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.”

 

 

 

fowlkesVernon 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.

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