My beautiful picture

the poets Bruce Piephoff & Jim Young; circa 1980, Greensboro, NC — photo (c) Scott Sawyer

 

Halloween Angel

It’s Halloween
I sit drinking in a bar
at the opening of an art show.
On the wall above my booth,
an acrylic painting, “Porn Spies,”
and beside it, “Felt Bumpers From Beneath Hell.”
I feel run through by those bumpers
as a child approaches my table,
a little girl wearing angel wings,
a white dress, red shoes and purple ribbons in her hair.
She’s waving a wand in one hand
and carries a little green velvet pouch in the other.
She says, “Hi.”
I say “Hell-low.”
“My name is Joy,” she says, “I can fly. Watch!”
She dives toward an empty booth
flapping her wings and landing
on a red cushion,
then gathers herself and returns.
“Nice try, Joy,” I say.
“Here,” she says, opening her pouch,
“Touch this and you’ll be happy. It’ll make you laugh.”
She pulls a little piece of gray cloth
from the pouch and hands it to me.
I touch it and laugh, of course,
not because of the cloth,
because of Joy.
The bartender swats a fly
as Joy’s mother calls her away from me.
“Don’t talk to strangers, Joy!” says mother.
“Don’t talk to strangers!”
The mother looks a little like Anita Bryant.
I look back at the felt bumpers on the wall,
then order another large pitcher,
feeling good sparks inside
from talking to a stranger
named Joy.

(c) Bruce Piephoff; published in the early 80s in the Greensboro Review and also in Bruce’s 1995 poetry book Honky Tonk Stradivarius, Yonno Press

White­ Knuckle Wandering

When the work dries up
And the whiskey wears off
And you hit a slow spell
And you got a bad cough
And the weed’s too high
And it still ain’t legal
Can you learn to fly
Sober like an eagle
Can you steady yourself
Can you right the ship
Can you weather the storm
Can you let it rip
Can you mix the tape
With a little less bass
Can you put a smile back on your face

(Refrain)
With some white­knuckle wandering
From a coal ash hole
Cackalacky to California
Like ole King Cole

Buddy, I’ve played
In a skiffle band
And I have lived
Alone in a van
I’ve seen your hospitals
And your jails
Your rented rooms
Sleet and hail
But I drank from your rivers
And I kissed your plains
Bathed in the ocean
Through the pouring rain
Found true love
Then lost it again
Said goodbye
To many a good friend
Kept on moving
Riding the rails
With an old Guild guitar
I could always set sail
With gratitude and grace
Put a smile on your face
With a little bit of humor

White knuckle wandering
With some white­knuckle wandering
From a coal ash hole
Cackalacky to California
Like ole King Cole

words & music by Bruce Piephoff, (c) 2014, Piephoff Music, ASCAP

Last Stop Pick-Up

Last Stop don’t sell no beer,
just cheap wine
and there’s an ABC store
next door.

Headed to Ocean Isle
for the day &
I wish I had a tape of
Jimmie Rodgers or Spark Plug Smith
for the road
to help me forget
the cracker jack ram roddin’
real estate agent I just talked to.
Lord have mercy, let us throw down
this evening after work.
Play it BIG, Big Boy Henry–“Please, Mr. President”
–Lightnin’ Wells– The Mississippi Sheiks–
Daddy Stovepipe, put it up,
it’s quittin’ time.
Columbus County’s had plenty of rain
and our vegetables are bulgin’
on the vine.
Hot damn, let’s get it on past Nakina;
past Dr. Dick’s Disco & Mr. Earthquake,
Waccamaw & Shallotte.
Put it on High Cotton Spirit!
Like a tick, you can’t crush it.
Like asbestos, it won’t burn.

(c) Bruce Piephoff, Piephoff Music, ASCAP

White Haired Boy

He’s slobbering a bib full
Opened up a can of worms
Snockered whistle drunk at  midnight
Now someone will get burned
He’s walking down on Cat Street
High on spaghetti legs
Had a clap o thunder
As Bess O Bedlam begs

(Chorus): Hey you white haired boy
Hey you white haired boy
Hey you white haired boy
You’re puttin’ on dog
Hey you white haired boy

He’s just a lad o wax
Speakin’ double dutch
Gutter blood runs through his veins
He hasn’t very much
He’s copped a Sparrow’s ticket
He ain’t makin’ children’s shoes
He’s just drinkin’ spo dee o dee
Stead of stackin’ on a blue

(Chorus) 

Now he’s beatin’ up his chops
Rickey tickey tootee toot
So sharp he’ll cut himself
In that blazin’ new Zoot suit
In a spit ‘n sawdust slumbox
There’s an Irish hurricane
Now the mubblefubbles are creepin’
Round the white haired boy’s refrain

(Chorus)

