Sharp Noir (Parts I- V)

The poem below tells the story of The Juke, Dr. Cassis, The Rubix Queen, The Sharp Noir Balladeer and the narrator, who posts the other poems on this site. The action takes place in a single night and then continues, following a pause, shortly after. Sharp Noir is comprised of five parts but here the piece can be viewed in its entirety. It is after this poem that the site takes its name.  

As the cold takes its first length
of claw to the back of my neck,
I steal a last look at my reflection,
cast through dark sunglasses;
the extremity, phone-booth
cigarette glow castrates
interminably the light
behind these Modigliani eyes.
I slip out, receiver down, between
shards of rain, into the ceilidh
of the street instigated by
the auspicious deal-making of sirens
with the rapid beating of the strip.

With a face in barbarian tribute,
I walk a film epic gait, without
any weakening of the spirit
- my stance is preposterous
as I slip in prevalence around
silver, gleaming death machines.
They turn wheels into their slides,
laces spry about my ankles,
at once mock at and traduce whilst
free from muteness and retreat;
steerers go foetal in their seats,
framed in primetime terror.

Alligators: their meat is considered
a delicacy. The collective envisage
a body in the road,
strewn in grisly attitudes,
for the power of the dead is
they see you all the time,
as a voyeur inflicts introspection
amongst complacent hosts.

Emitting phrases of interest
at the back of my stride
that neither blocks nor coarsens,
they signal onward in an
empty, corporate way, wonder
why they were all so afraid.

As the length of my line
is somewhat determined by
the width of my page, I come
to rest, as a religious zealot
who kills for the closed logic
of belief, I yell finally,
“Late Edition, Herald Tribune!”

In the atrophic night-time,
a bluesman hides between
hotel rooms under an assumed name;
a friend once removed
of Harriet Tubman, “You’ll
be free or die.” He mists
a pane to meet the gaze
of a supermodel’s hound
on the street below:
two orgiastic flashbulbs
over a set of opal barbs.

The illustrious are ushered in
as the midnight wind
turns cooked to raw;
an excessive saccharine
of single line anathemas
punctuate the eluting, grain liquor
payola correspondence of
the cerberi at the door, who
with each glance convict
me of loitering.

I elbow-pin the Herald
as a prop only, roll and spark
to employ the hands,
looking down, counting old gum.
They Zippo lick me with scimitar
eyes well drilled from working
the derby Switchboard.

To a scherzo laced with code,
we infect each other with smiles,
impersonal benevolence: an old-style
injunction now just a passing
trick glimpsing teeth.

I’m standing ad hoc,
antonym to this vulgar mode
and so attract the intentions
of the heaped obscenities
- one enormous flexing nerve
counting Houblons; their effluvium
smacks of it, spectres quickly
make them for tea, pectin,
dunking pound cake.
They got cured fitting last
winter’s coats and turning
out the pockets.

One gorged Boa says,
“Boy – you Kasey Jones?”
A fork to his wit, I return,
“The name’s Romano, relax
- I’m only here for the Jazz.”
“Drag about your Dad,
we’ve got what’cha need.”
The waitress thinks
I’m Omar Sharif minus mustache.

Singularly original, a sufferer
from the delirium of higher intelligence,
The Noir Balladeer calmly sits,
plays Rhapsody in Blue
on a comb and tissue paper;
an outpatient from the
mild deviant ward: sectioned
for incendiary poetry,
she wrote songs on her padded walls,
bade the multitudes get a grip,
amongst the tempestuous noises
of sadism in this sparking jive nexus.

Grab a ticket at the desk.

Dr. Cassis, a hollow-eyed
technician from the plague era,
operates here, a conscript pedlar
of syrup and pills to vexed
kinship systems long overdue
extinction: a shamski lawyer
of medicine, errand runner
at the Chaumière de Dolmance.

There’s a sharpening of vision
in his waiting room:
we’re drowners thirsty to our
last breaths, even the reptile
gamblers adopt the stoicism
of wage earners. We discard
our beliefs at the ballot desk
like heavy, plumed helmets
too hot to wear in the midday sun.

