Crunching down the soggy North Beach alley
2 am Frisco fog overhead
drunken old bum pissing on the grimy wall.
I was going to walk on
but the sound of his stream
triggered my own beer-filled bladder
What the hell, I thought
and joined him at the wall,
as if at an old Paris pissoir.
So two drunks,
one old, one getting there fast
My feet spread wide so as not to get splashed,
I blurt: “Did you know this alley is named for a famous writer?”
He looked over at me
as if this was an everyday setting for small talk
“Oh yeah?” Who that?”
“Jack Kerouac,” I answer. “The 'King of the Beats.'”
“Hunh,” he grunted, shaking himself off. “Never heard of the shithead.”
“Good for you,” I said. “He never heard of you either.”
“Maybe so, who gives a damn,” he belched.
“How about this,” I continued,
“This wall we're pissing on belongs to a famous bookstore,
owned by a famous poet.”
“And who's that?”
He didn't sound interested.
“Lawrence Ferlinghetti,” I replied. “The Poet Laureate of San Francisco.”
“Hmmph,” he mumbled, zipping. “Never heard of him either. But you know what?”
“What?” I said, finishing too.
“Great poets die in steaming pots of shit.”
I had no reply to that.
He grunted again and walked towards Chinatown.
I went the other way
The bookstore was still open
Nothing else to do, I went in.
Forty years too late,
beatniks sat scribbling in the dim light
too cheap to buy anything.
Drunk young professionals,
losers in the nightly meat market,
kicked out of the bars at closing time
but afraid to go home alone
nodded off against bookshelves.
All surrounded by a million words going unmolested.
On a strange unbidden whim,
I went looking:
Auden, Bowles, Brautigan...
Bukowski: “Tales of Ordinary Madness.”
Sounds familiar, I thought,
and sat down to read, too cheap to buy
and there on the Contents page:
“Great Poets Die In Steaming Pots of Shit.”
“Aha,” I said aloud:
“Fooled me, old bastard.”