SPOTLIGHT: Mark James Andrews’ “So I Lit A Fire For The Last Thanksgiving”

So I Lit A Fire

I parked & launched out of my Corvair
just about 8 Miles High at my girlfriend’s house
she of the ginger hair & grey eyes.
I called her Bridge.

Bridge was having a party for her little sister
& a big gaggle of teeny bop girls
some picked for the May crowning ceremony
at Holy Name of Jesus church

a Roman Catholic throwback pagan ceremony
a Celtic flower gathering & May Pole disguise.
The crowner girls were dangerously sexed up.

Bridge’s sister would soon climb a dais
at the side altar & crown the Madonna with flowers
above vigil candles in red glass cups flickering.

There was a group of long-hair boys standing
on the curb out front smoking cigarettes.
One of them flipped his butt
& stepped forward toward me.

“Hey man, you got any chemicals?”
“What do I look like a scientist?
Get the fuck out of here.”

I could hear the organ of 96 Tears
from the backyard & moved through the front gate
on the side of the house & walked through
the dark skinny tunnel between houses.

There were no driveways on Bridge’s block.
& the lots were small.
I came out of the tunnel into
a department store Christmas display.

There were strings of color Christmas lights
weaved on the clotheslines
& plastic Nativity figures
in the middle of the yard

with the Virgin Mary front & center
on a thin wooden slat bushel basket
with a crown of blue plastic posies.
mounted on her head.

There was a break in the music.
Then a scratchy sounding 45 RPM
of My Girl dropped on the turntable.

Bridge was running back and forth
getting the kids to slow dance
to the Temptations.

Then she saw me and walked over.
She had on my favorite dress
“the get naked dress.”

“These kids are so cute.
Look at them.”

“Yeah. But the drug addicts
are hanging tough out front.”

“Well, I guess you belong
out front with them.”

& so I lit a fire for a weenie roast
in a rusty tripod barbecue
& thought isn’t it good?

Are You Experienced?

I was perched on the toilet at 7 AM when I suddenly
noticed a crow doing the same

without the comfort or decorum of a pot up in the leafless
ash tree planted for privacy

peering down through the window at me when the bird
reached behind a wing with his beak

& produced a blue tip stick match and began striking it
against the bark to no result but scratching

continuously and sounding to me muffled by the closed
double glass like the intro to

Are You Experienced? which I had not heard in at least
40 years. I tranced in the performance but

it suddenly occurred to me that maybe this crow simply
wanted a cigarette which I had not smoked

also in 40 years when the bird dropped the match, shook
its shaggy head and flew off

to the next door neighbor’s roof & gave me a sidelong
look which seemed to say

Come fly with me and together we’ll join the circus.

Wonderful World

I was watching TV with my mother.
There was a man rolling his eyes
sticking his front teeth down low
over his lower lip talking baby talk.
He was asking for money
for some funny looking kids.

There was a boy at school that looked
a lot like these kids on TV.
He walked like these kids who were walking
but not like the kids sitting in wheelchairs
but probably that was next it seemed now.

This boy came out on the playground
dressed in shorts and suspenders
with a cap all in the same color blue
with flaps covering his ears
snapped under his chin tight.

Throw me the ball. Throw it to me.

It wasn’t a ball.
It was just wadded up rags
that the janitor had just tossed out
the upstairs classroom window.
He was looking down at us.
We were chucking it around.
There was nothing else to do.

I was wearing my second pair
of dress pants with the knees covered
in brand new patches that my mother
ironed on that I hated big and square.

I chucked the boy the rag ball.
He clapped at it and it caught by luck
like it stuck in his fingers.

Another boy ran up and punched
the kid in the mouth hard and ripped
away the rag ball with his other hand
which busted apart in long strips
that looked really filthy by themselves
on the black top of the school yard.

I saw the janitor way up in the window
shaking his head and laughing.

The boy with the flap cap started to cry
through his bloody lips and drooling spit
and then he opened his mouth and screamed.
His teeth were all smeared with red blood
but he stood there on his skinny legs.

The boy that smashed him ran off.
That boy was wearing the same kind of pants
as me with the same new patches
a lot darker blue than the pants color.

Around then the old nun appeared outside
the double school doors at the top of the steps
shaking the big gold bell loud and forever
the bell that really wasn’t gold.
Lunch period was over for us.

The TV show with the silly man was still on.
He didn’t have any blood on his teeth
but I thought he should.

The silly man then showed a movie
of a whole classroom of funny looking kids.
The kids were all smiling and laughing.

