Outside of Mars Bar, a cramped dive on the Lower East Side, I’m having a cigarette and listening to the jukebox from within when I am suddenly accosted by one of the bar’s regulars. His name is John, and after asking for a cigarette and a light, he steps very close to me, looking me right in the eye while my back is pressed against the wall, and tells me he’s a poet.
“I wrote the shortest poem ever written,” John says. “It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Wanna hear it?”
“No.” And he grins to himself, having apprently just recited the shortest poem ever written.
John is a Vietnam War veteran, and says that his legs are mostly made of metal now, and that there’s metal in his skull and chest, too. He shows me the scars on his face. Then he asks if I want to hear another poem.
“It’s called ‘Fin,’ ” he says. “The end. Fin means, the end.”
“I have some very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY bad news for you.
Youz — Y-O-U-Z, the plural of you — youz got no yeggs — Y-E-G-G-S.”
John interrupts himself to explain, “Yeggs was a term used in the ’30s, which intimated ‘crime partner.’ If you read Dashiell Hammett, well, yeggs were loosely-affiliated crime partners on the west side of Manhattan. Specific to Manhattan.”
Then he resumes his recitation:
“Youz got no yeggs,
Youz got no shoes,
And all your voices dissipate
In wild frenzy,
It seems they melt much worse than snow,
And as the mountains go
Because they’ve fallen toward wonderment.
And when they go
To Satan, not to Job,
Their final happy resting place
Is not with God, in outer space,
But in the deep —
That cold, hard, pressured deep.
That cold, unfeeling deep.
And dark, and deep, and dead,
Except for me.
For I have lived within that deep before,
And loved within that deep before,
And nothing more.”