VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Alan Catlin

Fire Breathing Moron

Maybe he was part of some

subtle mind control experiment

gone wrong or a longitudinal study

on the perverse effects of a lifetime

of stimuli provided by nothing but

what cable television provides.

His signature act could be traced to

that scene in “True Romance” where

Patricia Arquette is trapped in a shower, 

six seconds from certain death from one

severely pissed off heavy, played to

perfection, a future mob boss like

Tony Soprano.  Somehow, she

accesses a can of hair spray and a Bic

in time to blast poor Tony wannabe 

in the eyes and the rest is history.  

Best not to ask where the lighter 

came from.  

Or, maybe he’d been stuck in a time

warp as a ward to a traveling circus

side show couple, all pro fire breathers 

and sword swallowers, and he thought,

“Yeah, I can amaze and dazzle folks

with my talents.” Which he did.

But it isn’t like this act was nuanced

or laden with layered meaning.

Quite the contrary. In fact, the show made

quite the indelible impression and several

folks were able to provide detailed 

descriptions to the authorities. 

Let’s face it, fire breathing with Aqua Net

has a limited shelf life, roughly two weeks,

and three public appearances.  

Charges against ranged from creating

a nuisance in public to endangering the

welfare of a child to, acting out as a clown

without a license.  The latter is a hanging

offense in some states.  Word has it

prosecutors are considering extradition.

The Renegade

What was left of

his formerly white

t-shirt said something

like: Cafe Racing Champion ’69

Ducati Lover. It Never Gets

Fast Enough for Me.

The lettering trailing off, 

lost in a mixture of dried blood, 

burned skin, motor oils & 

high test, as if he’d come off

some Himalayan K1 thru

K 9 Interstate of the mind

at impossible speeds

without a helmet. The rest

of his gear: Army surplus 

goggles left over from 

the First Great War,

his bare legs and arms 

almost on fire, raw from spilled

gasoline & vital engine

fluids, kept from reaching

total combustion points

by rapid air cooling &

thin air. His brain, befuddled

by a bad mixture of hypoxia,

& magic mushroom souffles,

he’d been pounding down

at each rest stop along

the way from wherever

he started beside that

long & winding path to

wherever he was going,

one speed bump ahead

of the pursuit team from

Hell, burning rubber on

the tarmac, trying to keep up.

Carbon Based Mistake

Everything about him said:

Carbon Based Mistake.

Had a face that looked as if it

had been used as a speed bag

by heavyweight contenders.

Had a body gone soft from

misuse: chemicals and beer.

Wore sweats that said Palookaville U

and no one doubted that aptness

of the logo thinking, “Maybe it 

was a family name.” 

Was the kind of husband whose

starter wife killed herself and 

the first-born male child followed

suit once he realized heredity

was destiny.  Had better luck 

with the second wife who lasted

six years before leaving town with

anything that could be converted

into cash. Was last heard from in

Parts Unknown.  The third woman

proved that experience was not

the best teacher. Finally, hooked up 

with the one who would last, 

a woman who could stop traffic in 

both directions for all the wrong reasons.

Spent the rest of his working life

in the wash and wear business,

laundering money for shaky silent

partners. Even briefly fronted 

a restaurant that got reviews like,

“They somehow managed to perfect

the difficult act of cooking a chicken

so that it could retain all its fat and

juices just beneath the skin.”

A sure recipe for disaster.

Narcissus in Black with Rings

“I am deformed with beauty.”

Joelle, Infinite Jest

If there was an antithesis to beauty

she would try and find out what it

was and be that person.  Self-loathing

in her life, was expressed by piercings,

nose rings, lip rings, no doubt nipple

and clit rings, plus multiple pin piercings

in each ear that looked more painful

than decorative. The way she looked,

though, belied her sentiment of total

self-hate, a state of mind that could easily

have been defined by ugly, cheap, impossible

to remove neck, chest and facial tattoos.

but wasn’t. The lack of body art suggested 

a hedge against that day, in the future,

she’d wake up in bed with someone so totally 

disgusting, someone she’d convinced herself 

she had loved but really hadn’t, their naked bodies 

sticky with sweat and dried bodily fluids,

knowing this would be the day to undo all 

the self-inflicted damage and become, again,

the person she claimed she never was.

Stalingrad Revisited

Standing outside Price Chopper,

shielded from the elements,

he’s a tall, unkempt man

with mismatched trainers,

barely able to remain upright,

a cigarette burning down

to the filter in his right hand,

yellow stain fingers in black

gloves trimmed to near 

the knuckles, besieged by tremors

that a more than one beer thirst

might not stop.

His eyes beneath a ragged 

watch cap are barely open,

nearly hidden by swollen,

blackened mounds of flesh

on a face pulverized by living

rough in a place near enough

for walking. 

His reusable shopping bag is

stuffed with essentials:

six packs of Tall Boys, 

sticks of vacuum sealed beef jerky,

boxes of Ritz crackers and Cheez

Whiz for holiday celebrations.

He’d call a cab for a ride

but none of them will have him

after the last time; two interior

washings of the car could not

erase the stench he left behind.

Six blocks is a long journey to 

a place like home when you’re

wasted, barely ambulatory and

waited down with supplies 

for the siege, for his personal 

Stalingrad, for holding back 

an enemy only he can see.

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