No one told her what to do
Unless it's what she wanted, too.
With men who didn't get that fact,
She'd find a way with them who act
As if they owned her time and sex--
Eventually make them her ex.
The first one hurt Victoria bad.
One Sunday night she made him mad
When he came home drunk, 10 o'clock.
He swore that he was going to lock
Her out tonight unless she goes
With him to help him wash his clothes.
She sassed him back, no Laundromat.
First he hit her with the flat
Of his hand. She hit him back.
He slugged her and began to pack
Her suitcase with her things he ripped
Down from the closet Then, half zipped,
He picked it up and threw it through
The plate glass window to the street--
Grabbed her hair, began to beat
Her head and shoulders with his fist,
More angry every time he missed.
Get out, he shrieks, she wouldn't go,
Screaming no to every blow.
She got away and grabbed a knife,
He threatened her he'd take her life.
She threw it down, the handle broke,
He got his hands around her throat,
Choked, and she dropped to the floor.
Grabbed his coat and slammed the door--
His way down pulled out his keys
And starts the truck, pulls out and sees
Her suitcase lying in the road.
He'd more anger to unload.
He ran it over once or twice--
At the window, cold as ice,
Go on, asshole. Go on. Go.
Victoria hurt from every blow.
She'll take a bath to sooth the aches
And bruises--Victoria takes
The OTC's the cabinet held,
Before the hematoma's swelled.
She was settled in the bath
When he came back with all the wrath
Unwrapping as he tried to drown
Her--both hands holding her head down
Grabbing on to her long hair.
Twisting free she gasped for air,
She's on her knees, his fists were steel,
Never were things so unreal--
He left and her mind drifted out,
Shocked by what that's all about.
Her screams were heard two blocks away,
No one did a thing, they say.
All her neighbors deaf and lame.
If cops were called they never came.
She couldn't brush her hair for days.
In shock, but fighting through the haze
She filed charges, and they stuck.
And so that he would never fuck
With her again, committed him--
Maybe that will tip his brim.
When she could brush her hair again
The mirror would also watch for men.
She brushed out clumps of soft red hair,
She dropped her arms and held the stare
The mirror beheld from two black eyes
Beneath the burnished sunset skies
Of flaxen hair around her face--
Victoria, soon, would leave that place.
Tonight, her hair is longer yet.
She seldom ever lets it down.
She doesn't want the men to get
The wrong idea when she's downtown.
With it down they want to touch,
Always want to stop and gab;
With it down they stare too much,
As if, almost, they want to grab
It--never again, no one can.
Now her nights are filled with dreams
Of making love, in them a man
Who takes her hair down and redeems
Himself in her with passion while
He's reining in her whiplash smile.
I hope he stays out late tonight,
Too late to wake me up to fight.
That's my wish but no such luck,
Dinner's over--here's the truck.
I get the broom to sweep the floor--
Act like I've some things to do.
He staggers in, "You fucking whore--
I've taken all I'll take from you.
I bust my ass five days a week
For some goddamn blue-eyed freak--
You sleep all day and read all night--
Don't even try to treat me right.
You hear me? Yes? So where is dinner?
Fuck it. Booze. Go get my cup."
I mutter, "Married me a winner,
All you've done is knock me up."
He grabs the broom out of my hands,
Swings and breaks it on my hip.
Holds the broken end and lands
Another high and splits my lip.
He swings it once more at my head,
Glances off my arm instead;
Swings it lower, when it hits
My belly, tight skin nearly splits.
"Stop! The baby! Stop it!" Maybe
Back door's open--I can hide.
Turn to try to run outside.
He thinks I'll run and call the cops--
He swings the broomstick like a sledge.
I'll be dead before he stops;
I stumble up against the edge
Of the kitchen counter, dishes
Draining, fall off as I fall.
I glance up and see the vicious
Snarl wanting me to crawl.
I huddle down below the sink,
Pick a knife up from the floor.
Monty got too drunk to think--
He's never been this bad before.
My head's between my drawn-up knees,
Broomstick hums like angry bees;
He's raising welts but nothing's broken--
What I get for having spoken.
