1. Devil’s Got a Train to Catch
The Devil leaned against a lamppost
with burnt matches in his mouth,
singing his whiskey ballads
to travelers north and south,
while in a twilight household
run amok with endless grief,
Scrapyard sucked from two dry teats
named Depression and Lost Belief.
Turned out with earthbound
eyes and a heart hell-bent,
in darkened doors he acquired a taste
for whores and the bitterness of discontent.
As a man, with painted promises
clutched in his quivering fist,
he whistled against a rising wind
and spit nails in the falling mist.
For ten straight years he stayed dead
drunk on the curb of Purgatory Street,
swindling blood, love, and money
from every passerby he’d meet.
And ol’ Scratch leaned against his lamppost
shuffling matches in his mouth
and whistled whiskey ballads
to all, sinner and devout.
He had a two-dollar bucket
and a three-dollar watch.
At four he said fuck it,
I got a train to catch—
–leaving Scrapyard to pick off promises
like shooting swallows off the line,
while the nails’ whispering rhythms
fell like pearls before the swine.
2. Scrapyard and Jean Marie
Alone before a flickering fire,
warming beneath a camphor tree,
Scrapyard unpacked his promises
on the breast of his Jean Marie.
Jean Marie stroked his face
as they lay in whispering grass,
tracing his years on the jagged scar
that ran the length of his ragged past.
They had met in the dim light of a whorehouse
at the corner of Selma and South Marine.
She was having a going-out-of-business sale.
He was trying not to be seen.
For the two-for-one price of an hour-long trick
he sat at the foot of her bed
shooting memories that flew like birds
through the cloudy skies in his head.
Outside, a shadow with whiskey breath leaned
on a lamppost with a mournful song
while Jean Marie packed all her promises
in a bag where the past would never belong.
Hand-in-hand they ran down
the stair into a cold and starless night.
The Devil in a yellow glow bit his match in two,
and savored a hellish spite.
It was days away and miles away in the chill
beneath a camphor tree
that Scrapyard lit a match or two to warm their space
and the lovely face of his newfound Jean Marie.
3. A Murder of Crows
The Devil looked right at the camera,
right there on the six o’clock news.
“I’ll tell you Scrapyard’s mistake. He did nothing
when he had nothing to lose.”
Jean Marie looked into the distance staring
back from Scrapyard’s eyes,
as storms brewed there in the darkness
and crows composed his lies.
Scrap tried to tell of disaster
untying the world in his head,
but a wind blew south from his mouth
black clouds of murder instead.
Jean Marie saw her own eyes in Scrapyard’s
and storms formed there as well,
but what’s more, this good-hearted whore felt
again the seductions of Hell.
When she inhaled sulfur and brimstone
that hung with the crows in the air,
she knew in her core before he darkened the door
when and how he’d come to be there.
The wind was a telegraph
that buzzed like bees in a hive.
Even steeples of empty churches
told her how their end would arrive—
It would be one bell if by thunder,
and two if by rain,
with trees torn asunder
by a sky gone insane.
“Yeah, Scrapyard showed promise,” said the Devil
on the six o’clock news.
“The mistake he couldn’t shake was his whore
in the red leather shoes.”
Vernon Fowlkes, Jr. is the author of the poetry collection The Sound of Falling (Negative Capability Press, 2013). His work has been published widely in various literary publications, including The Southern Review, The Texas Observer, Willow Springs, Elk River Review, and Birmingham Arts Journal.