to John Garfield
by Nicholas Christopher
The heat’s on, dead wind shoots up
9th Avenue, a white T-shirt flutters
On the convertible’s antenna
Outside Billy’s Pool Parlour.
New York’s last tough guy
Walks down 44th Street, bums a smoke
And shows a good left
While feinting punches.
He crosses town, watches
East River tugs link the bridges
With foam in afternoon glare;
Whatever died in the last war
Left Brooklyn harbor, maybe
Is still out at sea.
After Hollywood, the big money,
Blacklisted out of pictures
When he won’t give names;
His voice a hoarseness,
Health gone to hell,
Caught up in gin and rumpled raincoats,
He lives in West Side hotels
With ex-society girls,
B-actresses and three old bankbooks.
He drinks for nine months straight,
Stirs endless ice cubes
In the narrow bars off Broadway,
Blacks out regularly at 4 a. m. ,
Dies at 39 in hotel sheets,
Journalists delighted to report
An English girl, under-aged
And on junk, in bed
With him at the time.
Uptown in a Bronx trainyard Three kids grown past stickball
Play blackjack under an overpass,
Blow dope and belt cough medicine
Over a low fire—the one
In the black sweater loses,
Can’t pay up, leans back
And watches rain come down
On a southbound express.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying –
He had always taken funerals in his stride –
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble”.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless signs.
At ten o’clock an ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
The ruling class is degenerate.
Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”
The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion
People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts
They have come to the conclusion that God
Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to
Plan two establishments but
Just the one: heaven. It
Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful