A BEAT NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the castle

Not a digger was stirring

It was just too much hassle.

(Most of us had been down at Golden Gate Park all day diggin the music and were too wasted .)

The stockings were flung on the floor and the chair

Grab me my pants, there’s a party up there.

(Despite chronic fatigue the cat upstairs was making some kind of racket but soon he’ll be cool since his woman gets off work by seven.)

The horn men were nestled with notes in their heads

While visions of reefer waltzed with second hand threads.

(The North Beach Good Will has just scored new duds, the kind afforded by clothes horse jazz musicians who seem to be between gigs.)

And momma come home to see all this crap

She settled his brains and I don’t hear no rap.

(As expected the lady upstairs arrived home at the usual time and found her man engaged in extra-curricular diversions with an assortment of new friends. A gunshot. Another.)

When out on the highway there arose Dharma batter

The straights cruised on by engulfed in their chatter.

(Why do you want to show up to work everyday when there are places in this very galaxy that you have never been?)

Away to the window I flew like jack flash

Pulled down the Venetians, securing my stash.

(I wanted to see if the cat upstairs was alive or dead but I thought I’d better hide my stash before the North Beach Gestapo started asking a lot of questions.)

The moon and the rest of the ash-ridden snow

Convinced me that midday was too late to go.

(This place is nowhere. With a little luck and the right boxcar I could be in Mexico City for the New Year.)

When what to my wandering mind should appear

But San Francisco’s finest from the front and the rear.

(Somebody in the building must have called up the heat when they heard the shots. They were everywhere, responding in their noted Zen vigor in this neighborhood infested with home sapiens of the discarded variety.)

At my door an old sergeant, with stick of the night

I can’t wait till morning…it’s exit…stage right!

(My duffel bag lay packed in the corner. Once on my back it was out the door leading me to more tolerant horizons.)

More rapid than accurate I headed uptown

Grabbed a bus for the freight yard and waited around.

(The midnight train ride down the coast to LA would be a cold one but I could sleep on the beach in Santa Monica in the morning.)

A weathered old brakeman called out in the rain

If you’ve got ample dollars you’ll be riding this train.

(The tired, old drunk wanted some bread for letting me ride the boxcar. I promised him some Mexican grass and offered him a hit off my Thunderbird and, cursing, he wandered off.)

As wilted, dry leaves before hurricanes fly

I am one with the boxcar, fused to the Pacific sky.

(Finally headed toward Southern California, I polished off the wine and fell asleep despite the chill and the cold metal floor.)

So up through the mountains steel coursers they flew

With a cargo of nothingness as their time clock punched two.

(We hit the Coastal Range in the middle of the night as the full moon made another cameo appearance.)

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof

The brakeman, another…resenting my spoof.

(The railroad cops didn’t appreciate my travel arrangements for the evening and when we stopped at Salinas they tossed my ass off the iron beast and into an unlikely Christmas Eve.)

As I brushed my self off and was turning around

Down the tracks dragged a hobo not making a sound.

(I had just seen this bum down in the Tenderloin last week. He was snoring away in a skid row hotel lobby, too drunk to make it up the stairs to his two-dollar flop.)

He was dressed all in rags from his head to his foot

His clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

(A bad dream Kris Kringle in the freight yard of America’s last brush with authentic culture?)

His meager belongings he had thrown in a sack

He smelled like a junkie and let out a hack.

(His personal hygiene didn’t improve with closer proximity.)

His face was one wrinkle, all haggard and hairy

He clung to Wild Roses and a jug of sweet sherry.

His droll, little mouth was drawn up like a bow

The fuzz on his chin as gray as winter So-Ho.

He rolled up two skags, “To you I bequeath”

The smoke pouring out from his cave of no teeth.

(The cat had played out his future in baggy pants and shoes force marched through an alcoholic haze.)

His poker face deluded, a bad loser still game

He choked when he spoke but he spoke just the same.

Uncapping his prize he delivered a belt

And I grabbed for the bottle, in spite of myself.

With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Out there in hell’s freight yard the hobo dropped dead.

(Time had run out for this earth-bound angel who had never spent Saturday mornings mowing his lawn in the suburbs or driving kids around in a new Ford Station wagon.)

I picked up his dreams, locked tight with no key

Next stop: Potter’s Field for this snarled refugee.

(A watchman helped me cover him and called the cops. There would be no heartbroken relative to identify him, no one to cry at his grave.)

Then catching the time, I watched for a freight

Skillfully boarding, make LA by eight

Back on a boxcar, I slept on my duffel

Agonized at the thought of that wino’s last shuffle.

But desolation’s despots on angels take toll

One long ago Christmas deep deep in my soul.

                                 – Paradise Stolen, 1959

  

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