Cassis murdered his guides
to be on the safe side,
carved runes of aptitude
in every cubicle until recruited
to the court of the Rubix Queen.
Her Switchboard mechanism
is perpetual, manned out of habit,
implies its necessity
and so creates pundits and enthusiasts,
equally fecundates the angst
of bitter jetsam to its ascribed kismet.

As one of the Rubix Queen’s courtiers,
lost in spontaneous furies,
surroundings seem incidental;
I stretch wide my arms
as if to perform some kind of dance
- perhaps among the antebellum pillars
of disgrace this desperation will fade.

Now, for the first time,
this protagonist can be spared
tedium and relish scandal in her
high-society supporting cast
of refugee artmen, never redden
again in shame when mentioning
the considered prurient in front
of those too desensitized
by talcum to welcome pleasures
stoked close to core desires,
forget axioms and tenets drummed
into her when she was young and Christian.

Some new lover will glide
into bed like a moonbeam
and I will accede entirely,
consumed by the immediate,
no thought to consequence
- tragedy rewards so the immortal
may die, a comedy is torn:
no audience laughs at the same joke
twice – my mind skips as of
a man bred in the wild,
every obstacle met in silence;
only with the caballi
will I produce ravings
of the most obscure kink.

In the thrill of lovers’ gambit
my watch trips backwards
and a casket of weakness
is exposed, drawing with it
an unctuous sickness,
irresolvable in my discomfort,
as when I thought it ruminative
for great heroes to die young;
one of mine said everybody does.

Some lives cuff out as
mis-quotations of popular phrase,
The Colonel’s was one to glimpse
the truer scansion of the iambic universe,
his history spelt out in short, dim
telegrams like the subject of myth.
always fearing to awaken and find
himself dead, he advised, “Kiss the girl
next to you, take upward flight,
forget the cold outside.”

To each charge I show
a new side to my prism,
a simple note in the margin
of a newspaper column.
maybe, like him, one night
idle love will conspire a razor’s
whisper around my throat.

Entombed by work, Cassis sits
alone now below a menhir
to the Colonel, his stipendiary
at the base of this monolith
characterises his worth;
his body is visibly reduced
to basic operating levels.

Drinking his dark rum, he lets
his ash grow an inch
from his lips and stitch
anxiety into his patients
waiting with form and cheque.
They lie exposed and he,
hunched over each, gets
no complaints, inspecting
wounds like ancient gems
unearthed before the naked
tribals by men in pith helmets;
the natives sucking on gravel,
the mustaches breathing gin.
He knows his trade from
behind Rubix and her quotients,
his ivory desk and ordinance:
merely a corset to a narcotic
bust at every stratum.

Standing at the edge
of manhood, being a child
seems like a dream for The Juke,
a young man who could have
worked a lifetime as Cupid’s fletcher,
his eyes flash like hot knives.

His hard hands are relaxed,
elastic at the joints, sinews tired,
may be pried apart by a small child.
His attention to detail reveals to him
obscenities to which it also accustoms.

On leave from Switchboard repairs,
The Juke is frequently audience to Rubix.
She admires his loyalty, “which may
only be found in youth.”  

“The rack of addiction
imposes contact,” riles
the houndman chained
to a radiator, brandishing
his filth and a rusty fork.
“Cabbage fritters and boiled tongue
Is what they eat where my mother’s from,”
dismisses The Juke
- with the peel of his smile,
the tilt of his jaw reveals
what’s tattoo writ ‘Cut Here’
by little monochrome scissors
on a dotted line ear-to-ear.
“It will be a short one, my last breath,
So I mark it where my gasp will end.”

In our darkest reflections, of love and death,
our thoughts are potent with the Colonel.

The Juke remains loyal
as Rubix continues illusion epitome,
“… seemed I ordered Whisky
in The Grand Pump Room
- never met the waiter,
bastard failed introduction.”

She’s sitting despotic
in a broad-stitched leather
booth, conducting: “I was seated such,”
palm to Formica, “at the Colonel’s
eightieth; he soliloquized much
the need for men like you.
His wisdom was of fine stock
and calibre – I’ve had
the girls print the matchbooks.
We thank his heroism,
we’re adorned: my necklace gold,
your hands well oiled!”

