David-Baptiste Chirot


“A’ true, a’ true
Ev’ry word I say is true—”
—The Heptones, “Country Boy”

For Stoney & Dave/Eva

1. Today is the anniversary of the winter morning she hung herself in the tiny cell in the State Young Women’s Reformatory. Today and that day so similar one would not know any time has passed at all. The grey sky slopes along hills into the valley. Heavy humid air pools the snow into oil streaked puddles along the road to the crumbling prison. Climbing a nearby hill into thicker areas of forest, one may stand and see all the activities going on around the prison and its yard. A few crows fly overhead; some melting snow falls out of the firs and birches.

There are no signs she ever was here—none but the ghostly imprint in the snow of a pale face staring out of a barred window as the van to the prison pulls away. In the cinema, in some films there arrives for the prisoner a “moment of grace.” One imagines this moment even more intensely than seeing it on celluloid. A calm cold sir passes through the cement walled halls and finds her standing on the edge of a bed with a home made rope hung around her thin neck. Just before jumping, she sees a bird pass by through the barred window.

In a blink of any eye, in the time of a passing bird, she experiences the “moment of grace” and crosses into another world, leaving behind a ghostly imprint in thick melting snow. When the snow melts, her chestnut hair blends with the forest undergrowth. Her face at times is also found in the embrace of tree bark. A passing cloud will be the feel of her form passing by in a hallway we hid in. Everyday, more living than the living, she walks with me through a world gone silent. A gesture now and then, a very low voice, the touch of a trembling hand, and a small sun the size of an egg appears on the dim rocky horizon. The orange lights in the prison go on, one turns away and fades back into the forest’s darkness.

Once again, the small figure fires a rifle and kills the bitter torments of a short life. After that, what any longer could exist for her but her moment of grace, a small moment only she sees and sends out reverberating though the bars into the skeleton within me, skeletal key to a secret whispered once, a haunting secret, its ghostly figure walking beside me through long cold corridors until the trees and their cover are reached.

In between bars, in between lines, in between signs, figures, letters, marks—in between all of these, in a silence more “telling” than any story, a moment of grace passes, a bird flying past a barred window, a young girl hanging, swaying, on a homemade rope—a hand of grace brushing the horizon as the sun is born from an egg out of the night.

2. A man sits alone in a corner of the badly lit café. As though exposing himself, he has placed a long open knife on his right thigh, close to the groin. A certain waitress tries to ignore him. A man approaches him showing something he unfolds in his hands. A warrant, a badge, an official summons—the man with the knife invites him to sit down. After drinking silently for a while, they exit, as the waitress watches with frightened eyes.

For no reason, following them, I see them walk towards the river. Another man waits there, dressed like a merchant seaman. He has beside him a quivering mass wrapped in an immense burlap sack. The man with the knife approaches first, slicing the bag open to reveal a man inside desperately trying to break through the knots which bind him hand and feet. His mouth is taped shut. The three men capable of movement hoist the fourth to the edge of a parapet overlooking the river, and shove him over, to join the fish and trash floating by below. One of the men utters a kind of mock obscene prayer and the others cross themselves. Moving slowly along the embankment, they wait to see if the body is well on its way towards the first set of locks . . .

A few hours later, sitting smoking outside an all-night cinema, the men pass me by. They have all changed clothes, two of them dressed now as young clerks, the third as a Novitiate. Like Lee Harvey Oswald, like John Dillinger, they pay and enter the movie theater. Wondering if they will be caught there, like their famous fellow killers, I pay and go in, and, seeing their heads three in a row in a corner, sit a few seats away. Nothing happens, not even when the film ends and all exit into the chilly, misty midnight air.

Following the men further, I see them begin to cross a quiet side street toward the same café where two of them originally met up. Out of nowhere, an immense milk truck roars seemingly out of control around the corner and hits all three. The milk truck suddenly seems to regain control, and speeds into a darker alley to the left. The three men lie in the mist smeared street. At the window of the café the pale face of the waitress appears.
As the police and ambulance claxons come screaming nearer and nearer, I slowly walk down the dark alley where the truck had disappeared. No one is there, no truck, no driver, no one except a couple embracing against a crumbling wall and two young men pissing into the shadows.

For a brief moment, as I pass a dirty half closed window, there is enough light for me to see my nearly occluded reflection in the filthy pane. The pinned eyes, the poker face, the lack of any affect whatsoever . . . I smile, a small razor sharp smile—almost inhuman, wolfish, greedy—yes, the waitress at the dingy café did sell excellent heroin. I will be back to that café many times again . . . I am thinking as I head down the dark alley . . .

3. A long row of men lay on crumbling, damp mattresses along each side of the moldy, mildewed walls. Here and there white mushrooms glow evilly amidst a mixture of slime from the leaking overhead pipes and spilled half drunk cans of soda. Most of the men are quiet middle aged Puerto Rican junkies; this is their shooting gallery, the basement of a sagging tenement noisy with small children. Now and then a small child wanders down the creaking stairs and enters for a few moments, looking for a drinkable soda or a serviceable cigarette butt. Now and then also “outside” junkies dropped by, like myself and a few friends. There were others, too, from “outside” also who came in out of the cold to shoot up near the rank old furnace . . .

The place, often nearly filled with so many supine half-dead appearing bodies, was all the same near quiet as the tomb. Only the steady sounds of the water drips in various areas of the dimness interrupted the palpable sub-audible junkie drone. Now and then a body would stir, and reach out to light a cigarette that lay half smoked among the cans of sweet drinks. After many tries, the cigarette would be lit, and one might make out the outlines of a face that in the orange tinted darkness looked like a diseased member of a long rotting Dutch Masters portrait.

