Peter Bakowski & Ken Bolton



Sixpack 2: THIRD SET

Portrait of Carol Macens, jazz singer, Staten Island, 1983

One slow Sunday on Staten Island, 
Carol picked up a thin paperback by Manfred C. Bruken,
titled The No Shoes Shuffle, from a yard sale table.

She started reading. From around the corner of the first paragraph
a male poet appeared. Name of Gallagher Lee. Shoeless. Agitated. 
Stained jacket stolen from a Mississippi scarecrow. 

He lived most winters in a rusting boxcar out back of Edgar Blind’s property.
No rent. Gallagher’s only duty the weekly typing up of Edgar’s
unwieldy memoir, The Lion’s Concerns, about Edgar’s time as a Postmaster 
in Mahlungulu, South Africa.

Carol gave a quarter for the paperback to the teenager 
who stood stone bored behind the yard sale table.

At the New York Public Library, Carol couldn’t find any information
on Manfred C. Bruken. She asked knowledgeable downright geeky
bookstore owners and staff that she knew. No soap.

The following month Carol hauled her old Adler typewriter out of the attic.
Imagining the full or hollow life of Manfred C. Bruken,
Carol wrote a play, The Naked Scarecrow.
It had a short run off Broadway, broke even.

Carol’s gone back to singing.
Sometimes she opens for bigger acts
who still perform each summer
at The Golden Nugget, Atlantic City.

'Cry Me A River' 'What A Difference A Day Makes'
'Lover Man' 'Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered'
'April In Paris' 'The Man I Love'

Carol gets requests. Often from already unravelling honeymooners.
Some nights Carol’s smile and make-up run
and the drummer’s tanked.
The floor manager will smoke half a packet of Chesterfield Kings 
and fume at the number of vacant tables. 

Next pay packet Carol
will buy a new dress,
two sizes larger. 

                                          after August Kleinzahler

I almost forget to notice it some nights—
my sister's voice—because I work there myself
these days.  My shift varies, but mostly I work days
finish around three in the afternoon, or four thirty, 
rarely nights.  I'm on tickets
for the Ghost Train—sometimes have to check
the train itself, the carriages, the line even.
Most nights I'm home, and sometimes if the wind is right
I hear her voice.  She's gone now.  A taped,
recorded voice at midnight when old Quinby
presses the button: a message to performers, workers,
vendors, and to the customers whom she addresses—
over the loudspeaker, the last voice before the lights go out,
Thank you.  Good night.  The lights are doused,
the loud murmur that is the fairground with its buzz
                                                               of voices,
sounds of rides, has subsided.

I used to hear it as a kid.


A nice set of wheels

A bowl of cornflakes with warm milk—
Joseph’s reward to himself
for a good night’s writing.

The third novel is going well. 
Monica, his favourite character—
resilient, despite her elongated divorce,
still putting effort into her dinners for one.

Asthmatic as a child,
sometimes rushed to hospital,
Joseph would lie wheezing in the ward bed.
One afternoon, during visiting hours,
uncle Benjamin brought him a sketchpad
and a quartet of black lead pencils.

That evening Joseph sketched a self-portrait—
himself as a window with legs,
walking down a blood red road,
his father in the distance
ready to throw a large stone
at such a fragile son.

Joseph was 20 when Alfred A. Knopf
published his debut novel, Tearaway.
Sales were phenomenal.

Joseph remains a difficult author,
scathing about the reading public, interviewers, 
literary critics, publicists, agents.

Washing the breakfast bowl,
Joseph can hear Ursula,
the sound of her bare feet
descending the spiral staircase.

She’ll be bored, restless.
Joseph starts looking for the keys to the convertible.
Perhaps they’ll drive to Rockaway Beach,
maybe even Albany. 


I'm schlepping down Sixth past places where I used to hang out once.  
I scarcely leave New Jersey these days.  If I'm going to town 
it means Newark not New York—not for more than a year, I think, now.

We used to go to a bar round here & sometimes to the Zibetto
nearby, which is still running.  Who should I see but Marian?
Beside her is Alan, so nothing's changed.  She looks prettier 
          than ever.  Alan looks
the same.  I don't go in.  I'm not dressed for it & the place
is Italian—why she goes there when she lives mostly in Harlem
          … for coffee!
Isn't there coffee in Harlem?  Maybe she's moved—she looks sort of 
Anyway, I don't want them talking about me.  Strangely,
when I get home, I spend much of the evening in pleasant
conversation—all imaginary—telling her about my life,
the ghost train even, which I wouldn't talk about, the time
she & my sister & I went together to the Apollo (on the wrong day
it turned out—not the acts we were there to see), how we
caught the eye of the local boys.  A few years later she met
Alan.  Good for her, not so good for me.  I miss her, her
eyes, her wonderful smile. "You should see Marian's smile,"
I tell Charlie, who's moving up & down in a sideways shuffle on his 
perch—in quite a good mood himself.  I put music on.

