the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2013 / Spring 2014



Poems by George Wallace

Beauty Parlors, Train Yards and Everything in Between

Beauty Parlors, Train Yards
       and Everything In Between

Riding With Boom Boom

The facts are simple
They speak for themselves
But facts don't always tell
The whole story —
He was a bluesman
He played the blues
He was sixty years old
He lived alone in a
Split level shack in
Kings Park Long Island
Long Island New York
With a ramp in the front
On account of his bad
Back, and a maple tree
In the yard which his kids
Used to swing on when
They were little & before
They moved away.
He liked his chopper
He liked his Jack Daniels
He liked his bass guitar
& he liked his kids & his friends
& a woman or two
& he liked putting on his
Riding gear & going out into
The Long Island Expressway night
To Ride Baby Ride!
& the cops say they didn't target him
& the cops say they didn't track him down
The cops say they were just
Protecting the public when
They came to his house
To haul him in, said
Someone phoned &
Told them he was
Irrational to be
The person they don't
Want you to be. Irrational
To refuse to swallow the
9-5 routine. Irrational to fight
The leather belt they strap you
Down with when the psych doctors
Come around to pick you apart.
Irrational to cut loose, to escape,
To be passionate, to ride out free
When the blues & the booze
& the passing lane just
Aren't enough &
You have got to get
Away from the pain
Of living in this fucked
Up rational world.
Facts are simple.
They speak for themselves.
But facts are never enough,
They just do their job.
Like the cops do their job
Like the doctors do their job
Like the liquor & motorcycles
& the blues do their job.
He was 60 years old.
He played the bass guitar.
Everybody says he was
Tons of fun onstage.
But sometimes the bass guitar
Isn't enough to make the blues go away.
They took him in, there was a struggle.
So they say. He hit his head on
Something. So they say.
But what he hit his head on
The cops aren't saying —
Or how a 60 year old
With a bad back
Can even put up
That kind of a fight,
Against a bunch of cops.
His name was Ports, Larry Ports.
That's a good name.
It's a simple name.
It speaks for itself.
But names are just facts.
All they do is do their job.
Names aren't enough
To cure what ails you
In a fucked up rational
World. That's why his
friends called him
Boom Boom. That's
How he rode. That's
Who he really was.
Last week the cops said
Someone named Lawrence
Ports died. That ain't Boom Boom.
Boom Boom ain't dead.
The cops can't kill Boom Boom.
All over America tonight,
All over the world,
Men will be riding
Motorcycles. Women
Will be getting tattoos.
Kids will be drinking Jack.
& bluesmen will be
Playing the blues.
I don't know where you'll
Be or what you'll be doing
Tonight. But as for me? I'll be
Riding with Boom Boom.
Getting irrational.


Blues on Seventh Avenue

The blues has 365 hands it doesn't go away
it's a fake a phony a fraud — an insane high
tide lover, little kid full of spume & brine —
it plays all over you & goes away a baby
spitting up on you on me on everybody —
mugger in the darkness which separates
every human being from every other human

I'm talking man on man woman on woman
       man on woman on woman on man

& o the pain & o the glory & o how the blues
goes fast & it goes slow — what the hell you
looking at, blues? it's a poolhall hustle it'll
steal your cuestick — bald as an eight ball
hairy as a lamb — all chalked up & nowhere
to go — Game On rolling on the green green
pitted carpet of doom & torn, baby, torn on
every level — banking the six ball banking
the trey & o the blues has got the old eagle
eye & knows how to use it — hat trick for annie
cheap date for jake — the combinations keep
coming, right cross uppercut, enough English
to knock your ass flat — but enough of that shit,
man the blues, the blues, the blues! 365 hands
feeling you up & one hand left over for halloween —
joystick ballroom jellybean bride — a jam a joke
you can hold it in your fist, shake it like a cock
put it to your ear & listen to it growl — it's a slide
trombone a temporary tattoo a crystal ball — a
song you never even asked to hear

     because whatever the blues wants the blues gets —
feel it taste it put it on your tongue — before it goes away
I mean — the new sensation the latest craze, amused
by the irony of its own magic & how you play into
it's game for one shit-ass minute of your life —

     one more sucker one more ride & then Game Over!
off it goes — because the blues is never satisfied —
it's got to find itself another live one — got to find
itself another schoolyard like you to play in


