“Poor Roy’s Picaresque” by Joseph Hirsch

The myth is that the knight fights the Dragon.

The truth is that the Dragon teaches men to breathe fire,

Obviating the need for knights.

Taking this time machine to Brooklyn now, think of Poor Roy

Luck and life against him. No, he wasn’t cross-eyed

But other than that, he was fat, small, and bullnecked from birth.

 

He was also dyslexic; the other kids made fun of that, too.

Since he had trouble reading, the only job he could get was lifting heavy sacks

Of flour and concrete.

His only friend was his older brother, whom he loved dearly.

 

Struggling with the chalkboard during the days of cold sun,

Ears red from mockery, neck hair bristling from whispering voices,

Sniping from the back of the classroom that smelled like votive wax and flop sweat.

 

He comes to regard himself as a quivering fat puddle of confusion

Lost in Brooklyn’s mausoleum where all the saints are stone.

And even God bets the points spread, provided it isn’t a Sunday game.

 

Roy’s brother joins the Army, dies in Korea.

Then something snaps in Roy.

And because he lifts bags of flour, burlap sacks, he has sinews of muscle now

Beneath the layers of fat.

His body is not ready for the beach, but he has the frame of a bear,

And is ready to impose vigorish on those with the gambler’s yen.

When he looks in the mirror, he sees a mug shot in waiting.

What has been hibernating, now hungers.

Someone at school makes the mistake of treating the new Roy like the old one

And they learn the difference between what he was, and now is

Painfully, with much blood.

 

He’s still no good with letters, but he understands numbers quite well.

He starts shylocking at school. He rarely even needs threats to exact his pound of flesh.

The sewers of Bensonhurst open their ears.

The steam grates of Astoria, Queens sigh.

The elevated train clacks on narrow-gauge track, sounding out his name in Morse Code.

Pigeons coo in their Brownsville coops, eerier than Poe’s Raven.

Even the disquisitions of Brooklyn Hasidim, urban Amish, feel more animated today,

And seem to center on Roy the Goy, the self-avenging strange Golem of Little Italy.

 

The world has made a mistake by tormenting this creature into being.

Now the secret Lords of Concrete, drawn from the Peninsula to the torch of Libertas

Emerge from the folds of the garments center and meatpacking district.

 

They tell him to kill and he does.

They prick his finger, blood falls on the image of a saint.

A match burns through the Holy Lazaro whose wounds are licked by dogs underfoot.

 

The scent of sulfur, a struck and charred matchhead, hangs over the Flatlands.

 

Roy meets a young man, who reminds him of himself.

A crippled soul with the need to kill to heal.

Chris Rosenberg is neither fat nor dyslexic.

But he is Jewish in a game where the guild is controlled by the sons of men

Who created the first ghetto in Cannaregio, and their books remain closed to him.

 

Chris is a master car thief, hotwirer, license plate shifter.

Canarsie chop shopper, burglar alarm bypasser, street savant.

He yearns to beat a pewter Star of David into a Catholic scapular medallion.

 

New York reflects against the dark blue hood of their luxury car as they drive,

A camera obscura of chain-link, graffiti, brownstones, bodegas with bullnose awnings.

 

Roy understands Chris, and loves him.

Both are good earners.

The aviary for these birds of prey is the Gemini Lounge; they drink Cutty Sark

In the smoky haze of the dark bar, while doowop plays on the jukebox,

Ivory pool balls clack and rack, and college hoops roars from a wall-mounted TV

And they wait for the carrion to come to them.

 

Chris chops cars. Roy uses a deli saw

To disarticulate heads from necks.

He doesn’t bat an eye when the trachea pops like stale bread.

He punches the decapitated head, asks it, “You gonna pay me now?”

 

When talk of a young soldier named Gotti comes up,

Roy hears the tale of him handcuffing a man to the radiator

In an unfinished Ozone Park basement, waiting for airplanes at JFK to shriek

Loud enough to let him wield the chainsaw and silence the howling torso.

That’s cute, Roy thinks.

 

His soul sold for creature comforts, trading intangible essence for not only the material

Or the fleeting comforts, but for quickly depreciating toys that soon bore him.