Now here he comes a sailin’
Round the Dutchman’s cape
All ancient and tattered
The white haired boy escapes
He’s got the Dutchman’s courage
Wheelin’ like hammers o Hell
On a drunken boat he’s floating
Through the gutter hotel

(Chorus)

words & music by Bruce Piephoff, Piephoff Music, ASCAP

Soft Soap Purrings

I hear soft soap purrings from voices quivering with hate.
I see “KKK” tatooed on the fingers of a young boy.
I see horse faced evangelists speaking with aplomb.
I smell rutabaga, black eyed peas and ham on my plate.
I see salacious smiles and I hear in the wind a roman a clef.
I hear sagacious quackery from soft soap psychiatrists.
I see the Idiot boy who saved the day.
I smell a round of drafts at the corner bar.
And hear laughter in a small circle of light.
And I feel building a bildingsroman.
I taste the salt air from high waves at Southport.
I hear the voice of Blackbeard buried in the sand.

(REFRAIN)
I see Petrarch with his Laura
And me with mine
Dante with Beatrice
Beside a land mine

I touch the White Cross tall by the pier.
And hear the death rattle of Geronimo.
And the purring of a kitten in the alleyway.
I see Van Gogh in a field of crows.
I hear Thomas Wolfe cry, “You can’t go home!”
And E.A. Poe’s “Never Nevermore!”
And Madame Bovary as she fusses and frets
As I drift toward the elixir of life; love’s imagination!
I see the Trickster dance round his circumstance
Hear the poets singing drunk in the streets
And a Dixie Hummingbird fluttering on stage
Writers spilling their guts on the printed page
As a trawler drifts on a soft summer wave

(REFRAIN)
I see Petrarch with his Laura
And me with mine
Dante with Beatrice
Beside a land mine

I hear soft soap purrings from voices quivering with hate.
I see “KKK” tatooed on the fingers of a young boy.
I see horse faced evangelists speaking with aplomb.
I smell rutabaga, black eyed peas and ham on my plate.
I see salacious smiles and I hear in the wind a roman a clef.
I hear sagacious quackery from soft soap psychiatrists.
I see the Idiot boy who saved the day.

words & music (c) Bruce Piephoff, Piephoff Music, ASCAP
From the CD album Soft Soap Purrings released in Jan. 2014 on Speranza Recordings

Dakota

He used to always say in greeting,
“Are you mad at me?”
Hell no I wasn’t mad at you, Joe
looking like Mickey Rourke
in those little waif caps
or singing Woody Guthrie songs
with a coffee can
on Tate St.
Or coming by my apartment
late at night to get me to walk
up to the railroad tracks
with a “Little Man”
and listen to the trains
coming through
and wonder where they were going

Or pickin new songs in
my kitchen or living room or
back yard
Or exchanging letters
when I lived in Stem, NC
about new books or paintings
or albums by our favorite artists
Trips to England or New England
or your riding in a limousine to a concert
with Tom Waits

(REFRAIN)
Framing pictures at the factory
Paying those dues but
Those dues never set you free
To make the music
That burned in you and me

From the folkie to the blues singer
in The Little Alfred Band to the punk rocker
and then back to the folkie
Full circle till you did that last album of
great traditional songs
And then did your last waltz

You’re probably somewhere
out there fishin’ and pickin’ a 12 string guitar
on the banks of some rolling river
near a RR track
with Billy Ransom
cooking mulligan stew
on a campfire and rolling smokes and sippin’ Irish whiskey.

I hope I get to see
you guys again when I go there
Just not quite ready yet…

Bruce Piephoff, 9/11/12; (c) Bruce Piephoff, Piephoff Music, ASCAP
From the CD album Soft Soap Purrings released in Jan. 2014 on Speranza Recordings

For Marvin

Well Marv, they tell me you passed on, old man
and so I have to think of those days
and all those long nights
pickin at the ‘Wick with Scotty and the boys
and you walkin the boards behind the bar
and the place really jumpin
and Bob squeezed into a booth with 6 people
chain smoking, talking baseball with plumbers
and ballet with school girls from the college.
Blue Eyes on the juke
and ole Fred singin in the rain
with a handful of small change.
“Hey bub, I got nough for us to get a beer!”
Where did those days go?
Where did you go?
I blink my eyes and a video parlor replaces the Pickwick,
I can’t find the funny papers in the news,
and there’s a Suds n Duds, computers everywhere
and Coal Man is tendin bar
cross the street at Logan’s, stead of with you
cause Beeler went off to grad school in Indiana or somewhere
and it’s all oral history.
And you and I and Dixie and Dale Ray
are sippin Buds on barstools; pool balls are crackin
and you’re telling me to stay away
from the cigarettes but to go on
and drink my beer and have my fun.
Harry said you were up on the corner for days
before you flew the coop
and you mentioned my Dad.
I know you loved him
and I’ll tell him so when I write
although he wasn’t as big as  you said he was.
But you were pretty big
when the darkling came hunting
up Walker Ave.
Remember when I was stayin at the ‘Sally’;
had run away to be a picker
and you told me how you’d seen
them drugs sneak up on a lot of kids.
Well, tonight I’m just drinking weekend beers
and I lift this Guinness to you.