Second Fiddle

This goes out to
The ordinary guys
The windshield johnnys
The assembly line janes
The commuters on
The commuter train
The dead leaf warriors
The snow shovel joes
The guy with his fist in
The bottom of a sink
The gal stuck fingernail deep
In the neck of a chicken
The stay at homes
The pick me ups
The second fiddles and also rans
The pocket menders and button jars
The ones with a paintbrush in hand
& spackle in both their eyes
The ones who've never seen
The inside of a racetrack
Or spilled a cup of beer at
Their best friend's wedding
The ones who never quit
When the broom handle snapped
When the ice melt didn't melt
When the woman or man who
They married for love
Turned out to be a little
Different from what they
Thought they signed up for
This goes out to the gal
Who doesn't complain
The guy who doesn't drop out
The crazy asshole
Who won't run away
The ones whose lives are
Not quite dramatic and
Not quite desperate
& not quite obscene
Their stories don't get told
In a romance novel
Or situation comedy
Or even in a comic strip
They drink til midnight
& get up anyway &
Make their payments
& get on to the next thing
They drag the garbage
To the curb on time
& they drag their kids
To school on time
& they shut their mouths
When the kids go away.
This poem goes out to
The ones whose idea
Of a good time is
To be left alone
The ones who play
Catch up or make
Ends meet or how
Do we keep this
Fucking thing afloat
The wrench mouth lady
The shift change dude
The hubcap mender
& the guy with the plunger
Standing over the john
Whose nine to five
Begins at five
& ends at nine
The punch clock juanita
The t-shirt raoul
Whose lives keeps spinning
Whose bathtubs don't drain
Whose opinions don't matter
Whose towns don't count
Whose figures don't figure
In any man or woman's fantasies
Whose dreams don't die
They just fade away
The ones who don't quite get there
& it doesn't quite kill them
Or make them decide to burn
This motherfucker DOWN even though
Sometimes it's pretty clear
To everyone around here that
This Motherfucker deserves to be
Doused with a tank of gasoline &
Sent out on a blind date
with a blowtorch


Trick or Treat America Open Up Your Big Fat Mouth

trick or treat america
open up your big fat
mouth spit it out
you are not earth's
only miracle you are
also a great big fucking
pain in the ass and
a launching pad
of terrible ambitions
unbalanced egg on
the moon, planets
make way for you & your
super-ego men your beauty
pageant castaways your
ecphrastic frack-happy legal
thieves O god you are an
awkward nation with your
sidewalk soup your belly slide
fist full of mountain dew
put up or shut up open me
first & your dreams
gone wild your dreams!
your dreams lie here on
blacktop highways &
on a trail of tears it was
you ripped off the indians
you! who left 'em for dead
you been and gone & man,
look what you gave back —
nothing, man, nothing!
beercans tossed from the
gravy train — america your
footballs your helmets your
crash pads crop dusters
& charlton heston your
easy terms & no deposit o
drugstore carnival o panty raid
& unrepentant capitalism
     when i said i loved you
i did not lie i loved you twentyfour
seven hours a day i loved you bald as a
beagle puppy & your pagan love
song I loved your sailors
your saviors your soupy sales
& magic dicks —dulcimers
ain't got nothing on you
& your roadside apple
farms pool halls & palm trees
jazzified in the new orleans
creole night o FUCK it
america all your glory's
gone up your nostrils
but what the shit, it's
halloween! my favorite
pagan holiday! I forgive
you I love you I god bless
you! trick or treat ding dong
hand over the candy,


