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Butane MacLane

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The Axis
by Butane MacLane
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Recent poems by Butane MacLane
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A New England fisherman wakes up.


 

THE AXIS

 

Hod floats down the dark hallway, shack money jutting from his oilers

Fired from the steel trawler HOPE

His boot caroms off a porcelain Kangxi vase, now an umbrella holder

Chinking the broken chips saved inside

Great-great-grandfather had packed it in beach straw, stuffing his seabag

Avoiding the prostitutes of Old Honolulu

The fury of Cape Horn

A West Indian hurricane

The purple gums of scurvy

Coaxing his sea legs up Pelham Street to the cottage in Newport, Rhode Island

He presented the vase to his wife

Who rebuked the blue and white dragon motif as blasphemy

The weary whaler hung a pineapple on his porch

A pink and white sampler - Home Sweet Home 1859 - in the hallway

Then descended to the dirtfloor basement and guzzle-rummed himself insane

Now Hod’s feeling his way along the papered walls

His fingers reading the wheat paste bumps like Braille

 

Television rays pulsate from the parlor

Hod’s father snores, sprawled in a recliner within reach of an empty whiskey glass

The remote control nestled in his crotch

Hod attempts to press the “off” button

The oak chairhandle snaps forward

The bastard launches from his La-Z-Boy

Battering his son backwards into the hallway

Hod grabs the windpipe and squeezes, pumping his right fist, feigning

His captain gurgles, flushing to a ruddy green

One more mock roundhouse

SMASH!

The sampler’s splinterglass severs the radial artery wrapping Hod’s thumb bone

Blooddrops fly, splattering the faded wallpaper

Spotting the smashed - Home Sweet Home 1859 - sampler

The porcelain dragonskin appears flecked with rubies

Red-handed Hod twists the basement doorknob

Shoots down the screaky stairs

Mashing footprints in the marl

Vaults out the bulkhead to a silent snowfall

A bloodline drips to his rusted Lincoln Town Car

He’s soothed by the sound of snow crunching under the tires

The windows open, the heater blasting

Headlights off, he parks the car near his ex-wife’s house

Trespasses onto her lawn and peeks into his former living room

She’s asleep on the couch, wrapped in an unfamiliar comforter

His suspicion fires

He taps on the window

“It’s cold!” Hod grumbles.

Ex-wife is frightened - for an instant- then hurls the comforter on the floor

“Get out of here before I call the cops!” she threatens.

Hod offers his injured hand, arousing her Florence Nightingale

She releases the new boltlock

Offers him soap and hydrogen peroxide

He pinches a pair of tweezers

Picking out tiny shards of - Home Sweet Home 1859 - glass

“You’re not going to sell this place, are you? After all, it’s been in my family for…”

“None of your business now, Hod. You had your chances.”

“You sound like that lawyer of yours. What’d you tell him?

You still love me, but your not in love with me.

That’s a good one. You have a new blanket.”

“This will take some stitches.”

Hod extends his wounded hand rubs the robe near her breast

“What are you doing?”

He freezes

Then scuffs out, leaving the door open

 

Hod brushes his windshield and drives to the dock

Parking behind stacks of lobster pots on the wharf

Veiled under a layer of snow, he sleeps on the cold leather backseat

The driveshaft hump in his ribs

Coughing and shifting until daybreak

The headache begins at first light, with the cottonmouth, and the fear

Hod rolls out onto the pier

Pisses in the snow

Lights a cigarette

Shoulders his dufflebag

He scrunches along the deserted sidewalk

First holding a telephone pole, then a wire fence

Careful not to fall

 

Doric pilasters smeared with graffiti frame the marble entrance

Inside the etched glass door is a round mosaic the color of urine - AXIS HOTEL 1888

The gilt lobby mirrors are cloudy

The mildew carpet reeks of Ocean Breeze air freshener

A plump woman with a pimply, crimson face slouches over a desk

Painting her fingernails

She wears a beret bobby-pinned to tight haircoils

With a fake gold butterfly clasped upside-down

Frozen in a tailspin

She brushes on the Fiery Cherry, reading a paperback romance

The cover art a handsome man with coal-black hair

In an ivory blouse

Lifting a blonde maiden off a white steed

Her body melts into his arms

The plump woman never looks up

Taking enough of Hod’s fish money for a one week stay

 

The elevator is out-of-order

Hod lugs the dufflebag up four flights of creaky stairs

Down the sweaty Lysol hall to No. 48

The brass lock is battered

No matter how he wriggles the key, it won’t work

“Shut up!” someone hollers.