Al Gorrano talks to a fellow dog owner, 79th Street, New York City, 15 May 2017

Sure I talk to my dog, have his undivided attention. You won’t catch him 
sneaking glances at his wristwatch, patting down pockets,
checking for car keys, when I’m trying to explain why I broke up with Phyllis.

I feel bad about getting Renaldo neutered 
but at least now when the two of us go to Cedar Hill 
he’s not doing the 45 degree angle drooling hump, 
mounting some shivering chihuahua.

With any dog, from jaw to tail there’s no deception.
When they take a crap or a leak, they focus, work the
necessary muscles. You won’t find them occupying the john,
slowly reading the obituaries and each race result.

I’ve got money saved. There won’t be any skimping on Renaldo’s funeral.
Every weekend, these last three months, I been melting down old pennies, 
to forge a bronze statue of Renaldo. One sad day it’ll be fixed to
 the top of his tombstone which’ll be made of Italian marble. 

I got a slab of it wholesale from a guy I used to knock around with over in Newark. 
He died in a warehouse fire, while bound with electrical wire to a metal chair. 
I can’t find any good reason to frequent Newark these days.  


I’m on the ferry—well, I’m still on the ferry—
and catch myself whistling the opening bars of ‘It’s
A Lovely Day Today’ and I stop. The tune’s too dumb, innocent
anyway, to carry on. I see the tourists’ launch
go by, hear faintly the tour’s spiel—“That’s Tribeca, there.
That’s…” and so on. Its flag is flapping in the breeze—
a little too wildly? But the city skyline looks good
and the people look impressed. They’re enjoying it probably.
Near me a guy I take to be a tramp maybe
is leaning on the rails, looking out across the blue,
feeling our boat dip and rise—“roll” must be
the term—hands in his coat pockets, eyes narrowed.
I suppose he bought a ticket. “It is a nice day,” he says,
alluding to my song. We agree. I tell him my theory,
about the song being too dumb, naive, innocent. “Innocence?” he says.
“Maybe. Tough call. You’d really wanna rule it out?”
I say I love it when I play Elmo Hope’s version
how it isolates the brightness—but that it’s hard to maintain
yourself.  Ha! he laughs, pleased someone could make
a problem of it. We stare at the blue sea again, ride the rise and fall,
aware, each, of the other.

