VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Alan Catlin

The Waitress

Men in suits imagine themselves posing

for cover of Black Belt magazine: white

shirts open, black chest hair turning gray,

exposed, gold neck bling, a single edged

razor blade affixed to a chain.  Sit at a four

top table. Order elaborate cocktails with

precise instructions.  Blood red steaks,

so rare the cow might moo when they cut

the outer, blackened flesh. Want everything

pronto. Yesterday, if possible. Call their

server: Honey, Dear, Babe….

Say,” Be a good girl and follow orders.

We tip big because we’re large men.”

She can hear them thinking, what they imply,

“You know what we mean by Big.”

Makes sure their drink order is exactly right.

Says she’ll be right back with their food.

Feels their eyes on her as she walks away.

Brings them death warmed over on a plate

and drops the food, not quite sliding it into 

their laps. Waits. 

Waits for the inevitable reaction, “What’s this?”

“Your food.”

“It’s not what we ordered.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

“We’re not going to eat this. Take it away

and bring us our steaks.”

“Take it or leave it.  That’s the only meal

you’re getting from me.”

“We want to speak with the manager. Now!”

“You’ll have to make do with me. 

As the owner, I’ll speak for her. She couldn’t

make her shift today and I’m filling in.”

“You’re being exceedingly rude to paying

customers.”

“You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone

who gives a shit.”

They stare.

She waits.

Death Becomes Her

She came from a place no one

had a name for.  Anyone who had

been there never questioned Death Becomes Her

why you would leave as, once someone

was gone, they never came back.

Even the stop lights were lonely

on what passed for main street

having nothing to stop and go for. 

She said that she had never dreamed

as where she was born is where

imagination went to die of hunger

and neglect, even the bones of images

became brittle and dry there like dust 

that had no real substance to it.

Her old man had been blind and useless,

reduced to a drooling stammer that

passed for need and want. Was incontinent

and thirsty for beer he could only

drink through a straw, hands shaking 

so bad from the need of it; he could not

hold what he had to have. She never 

had a mother.

Waited years to hitchhike out as there

was never anyone passing through or 

leaving once the Interstate came through

fifty miles South in another world that had

actual people in it. Figured the only way

out otherwise was flat on her back or

feet first dead and it made no difference

to her which as long as it was somewhere else.

Once way out of town she set up shop

in sleazebag roadhouse along some twolane straightway to hell Michigan and places 

beyond.  Forty bucks American and she’d show 

you a real good time.  Well, something different

anyway. There is no accounting for what men like

in a woman or how they will express it. 

If indifference moved you, she was a woman for the ages.  Death becomes her.

Naked Lunch

Manual typewriter left over from

a Naked Lunch dream sequence

scene.

Fingers like beaks of oversized

Bosch birds pecking at keys

covered in flesh that bleeds each

time the surface tension is breeched.

Random wordplay poems that are

alive, syncopated as rain on a hot

metal roof or automatic weapon shells

expelled after lock and load fire.

Two days without a drink and

the paid-by-the-week room stinks

of garbage, even the sink, the tub

overflowing; cigar stubs burning.

It’s always four in the morning

somewhere when there is nothing

to drink.

Every day and night the same, 

even the walls crawling with dream

creatures, insects and the exterminator

is coming with his magic powders,

the fairy dust, that cures the

shakes,

kills bugs dead, what passes for

life

here.

called the new state of mind,

being, The Interzone, but it is much 

worse than that, than a place where time 

and space have no meaning.

This is Death Valley at high noon,

even the cats in heat.

Everyone smokes in hell.

The Wanderers

Life has become a straight-to-DVD-,

low budget, no future, apocalypse  

movie.  In the sense that he had

friends, they’d all be dressed in

no lace Timberland boots, navy

blue Dickies work pants, white 

ruffled dress shirts, only buttoned

at the neck, and with long, greasy hair.

The only variant in their attire and

appearance, would be how many

tear drops were tattooed at the corners

of their eyes. Never more than three.

In most states, if you earned four,

you were eligible for the needle.

Boosting cars and mugging drunk

college students leaving open-to-just

before-dawn college bars where 

workers, who celebrated” The dawn, 

the Goddamned dawn,” with hand

rolled spliffs they shared outside

in a black hole, where two corners met,

and the security cameras could not see.

The existence of such a space was a secret

passed along from one generation of

workers to the next like a secret family

patent for a fortune-making elixir or

the location of a forgotten, long-since-

thought-to-be bricked up entrance to

the personal wine cellars of the owners.

Sometimes these two worlds overlapped,

co-existed for brief but memorable 

intersection in time.  These confrontations never ended well.

Lust for Life

After the last arrest, a battery of tests

reveal he has the same IQ as one of

those squiggly things you see writhing

at the bottom of plastic garbage cans

after trash pickups in the summer.

About the only task he is qualified for

would be pub dart catcher for clockwise,

round robin all night team competitions,

a specialty not likely to be of much use inside. 

Eventually best options considered arrived

at “heavily sedated at all times,” leaving him

best suited for a nearly immobile role as

real life model for artists whose work

closely resemble that of Francis Bacon.  

“Naked Man Drowning Standing Stock Still

in Communal Shower” was the heavily ironic

title that best represented the last moments of

his life.  A subtitle added suggests this work

was a study in gray, drained of resonance blue,

jaundice yellow, and gangrenous green.

Was a finalist for the Turner Prize but did not win.  

An injustice if there ever was one.  Especially

for a man who maintained a mortal fear of water

in any shape, form or composition.



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