Rat Tail Wig, Rat Tail Bone

back to the scrimmage
of appetites, me
being handy,
me being
scared a little,
alone but clever,
clever, shaking a little,
lighting matches,
getting confused,
giving nothing back,
getting nothing
in return, just
being handy,
a wisecracker,
rat tail wig,
rat tail bone,
a bottle of fireballs
& fried mud,
follow me like
an easter lamb,
my forehead in my
hands, my fatbellied
comrades, citizens
one & all, we have
our rights, we have
rights, the right to break
wind, the right to light
colored paper on fire
& send it floating down
the river when we want to,
slip on ice, break your neck,
commit the most incredible bullshit
imaginable, & love every
minute of it, put that on
my bag of bones when
they burn me & spread
my poopoo in the stars,
that & the swollen
shadow of death
which surrounds us,
my boy charlie
doin' the bukowski,
a subway car
approaches —
too fast, too fast!
hold hands,
someone's shouting,
hold hands!
everyone's ready
to jump in the river,
one hand at the pelvis,
other hand a crowbar
through the news,
100% of the body
is evaporating,
100% in blushing
darkness, lucky
to be seductive &
completely alive,
piss bites down into
the icy black hole
of my neck how much
work it took to love you,
to feed you, to be your
man, find my place in
the vast horizontal logic
of your reptilian ass, excuse
me babe but just when
you think it's over,
they want you to spread
those pretty legs, get those
fucking hands of yours
up against the wall,
they want to enter
you from the rear,
celebrate life
inside you,
& already
dead! like
the people who
surround us,
yes the people
the people —
walking together
in two lane infinity,
already dead,
already sending
holy blueflames into
the golden dust.


The Butcher The Boxer and The Subway Preacher

6:55 number 5 train next stop nevins
'transfer is available to the 2 & the 3'
the old man's swaying he got that look
in his eyes solid as the rockies silent silent
cold stone silent they call him the butcher,
same as HIS old man, who rode the rails
to colorado & back to work in the mining
towns of Montana & blew his stake on whiskey
& wives & came back here he worked he prayed
same as his old man before him & now here's
the butcher rolling along on the number 5
train in a sea of hip young people all wired
up to gadgets gadgets gadgets the girls look
cute the boys look angry & the subway doors
open up wide at borough hall where you
can hear a subway preacher preaching —
"choose your poison, ladies & gentlemen,
choose your poison! you gotta look up if
you want to see heaven you gotta read the
signs" — the truth is writ on every billboard
& every bible in america but that don't make
it so & the butcher don't listen to voices & he
don't look up — no man's jesus can speak to
this man no coors light no 401K — when butcher
answers the call it'll be like sugar ray did — with
both fists up even if he's lying on the floor — "answer
the bell said the old man, answer the bell or shut
the hell up" — the doors open the doors shut — butcher
don't talk & he don't listen — number five train number
five train — the butcher don't rock he just sways


Warhol Soup

hey waiter waiter what's this jellyfish doing in my Warhol soup — why I'll tell you mister it's
doing the watusi it's doing the backstroke it's doing the merengue & the fly

it's meditating like a fuck bunny from mars it's a devil in disguise & it'll screw you up with its
silkscreen elvis & its angular ass & tits with its wingtips & its long sharp teeth

but waiter waiter what's this marilyn doing in my Warhol soup — why you don't know what you're
messing with mister it's doing the 'i tease you' it's doing the 'turn me on dead man'

it's doing the i use you, you use me — the i suck you, i eat you, then i spit you out like snake meat
on a cold plate

but waiter waiter what's this mushroom cloud doing in my Warhol soup — why listen up mister it's
doing the edie it's doing the joe

it's doing the heroin freak the hedonist rag it's doing the candy darling the nico the ultraviolet &
the lou reed too — & if i told you once i told you a thousand times

a spoonful of that long hard darkness will get you all tangled up & wishing you could throw that
bitches broth away but you can't