Sixpack 4: FOURTH SET Perspective—Coogee, Sydney 2016 for Marian Keyes Janey comes in. “Hi, Jane,” I greet her, a skinny thing, but pretty. Her eye goes to my hand on the lounge near John’s—my ex- husband’s, her boyfriend’s. One daughter also beside me, the other two playing on the carpet before us. I move my hand and she says “Yes,” with a smirk. We’re friends, she and I, me and John. I think she will always be my friend, that this is likely. Then I think, But when I hitch up with some guy, John and I will be less close—whereas Jane and I will carry on. I feel a sudden (small) pang for John— will John be lonely? Men don’t make friends—and a sudden corresponding warmth for both of them, as from the future, or as for the future, for this—and am weirdly sad, it is lonely being so insightful, out of time— comfortless. Older. You look into the abyss and it stares right back. Portrait of Celeste Paladi, Room 24, The Biltmore Private Hotel, Bondi, 27 December 1993 By her bed, Celeste finds a clean glass, fills it with Bacardi rum. She’ll call Andy on the lobby phone, try to get her record collection back— Before Hollywood, Dare, Meat is Murder, Aladdin Sane and other albums, first played, absorbed, revered in the sanctuary of her Camberwell bedroom, parents, sunk into their living room armchairs, father, scouring each page of the Financial Review, mother, surveying cruise brochures. Blu-tacked to the hotel room wall— Celeste’s favourite Morrissey photo, when he was young, sported a quiff, next to it the stub of her one-way train ticket to Central, the beginning of her fluid life. At parties Celeste invents a self, adopts for the night a Spanish or Russian accent, drags home a boy or a girl. It’s research, lolly-tasting, a not always merry-go-round, sometimes waking to a bruised eye, an empty purse. On Christmas Day, Celeste phoned home, released each placating lie— nursing studies are going well, Andy is being considered by a top law firm, Yes, she might fly down for a visit at Easter, you never know, you never know. Outro "Are you alright, Frank?" "I don't feel great. You?" "I'm losing blood." "Here, don't move. Take my phone, call it in. Don't move." "Got it." Perez dials. "No, it's Perez, I'm on Frank's phone. We're both down, immobile. Send an ambulance." A pause. "That's right. We're still there. Nuh. They won't be back less they forgot something. Come now. Make it quick. Right?" "Filipe? I saw Billy Joel's been murdered. Mexico." "I thought he was dead." "No, well, he is now." "Who cares about Billy Joel?" "They don't care for him in Mexico, plainly. Popular tho. 'Uptown Girl'—who could forget?" "No—try as they might." . . . "This is a stupid way to die, Phil." "If you die, Frank, I swear I'll make a speech at your funeral: He died doing what he loved—making dopey jokes, doin' my head in." "Mention my patrician good looks, my generosity over lunch." "Patrician—what's … Frank? Are you there, Frank?" Portrait of Andy Pultro, Flat 8, 9 Balfour Road, Rose Bay, 13 February 1994 Andy didn’t return Celeste’s calls, her voice, at times, shrill on the answering machine. Solitude— a pale man, 39 years old, steadily tapping typewriter keys, this was Andy, rigorous, after earlier years of shoplifting, break-ins and self-harming. He read Elizabeth Harrower’s Sydney-set novels, her deft control and release of words. Illumination. Insight. The weaknesses and strengths of a man, a woman, a marriage— the closeness or distance which their friends, allies and rivals, kept or altered. Andy wanted to equal, even exceed Harrower’s art, accepted that it might take years. The answer machine whirred. Celeste left a caustic message, mentioned a Noel she’d met. Andy remembered the Noels he’d encountered— the most vivid, he could image entering his novel. A bitter taste for Annie Hauxwell The Global Financial Crisis—the Global Fried Chicken. The price of bailing out the strongest has been paid by the weakest. As how could it not, thought Meredith, a retiree her money now gone, insecurely invested. We haven't come so far from baronial tithes extracted from tenants. In what other country was 'deference' so much remarked, its decline, its want meanly regretted? Clearly a class felt entitled. Addressed each other in the higher-toned papers—(over the heads of workers, the underclass)— to express themselves. "A marked decline in deference," said Peregrine Worsthorne. She recalled Auden on his upbringing—taught to treat the poor fairly and with respect "as long as respect was shown to you", but that otherwise you never thought about them and their different world. She didn't get much deference herself now and gave none. England was something of a fiction, or there were a number of Englands and she had worked her way to the bottom, liked the people there—aside from those who were dangerous, the more crazed junkies and desperados, the criminal. Her canal boat was in bad repair and they had all been asked to move. In the distance the soaring towers of Docklands glimmer: banks, investment houses, financiers. A heron rises, suddenly brilliant— where it escapes the shadow and the late sun lights it. Portrait of Noel Calais, Bodypunch Boxing Gym, 71—75 Wangee Road, Lakemba, 29 October 2005 Being a New Zealander in Sydney isn’t pest free. There are the sheep jokes. Colonial. Mocking. Stale. Noel saves his fists for the gym. Training, brutal and refined— Roadwork, weights, feints and crouches, psychology— your opponent is a kettle, you want them to boil. Use the stare. Show your indifference, that they’re a yawn, a tadpole. Get them angry, enraged – their focus will become flailing. Sledgehammer your name into his chest. Soon enough the ref will raise your hand and what you’ll sign are autographs, contracts for a bigger take of each purse. Showered, Brylcreem in his styled hair, Noel phones Celeste. They’ll meet in the front bar of the Fortune of War Hotel at 8p.m. Noel checks his sports bag. The Browning 9mm pistol is still there.

Prone to reading, travelling, walking, and the need for an afternoon nap, Peter Bakowski tries to write as clearly as possible and continues to reveal a spectrum of real and fictitious individuals via the portrait poem.

Peter believes in the troubadour tradition and regularly tours selected worldwide corners and coastlines, particularly in Australia and France, presenting his poetry in libraries, bookshops, cafes, universities and in private houses.


Thoughtful—and yet forgetful, easily distracted, hardly there sometimes—Ken Bolton’s is a lyrical figure limned against the harsh outlines, the stark colours, of the Adelaide art world, adding a word here, a thought there, in the general flux of words and deeds around town.

Shearsman Press (UK) published his Selected Poems in 2013. Recent titles are Threefer, London Journal, Lonnie's Lament, Species of Spaces, and Starting At Basheer's. Much of his collaborative writing with John Jenkins has been published.

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