Or… The night that Duende walked in, and showed us God.
Suddenly we were confronted by God – in the ancient bar of the Broken Boat Inn,
a final frontier drinking den unclaimed by gentrification,
suits with blank cheques and brutal franchise,
our misty outpost for broken-hearted lovers the world left behind.
We’re All In The Same Boat proclaimed the sign above the bar,
next to a Thompson submachine gun that the landlady swore
was once used by Al Capone in a gangland 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 tattoos 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.
We shared all that we had from our meagre purses:
ale, poems, stories and songs framed in curling tobacco smoke.
The house band there never got paid – except in beer and nuts –
yet they turned up most evenings to help detach us
from the pins, cogs and wheels of a world bent to grind us.
The Broken Boat Inn, where we’d huddle together in that leaking life-boat,
poor, overfilled, but able enough to carry us away from whatever
sinking Titanic 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 the seas – multi-lingual and all colours and creed,
we’d bail out our grief and plug the holes of despair
as wide as rivers filling gorges all the way to the top,
spilling silky streams down garbagy, pot-holed streets,
up the steps to buildings that jailed music for its own protection.
You heard it as good as we: that watery rap at the door which opened
to the bouncer’s clenched paw – he wasn’t letting it in…
not on yours or anyone else’s nelly!
“You’re not on the list,” the bouncer growled.
“Friend… I wrote the list,” the stranger replied.
Asked the bouncer: “What’s your name?”
“I am Duende,” said the stranger. “Duende with no beginning, middle or end,
and I am here to show you God.”
And in Duende came, dressed in black, cowboy boots and a ten gallon 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: “I am Duende.”
“What’s your poison?” the landlady enquired.
Answered Duende: “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 customers.”
Said Duende: “You misunderstand the situation, it’s you who shall pay me,
for I will give you a night to remember when I show you God.”
A hush. The Inn went silent. The landlady spat on the floor, lit a cigarette,
before shouting over the bar for three to take the stage –
three to entertain the stranger called Duende.
Old Ginette got up first, with aid of her cane.
Her hair was dyed pink, as was her custom in later years,
and some called her Lady Rose but most just Old Ginette.
And she took to the stage and struck us silent as a mighty bell
would still us to make us look 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 poor legs could no longer make the steps,
nor could my eyes bring themselves to look into the faces of people
that bored me to fucking godless and witless tears.
So, now, brothers and sisters, I sit in my bungalow,
low, low, low, all alone and pray to God, lo!
Because you don’t need to go to church to find God, right?
God’s in us wherever we are, from palaces to bungalows all over the world.
God’s there Sunday morning when I dye 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 slackers dressed in black – bass, drums and guitar,
skinny little dogs they were, declaring: ‘The Lion Cult loves you!’
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 silky hair gelled up on the crown of his head
like a hillock of freshly-laid dog turd.
Ink spots on his frilly white shirt (Luke liked to write poems
when he wasn’t seeing double),
kept a Hollywood lea of neat black stubble
on his beer-soaked face.
Yet he sure smelled nice under that beer stink of his,
from the free samples of cologne handed out by his sister
who worked at the perfume counter of a well known chain.
“If only she worked at the brewery,” Luke would sometimes lament.
We knew what he meant, having similar intent as the one Luke possessed.
“Gonna tell you about a girl called Emma-Jane McGee…”
And Luke began to sing, and oh boy were we shocked
that not only did Luke possess some mighty fine pipes,
but knew words other than: “bartender make that the same again.”
And the house band had to be nudged into action to play,
because they were standing there in just as much awe as we.
“Emma-Jane McGee fell from a tree,
into a grave pre-dug by her lover,
a lover whose heart was owned by another,
who flung from his spade the aromatic earth,
that would entomb Emma-Jane forever and ever.
No stone was laid to mark her place.
No words carved to honour her grace,
except those in his heart, in the cold embrace,
of another lover, a different face,
the face that usurped the one of Emma-Jane.
How he’ll kiss that new lover upon her fresh lips,
twist a ring on her finger and say ‘I do’.
And poor Emma-Jane beneath her tree,
turns in her grave and slips to sleep.
Eternal sleep, the heart goes free,
and endures no pain nor misery.
Goodnight, goodnight, Emma-Jane McGee.
Sleep tight, sleep tight, Emma-Jane McGee.”
Unaided, ha! – as if she ever needed anyone’s help,
third and last to get up on the stage was Rude Girl Sally who was all the rage
back in ’98 when the sun shone for days,
and we all got our money’s worth of a good decade.
Rude Girl Sally snatched the mic and began to sing:
“Show me your face, your soul, your prick, your tits, your money, your gun, your bling.
Show me your heart and I’ll show you mine too,
‘cept my black heart is broken in two.
Suckers don’t like that? Then fuck, fuck you.
I’ll keep my fertile futility close to my breast
which will ne’er feel your touch nor tongue on my nipple.
Ra-ra-raspberry ripple, triple lovers in a bed with mirrors on the ceiling.
Hey there mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the sassiest of them all?
The classiest, bad-assiest, nastiest, canniest, most trashiest?
See, I want it all and I want it now! So gimme, gimme, gimme…
diamonds and tiaras and black panthers and piranhas,
bananas in pyjamas and Barbie dioramas.
Don’t you know a dildo a day keeps the doctor away?
Ooh doctor please, please please me, doctor feelgood just tease me,
sleaze me, squeeze me good doctor, bad doctor please listen…
I think I’m dying… See, I have this disease… and the disease is myself.”
We watched Sally toss the mic over her shoulder –
Lord, it hit the bas 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 rude Girl Sally suddenly ripped off her dress
and showed us her breasts, upon which she’d scrawled in black pen:
‘Over’ on the left, ‘Rated’ on the right.
And we thought we witnessed a miracle that night
at the Broken Boat Inn after Duende walked in.
And in the silence that followed Sally’s performance,
we heard the slow handclapping of Duende at the bar,
who supped his whiskey and sucked a fat cigar.
“Did you see God?” he asked us. “Did you see your true creator?”
Sort of. Kind of. Not sure. Maybe, was the general response –
sometimes the crowd there is so hard to work
– none more so than the landlady, who pulled down the Thompson,
and aimed it’s barrel 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 radiance, an aura
that stunned us one and all in the ancient bar of the Broken Boat Inn.
“You say you saw no God tonight?” Duende said evenly.
“If so, then who do you see before you now – if not your God?”
“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 Lord, 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 something by Jerry Lee Lewis,
and for sure that night, after Duende walked in,
there was a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on…
Shaking and a-quaking, and a rush to the bar to buy drinks for Duende
who was deemed a God worthy of celebration that night
when idols came calling at the Broken Boat Inn.
Words and art by the editor.
Thanks to a three-masted ship of inspiration: