Each day a new section of David McWane’s Modern American Gypsy will be posted. Todays stories are spent traveling through Italy, Slovenia and Austria.
Us men were led through the club, filled with silhouettes that lined the walls, which, when the moon outside was not covered by the passing clouds or when they pulled long drags from their glowing rolled cigarettes, these young men and women were briefly illuminated, showing sharp eyes, sharp eyebrows, sharp cheeks and angry glares. We were then taken out the back door, past the crates of empty beer bottled and over flowing cans of trash, through a metal scrap yard; us all trying not to trip on the unseen and fall hand-first on something sharp. The only light came from two men cutting a car apart with powerful saws; their orange, yellow, white and red sparks cascading skyward, yet it was best not to look directly at them because you’d become blinded once they stopped. So us men kept our eyes forward, using the angles of the dancing shadows to determine where to walk. Past the metal junk yard, through the damaged cars, up a rickety narrow wooden staircase, up two flights into an empty storage building – also dark with only the light of the sparks dully projecting blue light in from the broken windows – down a puddle lined hallway, up two cold stone staircases to the top floor where our unspeaking, un-named leader pointed to a door that needed to be slid open with the strength of two men. The room was the size of a basketball court, with a black cement floor, black walls with ten foot high broken windows and a ceiling too dark to see. Nine thin, urine stained mattresses lined the floor and a couple of empty 32oz beer bottles, cigarette filters and decaying orange rinds lay scattered about.
The Italian promoter turned to me.
“Ze accommodations, is good?”
I glanced over my right shoulder to him.
“Yes, thank you, the accommodations are good.”
Then I dropped my bag claiming a mattress. The men followed suit.
“oh what a lovely place don’t you think?”
…”so now, the off-work dancer is about to throw up
my actor friend tending to her
and it’s freezing inside this
this makeshift squat
and there’s a jet engine looking heater
on the floor
in front of us
screaming and rumbling, shooting out a
blue and green flame
but its doing nothing for heat
outside, I can hear the fight escalating
I scrape the frost off the window with my nails
and through the scrapes
I can see
the mayhem shifting
and then the fight breaks out
all over the street
long blows that start way behind the back
and come down like a catapult
you see, the local boys didn’t like the price of the show
it worked out to be a little less than a dollar a ticket
about twenty of them
going at it
man, I tell yah
it was a sight
and we had only been there
for a little more than an hour”
about then, I realized the effect my story was having
this was not the type of party
to answer questions honestly
so I looked down,
and with my toe
played with a fallen napkin
with an hors d’oeurve toothpick stuck to it
“yes, I’ve been to Italy before, it’s quite lovely
don’t you think?”
One of the men was sick. He ignored it for four days, we ignored it for six. But now, he couldn’t move that well, could only grab his stomach, moan and sweat. Having a man in this state at a border crossing is a problem. We didn’t speak of it or give him advice as we pulled up to the border patrol man, we assumed he knew the score. He washed his face with the moisture collecting on the Sprinter’s windows and sat up straight; knocked his shoulders back, cracked his neck, stretched his chin. We didn’t have any trouble with the guard, he was excited that we were musicians from America, so he chatted us up longer than my friend deserved.
Passports handed off, laughs and small talk, passports handed back, more laughs, more small talk. Before waving us on, we handed the young guard a recording of our music; he was overjoyed, so we gave him two.
“One for a lady,” I said.
“Yes, one for a lady, yah,” the young guard laughed back and lifted the records in one hand as the final wave to move on was given.
The sick man let out a moan, slouched back down and said, “Fuck that guy, what’s, he wanna come with us or fucking somethin’?” And we all laughed at his pain.
When we got to Slovenia we were pleased the mud was frozen. We were sick of mud. It rained hard icing sleet, not quiet hail, mixed with snow. The icy sleet bounced off us or got absorbed in our clothes. And the snow gathered on our shoulders. We stood outside a crumbling brick building. We knew it was the venue, because it was the only heavily spray painted building on the block.
The tired squat in Slovenia in which we were to perform was the coldest on the excursion. All the windows of the burned brick building were broken. The snow blew in and collected. People huddled and smoked close at the edge of the room and in the center near what looked to be a flying saucer’s engine nailed to a metal mount. It blew out fierce blue flames to warm the room, yet you could only get warmth if you stood in front of the flames and that was too hot and too dangerous. This heater acted more as a bringer of angry sound that you had to shout over. It was no bringer of any sort of heat.