published as poem in the poetry collection Fiddlers and Middlers (Yonno Press)
and as spoken word piece on the 2012 CD, Still Looking Up at the Stars, Piephoff Music, ASCAP

Greetings From Holden Beach

Dear Bob,
Moon in the morning
still up full  and big as
the wind waves
through the sea oats
by the canal.
Sky is pink and blue
and I think of you,
today, over coffee.
This word has come
that you’re retiring.
Three sea gulls sit quietly
perched on poles by the dock
as a lone pelican passes.

Bob, this road’s a nice place to visit
but I’m not sure I want to live here.

I remember you shuffling
around Tate St., in and out
of the coffee shop,
checking out the rhythms
of the street
and the voices of the people.
You were the first poet
I ever knew and
you coached me on how to
hit the low hard inside meter
and the metaphorical curve;
to catch similes with two hands first;
to throw a dramatic monologue
and not to sing for the fences.
I, one of your many students,
scattered now like fuzz from these
sea oats crossing the canal
in the breeze.

The lady next door painted her
house pink with big flowers all over it
so her lost daughter could
always find her way home from the beach.
You could make a good poem out of
that story, Bob.
I squint my eyes just a bit,
and the sunlight looks like diamonds
sparkling on the canal.
The wind continues to blow
making the only  sound save
for the hammering of nails
on the roof of a house
by carpenters on the seaside.

Alone, on an island, late fall,
I think of you, the poet, teacher
and friend to us all.

Six more hungry sea gulls perch
on the dock as I
take a peek at
the fat phone bills
and heave crusts of bread
at the birds.

Wish you were here,

Bruce

Hucksters

The bacco was sold
& I had my pay &
I give it to my wife
‘cept for enough in my pocket
to get a pint
& I walk  over to the store
by Lee St.
& this fella in there says
go ahead and have ya a little drink
& I says well OK
& so I turned one up; bout that much
& I reach in my pocket for a smoke
& there’s none so I get up
to go get a pack
of cigarettes out of the machine
& I starts feelin funny
in my head
& the room is spinning round
but I can still think in my head
& this man grabs me ‘fore I fall…
Next I remember I woke
up on the porch & it was
all dark, stars & moon a shinin
& the store’s closed
& everybody’s gone
& gone are my shirt
& shoes & watch
Damn good thing I give
my pay to my wife.
Now days if I want a little drink
occasionally I goes to
The Barbary Coast where I
knows people but
mostly I don’t drink nothin
no more ‘cept a big Pepsi.

poem published in the collection, Fiddlers and Middlers (Yonno Press) and recorded on the 2012 CD, Still Looking Up at the Stars. Piephoff Music, ASCAP

Ransom Notes

As I write these ransom notes
for my friend, Billy
who has passed on,
I listen to Donna the Buffalo
singing a tribute to Billy
“Everything seems to want to hurt this time” sings Jeb Puryear
And everything seems to hurt today
with the sad news
Young Billy Hobbs
AKA “Hobo Billy”,
“Ransom Notes”,
“Ransom”, “Billy The Chair”,
“The Grassroots Buddha”
coulda, shoulda, woulda…

I remember Billy Hobbs in the early 70s
hanging on Tate St.
in a black leather motorcycle jacket,
jeans and long curly black hair
We gigged on Tate St. at Aliza’s Cafe,
roomed together, cooked together (Billy was an excellent cook),
traveled together
We hitched to California and then on another occasion
rode in Billy’s ambulance home to San Diego to visit a friend.
Along I-40 crossing Texas, we took a wrong turn and ended up in
Juarez.  We were waved on through customs going in but
stopped on the way out.  Billy climbed from the ambulance
with his pet boa wrapped around his shoulders so we got searched

Billy and I were once picked up and arrested for hitchhiking on the interstate outside Petersburg, VA
I got out on bail but Billy refused bail
and stayed in jail to pull his time working out on a peanut farm

I was once arrested and jailed for a crime I had
nothing to do with; a purse snatching of an elderly lady
Billy drove to Martinsville, VA to hunt the guy down and
had him returned so I was released from prison.

Billy was a loveable, gentle soul who saved my bacon on several occasions.  A good friend and companion, he once opened up his shotgun shack house to me and the poet, Jim Young.  We both needed a place to crash and Billy made room for us to both sleep on the floor…for months

I hope these notes are payment enough to redeem my captive friend and obtain
his release…Billy Ransom never tried that hard to make it to the Main Stage
He was too busy backstage…

Adios, my friend…I’ll see you backstage when I get there

written by Bruce Piephoff  9/20/08 (a poem and song for my friend, Billy Ransom Hobbs)