Sunday, February 27, 2011

fellaheen - the darkness: a fragment

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq

when belle starr played the piano in cabin creek
the fellaheen couldn't stop crying for almost a week
the piano stood in the middle of the barroom floor
decorated with only a skull and an apple core

the wanderers lined the walls upstairs and down
and spilled out into the dusty streets of town
they leaned on the banisters and stairwells with careless ease
and sat on the floors beneath the chandeliers

the sahibs lined the bar looking grim and strange
smooth gamblers, and leathery men who rode the range
miners and rustlers and dreamers in search of gold
and wandering strangers whose tales will never be told

frank james stood behind the bar in his best white shirt
no glass or bottle behind him had a speck of dirt
the mahogany under his elbow shone cold and black
his pale blue eyes rolled the room both front and back

jesse sat alone in a corner of the room
riffling a deck of cards with an air of gloom
fat men and thin kept away from his reverie
but he was not what they had come to see

belle tipped her feathered head as she struck the keys
her red dress shimmered from her shoulders to her knees
the air was filled with a rainbow of bumblebees
that turned to drops of ice in a mountain breeze

quantrill leaned over the rail by the upstairs rooms
silent behind him like the apostles plundered tombs
his red eye drifted down in the shadows to belle
his blue eye was fixed forever in the depths of hell

beyond quantrill, in a corner of the landing
a boy in black with white buck teeth was standing
his eyes were cast straight down like coffin lids
who else could it be but billy bonney - the kid?

but nobody looked at billy, or quantrill
all eyes were on belle - they couldn't get their fill
all were as quiet as if their own selves had died
outside in the desert a lone coyote cried

one note, two notes, three notes rippled and broke
the fourth note rang like a rifle through the smoke
an arrow shot through the darkness and suddenly fell
in a waterfall racing the rocks between heaven and hell

over the waterfall diving into the moon
an almost silent half-remembered tune
frank at the bar lights up a tailor made
and jesse cuts the deck to the four of spades

quantrill is last to remove his granite gaze
the kid is a statue - and on and on she plays
when belle starr played the cabin in cabin creek
gunmen turned into clouds and could not speak

nothing lasts forever in the western night
birds walk across the desert and the stars...

for an unadorned version of the poem, click here


Peter Greene said...

That was great!

Dan Leo said...

I agree -- Sternwall really pushes the boundaries here. Heaven merges into hell and the both of them merge into the earth of the wasted western desert. A masterpiece.