Handle hit the ledge and broke--
Reaching down he wants to choke
Me. Clasping tight in prayer above,
My hands around a paring knife,
My hands push against his shove.
"Bitch. Goddamn it, you're my wife."
I look up and blood is spilling,
Spurts, a stain spreads on his shirt;
My heart beats against the stilling
Shock to see how bad he's hurt.
Shock to see a pale ghost--
Shock to see what I love most
In life is dying, "Marlene, please,"
Gone, the hate his demons fed.
He moans and drops hard to his knees--
I run for help. I think he's dead.
To the back room for my son;
Pick him up in my arms, run
With him over to my neighbor.
She calmly thinks that I'm in labor.
I stop crying, tell her what
Happened to me, that I cut
Monty bad. I think he's dying.
Cops now thinking that I'm lying;
Think that Monty was asleep,
So drunk I caught him unawares.
Confess, they say, I'll get off cheap.
What really happened, no one cares
But me, and now that Monty's gone
It's me our dream is counting on.
The ugly buzz was at our door--
Funny, I was on the john.
Don't open it, I yelled, before
I'm finished or you know they're gone.
With my love was her friend who,
Better than I, I'm certain, knew
Who was standing outside where
A voice screamed out, I know you're there.
My love looked over at her friend
Who told my love, Too late to hide.
He knows we're here, we can't pretend.
It's going to be O.K., she lied.
I buckled up my pants to face
The ones intruding on my space--
Standing outside, wanting in.
Hair stood straight up on my skin
Seeing what came through the door.
Charging in came three or four
Men and women dressed in black.
The one who led them, short and lean,
Told my love, You're coming back,
That or die. I stepped between
My love and him, I said that I
Would die for her. He said, So, die.
I acted like he made a joke--
He hardly looked at me.
A gun he had came out and smoke
Blossomed from it silently.
On my back, I felt no pain
Yet felt too weak to rise again.
The smoke was gone, I felt no pain,
But I'm afraid to stand again.
Afraid, I looked. I wasn't bleeding
But he shot me in the leg.
She stood with him and she was pleading,
And me, yes, I began to beg
When he pushed her down beside me,
Lay on top of her beside me,
She cried a little there beside me,
Leave us be, she moaned beside me.
Come on, I said, leave her alone.
Ignoring me he ground his weight
Into her pelvis, bone to bone,
And same time ask, How did you rate
The woman you see here is mine?
Dig yourself and sorry whine.
How could I not? My dream had brought
Me ugliness my dreams forgot.
I realize it was a dream--
Paralyzed while I was sound
Asleep, I couldn't even scream.
On my back I looked around
To find a gun. I could have too--
Decided I'd no nerve to do
What it would take against the man
Who had the courage fury can.
I tried getting to his head,
Hey, we're getting married soon.
He glanced at me, All right, he said,
Invite me to the honeymoon,
And turned and ground his hips some more.
Was he going to stick it in?
Seething, he rose from the floor,
His impotence all masculine.
We lay waiting, she and I,
I held my love, still and subdued.
He turned around and said good-bye.
I felt akin to gratitude.
Her hair was pressed against my cheek--
He's going to leave--she wouldn't peek.
He left us meek but we had won--
Surviving his psychotic fun.
He looked at us still lying there,
And nothing in him said, beware.
Oh yeah, he said, like I forgot,
Relaxed he raised his gun and shot
At me, my love. Offhand, a joke.
Her head was cradled in my arm,
Once again the silent smoke
Would blossom out to do me harm.
My love and I, so much in love--
My eyes were locked with his above.
His eyes were cold, his lips a sneer
For me, my love. I looked at her--
A crimson hole behind her ear,
Small and round. She's dead for sure?
Feeling weak, I couldn't think--
And watched her eyes that wouldn't blink.
The man and my love's friend were gone--
Those who'd come along were too.
Left me there to carry on,
Left me but one thing to do--
Unburdened of my tenderness
I'd climb the ladder to success.
And then I woke, I finally woke--
Beneath long wisps of silent smoke.