Capitalism Stinks In Its Own Sweet Way

adam smith i love your money but
I don't love you I don't love you,
I love my own little piece of the great
big american pie which is why when
the big boys say god bless the goddamn
american flag I stand up quick & salute
& i stay out of the kitchen because
if you can't take the heat you don't
get your buck & i don't know if there's
a better way & don't particularly want
to see how the pie gets cooked or what
goes into it momma keep the lights down
low I don't want to see the dirty dishes
stacked up or how the other half lives
the landfills & the garbage piles, the rat
soaked apartment prisons, because capitalism
Stinks in its own sweet way, right down to its
toes, in the dark dreary places, in the down low
chakra, where the sun don't shine, baby, I don't
want to see what happens in the little towns
and city streets & farmhouses, in parking lots
& village squares, in Cleveland Heights or North
Dakota, East LA or Monastiraki, the small guys
go for each others' throats while the big boys
walk away smelling like roses, they never pay
the price, never take the blame they NEVER
Take the fucking blame no handcuffs no jail
time, no nightstick up the big fat rich man butt
oh no! give that man a plaque give that man
a retirement check give that man a nice clean
place in nice palm springs to hang up his macro-
political corporate big boy spurs — oh yeah the
greedy-ass merchants of institutional lies
are always getting away with it they just
play themselves out of the sandtrap &
laugh all the way to the next tee, deep
in the heart of their golf carts & gin &
tonics when the devil comes due & the
devil always comes due, the price gets
paid, in the little places, the dark places,
the ordinary places, the bedrooms & the
bars, where a man's nose gets broken or
a woman's soul gets squashed, that's where
jealousy envy & spite play out their pretty
hand, on the street corner or up on stage
one man pummels another man's wife, one
man rapes another man's face, a woman
betrays a woman, a kid takes aim at another
kid's heart, in a school room, in a dorm, on
the internet or in a hall, a mother crushes
her childrens' dreams, payback reaches into
mom's precious pocketbook, looking for drug
money, neighbors growl at each other over
garbage cans, fists fly & blood gets spilled
& for no apparent reason, on the little streets,
in the bars without names, on a subway or at
a traffic light, yes the big boys get off without
a scratch while the rest of us get bloodied &
battered & bruised, we get paid off in dizzy
stars at the business end of a blunt instrument,
small people busting each other up, a cop beats
Down some little guy who looks a lot like him
only a little more crooked, in the back of a paddy
wagon in a cell or a back alley, that's where the
Devil comes due & it's the price we pay, the price
we pay for your happy paradise, adam smith,
it's brutal, it's ugly, it's ordinary it's unavoidable
& so damn humanly american & sad — right now
as I'm telling you this some asshole is hauling some
other asshole into the station while the rich run free.
capitalism stinks in its own sweet way.


Snow Angels

i know my snow angels
i know how they speak
they speak in tongues
indigenous tongues
prehensile tongues
they dance & they
swirl they eat up the
sky & all that is
wrong with it — I
know my snow
angels they eat the
clouds but more than
that they speak in tongues
laplander iroquois ainu inuit
irish canuck bretagnese —
in the heart of a volcano
in a crater of the moon
snow angels prance
& boy can they move!
like crazy reindeer
crazy as lunar donkeys
in an avalanche — when
it comes to snow angels
i'm a cabin of drunks
desperadoes & other
clumsy fools hurtling
down the mountainside.
down I go & the snow
angels with them!
if anyone around here
dies they just whisk them
back to the mother ship!
bring em back alive!
because snow angels are
the great equalizer the
blank page waiting to
state its case — something
that never happened happening
& o god when they happen
o god that's the best part
because traveling in
the company of
snow angels
is the last
best place
to make
your mark
to announce
your sanity
to expose
your saintly
nature to go plant
your boot prints
in the unscripted
field of white &
yell namaste into
the wind — in
north america
in japan in caledonia
on mount kilimanjaro
or on the streets of irkutsk
o! the native voices
o the snow angels!
winging here
darting there
in wind in star
in the eye of
an arctic hare
in cosmic camouflage
& in perfect daylight
their names writ large!
they whistle they stare
they laugh at the sun
they are not afraid of
nothing & o their kisses
their sweet slow snowy
kisses — not sexy just a
lot of sadness & simplicity
& pure joy — like puppies in
your mouth — darling when
you take a shortcut through
the pines or on your way to the
sea or cutting through the streets
in that little fishing village of yours
at dawn, in a hurry to get back home,
they open their mouths they take
you in, you can taste their rattling
white windowpane teeth &
deep in the night when you
think they are sleeping they
aren't asleep at all — hey out
come the snow angels!
when the sperm whale
is in his grief when doves
are in their sorrow song —
they drive the dorsal fin —
when winter is hideous
as death light, along
come the snow angels
to sweep everything away —
the industrial monster, away!
the groove machine, away!
the bauxite mine the claptrap
the blue rage, the envy
& secret unnatural
desires —
away! away!
o the furious
damned broke
down foghorn —
when things
seem worst
snow angels
come along
and shout in
your ear with
a voice bigger
than the sky:
"we have cut
the ropes away
you are free!"
the acts of
the unholy
the greedy
the mean &
the totally fucked
up— all the injurious
misfortunes &
unsolved mysteries
all the sad squandered
opportunities — no more!
the blues no more! o
it is a new dawn! snow
angels make
new snow
of us all