My mother said she was going to send
five dollars to the kids to make them well.
I asked her if the silly man was going to give
the money to the funny looking kids.
Mom said first of all those kids
are not funny looking and second of course
those kids were going to get the money
because we help kids like that in America.

Well that man is funny looking I think.
Yes, he is said Mom.
That’s why I like the other man.
You do? What other man?
Oh, he’s his partner said Mom.
He’s not with him on this show now.
Where is he? I said.
I don’t know where he is at this minute
but he’s handsome and sings
and he’s always holding a drink
and a cigarette.
Oh, I said, just like Daddy.
Mom laughed her laugh.
Oh no, she said.
Your father is nothing like him.

We Knelt Down

We decided to skip the viewing
of the obtuse red brick bungalow
mounted high on the sand bluff
with the moniker Palace of Peace
in an elegant typeface bas-relief
scrolled in the concrete lintel
eroding above the front door.

I took a fast right inland
to the needs-work aluminum sided
starter that had city water
pulled up the drive to the wide open
garage door and big-as-life
a cormorant on a tree branch
in black silhouette with random
pink cherry blossoms preened
on a yellow plastic shower curtain
hung from wooden clothespins
on a braided rope at midpoint within.

We moved straight to the secret
the answer behind the veil
and there a steady circle of flame
burned beneath what looked like
a hot water tank with a crown
of coiled copper tubing dripping
slow and steady to a brown crock
where we knelt down and cupped
the flow and sucked the heat in.

I Pushed the Book Cart for the Gangstas!

I rolled up with my book cart on the Catwalk
with “Frank Nitti” on the flip side of the bars.
Nitti was Rock Boss & Mouthpiece
for Maximum Security Ward 511
(The Hole) in what was called The Annex
of the Old Wayne County Jail
in Detroit, Michigan.

Nitti was on the “phone” shouting
down the grate of the heat duct
connected to Ward 411 one floor below
where the Max female inmates bunked.
Frank bared his teeth
his Pepsodent smile at me
shushed me through his forefinger
then waved it in the one minute sign
his eyes flashing & locking on mine.

“Baby, Hold up one second.
That Bookman is here.
Me & him, we got to transact some bid’ness.”

“Awww…No…No….Please don’t leave me NOW!
Oh please do not LEAVE”

“Bitch be cool. We gon’ get back down with it.
Bookman be here with that truck
of raggedy ass paperbacks.
Him & me, we gon’ square up right quick.”

I knew the Frank Nitti Story from the Sunday Papers.
He was Boss in the Coney Oneys gang
on the East Side (a whack spin
on the Godfather movie’s Corleone moniker).
Let’s leave it at that.
I knew also that he washed his shorts & socks daily
& hung them up to dry on jailhouse bars
& brushed his teeth 9 times a day.
But that’s another story.

Frank was on 24 hour lock down
with 10 other inmates in single-bunk
postage stamp sized cells
with one free hour to “exercise”
on the Runway alone.
Frank was out now.
It seemed he was always “out”
a self-proclaimed “Trustee”
for shady or lazy deputies on the take
or fast asleep.

Frank controlled all the books on 511
as de facto librarian.
It was his lending library & his rules
& he got comped.
Frank always GOT PAID.

The paperbacks were neatly arranged
in stacked milk crates in his cell
along with sundry condiments & contraband.

Frank leaped up to leave the open gate
of the vacant cell
the cell with the “phone” in it
as the sliding gate to his own bunk was locked
without him in it
both policy No-No’s for Max Inmates.

Frank Nitti hollered out.
“Dep-u-ty, Crack my crib.
So’s I can give the Bookman
his bullshit books back
& get some new ones for the fellas.”

“No. No. No. Daddy Cool.
Please. Please. Please.
Keep talking to me.
I’m all sopping wet.”

Frank Nitti rushed back
to shout down into the “phone.”

“Freakish baby girl
You just holler up to the Bookman for a bit.
I shall return in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

Frank hollered out the last line
in his best British accent.

“Daddy Cool, I don’t want to mess
with no White Boy.

“Bitch, I told you to talk some shit
with the Bookman.

“Only for you, Daddy Frank.”

Frank was just about to exit when…

“Oh, Bookman?
How ‘bout I call you Pretty Dick?”

Frank stormed back.
Eternal smile gone.

“What did you say, Bitch?”

“Oh, No. No. No. No. I’m just doing
what you told me, Daddy”

“I didn’t tell you to DO the Bookman
& certainly not DO HIM LIKE THAT!”

“I didn’t know. I DID NOT KNOW.
I can’t think straight
when I’m up into it with YOU.

Even Frank Nitti
Daddy Cool
looked amazed at that one.


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