Bardstown Spirits

The two tourists had booked a room
in the historic Talbott Tavern,
drinking bourbon until the gloom
of night had become a cavern.

“Let’s go to bed,” the husband slurred,
stumbling clumsily up the stairs.
His wife recalled how they had heard
of the ghosts people saw, and the nightmares.

“We should have stayed at a hotel,” she whined
as he opened the door to their room
and fumbled his hand, trying to find
the light switch within that tomb.

“This is a hell of a place,” he said,
flipping the switch at long last.
He squinted, then, and scratched his head,
his eyes adjusting none too fast.

It was a small room to be paying
so much, and she gave him one of her frowns
and put her hands on her hips, saying
“We should have went to Churchill Downs.”

Her husband waddled in, most eager
with a childish smile on his face,
and though the amenities were meager
he thought it quite a cozy place.

“This was good enough for Jesse,”
the husband said, plopping down on the bed,
and, reaching for her dress he
grinned up at her, lolling his head.

“I ain’t in the mood for foolin’,” she snapped,
leaving him for the small bathroom
where she cleaned herself up and slapped
her cream on, and some perfume.

“Why are you getting gussied up?” he asked,
shuffling in like a zombie.
She just shook her head, her face masked
while she brushed her teeth calmly.

“You’re mad,” he said. “Aincha’?”
When she didn’t answer, he snorted
and said, “I don’t care how you paincha’
face, you stuck-up whore.” She retorted,

“A whore gets some satisfaction,
but I ain’t had any in a long year.”
She shouldered past him, the action
causing him to fall down on his rear.

While her husband nursed his bruised bum,
she returned downstairs to the bar,
nursing her bruised heart with some rum
and watching the street— each passing car

that hissed and slurred along the wet road,
throwing rainwater up from the rains
that made the sound of a commode
as they flowed into the storm drains.

The bar empty, but for the tender,
she felt each raindrop against the panes
as if the droplets struck to render
a song of sorrow in her brains.

Roundabout three, the witching hour,
a stranger all at once sat next to her
with a rogue’s forthright charm and power
and he smiled openly, as to woo her.

“Hello, Miss,” the stranger drawled.
Beneath his mustache was a grin
and taking one look, her skin crawled—
not with fear, but with the thrill of sin.

“Oh my,” she said, “a handsome gent.”
She looked him up and down, down and up,
and saw a man who seemed heavensent
with eyes that melted her like syrup.

He replied, “For you, my sweet little thing,
I would rob a thousand and one banks.”
He kissed her hand, next to her ring,
and she could only reply, “Thanks.”

They were about to kiss, but then
her husband stumbled downstairs,
all rolly-polly and sprawled when
he hit the bottom, all unawares.

The drunken man rose to his feet,
eyeballs still rolling in his head
till they saw the stranger in his seat
and his eyes focused—seeing red.

“Who’s this guy here now?” he roared,
storming toward the illicit flirts.
“By God almighty, and Jesus, our Lord,
I’ll beat him till his momma hurts!”

The stranger rose to meet the husband,
hand to the holster beneath his vest,
and, in a flash, his hand was gunned
with a Colt leveled to the chest

of the man whose pride was in doubt,
warning him, “I’ve shot bigger men dead.
Now kindly see your sorry self out
while this lady and I retire to bed.”

The jilted man blinked at the gun
and then at his wife, a sour sneer
twisting his brief trepidation
into a drunken pugilist’s leer.

Swinging with all his apish strength,
the husband struck the man’s squarish chin
and went through it, falling at length
to the floor with an unwinding spin.

Now looking up from down below,
the husband saw the man so dim
that the light above shone through, its glow
radiant and clear right through him!

Yet, there was something else frightening
about the stranger standing there,
for he could see, at the strike of lightning,
a bullet hole just below his hair.

Both husband and wife gasped, then paled,
running into each other’s embrace
while the faded ghost laughed and held
his gun aloft, a grin on his face.

“No doubt you’ve heard of me,” he said.
“All through life I’ve many names,
Robin Hood, Dingus, Johnny Reb,
but you, sir, can just call me Jesse James.”

This proclaimed, and thus so named,
Jesse James winked at the man’s wife,
then grinned at the man, and aimed—
with a puff of smoke he took his life…

The husband woke in a cold sweat
that soaked the dirty clothes he had on,
and burned his eyes, each salty wet;
a haze through the pane hinted at dawn.

He laid in bed awhile, in pain,
waiting until he could see clearer,
and saw his wife, the old ball and chain,
primping in front of the bathroom mirror.

“I’m alive?” he asked, so fearful
he was a ghost and she would not hear.
She scowled, then gave him an earful—
“You should just stick to cheap-ass beer!”

“But the spirit of Jesse James!”
he tried to say, but she spoke faster.
“I am so sick of your head games!
You should see a shrink, or a pastor!”

“But I saw his spirit last night!” he said.
“He shot me to death with his gun!”
“The only spirits you should fear,” she said,
“are the shots you drank of bourbon!”

He tried to object, but she spoke
with authority, giving him pause:
“Sometimes I think your head’s half-broke
cuz you don’t think when jackin’ your jaws!”

Her husband became quiet and still
and thought of the ghost with the pistol—
the ghost of a man who could kill,
his eyes icy blue like crystal.

She said, “You didn’t pay the tab
so I had to pay for your bender,
but then you came down, thick as a slab,
and tried to cold-cock the bartender!”

“But I saw Jesse James!” he muttered—
she shook her head slowly, a frown
on her face as her eyelashes fluttered.
She said, “He didn’t even die in this town!”

***This is only a first draft (and first half) of a long narrative poem I am writing about Bardstown from the perspective of two people and their drunken misadventures at the various locales.  I still need to refine the meter format in the poem, and the diction and syntax, but I am too tired right now to finish it, and I wanted to post something for Halloween, so here it is.

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