Van was pissed, but not for lives
Wasted when somebody's steamed;
Pissed off, yes, but not for wives
He loved and lost so soon, it seemed;
He was pissed, but didn't care
We're dying breathing poisoned air;
Drinking; eating empty food;
Taking things to fix our mood.
Most his teeth were rotting out.
Not what he's pissed off about.
Van was pissed it takes so long
For folks to figure out what's wrong.
Getting old and bored to tears,
Had no one to help him shake
The blues he shouldered all these years.
No end in sight, so time to make
A move to finally exit earth,
And daily life perverting worth.
I'll see you all
This coming fall
On Big Rock Candy Mountain;
Where hemorrhoids shrink
And people drink
Free whisky from a fountain.
I'll see you all, that's what he wrote
And aimed his shotgun down his throat.
2 A.M., got off her shift--
Cocktail waitress, Center Lanes.
Steady passes, getting stiffed,
Going home to nurse the pains
With some bourbon, sugar, bitters.
Kids are at the baby-sitters.
From the door she sees her car.
Nothing's ever happened yet
Though not the safest streets by far,
The night was cold and pavement wet.
Imagine, can you? Every night
A woman having this to fight?
She walked across the parking lot.
Behind her someone grabbed her wrist--
Afraid of being cut or shot
She didn't even try resist
Or scream for help when no one can.
She turned and faced her ex-old man.
"Jim, oh God, I thought you were...."
He jerks her, cursing, "Shut up, cunt."
The fear that left returned for her.
He took her keys, pushed her in front,
Held her arm as he got in--
Heart fluttered, pumped adrenaline.
He started up the car and turned
It heading for the Interstate.
A squeal cut where rubber burned.
Jim was swearing, "Baby, wait."
Jenny heard him and she knew
Her ex had things to put her through.
Found her voice and nerve to say
"I left the kids with Valerie.
I have to get them right away
Or for sure she's going to be
Worried and she'll call the cops."
He just kept on running stops.
Finally, slow and cool, he said,
"I called up Val and told her that
We're going to work things out instead
Of splitting up." His voice went flat,
"She was happy for us Jen."
Jenny's in the lion's den.
The woman wearing white
The balls rolled in
on ivory feet.
Stopped at Jimbo's liquor store
To buy some beer before I crashed.
Store was closed. Tom Cat next door.
What the hell, drop in, get splashed;
Been years since I'd been in the place
Good old boys, Chantilly Lace.
When I knew it, place was called
The Bullpen since been overhauled.
I worked downtown but lived close by
The airbase where the top guns fly
The Tom Cat. Owner picked its name
To cash in on the fighter's fame.
Went inside to have a few
F-14's weren't all that flew.
She was shooting pool scratched,
Shook hands, came back to her stool.
Wearing white. Her manner matched
An ice flow melts, but miles of cool.
Eight-ball dropped but had him beat,
The woman wearing white could play
The balls rolled in on ivory feet.
She'd smile, dimples hollered, "Hey!".
Something else. I settled in
To watch until the ice got thin.
She looked the type who handled games
And lovesick squids who dropped their brains.
Shirt unbuttoned down just right,
Collar up, cuffs edged with lace.
The jeans she wore fit on her tight.
I no longer knew the place.
I'm not young but near as dumb
And asked her where her folks were from.
Her skin was dark, her features white.
I told her I was going to write
About her but I'd need a clue
To bloodlines she had showing through.
O.K., so I'm not that swift
But she was friendly, getting tired,
Playing since got off her shift
New bartender Tom Cat hired.
Now this pervert's up to tricks,
Asking what's her racial mix.
soon as she could be.
Thought she knew him,
she was wrong
Her mother's from the Philippines,
Where she met her cowboy dad;
Montana skies and faded jeans
And Denmark's what her father had
For background. Navy. Janet's nice
Blossom bloomed from Baltic ice.
Knew how every drink was done
She'd been at it seven years.
At 14 looked 21,
Used to help out drawing beers
At her mother's bar downtown.
Learned to help good losers drown
Their troubles, loosen up to play,
Been the same in Subic Bay.
Janet Jensen, drinker's dream
Asian skin as silk as cream.