“Quiet! People are sleeping!” shouts another.

Hod kicks the door open, then flops the bag on the metal bed

The free-standing toilet smiles welcome

Welcome to the fleabag, Hod

The shower waits under potato-chip paint peels

Poised to helicopter off the ceiling

The bare light bulb is shrouded in rainbow dustpoints

A swelled dresser drawer is stuck open, lined with orange shelf paper

Someone left a spool of thread

Four white plastic buttons

Two pennies

A motheaten doily barely camouflages black cigarette burns

Cheap walnut paneling covers the original wainscotting

Echoes of drunken carpenters hammering thumbs, ripping handsawn Victorian moldings

The window sills are fissured, single-pane frames painted shut

Creating vacuums of insect graveyards

Dismembered antennae, tibias, thoraxes and wings

Preserved in grime

The view from No. 48 is of the harbor crammed with working vessels

And the empty channel leading past the breakwater to the open sea

It looks over an empty parking lot

Occupied only by an El Camino on rims

Dotted with broken windowglass and splotched with seagull splats

Inside, the two complimentary Axis gratuities

Hang from a towelrack fastened by five different screws

One threadbare white towel

A blue facecloth

Property of the Axis Hotel

Linens exchanged on Wednesdays

Now staccato jazz floods the fourth floor

Turning corners, filling Hod’s room

He hangs the Do Not Disturb sign on the cracked marble doorknob

Unread newspapers covered by pizza flyers litter the corridor

Do Not Disturb these secret haunts, hot plates and coolers

National Enquirers and scratched lottery tickets

Do Not Disturb these oozing hemorrhoids, rotting teeth and dun fingers

Swelled bellies and skinny legs

Do not bring dogs into the Axis

No Dogs Allowed

No Prostitutes

No Guests After 10 P.M.

And No Cats

Nevertheless, prostitutes and cats are sometimes seen

Peeking into the hall from the 3” gap of a chain-locked door cracked open

The perfume and kitty litter mingles with the tobacco, pot, booze and body odor

Waiting for Wednesday’s Lysol bombardment

On the first of the month, when the government checks arrive

The courtesans and the cats are shushed

And it is then, especially then

That One Does Not Disturb the Axis guests

Ripping open their envelopes, counting their change, plotting their lives

Behind that 3” porthole to the world

 

Guests may cash that check downstairs at the Axis lounge

The dark Cape Verdean bartender counts your money carefully

Then lights your cigarette with cupped hands

Tight enough to shield a flame from a Nor’easter

“This is the Ship of Fools and I am your Captain!” the Verdean announces.

“Now drop the clown, shave your palms and rejoice!

There’s enough liquor here to last a knifetime!”

Spittle shoots from his chestnut lips

A cascade of tiny pearl droplets that stick to the National Cash Register

The mahogany horseshoe bar grows from a trompe l’oeil mirror

Marked with obsolete phone numbers

And up-to-date emergency information

The mantle’s crammed with odd representations of the Four Food Groups

Jars of pickled eggs and pig’s feet

Saltines, smoked oysters and sardines

Slim Jims and stuffed quahogs

Aluminum ashtrays and plastic cups are standard at the Axis

No sharp objects allowed at the bar, no coasters

Rags are kept every few feet for accidents, including vomit

But the Verdean prefers the white plastic buckets

Placed equidistantly from each stool on the half-moon

No fuss, easy to clean, accessible

Looking down on this is a crestfallen P.O.W. silhouette

Hanging from a harpoon wired to the tin ceiling

 