Three huddled girls with knotted hair, dressed in thick layers, smoking rolled cigarettes, understood that our friend lying in the Sprinter outside needed help. We gave him to them. The squat girls put him in a small blue car and drove him away. We later found out that they took good care of him. They brought him to a hospital where an English speaking doctor told our man he had bronchitis. The girl brought our man to their home where they allowed him a hot shower, wrapped him in blankets and laid him down on a soft couch with hot soup. He watched Bugs Bunny cartoons. Then he slept. We learned later that he was much sicker than any of us men could have helped. The girls saved him.
Us men were given a crate of beer and told where our corner of the room was, if we wanted to sit or huddle like the other groups. Drinking close for warmth we stopped our conversation about the flying-saucer-engine-heater and about if we were to see our friend again to stare blankly, silently at four men and two women who entered the squat dressed like the three musketeers. They had black hats with enormous rims, the circumferences of which passed their shoulders, they wore black suspenders and frilly, white colored shirts. They were drinkers. They were loud. They were fun.
We learned through broken conversation, huddled close with them, that they were rouge German carpenters that walked the world in search of things to fix. The leader, or simply the loudest, told me, “We see windmill, it’s not so good, we say to owner, ‘we fix, you pay or feed, take us in for sleep.’ We circle windmill, tell him, ‘It will take one month, fix good,’ he agrees. We stay, food, sleep. We move on.”
“How long have you been traveling?” I asked. And they all whispered the translation and answered.
“Year and many more months.”
“Two, yes, two.”
We liked the rogue carpenters and they liked us. When we played music they danced together and screamed and prost’ed us. For me the night was large beers, icy snow collecting everywhere, shivers, big black hats and overalls and blue fire.
The people of Slovenia were thicker than us; the cold seemed not to disturb them as it disturbed us. Everyone kept their joy alive in this room of pain, because there was no other choice. Yet, it was a night to die.
a way out
gutter girls laughing
big teeth showing
swollen gums bursting
looking for boys to kiss
broken windows poofing in light snow
would look beautiful
if it was a movie
if it was a stage show
if it was movie foam
but, like death to me in a trash squat in Slovenia
I rise up from the broken-wooden, folding cot that I lay on
with torn, army green fabric
my spindly body shaking wildly
back bones, shoulders and ribs shaking wildly
the aggressive cold
‘wait, couldn’t I die tonight?’
I thought, as I noticed the
crone’s eyes widen for play at me
I approached these hellcats feeding
with a snatch and a glare
I grab their bottle
absinth doesn’t taste very good
when chugging it in desperation
but it’s your only way out
Zombies of Ljluljana Slovenia
Zombies, of Ljluljana Slovenia
Everywhere, cunning and organized
Skilled, baleful men
During daylight hours, their eyes prey vehemently on
The easy feed
Night eyes beset the machines
The unguarded, cars and trucks
Hopes of interior feeding on hawkable possessions
Or the vehicle itself, for those who can
Take the machine whole
Teams of instinct led men
The assailants stalk in shadows
The human predator
At 7:30AM I woke with a headache, worms in my stomach, and a light layer of snow powdered atop me. All of us men were now broken. There is no happiness. There are only eyes that glare the same way and transcend understanding. The promoter of the show had dropped off bread and some bricks of cheese for us in the night. We made our way outside, leaned or sat on the old burnt, crumbling, spray painted brick walls and passed the bread and cheese around. The only drink was beer.
We were body battered men, but only because of the hard cold nights and increasing health problems. We still had our minds and we still knew as a group that we were one. We spoke of things that made no matter.
“Does anyone have any thread and a needle? I have to sew my shirt up.”
“I do; I’ll get it later.”
“How far is Austria, Dale?”
“’S not bad. S’not bad, I’d say a couple hours from whenever he gets back.”
“I’m sick of cheese.”
“I’m sick of cheese.”
“That stuff there is all right.”
“Yeah put that shit on it, that there and um, that spread Dale brought from England on the bread.”
“Yeah s’good idea.”
“Dale can I have the keys.”
“Anyone got a knife?”
“I got this, just clean it.”
“Grab the bottle of wine behind Dale’s seat.”
“Oi, here he is then. That’s the same car. Look, he’s smiling. What a wanker. Brilliant, let’s fuck off.”
Our sick friend was returned to us.
