City of Cruelty: An Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Swigger an abundant bottle held,
at all times, ones camouflaged under arm,
or in cairns that he heaped on dirty streets
of the city. In the bottle fizzed hootch,
of matchless concoction, purple-coloured,
like the sap of some celestial weed
that did on obtuse planets grow, rankly,
and was by comet, perhaps, returned here.
That day he met a friend, The Burrower,
old tramp, of battered hat, who, growing tired,
of the round of flophouse and mission floor,
a tunneled pad made underground, with tools,
and nail extensions soldered to his hands
(that like an eager badger made him look),
and in the bank of excavated dirt
eluded the sun for twilight's comfort.

Come evening as midges, in profusion,
returned to their roosts of dung and garbage
that were like prizes across curbs dispersed,
the cronies shared, with uproarous tippling,
a jug of the most hoary festered wine.
From the ants had he wrested it, below,
when his warren snaked to regions unplumbed,
ajoint the infernal core, and its heat.
Their feeble, stick-like limbs he defeated,
and as plunder took the cup, though warnings,
both signed, and in death words breathed, advised him:
that blackmalt juice forbidden is to men.
To one who found his drink on hardware shelves,
such a ban risible was and flouted;
and so the warding seal torn away was,
and, with many an oath and much glee,
the black dregs of booze to the lees drained were.

To and fro they pressed the contraband brew
with canniness piqued by sleeping in streets,
and effortless hid it as police passed,
until, with bulging eyeballs, and stomachs,
distended like the most bloated wineskin,
on the stones they lay in heaped agony.
Then passing was also on the slick steps,
with feet gamboling like the freshest colt
(though aged of head and limb was he, gray-furred),
a man who the keenest of eyes possessed.
The Collector was he self-styled, and he scoured,
with relentless, but appraising glances,
all the detritus that a city burps,
and that is like seaweed caught in corners.
Prostrated tramps he accosts in this way.

"Say there recliners upon the pavements,
who in brutish fibers are clothed withal,
and in self-spitall are decked all over.
Understand I you incommoded are,
with demons of brain-boozed conjuration
(who no doubt your privates prick achingly),
and consent may be absent. Nonetheless,
I, who the connoisseur's heartlessness has,
augustly, amongst your beaten bladders,
exchange propose in the market manner.
I these golden-flecked bills, a strange specie,
acid etched by no known country, and inked
with resemblance to crazed calligraphies
(perhaps those by madmen scrawled in Bedlam)
and idols of mismatched statesmen promote,
do place before your epileptic feet."

As on a bed that is with thistle stuffed,
instead of down or compliant feather,
so did the tramps, like confounded actors,
who in a bare play lose what script there is,
and the boards fall upon in parody,
in extremis, of the Royal Nonesuch,
no rest find as jug-induced cramps pinched them.
The jar they cursed, and the receding sun,
that starred their eyes, and with it took from them
the alarm or hand up strollers might give,
and left The Collector's regard. He said:
"Yes, unbutton the beast that tortures you,
the raging kick inside your flimsy skulls,
and I, with beaker ready, scoop it up."
Then they saw, watching angels, the bone burst,
and out spring, in tar-smeared birth, the black foal,
but nothing did as it was squired away.