From time to time there would appear a large Anglo—everyone called him in surreptitious whispers “The Big Man.” He was a towering figure, still athletic and nimble, his huge feet encased in enormous steel-toed boots. His thick arms arced and bulged as he flexed them beside the tiny orange lights hung like Christmas bulbs along the leaking water pipes. Gently, lovingly, he steered slowly a carefully chosen vein towards its apotheosis as Mountain. Then the Big Man would undo his huge leather belt, a furious looking weapon—and tie up, slowly drawing his clenched fist towards the shoulder . . .

Like everyone else, the Big Man came equipped with his own dirty bent spoon, and like everyone else he used the brown rusty water. The water was so filthy chunks of rust and filth floated in it—yet no one ever got ill there from the water. Or so they said. There was even a rumor that it had once been blessed by a Junkie Priest.
Once, it was also said, some fool, some egregious snob, who thought himself too good for “the Waters,” came in with his own bottled water to cook up with. Immediately upon shooting up, he had turned blue and died, his eyes wide open staring at those watching him. Never again did anyone enter there who would not use the rusted waters of Our Lady of Heroin. the Blessed Waters of Oblivion . . .

The Big Man often frightened new comers with his sheer size and the obdurate expressionlessness of his thick skinned heavy jawed face. The only emotion he ever evinced was a swift, mercurial lighting up of the eyes as a shot hit its mark. The lack of expression, combined with his size, made him seem a tower of barely controlled rage. Everyone was very quiet, quieter than the usual quiet, when he arrived—and stayed that way until the shot hit its mark deep inside him. Then, a warm glow of relaxation, like a contact high, would run through the whole circle of mangy men. Some of the smaller figures, like terrier dogs, seemed to fairly quiver with joy as they felt his shot hit, and their own veins relax. Some nearly pissed themselves with relief. No matter how long he had come there, each time everyone expected some form of violence from the Big Man.

One summer evening, an evening so bright that a few rays of sunshine actually made it through the filth layered boarded up cracked windows . . . the Big Man appeared for the first time with a “friend.” Nodding to the assembled junkies, gesturing to this stranger, the Big Man said simply—“Jim.” Jim was almost as huge as the Big Man, obviously a junkie for life—he whipped out his belt even faster than the Big Man and shot up twice as much smack.

A few moments passed as everyone waited for the shot to “hit” somewhere inside of Jim. Suddenly, without there seeming to be a hit—he collapsed and, his breathed stopped, turning him blue. The Big Man looked around slowly. He expected most of the addicts were thinking he had deliberately given Jim an overdose of poison.

“Anyone asks, tell them it was the fucking bilge you call water that killed him,” the Big Man said in a slow steady voice. A ripple of shock ran through the dim figures lying along the walls. All this time, and the Big Man had never revealed his true thoughts regarding the Sacred Waters.

“Mister,” a voice came from the darkness of a corner filthier than the others—“Mister, don’t blaspheme the waters that bring you blessings.”

“You call this water?” The Big Man was suddenly enraged—“it’s shit. It’s just the dope that makes it safe. Yeah, yeah—I know—it’s been blessed—”The Big Man spat and pulled out a knife. Many of the men shrank back, closer to the crumbling mildewed walls, making themselves as small as they could.

Quietly, out of the darkest dirtiest corner their appeared a very old-looking man, his complexion made even more sallow by contrast with his thick jet black hair. This man was even smaller than some of the bigger children and was thought of as a mixture of wise man, brain damaged dope fiend and madman.

“You apologize to the waters, and to us, for granting you our hospitality,” the small man said evenly. He, too, produced a knife.

The Big Man turned slowly, bending over Jim and searching for the dead man’s stash among his dirty clothing and shoes . . . Standing up finally with the stash in his hands he turned to face the old man and said—“See this? I won’t mix it with this shitty water out of respect for the dead. I bet that water killed Jim,” he continued,” and you dirty bastards are responsible.”

Quietly as a curtain blowing in a soft summer’s breeze, the old man’s knife flew through the air, landing in the Big Man’s open mouth. Before he could move at all, several more knives flew softly through the rancid air, and the Big Man began to leak blood like the Death of a Thousand Cuts . . .

“Friends,” the old man gestured to me and a few others “go your own ways from now on—and remember the Blessings of the Waters—”

Outside in the very bright light, my friend asked if any of this had really happened . . .

Walking away into the evening sun, thinking of our last shot of the Blessed Waters, I turned to look at the drab building one last time—

In the golden glow of the evening, there were two small men dragging one apparently very heavy large green-black garbage bag to a dumpster, and, following them at a distance, three others dragging what most likely was the Big Man swathed in another huge green-black industrial bag to his final resting place, ensconced among dirty smashed egg shells, baby wipes and filthy—but Blessed—rusty rain water from the leaking rusted pipes of tenement skies . . .

(Note: “Not Reality. Actuality” is the slogan of the Tru channel on cable tv.)

David Baptiste Chirot "Essays, reviews, prose poetry, sound and visual poetry, performance scores, Mail Art have appeared in print and web 60+ different journals in over a dozen countries. Participated in 350+ Visual Poetry and Mail Art exhibitions, Calls. 3 books, 3 chapbooks and in many print and e-anthologies. My work is with the found, everywhere to be found, hidden in plain site/sight/cite. http://davidbaptistechirot.blogspot.com". Also: Cronaca Sovversiva Feneon—Faits Divers & Fate's Divers.

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