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Eric Elshtain: Poems from "An American Score"
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.
  • These recent poems, writes Eric Elshtain, 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.

    “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.
  • Eric Elshtain, a proud-to-have-been PoetryCircle member and editor, conducts poetry workshops with hospitalized children in two Chicago area hospitals through Snow City Arts and teaches literature at Better Boys Foundation. His writing has appeared in many print and online journals, such as American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Chicago Review, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Certain Circuits, TextSound, Truck, and others. The author of two chapbooks, he has a full-length book of poetry forthcoming from Verge Books. Elshtain edits Beard of Bees Press.
  1. maggie flanagan-wilkie
    Eric, Loved the opening to" the cat's meow".
    And all of "Department of Just This"; it begins with an excellent use of title space.  Maggie

    "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."
  2. Tom Riordan
    Enjoyed these!
    Has each "&" become an "&" accidentally?
    James Carver and Jay Dougherty like this.