I haven’t far to fall from here;
I’m old enough that death is near.
I hear it groaning in the floors,
And softly scratching at my doors.
I’ll let it in one dreary night
And tell it plainly I was right
To keep at bay its covered face
‘Til I can leave with quiet grace.
Unlike Old Hank who died in fits—
Just two doors down his widow sits
Remembering the hell she gave
To him until he found his grave.
I wonder if she cares at all
That he was glad to get the call,
And be away from her and grief—
To know the peace of sweet relief.
Old Hank was thin as any stick—
Too nice a man to get as sick
As Old Hank did in heart and mind
From Thelma’s constant hateful grind.
“You wipe your feet you useless jerk,”
I heard her yell when home from work.
And, “Shut your mouth, don’t talk to me,
Or else I’ll stomp you as a flea.”
So, Old Hank drank at Billy’s Bar
Just up the street, and not too far
From Thelma and her wicked ways,
Her scratchy voice and eyes ablaze
With fury born of nothing left
For she for whom no one had wept
When Chester died, her only child,
Who didn’t leave before he smiled
At Hank alone, and not at her—
And so her wrath he did incur
For thirty years before Hank died
To leave her with a failing pride.
For now, she had not Hank to blame
For what her life and need became.
Old Thelma sits, awaits the time
When death will ring its mournful chime.
* * *
But Barley Street, my home and friends,
Knows others who ‘ner made amends
For sins against both child and house,
Sweet mothers dear or patient spouse.
My street knows secrets black as sin
And peaceful folk who might have been
Much better off to die in youth
Than live and learn the awful truth
Of poisoned minds and poisoned souls—
Were poisoned by the lost controls,
Which kept the people live and well—
A kindness where the grateful dwell,
Except for those who ‘ner escaped
The snags of life the devil shaped,
Like sickness at the Johnson place—
Took Lilly from her Luke’s embrace.
She died within a house obscene
And tainted by her life unclean.
Her men and drink and drugs defiled
Her only chance as Heaven’s child.
The neighbors talked before she died
Of nights from which the dark would hide
Its face from knowing darkest sin
On Barley Street where peace had been.
Now peace returned with Lilly dead,
Or so they thought, and so they said,
But Luke, who theretofore’d been meek,
Now showed them conduct to critique.
Hid not his deeds from prying eyes,
And gave them reason to despise
Just who he was and what he did,
Now that his wife could not forbid.
His home became a market place
Of flesh and drink, his own disgrace,
For years before he died at last
In sinful lust of days now passed.
Luke Johnson’s gone, his house reclaimed
By Time itself—‘tis ‘ner ashamed
Of human failings dead and cold
Like Luke and Lilly’s crimes untold.
* * *
I’ve too much time, you might suppose,
To wait for demons to foreclose
On Barley Street—the homes and lives—
I’ll be not one whose hope survives.
My broken house, my body frail,
The cold of death I shall exhale.
But still, I do remember them—
The neighbors whom I shan’t condemn.
Like Laura in her cottage quaint
Who never breeched the first complaint.
Her husband drunk, her child a fiend,
Her home a place where sin convened.
But Laura true , dear Laura sweet,
Still tried to keep her curse discreet.
“He’s sick today,” she’d say of Bill,
Who lay abed, but far from ill.
“My daughter is a gracious girl,
As pure as Heaven’s whitest pearl.
She doesn’t stray, she doesn’t steal,”
But Laura knew the crimes were real.
Her husband’s rot soon putrefied
From rum and gin, and so he died.
Her daughter could not be restrained,
And left the cottage cold and stained.
Dear Laura lives there to this day
And mourns the girl who ran away,
And mourns her husband’s foul demise,
And mourns her years of flawed disguise.
We all have secrets stored and kept
In chambers dark we can’t accept
As part of whom we really are
As viewed from fear and fields afar.
* * *
Like Emily of Barley Street
Whose only thought was of conceit.
Her looks and charm would never fade—
Decay of youth she would evade.
A voice as sweet as melody
From violins in harmony.
Her hair, a softness to compare
With brightest robes the cherubs wear.
Her eyes as green as Ireland’s bliss;
Her lips defied a rose’s kiss.
She loved herself, as well she might,
For no one else in Heaven’s sight
Could own the grace, the form, the smile
That Emily had for a while.
I watched as she refused each beau—
The hopeful callers ebb and flow.
She’d wait, she said, for perfect mate,
‘Ner knowing he might come too late.
And, too, I watched her beauty wan
Like wedding gowns of old chiffon.
Untouched, unused, the pastels fade
Like daffodils from sun to shade.
Miss Emily of Barley Street,
Alone with gloom in self-deceit.
She stays inside, avoids the sun,
Protecting what can’t be undone.
Complexion fair of long ago,
Now creased with time, without the glow
Of younger years she wasted on
The chances now forever gone.
* * *
I’ve time to spare, a little time,
To tell you now in verse and rhyme
Just why I stayed on Barley Street,
And lived my days now nigh complete.
Although a ghost, her voice is clear;
She’s bound my soul and body here.
I cannot leave her; no, not yet;
I owe her still my deepest debt—
To keep her bed and fragrance ‘til
My bones shall meet that final chill—
To keep the house she kept for me—
To tend the fire of memory.
She’ll wait for me at Heaven’s door;
I’ll know the love I had before.
Until then, my time’s replete
With misery on Barley Street.