingers,
he forgets her in a crime of passion near a graveyard with
a cute girl younger than his estranged daughters,
tats and long painted fingernails,
a crack pipe circling in a room nearby
(I do not belong here)
the smoke and the oversized beer are strange in my hands,
in the back seat of his truck,
at the back of the fish net on his head is a small knot,
on the back of her neck is a name I can’t read in the dark,
she looks at me and wonders why I’m with him.

In his cab with this new young ghetto vixen he forgets her,
his other,
snake charmer and voodoo queen,
his one true love,
that bitch
the dried ink marks on his hand will never wash off,
Blood and Gail,
his fingers read,
Blood and Gail,
and a long time ago.


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