Wilde in a Train Cart
Posted on July 2, 2011
And held down almost every job a hustler can hold down.
He’d gone through every state, north to south and east to west,
But at this time he rode a train from Maine and certain arrest.
I’m not gonna tell you what he did or exactly how he did it,
Just believe you me when I tell ya a crime he did commit.
Well, there he was, our great hero, under a tarp of dusty grey,
In the back of a soggy grain cart like some American cliche.
One that you’d read in Kerouac and think this can’t be true,
But for guys like Johnny and like Jack, it’s all they really knew.
At some sandy station between here and the border of Philly,
Got on a burly well-dressed man who said his name was Billy.
‘There is something about the smell of barley,’ said the fancy rider
‘That makes my mouth water some for a pint of a Vermont cider.’
Johnny wasn’t a cider-man but thought ‘What bad could it do,
To pass the molasses time away with another man who,
Is surely runnin’ from somethin’ bad enough to have him scared.’
Silence reigned in that moldy heap before old Bill softly declared:
‘I’ve made my fortune and lost it all and now this is my life,
A bill fold in my pocket has been replaced by a rusty knife.
And I’ve rode enough of these carts to know one thing is for sure,
Women, money and the law are the only reasons for this hellish tour.
So I’ve said already mine is money, tell me sir, what’s it for you?’
Johnny took out some Red Man leaf and began to chew and chew.
‘Man, if you must know,’ Johnny said, ‘it’s all of the above,
Cause there are many lives I lead, none of which I am proud of.’
Then tuxedo Billy said as he stared Johnny Mark in the eye:
‘For he who lives more lives than one, more deaths that one must die.’
A profound silence hung in the air inside that steamy metal cart,
Then Johnny asked the following with his hand over his heart:
‘Haven’t I heard that line before? Wasn’t it some kind of poet?’
‘Indeed. It was Oscar Wilde, but tell me, sir, how’d you know it?’
‘I was raised by a man and woman who always loved their art,
And poetry from the greats and the philosophy of Descartes.
I would have been a finer man had I not struck out alone,
After they came clean and told me I was not their own.
That happened when I was twelve years old and since that very day
I have lived a life out on the road under these tarps of dusty grey.’
A sort of vagabond approval hung in the air of that speeding train,
And for a moment all was peaceful in the wanderer’s domain.
‘Which scares you the most of the three lives you run from?’
Asked Tuxedo Billy like some old bar room chum.
‘The law scares me somethin’ awful cause it does not rest,
and the women scares me even more cause she knows me best.
But the money, that thing you run from, doesn’t bother me any,
Cause any hustler on any road will at some point find a penny.
The hardest part, for a man like me, is the lonesome walkin’ part
But when I come across that penny it tends to lift my heart.’
‘That is true, sir. A man is more than the colour of his collar,
But my problem is, for every penny I find, I tend to lose a dollar.’
Johnny Mark and tuxedo Billy dozed off by and by,
And like Kerouac they both dreamt of ice cream and apple pie.
Johnny awoke as the cold rain came in through the open door,
Tuxedo Bill had bailed somewhere but left a penny upon the floor.