Whittaker Chambers Rides at Midnight

a rustwhite rider traveling alone
through the spun eye of heaven
eclipsed by his own brainshadow
an unshaved memory swaggering
through the clear new american sky
this is not the america i remember,
says whittaker chambers he is a
moonman he is looking down on
earth like it is sheet music to him it
it is like halloween it is like the last
election the next election it is like
every election! now now whittaker
chambers now now whittaker what
do you see? I see louis zukofsky i see
alger hiss I see oppen and oppenheimer
lbj and nixon too I see newspapers
marching bands presidents and communists
I see right wing conspiracies left wing conspiracies
and an electronic poetry center at the university of buffalo
I see drones & munitions & cctv I see young boys
& bushes to sneak them into I see american flags
in the middle eastern sand i see american sun
american cloud american smokestack american
Internet wind & there is sand in my eyes says
whittaker chambers but I can see walt whitman
& william blake in every grain of sand
and there! through the rooftop of cavanaugh's bar where he used to drink german beer in great
frothy glasses he sees the corner where he wrote poetry in the slant of the late afternoon sun.
and there! at the five spot where he used to drown himself in jazz he sees a couple of musicians
who have packed up their instruments and gone outside to have a smoke & he goes out with
them & they all smoke together
the sun go down
the moon comes out
helicopters & total eclipses
& then the moon returns
whittaker chambers sees & sees
it is the beginning. it is the end


The Latest Answer to Everything

happiness is just around the corner with a needle in its neck &
a tattoo that explains everything — the enforcers are always
waiting — they don't have guns they have knives — they don't
have knives they've got screwdrivers — they don't have screw–
drivers they've got razors bricks bicycle chains bats cattle prods
mortars helicopters jets secret police dog whistles credit cards
& evictions notices

ribbons of rope for your hair
blindfold for your eyes

happiness is just around the corner with plenty of popcorn — 2
tix to the latest prison break movie & a blind date w/ congestive
heart failure — model scandal dope sheet motel — limping down
lovers lane in designer jeans — a three legged bitch with a ten ft.
chain to stake you down with


Bury the Hatchet Here Comes Jesus

unzip the cartoon caper, this is how i feel about the way
things are, shit rolls easy off the tongue & it would make
me a better human being, i know, if i kiss you on the cheek
like you kissed me on the lips, the way you used to, I mean,
anytime you wanted to, but I am invisible to you now, &
I get that, like noah in his long gone ark, & you the good
witch, waving at the animals with their luckless meat &
their unshaved butts, so now it comes down to this, this is
your christmas, bury the hatchet here comes jesus, here
comes buddha, here comes santa in his rainbow sled & his
wild galoshes, slide on down the concrete floor, penguins will
dance & someone will hatch the speckled egg with someone
else tonight, but it won't be me & it won't be you, donkeys
will stroll up the gangplank two by two by two by two, it won't
be me & it won't be you, so fuck you babe & your fuck ugly
little plastic toydog too, walk your own plank for all I care,
the way you made me walk it, you can't make me do like you
did no more, not like that no more, cause this is how I feel
about that, you are cute as a speed date button & yes your
bird sings red green cherryblue hollyberries in every ziploc
bag & tree in town but it don't touch me & it don't touch
me & I do not care, you & your reindeer can go shit off
somebody else's roof tonight, i know how you roll, you ain't
even really reading this



"Riding With Boom Boom," Crisis Chronicle; "Blues on Seventh Avenue," Beauty Parlors, Train Yards and Everything In Between; "Warhol Soup," Estrellas En El Fuego;"Trick or Treat America Open Up Your Big Fat Mouth," Head full of boogeymen/belly full of snakes

George Wallace is Writer in Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace (2011-present), first poet laureate of Suffolk County NY, and author of 28 chapbooks of poetry. An adjunct professor with the English Department at Pace University in Manhattan, he is editor of Poetrybay, Poetryvlog, Walt's Corner, and co-editor of Great Weather For Media and Long Island Quarterly. He maintains an international tour schedule, regularly offering readings, workshops and lectures across the US and in the UK.




Poetry Feature