They have achieved the Freudian zion
of polymorphous perversity beyond the crib,
evolved into pure genital, young mostly,
supple, tattooed and be-ringed to the point
of disfigurement – though some, pruned with age,
hormonal Abes and Sarahs, those venerables,
vericosed laughing stocks, hungry for a last twitch . . .
as I think of Gross National Product, the Dow,
lawyers in vulture suits, foundations, think tanks,
R&D, actuarial tables, ashen Swiss bankers,
I turn to these innocents with relief and admiration,
they, willing to risk everything – name, future,
disease, their lives – for ecstasy;
they defy rendezvous with manifest destiny,
would jack off the president; they, untouchables
who live for touch, who stroke, probe, knead, lick
the flesh of the Other as strobes blast,
cameras whir; they drown in a glandular soup,
die for joy and a little cash to get by.
And later, the seedy biographies of some
who achieved a speck of notoriety,
overdosed, suicidal, abused, found battered
and comatose in an alley . . . the moral,
obviously, pious and solemn
I’ll carry this hovel on my shoulders
for only so long. It’s not the buckled,
ripped tin roof that distresses me,
nor the broken glass and rotten studs
or a floor soft as wedding cake.
I don’t mind the flaking lead paint,
the shredded asbestos, the frozen, rusted
hinges. Everyone is welcome,
though nobody ever comes.
And yes, of course, rubbery vines
squeeze through each crack
in the siding, tendrils of defeat.
Truth is, I kind of like the place,
maintenance free by default.
And it whispers bony, ancient secrets
as you sleep. Taxes are minimal,
robbery out of the question,
no squatter would look twice.
Behold time’s handiwork, friend,
but remember if you dare
another roof, pristine, gleaming in the sun,
ivy plaited decorously from pot to pot,
glossy oak floors, the reddest door
you’ve ever seen, with its brass lock
and a key that worked
still dangling from the string
around your neck.
My shoulders just aren’t what
they used to be.
And the hammer’s long gone.
New Orleans, circa 1960
When we were just about old enough to drive
we’d make a run to the Verbena Bakery every night.
Verbena Street. No commercial district this–
just an old New Orleans duplex (we call them shotguns),
one half converted for business. Regular houses
on all sides. The place dim, smoky and sweltering inside–
and you’d look in vain for any official licenses.
In the middle of the room stood the biggest wooden table
I’ve ever seen, coated with flour, dough, bowls of butter
and lard, vats of jelly, cutting tools–once I even saw a cat licking itself
in the middle of it all. The baker was this lanky black man
who never said a word. He did everything,
from sliding the raw dough on platters
into a long wall oven, then pulling them out when time.
He set the platters on the table and went at them
with his tools, and, before you could blink, out popped
wet glazed, chocolate, jelly, cream and powdered donuts.
The two helpers, a one-armed galoot, blue with smudged tattoos,
and a tiny old lady with leaking bandages cinched around her wrists,
took orders, dumped the donuts into white bags, and worked the register.
Best damned donuts in the world, we thought–so hot they steamed,
so greasy they moaned, so undercooked it was like eating paste.
We bought them by the bagful and drove out to the lakefront
where we parked and feasted. Once Jimmy ate two dozen
jellies at one sitting. He started to puke later, but at fifteen
puking is no big deal. That same time I turned a little green.
This went on and on until one night we made the usual trek
only to find the place boarded up. A sign from the Board of Health
dangled from a sole nail. We didn’t bother to read it.
We understood. Nothing so good can last for long.
The roaches didn’t bother us, or the cat hair
that occasionally wound up in our mouths . . . even Miss Penny’s
gauze (though dad told us it was probably diabetes).
Something was happening to the world –
it become cleaner, healthier, more official. Older.
And decades later we’d realize those donuts
were the most foul concoctions a quarter could buy.
But that’s not the way we choose to remember them.
Best damned donuts in the world. Ever.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Orleans Review, Missouri Review, Portland Review, Texas Review and many others. He is on faculty at Radford University, Virginia.