Mixing In Good Spirits, And In Bad
“A little drink now and again
has never really been a sin,
and for the high-spirited drinker Jack
who loved his Firebird Pontiac
the most fun he had ever had
(whether in good times or in bad)
started with a clinking crystal shot-glass
full of firewater that could strip brass.
But one night Jack got to drinking,
which meant he did much less thinking
than what was best after his wife left
and took his dog—a vindictive theft
he couldn’t abide as he sat alone
on the loveseat he thought his throne
and brooded over the ways to grieve
this time of year, on All Hallow’s Eve.
1973 was the year of fun
and Jack was hankering for a joyride run,
so he upended a lovely amber bottle
and went driving anon, at full-throttle,
down to a mist-veiled place, called Happy Hollow,
where Whippoorwills often call and follow,
haunting the willows with their strange chorus
and eating souls (according to some folklorists)
whenever the dead are placed in the earth:
that cold clay womb of their mortal birth.
Trees were red and their leaves were falling
and the night air was cool, the harvest moon calling
for all lunatics with wolfish blood burning hot
to enjoy life now, not later, before the grave and the rot,
and drunk Jack was a lunatic if ever there was
and feared nothing while enslaved to his firewater buzz,
and so he drove like a fiery bat from the pits of hell
that flees at the ring of the morning church bell.
He drove past many forlorn scarecrows
crucified here and there among the many corn-rows,
guarding— in phantom moonlight— the nodding fields
whose bounty was all, and more, what a cornucopia yields,
though Jack could not appreciate such a ripe type of bounty
since he was a cornpone politician from a boondock county
and, as such, never valued an honest day’s crop,
sowing only half-truths and lies at each campaign stop;
that said, the scarecrows reminded him of his own voter base—
heads full of straw and staked reliably in place.
Past barns, Jack drove, with baccy hanging side by side
like the gray widows accused as witches, then tied and then tried
by a group of their peers who eyed their fertile lands
and desired that acreage, claiming it with greedy hands.
They were lined up on the gallows for one last dance
in an old bitty ditty end-of-the-line performance,
and, though suffering from a mortal case of severe stage fright,
they still kicked and jigged and tapped when their ropes pulled tight
giving the crowd a lively show they were sure to remember,
then taking a bow into their graves on the first of November.
On and on Jack drove through the valley’s Fall scene
like a speed-demon seeking lost souls on Halloween.
There were fat pumpkins squatting in tangled patches
and pumpkins on porches whose grins glowed with lit matches,
and there was a churchyard crowded with headstones crumbling down
where a crooked Yew tree stood with an owl in its crown,
and a black cat stalked shadows for a trembling mouse
while kids, just down the street, walked from house to house;
kids looking for candy, for mischief, for a little of both,
which could lead neighbors to laugh, or to cuss, or to quoth
the Raven with a rueful snort, “Nevermore”,
as they cleaned eggs off of a window or a front patio door.
Faster and faster Jack drove his Pontiac Trans Am,
all the while listening to “Free Bird”, his new favorite jam.
Every song from that album made him want to be a little risky,
except for that one song he hated, which was called “Poison Whiskey”.
But even “Free Bird” was spoiled as he thought of his wife,
and all of their married years together, and all of their strife,
and even while he saw kids scattering from the roadside
it never occurred to Jack that this helter-skelter hellfire ride
could be disastrous to anyone beyond his lane,
especially as firewater swirled in his raging brain.
His liquour-and-Skynard head was very much indeed
like a Jack O’ Lantern: burning bright and baleful, but emptied
of sense and seeds and anything that could grow
some awareness beyond his scowling wicked-wick glow.
And so, as Jack drove all swerve-a-curve and hell-bent,
he slid and skidded and, (devil-may-care), struck an innocent:
a little girl with pigtails dressed as Pippi Longstocking
who was out with friends, laughing happily as they were talking
and walking from door to door, reveling in the trick-or-treat season,
looking for sweets and good times— now dead for no reason.
Jack saw the twin braids of her ruby red hair
whip and rebound off the Firebird hood, through the air,
along with hearing and feeling the dull melon thud,
followed by squealing tires and glass splattered by blood.
Jack did not stop, nor brake, nor dare a backward glance
in the rearview mirror, afraid that he might by chance
see the somersaulting body of that poor dead child,
now but costume and candy and corpse roughly piled
on the yard of someone who, no doubt, was calling police
to fetch him off to jail with no hope of release—
the thought of which made Jack’s foot all the heavier on the pedal,
grinding the accelerator down to, and past, the floorboard metal.
But while he sped away and rejoiced at eluding the Law
there sat someone riding shotgun, talking with a disfigured jaw.
‘Welcome, to the Land of Nod,’ said the dead redhead girl,
her Pippi braids floating above her head, scarlet and aswirl;
‘You are marked, sir, and must admit your wrong,
or the Devil will get his due of you for all eternity long.”
Just then did Jack’s own jaw hang crooked without a word
as he saw two hellhounds newly come, on either flank of the Firebird;
newly come, he knew, to fetch his soul for their master
who would roast him forever in the infernal Hereafter.
Their eyes were afire and they snorted smoke and flame,
and they were as big as Clydesdales, (or nearly the same frame),
and they galloped and they leapt and they snarled and they snapped
at the sides of his Firebird in which Jack was haplessly trapped.
‘Call off your hounds,’ Jack begged, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt nobody.
It’s just that I’ve fallen on hard times, and needed a Hot-(Rod)-Toddie.
Ain’t a man in his woes entitled to a few shots?
It’ain’t as if I meant to hit one of you little snot-nosed tots.’
To this the girl just gave him a grim (reaper) frown
and told him that he should really just slow the hell down.
‘And let your demon dogs get me?!’ Jack retorted.
‘That ain’t gonna’ happen, missy!’ he said and then snorted.
Jack accelerated his car, trying to lose the hounds,
only to lose control and crash into the cemetery grounds.
His Firebird hit a few headstones, then the twisted Yew tree,
and Jack flew through the windshield, hitting terminal velocity,
and the old owl asked ‘Who?’ goes there, in that place of the dead
where good people, and bad, sleep in a worm-eaten bed.
Jack flew into an open grave, and fell down into Hell
where the Devil awaited him, laughing, as he rang the bell
for all the demons and hellhounds to come and eat their dinner
while a girl rattled a laugh up above, in a broken-necked tenor.
The clinking of ice and glass awoke Jack with a start
so suddenly from his nap that it nearly stopped his heart,
and he found that he had been laying sprawled out and quite limp
on the loveseat, alone, where he had conjured an imp
from his favorite bottle of whiskey, cornfed Jim Beam,
and suffering for his intemperance a wicked Djinn Dream.
He was too close to the fireplace, which burned hellishly hot,
so he stood up and walked a while, his head aching quite a lot.
Jack thought of his wife, who would soon be his ex,
and he thought of the dream, which was surely some hex,
for drunk as he was he believed his wife a witch
who had a voodoo doll of him to poke and to prod and to itch,
(and she would have half his bank account, if his lawyer was right,
which was worse to him than any black magic blight)
and so he poured himself some more drink (hair of the dog)
and stared into the fireplace; at the flames and the log.
Angry, Jack threw the glass into the fire, snatching up his keys,
staggering and stumbling outside, into an October breeze,
and tumbling into his car, hottailing it to Happy Hollow Road
all in a mad dash, as if the Headless Horseman followed.
He knew his wife was staying here, at her mother’s home,
where bourbon was born like ifrit from a still’s chrome.
Meanwhile some children were out walking that street,
and one of them was a little girl in braids, saying “Trick or Treat …”