This poem originally appeared in Frostwriting, and was my first time being published. It was part of a series inspired by the musician Tom Waits.
And what about the women Johnny?
“Ah. First there was Elizabeth. Well I loved her, but she was a genius unfortunately so she had to go off to college got herself an MRS degree. Lives in Wichita with a rich proctologist. Got a letter from her a few years back. Runs the local women’s club. Better for her, she never woulda been happy here, too much sky, not enough vinyl siding. Cynthia, now she was a sweetheart, all wheat colored hair big blue eyes that reflected everything. But I was too young & she was even younger & I had too many moral shortcomings to look up to. Becky was a waitress, the first of many redheads. We were happy outside of town. I got a job at a piano bar, made a little money. We found a little apartment, paid first & last. Thought maybe I’d found paradise. Paradise by the way, is a cup of black coffee & a piece of apple pie with American cheese whenever you want it, for free, & a pretty girl in a blue uniform brings it, slides it on the table with a wink with the promise of more sweetness later. She got hooked on dope. Ran off on me. Closed the door on that chapter.”
And is it true that when you were born, your parents were in the circus?
“My folks had the kind of love story you dream about. My father was an acrobat, my mother was the bearded lady. They’d talk after the show around the fire, drinking with the clowns & at first she just made him laugh but after a while he realized he kept thinking of her pretty voice & nice figure. & how kind she was to all the animals, even the ornery old Russian circus bear who would drink beer & was addicted to cigarettes. She was the only one who could calm Sergei when the last bottle was empty. So finally one day he told her that he loved her but that the beard was, as they say, a deal-breaker. That was her livelihood though, & she was notoriously clumsy so juggling & acrobatics were out of the question. They hit upon the solution, she went down to Shotsies Ink Parlour & in three months time she was a tattooed lady, they were married, & I was on the way. Truly one of the great romances. Till death did part them.”
We can get you anything you want Johnny, just sign right there.
Leaning back in his chair, still slouching he adjusted his hat, jiggled his foot.