from Issue #2: Poetry by Floyd Salas (II)

Line drawing © Floyd Salas

Line drawing © Floyd Salas

*

Steve Nash, Homosexual Transient

Executed San Quentin gas chamber
August 21st 1959
for killing eleven men
and a little boy

This is about the killer who gets away
This is it from the viewpoint of the murderer

Dedicated to Tony Curtis and the Boston Strangler
and to Johnny Wiesmuller
and Jane
with thanks to Jack Micheline

“One could do worse
Than be a swinger of birches.”  Robert Frost

I am a big cat
six-four
long stringy body
with sloping shoulders and big hands
hands that hang down like small paddles
like balls of weight with big knuckles
big hands
I can spread around a basketball
knobby hands
from having to work all my life
in canneries
and on construction jobs
out on the farm picking grapes
or prunes
bussing dishes

I think I’d like to kill me a few guys
guys who think they’re tougher than me
because I take it like a girl
guys who live down where I do
in skidrow rooms with hotplates
in poolhalls
in the cafeterias late at night
guys who wear clothes they buy
from the Jew at the army-navy store
guys who don’t take too many baths either
and smell like the rooms I live in
faint reek of sweat
and wrinkled shirts

Sometimes I pick me up a kid down at a park
or in the front row of some shoot-me-up show
downtown
but mostly guys
It’s okay
unless they make fun of me
and if they do
I bust ‘um
and sometimes croak ‘um
I get ‘um alone and kill ‘um
I choke ‘um after I hit ‘um
when I hit ‘um with my big fists
swinging like sledgehammers
down at the end of my long arms
I knock ‘um dizzy
I knock ‘um cold
Then I choke ‘um to death
if I don’t kill ‘um with my big fists
for making fun of me

I’m an Okie
That’s what people think
But I’m really from Texas
Gawky kind of guy
bony face
high cheekbones
not good-lookin’
country kind of rube down on the streets
That’s what I look like
Black hair and dark-skinned
from a stain of Indian blood
back there

These sailors pick me up and then laugh at me
mock me
So I slug the guy in the back seat with me
right in the nose
knock him cold
Then I grab the yo-yo in the passenger seat up front
and strangle him
break his neck
while his buddy tries to keep from crashing
rolling off the end of the pier
jams on his brakes and throws open the door and tries to run
But I catch him with a smash to the side of the head
knock him out
throw him back in the car
and push it off the end of the pier
with all three yoyos in it
push it down into the black water
with a muffled splash
down down below
in the oily water
deep down in the oily water
out of sight in the black night
so that nobody will see it until daylight
at best
deep deep down
in the oily water

Then they are after me
Then I have to run
run from hotel room to hotel room
run everywhere I go
run from the guys in the gray clothes in the greyhound bus station
with grim faces
run when they chase me
run down a back alley
disappear into the darkness
stay close to the walls of the buildings
until I get to my room
a buck-fifty a night
run because I can’t hitchhike out
not even in the night time
with the black and white cop cars cruising around
run to the railroad yards and hop a freight
but it’s a passenger train
and they’re still looking for me
They know I did it and they’re out to get me
I’ll do anything
I’ll stay in the back
I’ll pay when the conductor comes
I’ll do anything

But a guy comes in
and he has a grim gray face and gray clothes
and sits down next to me in the club car
I stand up where I can get the jump on him
bust him down with one punch
or crack his neck

He looks up at me
and I see his white collar and black coat
when he asks who I am

“Who I am?” I say.  “You’re no priest!”
“Yes, I am,” he says.  “Look!”

And I turn to look and see
all three sailors looking at me
but younger
rosy-cheeked and blooming
They do not speak
They are as perfect and still
as in a coffin
but standing up
They are standing up
They are after me

“Confess!” the priest says.
“Confess?” I say.  “This is a trap!”
And I grab the priest by the collar
and smash him in the face
throw him out the back door
over the rail of the last car
and see him bounce off the tracks
and tumble down the embankment

Then I turn and smash into all three sailors
punch them around like bags
so fast they don’t even move
knock them all down
then jump off the back of the train
and sail feet first
down the embankment

It gives as I fall
gives under me
and I fall slowly
ride the edge down
like a wave crashing slowly on the sand

Then I run down some streets
and hop up onto a house
jump from rooftop to rooftop
as teams of cops
crisscross the streets under me
like commandos in a war movie
shooting up at me

I hear the bullets whine
They whine
because they can’t get me
They whine
but I get away
I see cops crawling over the rooftops behind me
gaining on me
They are gaining on me
I watch myself escape now
I am Floyd
standing down below in the streets
along the sidewalk
with all the others
watch as the six-four killer finally gets treed
treed in a tree four stories high
five six maybe

He climbs to the very top of the tree
bullets whizzing around him
calling his name
sound dying out with a hum
climbs climbs
to the very top of the tree
me expecting it to break
for him to fall down
and bounce on the ground
get captured or killed at least

The police all stand around and watch too
as he swings back and forth
back and forth
high above the rooftops
in a circle of sun
framed by the sun
the orange sun
sun the color of the setting sun
see him swinging back and forth
and back and forth
and back and forth
with great swooshes of wind
reaching almost head first
down to the rooftops
on one side
then back over
way down
on the other side
the same way
framed by the sunlight
glowing gold in the sunlight
haloed in ecstasy
swinging with freedom
beyond death
knowing he will never get caught
knowing they will never get him
knowing that he is freeeeee
freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

*

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Floyd Salas is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of seven books, including the novels Tattoo the Wicked Cross, What Now My Love, Lay My Body on the Line and State of Emergency, the memoir Buffalo Nickel, and two books of poetry, Color of My Living Heart and, most recently, Love Bites: Poetry in Celebration of Dogs and Cats. Also an artist and sculptor, he was 2002-2003 Regent’s Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, as well as staff writer for the NBC drama series Kingpin and the recipient of NEA, California Arts Council, Rockefeller Foundation and other fellowships and awards. Find out more about Floyd at his own website,  http://www.floydsalas.com

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