Other Poems by:

Kenny Klein

LEGBA IN THE FRENCH MARKET

This is what happened the night I met Legba
At the French Market

The mist was thick as absynth as I
Turned the corner onto Rampart
So thick it muffled the sounds of
Traffic off on Barracks street
So thick it gathered the scent 
Of bougainvillea and honeysuckle
And I walked past Ursuines breathing
In the night like the cheap perfume
On that little crack whore I
Screwed in Denver.
By the time I crossed Dumaine
I could feel her bleach fried hair
I could taste her nicotine breath
I could feel her insubstantial arms 
Around my neck. I could 
Hear those tiny, hoarse moans she made
Probably for my benefit, cause
I don't think she could ever fucking come.
"Fuck her!" I said to the Dixie moon
I couldn't help but fall in love with her;
After all she was so damn vulnerable
And her legs were as thin as pencils
And she wore that mini dress 
With the stains on the crotch
And those clunky, sexy shoes that she
Only wore A) to turn me on and
B) because they were her only pair.
Until I bought her a second pair
Exactly like the first.
 
"Fuck her!" I said as I reached 
Chartres, and that's when
I heard the wind speak.
Now I thought at first it was a riverboat
Churning Mississippi water, bringing
Tourists to Plaquemine, but no
And I thought it might be a heron
With pencil thin legs 
In some algae swamp in Algiers
Across the wide Mississippi
But no. The wind spoke, again
And I didn't think it was weird
And I could feel the wind on my face
Like breath, with the 
Stench of Ripple and Camel 100's. 
No, I didn't think it was weird, and I
Didn't run like fuck through
The gay section of Bourbon till I
Reached the comfort of idiot tourists
Looking desperately for a cheap high
And a cheap thrill. No I 
Didn't jump like a frightened rabbit
Into that bakery where goth boys make honey tarts
And serve strong coffee, like a kiss. 
I stood and listened to the wind
And it spoke my name.
"Meet me at the crossroads, boy,"
There was a pause. 
"Meet me at the crossroads, boy
I'm still there, waiting," the wind said,
"Just like the day old Bob Johnson found me.
Meet me at the crossroads, boy,
Where Willie Brown stood crying.
I'm hungry, son. I'm starving.
And it's so easy. Just call my name.
You know my name boy, don't you?
Don't you?" and the wind whistled
With begnoit scents and beer fumes
"Legba. Scratch. Piewhackett. Hob.
I am waiting for you boy, and
I am awful hungry!"
The wind spoke, and I stood still
And tilted my head, the way
I tilted my head when those
Scrawny arms hung around my neck
When those nicotine stained lips
Kissed my cheeks and earlobes
And the crack whore with pencil legs
Nodded off in my lap
And my legs fell asleep, and I couldn't move.
Like now. 
And the wind said "I am still here, boy,
This is my domain.
And I am hungry, boy, because
The souls here used to be thick with longing
The souls here used to be thick with desire
The souls here used to be thick with dreaming
The souls here used to be thick with passion
They filled me like nectar
They filled me like tupelo honey
They filled me like jasmine scent 
O, make me a blues man!
O, make me a rich plantation owner
O, bring me that girl with the cherry lips and the long silk stockings
O, let me find the gold doubloons that's
Buried in my daddy's farm!
Those souls are died now,"
And the wind died down a little, 
The way blue eyes droop when they
Nod off into dreamy sleep
Until it was just a little breeze from the river
That smelled like gas lamps, and pipe tobacco
And the way a girl smells when she's 
Just been swimming, and her long, 
Pencil thin legs are cold to touch.
And Legba whispered in my ear
"I'll ease your pain, boy
Yes I will,
I'll put you right.
I'll suck in your eyes, that
Grow weary, like the faded blue of a Rite Aid sign
I'll quench that hunger that grows
Fiercer, one Big Mac at a time
I'll eat your liver like harpies
Washed down with Starbucks coffee
I'll crush that heart that aches
For the touch of waif thighs
In running hose.
No, boy, you won't feel the pain of
Not having that shiny Lexus
When you leave the casino, pockets empty
You won't feel a single regret
O, whisper lies in some sweet child's ear
It won't matter no how!
Meet me at the crossroads boy, say
Half past a nightmare.
Because the souls here are thin now
Thin like processed cheese food
Thin like wedding vows
Thin like a rose tattoo on a college girl's ankle
Thin like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!
And I am hungry!"

Did I run that night like a frightened cat
To that bar on St. Charles
Where the waitress is so tall and lovely and
She ignores me no matter 
How well I tip?
No. Did I scamper like a possum
To the lights and squalor of Bourbon Street
Where strippers pick their way home through
Broken bottles in their six inch heels
As the sun comes up over Jackson Square?
Did I? No. Here is what I did
That night when the mist was thick and 
The wind spoke like a shiver.
I walked down to the River, where the breeze flowed
Like jasmine perfume.
I walked past Café DuMonde,
And the old trolley station, 
To the Y shaped junction of the French Market
Where skater punks sit in lonely midnight
In Legba's sweet domain.
I let the breeze lull me like cinnamon
I breathed in the night like laudanum
I walked like a black cat on an 
Old dirt road beside the river Styx
To the junction, to Piewhacket
To Old Devil Scratch
And when I stopped, and opened my eyes
Head tilted,
There was Legba, standing still and 
Willow thin,
One hand on boney hip, the 
Other holding a cigarette to reddened lips
In a miniskirt, and bleach fried hair
Her pencil thin legs ending in 
Clunky, sexy shoes.
"You wanna date?" Legba whispered.