Status symbols:

Button-tuck interior Lincolns with woodgrain wheels, shiny burl-inlay dashboards;

Too many Benjamin Franklins to fit in a folded wallet; a pinky ring like a boulder,

The bloodstone signet of a holy man ignoring all edicts against indulgences;

Tacky gold buddhas and jade lions to buttress cold rooms,

Which his wife decorates like a harem, remodeling to occupy her coiffured mind,

Because she doesn’t know where his money comes from and dreads his touch;

A large swimming pool and a gun collection to make a warlord weep.

 

He lives in Dante’s Seventh Ring so his kids can see the best orthodontist.

While his son opens Christmas gifts beneath a festive pine tree

Roy smiles for the Kodak Super 8 he just bought his wife.

She films him as he hugs his son and the Rat Pack’s Jolly Christmas plays on the hi-fi.

Roy wonders how a man’s puckered sphincter might accommodate a hot curling iron.

 

Word reaches the Boss on Todt Hill, where he is playing grab-ass

Round the Olympic Pool with his Salvadoran maid in her dusting pinafore

That Chris Rosenberg is moving cocaine

And must die.

 

Roy is given the contract, and the place where his soul once was

Protests one last time.

It is like asking a Girl Scout to drown her cat in the bathtub.

 

But it is done.

Not in the usual manner,

Not the Gemini Method, which confounds the shutterbug surveillance

Of the alphabet boys with their toys in white panel vans

Waiting on pensions and eating cake donuts with their ears to inscrutable streets,

And their spiderwebbed hierarchies with crossed-out consiglieres,

And question marks over black and white glossy photos of capos.

 

Pictures are pinned to a corkboard on a wall in the precinct.

The cops have a staredown with this family tree, as they sip coffee from Styrofoam cups

And feel the hot scorch of their ulcers and the bile of the rage that wakes them each day,

They themselves being mafiosos living on the obverse side of a deep mirror.

 

Usually men enter the Gemini, and don’t ever emerge,

As if Brooklyn had something more than a trash compactor or cranes

To lift shipping containers among circling gulls at the Port Authority.

Men go into the Gemini as if it were a crematorium in a funeral home,

Or was a pure portal to Hell, a chalked pentagram transporting souls to Hades

Faster than a Guido’s canary yellow I-Roc Z speeds through the Lincoln Tunnel.

 

The Gemini Method: The first bullet kills, a 7.65-millimeter silenced round

Through the back of the head.

A terrycloth towel is turbaned around the bullet hole soaking the fabric red.

The butcher knife is plunged in the heart to stop all circulation,

To keep blood from pumping out of the wound like warm water from a hose.

The dead man is stripped, until his form has as much dignity as a Peking duck

Dressed in a steam-fogged window of a Chinatown eatery.

Then the naked body is hung on a sturdy shower rod, upside-down,

The way a bat sleeps, until all of his blood has dripped into the tub.

 

Roy and his crew have the patience of men tapping trees for sap.

They wait until the corpse is bled white and one coat of blood sits in the bathtub

Resembling a winepress,

While a second blood pool congeals

Like marinara on the forgotten stovetop of an Old Country grandmama.

 

Then the cold corpse, purpled from livor mortis, is lain out on drop cloth,

Shrouded in plastic sheets, transparent as cellophane cradling a bouquet of roses.

Next come the saws, the boning, the shrink-wrapping and the packaging of limbs,

An apprenticeship in the butcher shop serving his soldier well-

 

Off now to the parkland with the body parts, in the trunk of the hardtop LTD,

To the landfill, the necropolis where all the limbs lay in a pile

While the Melanzana girls double-dutch, and all-city boys shoot hoops.

The black girls and boys playing know nothing of the crypt beneath their feet.

An entire civilization of intriguers, traitors, suspects, informants, a snitches’ cenotaph

With reliquaries from Hell’s Kitchen and Flatbush and Flatiron, skulls and crossbones.

An excavator will eventually unearth a Mafia catacomb,

Omerta’s long silence shattered as water drains from Baisley Park Pond,

Where algae claimed flesh, and pond scum turned fingerprints and faces to aspic jelly,

Bodies so soft and putrid you could puncture them with your touch,

As easily as a tree branch piercing a mud wallow.

 

But Chris doesn’t die like this,

According to the Gemini Method.