Streetside, the tall plateglass is painted red, white and blue

Serving a dual purpose

Promoting patriotism while preventing the humans from peering in

At least one guest was jettisoned through the thick window

The man’s arm severed below the elbow

Most claimed the victim was a highlander

One born beyond a few miles of the ocean

Now dusty polymer ferns disguise the scene, hiding the frayed duct tape repairs

A half-hearted cover-up, because assaulting a highlander was never considered a crime

It’s the crowded walls that bait newcomers

A mistake made by the tourists seeking the quaint

Browned postcards

Tarnished trophies

African masks and beer can whirligigs

Manila newspaper clippings

Curled photographs

Tiny American flags and withered leis

Forty model boats

A Clipper Ship oil

A charcoal and ink Sea Captain

Eleven murky mirrors

And a hand-painted sign: ARBIET MACH FRIE

The promise that greeted prisoners at Auschwitz - Work Will Set You Free

 

In nasty weather, the line forms before 10 o’clock in the morning

Late for these stranded fishermen: longliners, lobstermen, seiners and scallopers

They plod in, silent, scaly hands protecting cash in their slickers

The offshore men are served first

Before the quahoggers, bullrakers that work the Bay

Jerking up shellfish with their muscular arms

Protecting smaller, less dangerous bankrolls

Then come the full-time Axis guests, the Social Security Disability and Welfare drunks

A few frauds, childish and frail

Mostly the destitute that can’t cut it in the outside world, but function expertly here

The blue bus from the Veteran’s Home arrives

Canes, walkers and aluminum crutches rattle the seats

The wheelchairs rolled in last

Years ago, when the Verdean first introduced the white buckets

Beds-on-wheels equipped with tubes and monitors were allowed

Until a button-down Colonel pulled rank on a Major

And put an end to it

The Vets squeeze in-between the fishermen

Until the bar is crowded with pocket change

Then more coins from the aluminum can men

Carrying smelly plastic trash bags

But who cares here where many either have anosmia

Or their favorite aroma is the blend of fuel oil and rotted fish

Soon, the sea hags appear with smeared make-up

The self-dyed hair hidden by knitted caps

Streetwalkers later converge when the men are drunk enough to pay

The push-up bras revealing enough cleavage

To turn an apathetic into an animal

And last, the transvestites, once barely tolerated on Friday nights

Now common as soaked lumpers

The television repeats black and white movies

The ice machine rumbles

The juke box blares “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore”

 

The eyes are on Hod tramping by the entrance

He doesn’t look in

At Jolly Roger’s Liquors he buys a quart of Canadian Club

A bag of ice

A six-pack of beer

A carton of Marlboros

A lighter embossed with a naked girl

And two bags of peanuts

“Breakfast,” he apologizes to Roger.

“Goin’ fishin’, Hod?”

“Nah.”

“What happened to your hand?”

“Nothin’.”

“Cap’n came in for his usual. He’s ready to pull the lines.”

“Uh, huh. Well, I’ll see yuh.”

Hod shoulders the cardboard box back to #48

He wipes out a plastic cup with his finger and fills it with ice

Bronze whiskey cracks the cubes, the vapor rises

Remaining ice tumbles over the cans in the sink

He pops a frothing lukewarm beer

First sipping the liquor, the rye tingles his ears

Quick gulps of beer wash it down

“Ahhh.”

A gag of burning vomit erupts in his esophagus, reaching his larynx

He swallows back last night’s garlic mussels

Hod flips open his Spyderco Fisherman’s knife

Carves into the paint that sticks the sash to the sill

It opens for the first time in years and he vents his reefer

Snow melts on the cracked asphalt

The seagull splats and engine oil mingle into goo

Pigeons peck at the El Camino

A tarpatch bleeds

Squirrels squabble over Hod’s flicked peanuts

A whining pedal-steel seeps into #48

SMASH! A fat icicle fractures on the blacktop!

