Poem: The Broken Boat Saloon

The Broken Boat Saloon

1.

Suddenly we were confronted by God in the bar of the Broken Boat Saloon,
Our final frontier drinking den, our misty outpost for a world left behind.
We’re All In The Same Boat proclaimed the sign above the bar,
Next to a Spencer carbine rifle that the landlady swore
Was once used by Custer in an Indian war.
So full of bluster, though we dared not say – at least to her face anyway,
And instead would butter her up for her fine bosom and curly hair,
Order copious amounts of her strange beer and liquors
Before setting our weary frames at tables full of the same old faces.
The house band there never got paid – except in beer and mash –
Yet they turned up most evenings to help detach us
From the axles and wheels of a world bent to grind us.

2.

The Broken Boat Saloon, where we’d huddle together in that leaking life-boat,
Poor, overfilled, but able enough to carry us away from whatever
Sinking disaster every man, woman and child had abandoned themselves from.
And in that creaky boat, with sails turned amber-rose
From nicotine and blood, and in the comfort of other refugees
And survivors of frontiers – multi-lingual and all colours and creed,
We’d bail out our grief and plug the holes of despair.
You heard it as good as we: that unearthly rap at the door
Which opened to the landlady’s clenched paw – she wasn’t letting him in…
Not on yours or anyone else’s life.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” the landlady growled.
“I am Duende,” said the stranger. “Duende with no beginning, middle or end,
And I am here to show you God.”

3.

And in Duende came, dressed in black, cowboy boots and a Stetson hat,
Hard to tell if it was a woman or a man if truth be known, let’s say ‘he’
Went straight to the bar and said: “Give me a drink.”
“What’s your poison?” the landlady enquired.
“Whiskey, and three of your patrons to get up on that stage,
For I’m in need of both liquor and entertainment.”
“Cost ya,” said the landlady. “The whiskey ain’t cheap and neither are my patrons.”
Said Duende: “You misunderstand, I make no payment for the things I want,
But I will give you a night to remember when I show you God.”
The Saloon went silent. The landlady spat on the floor, lit a cigarette,
Before shouting across the bar for three to take the stage –
Three to entertain the stranger called Duende.

4.

Old Ginette got up first, with aid of her cane.
Her hair dyed pink, as was her custom in later years,
Some called her Lady Rose, but most just Old Ginette.
Well, she took to the stage and struck us silent as a mighty bell
Would still us to make us stare up at the heavens.
And was it poetry or song that parted her lips, as she said to us:
“Brothers and sisters, I quit going to church on Sundays
Because my legs could no longer make the steps,
Nor could my eyes bring themselves to look into the faces

Of people that bored me to godless and witless tears.
So, now, brothers and sisters, I sit in my home
All alone and pray to God, lo!
Because you don’t need to go to church to find God, right?
God was with me Sunday morning when I dyed my hair pink.
God’s in my hair, brothers and sisters, Gods in my hair!”

We hardly even noticed her exit the stage, such was our awe,
Our enchantment, open-mouthed and dumb as dead salmon.
And the house band seemed just in awe of her as we –
That ragtag trio of drifters dressed in black – banjo, fiddle and a Spanish guitar,
Skinny little dogs they were, declaring often: “The Lion Cult loves you!”

5.

Captain Luke got up next, with the aid of two friends,
Drunk beyond measure and deemed ‘round the bend’ –
Even when he was sober, which was rare.
Dandy Luke they sometimes called him – and he tried his best,
With his hair greased up on the crown of his head
Like a hillock of freshly-laid dog mess.
And ink spots on his frilly white shirt (Luke liked to write poems
When he wasn’t seeing double),
Kept a lea of black stubble on his beer-soaked face,
Which wrinkled as he parted his lips and began to sing:
“Gonna tell you ‘bout a girl called Emma-Jane McGee…”
And boy were we shocked that not only did he possess some mighty fine pipes,
But knew words other than: ‘Bartender make that the same again.’

“Emma-Jane McGee fell from a tree,
Into a grave pre-dug by her husband,
A husband whose heart was owned by another,

A woman from the south, a woman like no other.
How he’ll kiss that southerner upon her fresh lips,
Twist a ring on her finger and say ‘I do’,
While poor Emma-Jane beneath her tree,
Turns in her grave and slips to sleep.
Goodnight, goodnight, Emma-Jane McGee.
Sleep tight, sleep tight, Emma-Jane McGee.”

After, the house band had to be nudged into action to move,
Because they were standing there in just as much awe as we.
“The Lion Cult loves you!” they declared to Captain Luke,
As he stepped down from the stage, and fell flat on his face.

6.

Unaided, ha! – as if she ever needed anyone’s help!
Third and last to get onstage was Bad Girl Sally who was all the rage
Back in Madame Minou’s Whorehouse when the sun shone for days,
And we all got our money’s worth from a good decade.
Bad Girl Sally slapped her foot down on a stool and began to wail:
“Show me your face, your soul, your balls, your titties, your gold.
Show me your heart and I’ll show you mine too,
‘cept my black heart is busted in two.
Say broken mirror on the wall, who’s the sassiest of them all?
The classiest, bad-assiest, nastiest, most trashiest?
See, I want it all, and I want it now! Give me…

Diamonds and tiaras and black panthers and piranhas.
O, doctor, dear doctor, I have this disease… and the disease is myself.”

We watched Sally pick up the stool and toss it over her shoulder –
Lord, it hit the banjo player of the house band square on his head,
Though he didn’t seem to mind too much – he was in awe of Sally
Like the rest of us. Awe, red raw, bleeding all over the damn stage floor,
As Bad Girl Sally suddenly ripped off her dress
And showed us her breasts, upon which she’d scrawled in black paint:
‘Over’ on the one, ‘Rated’ on the other.

7.

And we wondered if we witnessed miracles that night
At the Broken Boat Saloon after Duende walked in.
And in the silence that followed Sally’s performance,
We heard the slow-handclapping of Duende at the bar,
Who grinned through his teeth and a dangling cigar.
“Did you see God?” he asked us. “Did you see your true creator?”
The landlady tugged her Spencer carbine from the wall
And aimed it’s business end at the head of Duende.
“Let’s call it three-hundred bucks, shall we honey?
Coz the only God we know here is the colour of money.”
And Duende stood straight and tall and took off his hat,
And his head was all shiny, and had this queer radiance, an aura
That stunned us one and all in the bar of the Broken Boat Saloon.
“You say you saw no God tonight?” Duende said evenly.
“If so, then who do you see before you now?”
“I see a man full of holes,” snarled the landlady,
And she shot Duende dead to the bar room floor,
Who did nought else but got back on his feet, dusted himself down and said:
“I’ll forgive you for that, for I’m the forgiving type. Now get to your knees
And worship your God, and pray The Lion Cult has a song left in them yet.”
And the house band, not immune to the occasional spell of metaphysics,
Began playing the Cowboy’s Lament,
And Duende nodded his head and closed his eyes,
As if dreaming of Laredo, and a young cowboy wrapped in white linen,
The same dream we had dreamed under countless starry skies,
Around campfires, or in cots, or in the arms of whores and gunslingers.
Boy, what a cheer rose up, and a rush to the bar to buy drinks for Duende
Who was deemed a God worthy of celebration that night
When the muse found us all at the Broken Boat Saloon,
And the sweetest voices sang from deep within the soul.


Words and art by the editor.

Thanks to a three-masted ship of inspiration:

Sophia Riley-Kobacker ** The History of Emotions Blog ** Everything2: Nick Cave’s Love Song Lecture **


 

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