A simple and merciful bullet claims his name,

Not from a Kidon Beretta, since to be snuffed by a silenced Israeli weapon

Would be an affront to his own renouncement of the faith of his fathers,

Instead of his brothers, to whom he was loyal, even as they killed him.

“Call me Chris DeMeo,” he would say. “Not Rosenberg.”

A kiss on the cheek from his Uncle Roy,

Who never bought into deicidal passion plays,

Christ, after all, being a Jew.

 

Men from the land of sugarcane and sun search the streets for Chris.

The gears of whining garbage trucks in Sheepshead and Gravesend whisper to Roy,

As do rustling sheaves of newspapers on the subway

That these men will kill him for the kilos Chris owes.

Cocaine is the communion wafer of this sect of Cuban Cathars

And they will avenge the desecration of their host

With the wrath of the Inquisition, like Templars with Uzis.

 

A shooter with a streetsweeper shows up at Roy’s mansion

Where his family live, where something besides his own evil dwells.

This is too brazen, ballsy,

So Roy gets his own gun,

Shoots after the shooter, and there is a car chase,

Unleashing a fusillade of mad fire across the Tri-Borough Bridge.

 

A gray Manhattan skyline cheers on the carnage, jagged ramparts and parapets

Castles of commerce spearing the clouds of Babylon

Dwarfing King Kong’s diminutive Empire State ambitions.

Roy wants more than Fay Wray in his palm, though.

He wants some company when he goes home to Hell,

Hearing in his head the polyglot honking of crosstown taxi traffic jams,

Seeing in his mind’s eye a mobius strip of Times Square hardcore porn,

As this off-Broadway saga unfolds.

 

The day after Roy shoots this kid

He reads the newspaper in the kitchen,

Wearing a panne velvet tracksuit trimmed white and monogramed Ferragamo slippers,

Drinks fresh-squeezed orange juice with an unholy gold crucifix around his hairy neck.

The headline says that the shooter’s streetsweeper was a vacuum attachment

And that his Cubano hitman was a humble door-to-door salesman

With very, very bad luck, and even worse timing.

 

It’s bad also for Roy.

 

Word reaches Mount Olympus. In Todt Hill, Long Island

The old man with the implant in his penis and the FBI bug in his television,

Chases his maid in a pinafore with his bicycle pump erection.

He says that Roy must die, partly because he screwed up,

Partly because he is too terrifying to walk the earth

And scares even those who have some use for his evil.

 

Such titans should be imprisoned in volcanoes

Harnessed to Hell’s Core,

Chained like Behemoth ten-thousand leagues under the boiler-room in PS 38.

 

When Roy’s body is found in the trunk of a car,

It is accompanied by a chandelier.

A strange ending, a non sequitur whose rose-tinted baubles and cut-glass

No one can quite explain, like the oddity the dead man himself presents

Bloated and sad.

 

The man who gave the order to kill Roy

Will die in a storm of molten lead in Manhattan.

The young man who will soon kill the old man,

The same one who waited for airplanes to mask the song of chainsaws

Will rot his days away in a gray cell, with no gnocchi or manicures

Among hopeless men with swastikas on their faces, behind a colorless rock wall.

 

One hour per week he will see a patch of grass,

Like mange on a stray dog, less substantial than his stubble after a go with a razor

Brought once a week by a corrections officer, who is his only company,

Aside from cheap contraband: Ramen Noodles, skin mags, and adventure paperbacks,

And a little Machiavelli here and there for when the old urge returns

To remember that living metropolis he turned into his personal snow globe, which

He once held in his right palm, but shattered in his hubristic grip, manicure or no.

 

There may be no furloughs in hell.

The pitchfork may never stop poking soft flesh, leaving blood dimples,

Wearing the soul smooth and formless like the stone toes in a Vatican pieta.

But if ever there were a chimera between pathetic and evil

Its name was Roy.

 

May even the echo of something like sympathy shame me.

Like a sin.

Amen.


Joseph Hirsch is the author of several published novels, short stories, novellas, essays and articles. He holds an M.A. in German Studies and has also worked as a sports journalist, covering boxing matches around the globe. His most recent novel is the neo-noir boxing crime caper, My Tired Shadow. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and can be found online at www.joeyhirsch.com.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia, altered by Cartoonize.net.

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