Mansion By The Sea

The train tracks by the Arthur Kill
Are overgrown with weeds
And the gypsum mill's been closed for years
There ain't nothing there to see
The houses up on Bay Street are in 
Constant disrepair
The paint just gets a little shabbier
Year by god damn year
Plaid skirted schoolgirls cast their gaze
At the hill above the trees
And wonders who lives behind the gables in
The mansion by the sea
 
Joey Rucco was a toker in a 
Duplex in Bay Ridge
He'd hang out with his buddies by the 
Verazzano Bridge
Sure he'd flunked outta high school but he
Knew he'd be Ok
See a six pack and a bag of weed kept him
Smiling all day
Till he met up with a sweetie from
Over Bensonhurst
He said "wanna go to my place?" and she said
"Let's do a doobie first."
Now there's a mortgage and a mini van and a 
Kid who's almost three
He lives on Bay Street in the shadow of
The mansion by the sea
 
Down on Bowery and Delancy when the 
Night is getting late
A ten dollar whore asks "baby, you maybe
Wanna date?"
She pulls a prophylactic and a 
Wad of grimy cash
From the waist band of her pantyhose as she
Tugs them off her ass
While somewhere a cat is howling, you can 
Hear him for a mile,
The whore presents her backside, and she
Crouches with a smile
She says "the only things that keeps me just as 
Good as I can be
Is my dream of someday living in a 
Mansion by the sea."
 
Joanne Vitorelli never really caught a break
Her father was a wise guy who was
Always on the take
And when it came to romance her
Love life was the worst
See Joey up and left her for some 
Skank in Bensonhurst
And night school was a washout, she just couldn't hack the work
She thought she'd end up marrying some
Dumbass Guinea jerk
Till one day she met Mario, as
Charming as could be
Now Joanne wears furs and drinks champagne in her
Mansion by the sea
 
Baby, meet me down at Fort Green Park, say
Quarter past eleven
We'll walk hand in hand to Junior's where the 
Cheesecake tastes like heaven
Wear that tube top that I love and wear those
Little pink barrettes
And your corkies with the ribbons, they've never
failed to thrill me yet
We'll take the midnight Ferry
Out into the bay
Past Robin's Reef, I'll hold you as the 
Ferry starts to sway
To Saint George where the neon lights are
Bright as they can be
And we'll look across the Arthur Kill
To the mansion by the sea
 
Now as morning sun is rising, 
The hooker's headed home
She's tired and her feet hurt, 
And she's cold down to the bone
Joanne wakes up and looks into the 
Mirror with a sigh
She wonders if she's gonna need some 
Botox round the eyes
Joey's had his scrambled eggs and 
Kissed the wife already
He's gotta drop the kid off for 
Preschool at Saint Mary's
In the parking light he flicks a match, tokes up and
Starts to dream
Then he hides the roach and drives away
From the mansion by the sea 

GIRLS I KNEW WHEN I WAS TWENTY

Damn, the girls I knew when I was twenty.
We ran in packs like careless, hungry wolves
Taunting the boundaries of our dizzy, man swarmed city.
The come and go of faces on the IRT
Crowding the uptown local at Astor Place.
I don't remember the shrill of car horns
Or the ambulances shrieking down Second Avenue.
No, I remember the dense quiet of Thursdays
Sitting on a stoop on Saint Marks Place
Or the cool marble of hallways in August
As the girls answered the doorbell in bare feet.
Nineteen, and Seventeen, and tag-along Sixteen
Ruling the world from a park bench in Washington Square.
Of course they had names; Kate, Michelle, Arrabella,
Sarah. But I knew them by scents, by movements.
I learned from them of the softness in all women
The glance up from down turned faces, the stirring
Of legs in skirts, with knees clasped while sitting
Boy-cut hair, held in plastic barrettes,
Dyed black as city soot, or snowy platinum
Held with pomade in cunning twists, or spiked
Liked barbed wire, or soft bangs covering eyes.
On hazy afternoons in autumn cafes, sitting
Legs crossed, conversing like giggling scholars,
Their eyes would dart like cats prowling
Seeking mice, or mates, as their thoughts took shape.
Arrabella's dark eyes, or Kate's slate blue
And Michelle's that were soft with delicious brooding.
Freckled arms pushed a comb through bleached hair
Legs in ripped tights and combat boots
Antique dresses in pastels, or vibrant green,
As green as the park in joyous June.
Sometimes I would drop some little thing
A comb or my wallet or a punk band badge
So I could maneuver in the thing's recovery
To bring me nearer to the scent of musk. Or lavender.
Or the rustle of old crinoline, aged fabric
Faded by time, forgotten, then salvaged and loved
Again, as only a girl of seventeen can love:
Adoringly, recklessly, with fervor, abandon. A dress
Smoothed, stitched by supple fingers grown
Deft with plying marbles, with cupping secrets
Whispered through pomade caked hair.
A dress from a forsaken thrift-shop shelf, newly shaped
To the curves and freckled secrets of Tag-Along Sixteen.
All I know now of desire and heartache, and I know
Much, of recalling the scent of lavender and musk,
All I know of how I ache when, in bright Autumn,
A breeze plays with a skirt, a freckled woman
Smoothes her hem, clasps restless fingers,
Looks, eyes bright, through falling hair, and smiles,
All I know of conversations in marble floored cafes
Where the waitress speaks no English, and girls whisper,
I learned when I was twenty, from girls
Whose softness and lavender wasn't meant for me.

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