Tired Cows lie
His chin rests
Squats are abandoned buildings that ‘squatters’, squat in. We don’t have many here in the States, but I believe they are on their way. In England and Europe, many buildings have been bombed in the wars and many of the owners bombed with them. ‘Squatters Rights’ say, that if you live in, what seems to be, an abandoned building long enough, then you can become the new owner. Thus, a committed, broke, crusty punk, can in five to ten years, own a multi million dollar property. Not bad, huh? Us men have stayed in an assortment of squats, from the very cool, very dirty and very dark, to the punk rock posh.
The Arena in Vienna, Austria, used to be a slaughter house. It has a massive brick wall around its five building property and an enormous slaughter house chimney. But, now it is owned by squatters. The Arena has three massive concert halls, one smaller one, and a wide open outdoor stage, merchandise areas for all of them, concession stands, a bar with a small stage inside, a bunk house that sleeps over twenty – with laundry and clean pillows and towels and showers, a mess hall and kitchen and most important, chefs, sound engineers, lighting people, in-house promoters and more. It is the best, properly working squat I have ever visited. I think about how I cannot wait to get back there, choose my bunch, do my laundry, have shower and down many bottled beer outside the Arena’s bar, as I look out the windows of the Sprinter, recognizing the Vienna streets that lead there.
“Yeah wait a minute.”
“What’s going on here?”
“What is this?”
“I love this, whatever it is.”
“Why does everyone have wine?” I asked standing outside the St. Stephens Cathedral where Mozart used to perform, watching a plethora of different businessmen and women walking over to little stands set up all down the street, being served small cups of hot wine. All of them conversing softly to one another, wearing long trench coats, bundled and pleased, with open friendly smiles and red noses and cheeks, enjoying this moment of the sun dipping away, leaving us her scraps of orange, purple and pink to illuminate the young pretty ladies faces and give a glow behind the cathedral, shops and homes on the hill. One of the wine stands played a music box that was loud enough for everyone to quietly enjoy. It assured the magical moment.
The woman looked lovely with snow falling on them, sniffing their wine, smiling big to each other. Even the older women in their forties and fifties had slender bodies and youthful honest smiles. They had secret knowing, closed mouth smiles. They were sexy.
“Oh, right, yah, I had completely forgot. ‘S brilliant isn’t it. ‘S way to live, yah? See, at five O’clock, yah, all the workers come out after they finished up their work day and have a nice proper glass of warm wine in the zentrum for a relaxed chat before going home. ‘S fucking brilliant isn’t it? Really. ‘S legend. S’way…to…do it.” Dale said lighting a rolled cigarette and smiling in every direction he could look.
“It is brilliant,” I said as we shuffled in line, smiling toward the young pretty ladies in front of us, sorting our coinage in our cupped hands, ready for a cup ourselves. All with closed mouth smiles.
There Is Still More Soup
When a person is lacking proper love,
or is denied it entirely,
the soul is sore.
And if it isn’t healed soon,
it will keloid in time.
I thought about that,
all through the night and then
on through the next day.
We were traveling south
to Graz from Vienna.
The men and I
were bundled – hats and gloves,
scarves and long underwear,
shaking ribs and numb toes,
inside a small Sprinter.
The tires spun and spat
trying to grip traction,
but our vessel was clumsy and heavy,
knocking us up and down,
sliding us all around the mountain’s
ice covered turns.
These mountains were steeper
than your teeth.
The radio was off for concentration.
We all spoke under scarves –
‘women’ was the main topic
for about two hours
but ‘what if you had money’
transcended from it and
lasted the longest.
After it got quiet,
half the men slept,
with their thoughts of women
and money simmering on their back burners.
I stared through the ice covered window.
It was then that I decided to not start back up
a relationship with a woman back home.
We had gone our separate ways months before the journey.
She had written me before I left the States
about how she wanted to rekindle what we had
and start again.
There is something very wrong
and sore to the soul
about a person who is lacking proper love.
She had just kept me around for comfort;
I was a pet.
Dale rounded a sharp turn with no guard rail
the wheels buckled, locked, and slid.
The men woke and braced themselves.
Once settled on the road again
I thought about the night before
at the Arena in Vienna,
I found myself outside the Arena’s bar
inside a squat’s complex,
that used to be a slaughter house.
It began to lightly snow.
from all around the world
moved in the shadows
I was talking with
a beautiful gypsy girl
who plays the cymbals in a gypsy band.
