At the Dark End of the Street
"At the dark end of the street
That's where we always meet"
For Covay Maria Nadine
Down along a river wall, up among bushes, and into an alley.
Street lights chasing all the way. And the moon going wild
in cracked panes' reflections.
A wind among brittle leaves and fallen shingles, smashed glass and flaked paint. Fake warning signs done in handwritten letterings. Once found a hand in this alley, seeking its arm. A half empty syringe clutched in its deathgrip, on the tensed verge of shattering. Many nights in winter half-frozen bodies have to be checked by patrols. Slumped statues, frost- bitten fingers clutching MD 20-20 bottles. Refuse blows over cancelled faces.
From a room in the near distance James Carr's original version of "At the Dark End of the Street," is playing. An immensity of soaring soul pouring out over the filthy yard. Through the cracks in boarded windows light emerges in slow motion flows, red, orange, yellow. Here and there shadows flickering and dying away, negatives of flames dancing in cold air.
Many times knocking at closed doors, sudden hush of voices in the echoing stammer of hands. Many times a face looking through chain locks and a cracked open door, trembling with sickness and fear.
At the dark end of the street is a small place where music is playing and a door surprisingly hanging partially open. Inside, pushing the door shut to keep a good view all around . . .
Lights dim and muddied orange, disarray around couches, tables, piles of records, bottles, dope baggies . . . some slumped figures on a couch and nearby, on a dirty rug, huddled in fetal positions. Cold wind with hints of snow gnawing through walls and windows, curtains and cardboard coverings,
A small boom box scratching frantically, hard core music turned way down low. A child's drawings on the fridge, amid porno and band flyers. Sink filled with dirty dishes, tea pot on the stove. A half filled melior coffee maker. Drinking cold, strong, ground-flecked liquid, looking carefully around.
To the right a small bathroom. A punkette with red dyed hair and smeared eye liner lying in the tub, her head strangely askew. Her eyes staring wide open from black circles. The light in an old dirty glass shade hanging from the ceiling, dancing in a harsh draft. The cardboard covering the window above the tub flapping frantically.
Past the bathroom, a bed room. Huge bureau covered with cosmetics, markers, brushes, trinkets, buttons, coins, some half emptied bottles of beer and rum. Fly and fallen plaster-specked mirror reflecting a bed with sagging mattress, and in its center depression two small figures, blankets heaped on them, their faces hidden.
Past the bed, in the mirror, seeing a narrow door, and beyond that, through a screen, a glimpse of possibly a porch.
Turning slowly, moving softly, close to the wall, towards the narrow torn screen, that's letting in a steady stream of dirty air. Particles scraping face and walls, scarring space, a meteor shower rushing into the short, narrow hall..
Looking sideways through the screen-a small porch with wooden walls around it, about to a person's waist. A couple rickety chairs, wind shaking plastic storm curtains poorly hung. Loose and curling, snaking raggedly the length of the porch. A figure slumped in the largest chair, wicker, with a cushion stuffed behind and beneath him. It sounds like he might be singing, in a rapid staccato stammering, staggering through the convulsive plastic's spasms' clashing sounds weaving around him.
Going nearer, slowly, trying to find light in the eyes. Bleary and bloodshot , the gaping eyes jerking about spastically in their sockets. Quick flashes of reflected light going on and off in the blurred surfaces.
One arm and half open hand lying across his lap. Sticky blood clinging along the forearm and coating the hand. The dirty coat shoved up close to the elbow. The hand half holding a small automatic pistol. The other arm disappears over the wicker chair arm facing the other way. Small bubbles rise and break at the lips as half-smothered sounds stumble out. A filthy bandana wrapped around a head of roughly gelled dirty red hair, curling and clawing in the writhing air.
Carefully moving through the plastic sheaths, dirty light blurrily swaying in their folds, down the steps into the yard. Not a soul around. The dirt underfoot hard as concrete, packed and swarming with flying debris and dust. To a space between two rough shingled buildings, out into a street, down that to a small park, across that and back towards the river.
A friend sitting down there on the past-midnight bench, a case of beer and a boombox at low volume beside him.
Sitting watching the moon bouncing in the air's wild tiltings, seeing the lights on the bridge pitching and tossing, their reflections jerking spasmodically, and the eyes in the black circles staring out of the dark river eddies . . .
Long willow branches swept back and forth, dervish dancing on the grass, harsh, cold and stiff. Shadows chased across the bridge, the waters, the outlines of embankment walls.
"So you've been over there, too?"
"Yes, "I said, "I've been to the dark end of the street."