Jittery Hod jumps, his eyes twitter

He slumps on the end of the bed, waiting for the fear to disappear

 

The seed germinated two-hundred and thirty-five years before the pineapple

With the criminal on the Mayflower

It sprouted through The Great Swamp Massacre

The Burning of the Gaspee

The Slaughter at Marye’s Heights

The Charge up San Juan Hill

The Battle of the Argonne Forest

It flourished during sixteen major hurricanes

Eleven shipwrecks

Five murders

Eight suicides

A chain of alcoholism

Drug addiction and psychosis

Land rich, money poor Grandfather locked the windows

Rotated the gas jets

Now liver-failed father, captain of the HOPE

Stumbles over his pride and repeats the drill, “First of the First!

Pirates and Politicians,

Farmers and Freemasons,

Carpetbaggers and Captains.”

Hod, an image of his grandfather

Stung by a Minie ball, paralyzed by mustard gas, trembling in the French trenches

As leeches sucked out the gangrene

He landed home shell-shocked

Carved a cane with a 17th century death’s head grip

Warm or cold, rain or shine, snow or fog

He trod the cobblestones of Newport in slippers and robe

Babbling French to the Germans

Then one hazy rosehip summer, seagulls and grandchildren screaming at the shoreline

The painful mirage faded with the fumes

 

“How come you ain’t goin’ fishin’, Hod?”

The Verdean polishes plastic with a paper towel

Hod places his empty CC cup in the well

It’s glugged ¾ full with no ice

Three bearded Bills: Eelskin Bill; Submarine Bill; Skunkbreath Bill

Stare in unison like a box of Smith Brothers Cough Drops

A scalloper, enshrouded in a leather motorcycle jacket, “Riders on the Highway to Jesus”

Blows a smoke ring, then a smaller one through it

A Vietnamese homosexual lights a long brown cigarette with thin, bony fingers

“I always said I’d only stay here if hell froze,” Hod says.

“It’s very cold now,” says the Vietnamese, “very, very cold.”

Hod picks dried blood off his fingernail, his eyes closing, then rising, now closing

He drifts back to his childhood, rolling his ancestor’s marbles in the sand

Playing dobblers against himself

Knuckling down with onionskins, peppermint swirls and tiger’s eyes

Father’s at the wheel of the beachwagon

Smoking a Lucky in a noontime haze

Angry at his wife

And her boyfriend

Hod sees his own astonished reflection in the gleaming silver bumper

The Goodyear tire pattern presses into his skull, blood spurts from nose and ears

He sinks into a Howdy Doody coma

Clarabell’s squirting DDT on green potato plants flourishing in mounded rows

Furrows running to the sea

Mr. Greenjeans, holding the reins of a mule team, hollers for water

Then cracks a whip over his colored harvest gang

He vanishes, leaving the field free for scavengers

Hunched over bushel baskets, digging fast as fiddler crabs

The Boss stares from a station wagon

It’s Buffalo Bob behind sunglasses

“HEY KIDS! WHAT TIME IS IT?”

Hod squints at his watch

It’s early

The aluminum can men haven’t arrived

Eelskin Bill argues with the Jesus scalloper

Banging the bar over the Beatitudes

“You serve dynamite, you better expect explosions” says the Verdean.

“I don’t know what I’m doin’” says Skunkbreath.

“But I’m doin’ it anyways.”

The Verdean fingers out a doodle paper from the sink well

A pencil drawing of a scow - I need dope, it says

“Can’t go forward when you’re in reverse! It’s verisimilitude!”

He pours the Vietnamese a draught beer

“Here you go, Vo, us V’s gotta stick together.

One time I served a guy in here from Venezuela.”

“I want to meet a guy from Venus,” says the Vietnamese.