Her fingers fat from handling money,
The Juke at once spits from memory:
“I was looking for a voice, he stood there full of cheer and pretense like a shaman on a box
– maybe not soap but some well demanded, highly branded, value-tax added product
of some kind. He asked what I was doing with my life, what I was trying to find
fixing cars with my black thumbnails and hard, thin boots, my loose jaw
bound to get broken, my legs full of bourbon. A laminar flow
of contradicting tones in his voice, I told him exactly where he could go.
He talked of a town called Liberty,
where the people basked in Freedom;
I asked what kind of map he was readin’.”

Noir’s father was a neighbourhood
mensch and Machiavelli
of phonebooth and pocketbook,
“Surrendering his wealth,
he followed the Colonel,
rolled heads at The Palace
(Before Rubix) but left us
without notice one night
as we slept,” – his calls blocked
as his friends stopped turning
up for work, their absurd
time-cards gone, their letters
cropped; at their doors
he’d morse’d dead knocks
and uttered dusty whispers
into lobby tin-speakers.
“His documents, photographs
we had to burn; medals
in a tin buried beneath
a birch by the railway
bridge to the steel mill;
I’m a girl fixing the memory
of a long line of railmen.”

The Balladeer cuts an expression
into her harmonica and begins
to play with messianic hint;
the milieu echo Cecil B. DeMille’s
name in the realm of question;
with the roseate breath in her lungs,
she appears to paint freely with
the caustic saloon air.
The mass of canines without
eyes in front, dripping entropy,
produced from the bar
on some vast Martini loom,
swarm to her like flies
to the sweetness of rotting fruit.

Dusted by a pollen of kisses,
lovers stretch gratitudes
toward mistaken donors, create
illusions later perceived false.
A stewardess hands out scented towelettes
to mop our cephalic sweat
(not a flicker of interest
across her vampirically pale
features). Appearing in seriatim,
sciatic dancers null our osseous pains.

The green pharisees turn and run
to The Juke but he’s wreathed in love.
His body speeds, all bravado,
feet barely beneath him,
the slender amandus dynamos
around her, lashed by pinball
awareness, running wild and bold
- a distracted chatelaine failed
to tether this restless colt.

I’m tipping brown sugar
in a filter coffee, sighing
at a saucy type in a fur collar,
as some of the crowd begin
to fumble for their chalk,
pull at ties, palm their lips aghast,
become fixed in poses
stricken for no purpose.

The Juke on the floor:
three bullets sewn through
his chest – he wouldn’t
have died in the matinée show.
He really makes mosaic
of the music box he was
leaning against as Noir
pulled bashfully at her dress.
Rubix claps the revolver
into Cassis’ hands and
everyone knows it was him.

Troubles not original
in these parts, the paranoiac
revelers, the pleasure sucked
from them, become
brainless insects, delve
into the battle waged
knowing nothing of the aims;
as a general is forever
enacting stratagems
from the previous war,
I pluck Noir and Dr. Cassis
from the vibrissae
of the dimensionless beast;
we hide among the pixie women
in the street selling trinkets
ankle deep in peduncles
and hat ribbons, waving feathers.

 Rubix reported a lingering dread
- an idiosyncrasy of this particular
model, although a noble sentiment –
filed undisclosed natural causes;
we all know what that means.
They’ll gibbet Cassis as an example
for striking pins at this level:
life isn’t all beer and skittles
when dealing decks a fatality situation.

Alone in a hotel room,
a light whisper of a night-train
flutters just above the roof,
taps enough to imply the wind
and talk of the sea it’s from.
Picking at the nightmares between
reality and dream, Cassis, half-
sitting, may become a regular
footnote stranger, dissolving tears
in alcohol to avoid making a scene.
Havoc has been wrought
on his midbrain by alternating
sedatives and stimulants.

Rolling up the tag like  
a little newspaper, reining in
a bucket from a mossed well,
Noir retrieves a teabag
from Cassis’ mug.

We imagine the procession:
two files like heavy curtains
breezing each other
as the mourners wobble
in their short, slow steps;
Rubix smoking because,
like most actors, she knows
not what to do with her hands.

In our darkest reflections, of love and death,
our thoughts are potent with the Colonel.