These poems speak in the manner of hard-boiled detective fiction, rich in the dictions found in Chester Himes, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Dashiell Hammett & as do those authors listed, the poems employ their particular patois to drive at thoughts on the have & the have-nots, those rolling in it versus those needing more of it & the structures that create such a scene.

—Eric Elshtain

“The anti-social contract”

Jackanapes ruffle drums
in the lower town
putting glamour on houses

singing “Are the asks done?
The asks are done!” ever-
breathing from the genital

to the specific.
Up the avenues academes
huff milk powders

as they argue what
the Delta is as liquid
peppers redden airs

of clampdowns disavowed
in chiffers mixed
part knuckle part unction.

Sights fixed as tongues’
tips at start of that
G-men receive the heats

their aims get hatched in,
martial rhythms make cases—
brief ones, hard, ones, head ones—

phones filming just what
got copped to but the full-
frontal news don’t,

kept reasonably zipped
informants romanced
behind bushes and chains

where the future’s
thin grass acts platform
for protestations

gigged out of our better
natures choked in cheeses
and feelings mixed

with speed and ulterior
modems casting versions
west from Mecca.


 

“Habeus Shmaseus!”

Shoving provisos skyward
stringy Scotus-whores
crack wise at those

tuned into no-knock
imperiums and tracking apps,
leasing speeches

to gelded aldermen
who aim their telescopes
and phones at girls

aged under auspices
best described by testaments
old as smoke. O, the things

the dark won’t even do
Drs. Chapter and Verse
have recorded in dactyls

conceived with blood,
mixing melt-waters
headed for the Golden State,

vitamin Caesar and his book
of Green Stamps. Back-water
notaries get dirt for noon-day

news hounds, bearding cerumen
from its dens so “Hear Ye’s”
at full squelch cure our heads

of hand grenades and rhythm—
all our twisters in the wind
at the mercy of famillionaires

thumbing noises at bodies
they need not produce.
Info shivers chiefly

out on the wires
supported crazy by the almanac
of winter and instinct

writ in agent’s bluff,
tongues blustering brass-
horned cants from down high.


 

“I got yer quo warranto right here…”

They’ve not done blundering
under that particular bus
as we defrieze a hammer-speech

they say’s just another
eye on the blink
and we get squeezed

into half-baked
militerrariums named
“Liberty” and “Freedom.”

“It was one of them days,”
this Interlude sighs,
“everyone had sixty dollars

in his pockets some
cigarettes and a bottle.”
Once we awayed

anti-social contracts
viralized a-body, politicked
into syndromes once hid

in East Coastal forests
and mothers searched crowns
for bugs, and blood ran

glass-cold. Martha apes
cocktail ice sounds
in late night black and white

an eye behind the bars
but a glance gets through—
clink! clink!

breaking rocks in stripes
legitimized by roads
and foundations dividing

like Zeno’s space or hours
labor dies for or maps
or the abjury of your peers

or tweets deleted with regrets
or situations milked
or zygotes named as claimants.


 

“From the hoosegow”

“Turned up to the bulls
I heard them turn to the corner
to drone things at each other,

raising hob with rights
that don’t circulate
too prominent these days.

They won’t let me do
nothing to a can of black
coffee—they rattle out

something trumped
giving me some of their
sincerest aires: ‘You never

need me when I’m around,’
you know, that brand of honey
talk, but I know whose whistle

they jump to, whose tastes
they tune, saluting a flagging
slogan. ‘Just do us a few

small solids. Don’t give us
the grief.’ They were building
pyramids in me, topping them off

with eyes, putting police
in the tunnels. Beams from
their torches webbing shadows

across brick. They made me
face pattern, kept saving me
from drowning, economized me

of me until nothing I had
made any kind of cents…
I’m just jake with their fists

these days—there are no nights
here—I think I’ve turned to salt.
I keep turning back

to a burning city.
The empty buses my mind
traffics with melt.”


 

“Are you a Syndicalist or what?”

Unemployed grampuses swab
the helix out of artists
effacing gammadions

keystones hid centuries
before now. Flag-set
time just blew like pulpy

elegies hung onto battleships
etched into the Earth
as outcomes monkey

with freedoms we crow,
sub-spaces biases hatched
quietly, technicians

listening for life lights
on the console séance. Shadows
scratch backs a percent of the time

leaving a rest of us granted
for the taking, bent over our bodies
& our business bombed in—

whips pistol a fever
crushing aspirins to sniff
caverns the artists’ works

drip with. Fiscal-fucked
demonstratives in their all
cart water down sidewalks

dry by banking & every
vanilla ability so designed
stock blue-collar

emblems screened flat—
white cats pawing air
timed to Sousa

but we’ve got brass
to beat the brands
tested in Phoenix

they sell just shy of dime—
stores out of which plastic
coffins made in China fly.


 

“Same old same old same”

Wheedling their way
up towers for tickles
of pelf & a padre’s bless-

ing low-wattage Edwardians
gather their lemony
elements for the next

board meeting. They get
the Big Man’s back one
full hour. His glowworms

grease ideas, his dime-store
minions inveigle a market
into our all-together.

Avant-guardians sip,
sit, kibbitz over arts
formed in factors

culture-ghosts brain
with cartoonish-mallets
that stand in for taste.

Giant smile float white;
drive-by agreements
we make without knowing

our hands holding only
the way we’ve been fleeced,
our shoulders tricked to the wheel.

Every bit we own’s made
from soft-soaps our very fats
mixed in the lye

as shows game us, five
simple stories we’ve been
shoehorned into. We get

left evidence of us
as we work-a-day years out
compiling our own murder

books, cold-cased, our
labors Pinkerton’d from get-gos
to which amendments merely allude.


 

“The cat’s meow”

Diadems tossed like
squealer’s digs
to domes unfit even

for orphan papers
we powdered West to L.A.
hitched to a raft

rich with junkies
too marked to get gas
or over space.

We made it just bare
of losing skin. Killing
it on the corners

we finally got a gam
with bigger cheeses
looking for our cuts

most upper & on level
with chalk-lines
marking the properties

of stiffs. Precincts’
faucets opened wide;
high sheriffs hid badges

for hand-outs, kick-backs
& grifts wafted their
smokes across town. Dis-&-dat

kids plied trades, flesh-
pots clicking like sprockets
of film never come to light.

Politicos on junkets
jobbed wonk after wonk
keeping them in & out

of paper. Rivers up river
reversed courses for
whatever boats floated

scapegoats ventilated by lead
then lauded as crack-downs
while the usual cats just fattened.


 

“Department of Just This”

Criss-crossed underlings
smooth marble, gone gofers
for entities most tax

& cash flowed bending
banks to their wills
& us to their won’ts.

Gunning their meats
in deep pockets,
whipping it out cash wadded

fattened by the vigs
they make us pay & pay
as we get schooled

our cakes & cases made
hideous with work.
Peculators pull wools

across the board
bootlegging infinity
atop towering glass

factions dreaming
cat-walkers’ dreams
seriously eyed but wearing

thin, grim disguises
color of hullabaloos
rigged into stardusts

we huff without leisure.
They serve their papers
to the world & embargo

digits to winds traded
in for plastic tits
& Watergate grins

completely plastered.
“Off you pay,” they say
quotient, unquotient,

humming engines greased
for free ’til the Whole
of It’s been fully fleeced.

Image credit:torbakhopper

Homemaker and teaching poet, Eric Elshtain teaches through the non-profit arts education organization Snow City Arts. Snow City Arts partners with area hospitals to bring arts education into the clinical setting for children and young adults.

 

His book This Thin Memory A-ha (Verge Books) is currently available.