The gypsy girl
rubbed her man’s back
and gave him little kisses
every so often, while we all spoke.
It was proper love.
Eventually, they retired to whispers,
and joined the shadows.
I took two quarts of beer
and found some dirty light,
coming from a dirty street lamp.
I had twenty odd pages left to re-reading
The Sun Also Rises,
I preferred to escape in Brett’s problems of love
rather then pulling out my thoughts
and facing my own.
And as I sat with
my two quarts,
my dirty yellow street light,
my scarf over my mouth and
my chair kicked back too far,
I slowly finished the last pages – for the second time.
My friends shouted to me from an upper window,
that the squat was being locked up
and there was still some warm soup left.
I slammed the door closed.
It reverberated through the old slaughter house hallways.
Brushing the snow off myself,
through the small window of the door,
at the white walls of the complex,
at the snow collecting on the windowsills,
the small German homes covered in newly dusted snow,
and on the far off football bleachers past them,
and the children’s park – the slide, the seesaw and the jungle gym,
and on white hills beyond them
barbed wire and
But there is no sense in moaning.
A moaning man is a spoiled man.
And there is no sense in
moaning about the lack
of a woman’s love.
Many men daydream of their escapes
from their hard woman.
I thought this looking out that window,
brushing the snow off, zippering up
my jacket a little tighter
as the man came
to lock up the slaughter house door.
There is no need to moan
when you are well and strong,
when faithful friends are checking in with you
to make sure you are in from the cold
and have a chance
for a second helping of
Thanks for reading! I will post 10 pages tomorrow. You can find Modern American Gypsy here: http://www.davidmcwane.com/store/
And check out the bonus Poems below.
Bonus Poem 1 of 2
(click above for audio poem)
focus is more than just a facial expression
I was drunk and soaked in warm sweat
staring at my pile of belongings
stacked across the room
just slouched against the wall
with my wet hands
my wet legs
I recoil my toes and my socks squish the sweat
to the top of my toe nails
sitting up, my right cheek peels off the wet wall
the heat from the crowd
made the small back room
of this New Hampshire night club’s ceiling
my two suitcases dance before me
from my heavy drunk
I must move toward my pile of belongings, I thought
I must get my boots on and these sneakers off
I must put on a dry shirt,
then find my under jacket and alpha jacket,
and then lift the suitcases and
find the others
it was an equilibrium tug of war
but I had accomplished all of it
what is waiting outside is sharp and strong
winter in New England is but
Death’s hand raised
slightly above us
once I stepped outside, I would catch the flu
I knew this
I was too wet and winter is too cruel
weak from drinking and not eating
winter will win me
I am careless
I will be sick tomorrow
and I will not be able to afford any kind of medicine
so I will be sick for 8 days
ready to leave
with different shirts bunched and buttoned wrong
I stand holding two small suitcases
one of which was my father’s when he was my age
for a moment I wonder if he was ever drunk like me
but then forgot the thought
as I swagger out the door to meet up with
my fiendish friends
out the doorway, winter’s bit, bites
and my body is struck
with the awakening panic of the
New England cold
I think of my friend in California and his question
“yes, the coasts are different”, I answer him quietly
with the muttering of a drunk
as my puffy white words rise
floating past Death
and up to the stars
Bonus Poem 2 of 2
money in the toilet
who do they think they are?
to fill the urinal with coins,
when there are at least 3 homeless men outside
do these men of money
demand that those in need must be humiliated
before they are given a pocketful of change?
I didn’t like it
I wouldn’t have it
I dove my hand into the urinal and took all the coins out
washed them in the sink
then dried them with folded paper towels
on my way out of the bar
I handed the coinage to three homeless men
who looked to be in their upper fifties
the men were much appreciative
they smiled lovingly and called me ‘brother’
as I walked on home over the Longfellow Bridge feeling my drunk
I listened to a crew boat coasting lightly
atop the Charles River
and felt the warm breeze that Boston summers release
in my thoughts, I envisioned the men who had tossed the coins in the toilet
and as I looked to where the lamp light of high buildings reflected on the
ripples of the rower’s small wakes
I thought of mean men of money
“You little bastards”
‘Steps’ and ‘Money In The Toilet’ are from the book ‘The Gypsy Mile’ which can be found here: http://www.davidmcwane.com/store/ And the audio poems are from ‘The Gypsy Mile Reading’ found below are CDBaby.com.