Velma, Submarine’s girl, strides in, slamming the door

Commencing her Virgin to Vinegar In Two Hours Act

Hod wraps his aviator glasses on

Velma has earrings like puffs of cotton candy

Pink pendulums mesmerizing Hod

A carnival calliope whistles in his eardrums

He smells the beige-green elephant manure

A skinny barker eats beans from a can

Off the midway, a sword-swallowing midget entices dirty girls behind his tent

Top-hatted Nicotine Nick, an Abe Lincoln look-alike, flicks buttstubs

Into a plywood coffin decorated with white skulls

The Lizard Woman scratches her psoriasis in a green sequin bathing suit

Accentuating the reptile in her

$3 to look, $1 for Circus Management and $2 for her Orlando Condo fee

Another whip cracks, snapping a six-legged cow awake

A two-headed Chinaman, floating in formaldehyde, trapped in a glass carboy

Smiles with blackened teeth

Sylvia Porter, The Elephant Woman with treetrunk brown legs attached to giant pink feet

Trims her pokerchip toenails with Stanley Heavy Duty Wire Cutters

“Born of normal parents” she says.

Beyond the wooden Ferris Wheel

Four red-faced Sailors in Navy whites stumble from the Shore Dinner Hall

Knocking over wooden chairs

One breaks from the pack, blowing out two quarts of orange puke

Powerful as a fire hose, never missing a step, splashing the Midway

With clam pieces and white potato bits

New England-style

“Stuffie, Hod?”

“Huh?”

“You want a stuffed quahog?”

“Nah. Liquid for now. Gave my peanuts to the pigeons.”

Hod’s ankles are cold, the streetside door’s open

It’s Chicky with his buddy Eppie the Epileptic

A wink, a bow, a salute

“Oh, no,” says the Verdean, “the Tube Man Cometh.”

Chicky worms up to the bar while Eppie heads for the Head

“Don’t ashk him to shing,” slurs Velma, halfway to vinegar.

“They got a igneous volcano under them Verdy Islands,” Chicky starts.

“I hear them Verdies is good cooked.”

“Chicky Chickenmeat,” says Velma, unbuttoning her blouse.

“They gonna make a McNugget outta you.”

Chickenmeat slides his bony ass onto the stool and the bowel bag gurgles

“Speaking of stool” he says, “where’s Eppie?”

“He’d throw a fit if he knew you cared,” says Eelskin.
Chicky rearranges the plastic boweltubes

A tall Vodka and Tonic is placed before him

Tubes in place, legs crossed, he smiles his sympathetic smile

“How come you ain’t fishin’, Hod?”

Hod’s watching the Juke Box Technician drain the quarters

“When my father was teachin’ me to build boats,” Chicky says,

“I used to break the hammers so we couldn’t work. Is the boat broken?”

“I got fired,” Hod says, counting quarters, trying to keep calm.

“He don’t know what he’s got,” Chicky says.

“Sure he does. I’m here, ain’t I?” says Hod.

Chicky peels a coupon from his cigarette pack

“I give these to my granddaughter. Saving up for a new basketball hoop.”

“How can you play basketball and smoke at the same time?” asks the Verdean.

“It ain’t easy,” says Chicky. “I got ashtrays at both ends of the court.”

“They should give coupons for lung machines,” Eelskin says.

“Or colostomy bags,” Skunkbreath says.

A wheelchair Vet is drunk now, “CHICKY!”

“Tell us about the time you met Paul Newman!”

“Sure, man. Listen to this. Paul Newman comes up to me in a bar. Downtown Miami.

He says ‘Do you know who I am?’
I said yeah. I know who are. You’re Paul Newman, you little asshole,

Now get the fuck away from me.”

“No!,” wheelchair says.

“Yup,” says Chicky. “God’s honest.”

Submarine needs more, “Tell us about when you used to drive naked!”

“Oh, God. No.” says Velma.

“Please,” pleads the Vietnamese, “please tell it!”

“I had a 1968 GTO convertible, you know.

Paid for it with my combat pay. Had 2,000 miles on it.

I got into the habit of driving naked. It felt good.

Pull up and get some gas,

Naked.

The drive-thru at MacDonald’s.

Naked.

I pulled up to the Mt. Hope Bridge toll booth and asked how much?

Toll guy says, ‘ONE DOLLAR’.

I says, TOO MUCH!

So, I slam it in reverse and back off about 50 miles an hour!

About-face, motherfuck!

Nude and tattooed, man. ALL NAKED!”

“We’re born naked, we die naked,” says the Verdean.

“I wish I was naked now,” says the Vietnamese.