Her mother's bar. But day or night
They always treated Janet right.
Then Janet married. Someone, damn.
Got herself into a jamb.
She'd met him at the Tom Cat when
The bar was still the Bullpen. Then
She still had school, him 23;
They married soon as she could be.
Thought she knew him, she was wrong
Married, couldn't get along.
One thing though was totally cool
Taught her to play some killer pool.
I'm guessing, maybe Janet caught
Him doing what he did a lot.
Janet Jensen, welcome back,
Chalk your cue and let them rack.
Janet's won ten games tonight,
But every loser felt all right
Watching Janet bend to break
Is much as any man can take.
Navy airmen, buff Marines
Losing to the Tom Cat's daughter.
Pineapple flower and jungle greens,
One side other North Sea water.
Janet Penaflor Jensen plays
Some 8-ball nights and bartends days.
I'm no good at telling who
comes from where,
so pegging him
meant "over there".
Janet moved back with her folks.
Mother wants her at her bar
She owns downtown. But couldn't coax
Her into working there. Too far.
Tom Cat mile from her old school.
Her friends came in, still totally cool.
What a trip to watch she was:
Bussing, blows bangs off her face.
Working days. I'd laugh because
She could have worked at half the pace.
Making tips for her was simple
Smiling, got you with her dimple.
No secret, lately, where she spent
Her evenings off. It's too bad, guys.
The hockey game is where she went
New boyfriend played. But otherwise
She's out with girlfriends Friday night,
Sluttin', tell you. Something tight.
Boyfriend Tony on the ice
Can check as hard as anyone,
But always makes her feel nice.
Off the ice he's quiet fun.
Her ex back in Virginia could
Make her feel she was no good.
Tom Cat's owner: Asian too.
I'm no good at telling who
Comes from where, so pegging him
Meant over there Pacific Rim.
Married. Young. His name was John.
He read Chinese. I guessed Taiwan.
Photographs, as you came in,
Of F-14's were on the wall.
Warriors for new Mandarin
A picture signed there said it all:
"To John and best little bar in town
For all the whiskey going down."
Every bottle his girls poured
John had them weigh. No way afford
Them pouring free for bigger tips
Or pouring friends some extra sips.
Bars are like that, I should know
Bartended once, but counted slow.
A pool tournament.
played real good,
in fact, excelled.
One night Janet's ex dropped in
Like a SCUD from midnight skies.
Away from his Virginia kin
The difference showed up in his eyes
Hung on every word she said,
As though his life hung from a thread.
Janet, maybe, I don't know,
Could be the kind of woman who
Forgives mistakes and lets them go,
And maybe she's too trusting, too.
Her ex was back and we were sure
That he'd cooked something up for her.
Every day her ex came in,
Greet her with a sheepish grin.
Janet's boyfriend, Tony, scared;
Met his eyes and dully stared;
Afraid he might win Janet back
And tried to reel in Janet's slack.
Every Tuesday Tom Cat held
A tournament. And Janet's ex
Played real good, in fact excelled.
Played as good as Tony checks.
Pool. Hockey. Sticks were God.
Seen both play and I was awed.
Her ex was cocky, making fun
Of shots we missed he could have made.
He bragged about the times he'd run
The table times it got him laid.
Janet's ex, who taught her pool,
Was acting like one full-on fool.
Janet Jensen used to think
That he was something. Now she thought
Her boyfriend skating on the rink
Was all she ever needed. Hot.
But Tony, he's no longer sure
That he's still good enough for her.
Her ex spent money like he's rich.
Cocky, onery son of a bitch.
The games he'll play on Tuesday night
Are games that Tony thinks just might
Win Janet back. But Tony's young,
Young and dumb and full of come.
Janet signing up to play
Only makes her boyfriend proud.
She's won a few. Tonight she may
Win again. This time a crowd
Had come to watch her ex and her.
He taught her. She's no amateur.
Janet, see, was born to folks
Tony's worked for all their life.
Talking with them Tony chokes.
Janet's going to be his wife?
But she was natural, so was he
The two of them were meant to be.
(To be continued...)