“You are,” says Skunkbreath. “Under your clothes.”

Eppie the Epileptic wanders from the men’s room, but Hod has drifted too far

His gooseflesh is crawling cold, creeping up his neck

Nosedrips dribble onto the bar

He wipes his forehead

The three bearded Bills blend

Hod mimics Chicky lighting-up, pretending all is normal, but he’s shivering

Gas gnaws at his gut

Conversation is muffled, the room sways

He totters to the empty pool table and rolls the eight ball

Get behind the eight ball, Hod, he reassures, but turns white as the cue

The floor lurches as if he’s on deck

He makes believe he’s reading the Pool Rules of The Axis Hotel

Handwritten in 1967 by a Marine sniper sick of death

Rule #1 - No Cheating - Unless You Have To

The streetside door slams

Hod’s outside in the cold air

Sunlight glistens off chrome bumpers and parking meters

He wipes tarsmoke off his sunglasses

Simulates a stroll down the sidewalk, swimming with the stream

Follow the rules, Hod

Ape the humans

I’m normal

I can behave

I need some vitamins

One a Day

Or is it Once A Day?

Three Electric Company workers unwrap grinders

Pry off plastic coffee cup lids

Hod sniffs swirling Columbian steam

Coffee is compliance

Should I have coffee?

He reaches for his wallet

Wipes his moist forehead again

A speeding car shoots slush onto the sidewalk, slopping his ankles

He slips to his knees, his hands gripping a heap of sooty sludge

Down the street comes a brisk walker with swinging arms

Dropjawed Electric workers stop sipping

“GOOD MORNIN’!” she shouts.

Her fur parka, leather boots, golden hair and gorgeous smile

Flabbergasts the flycatchers

Closer, her grace sponges Hod’s sickness, nursing it out clean

His confusion lifts, his vision clears

He rises cloudless as the turquoise sky

“Hod?”

“Yup. Cappy.”

She leans to give him a hug, but he recoils

Don’t come in this dirty house

My clothes are dirty

My hands are bloody

My life is contaminated

Her white teeth shine through the muck

He sees she’s almost the same

But with tiny crow’s feet and faint lines around her mouth

“You shouldn’t hug me,” he says.

“I don’t mind hugging a working man, Hod”

She squeezes hard, draws back, touching his face, gazing into his eyes

The eyes she tried to catch on the playground

At the school dances

Through drying fishnets

She was younger and he was aloof

Once, he wanted her and felt lovesickness

But now, only shame

“You’re still a fisherman?”

“Yeah. Well, maybe not. I was just going for some breakfast.”

Food is normal

Normal people eat food

In restaurants

And talk about

Normal things

She smells his whiskey breath

It melts her heart and she steps back

Tenderly

Her father was a fisherman

He watches her disappear down the street

Not feeling his frozen toes

Wondering why he’s not shivering

Hod returns to his stool

Orders pig’s feet, peanuts and more whiskey

Lights a smoke and discovers his face in the mirror

The orange buttglow and dark glasses

He stares for a long time, eavesdropping on himself, watching for tricks in his eyes

No longer sweating or trembling, the fear has passed

He says goodbye, but everyone’s watching East Of Eden

He wanders out, sloshes down the sidewalk, enters a store and buys a bottle of glue

He marches the cobblestone streets, past the maze of harborside colonials

Weaving around parked cars, dogs barking, tourists gawking

To the pineapple porch

Down the bulkhead, up the dirtfloor basement screaky stairs, into the hallway

The Home Sweet Home 1859 sampler

Still smashed on the floor

Bloody splinterglass now dried maroon

He lifts the Kangxi vase into his arms

And hugs it all the way back to The Axis

In Room #48 Hod swishes out his whiskey cup and fills it with cold water

He scans out the window, past the seagulls on the El Camino

The steel trawler HOPE is steaming out to sea in a chop

Smooth, gliding, as if her bow was greased with cod liver oil

Hod licks his finger and rubs the blood flecks from the porcelain dragonskin

Then he removes the saved broken chips

And begins to glue them back together

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Butane MacLane

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