what I want to know


sitting across from a poet in a local coffee house. He’s reading his latest poem to me in a kind of low studied breathy performance voice. There are echoes in it of Bukowski, Locklin, John Yamrus, maybe a line or two of some of my stuff. When he gets to the end, he looks up and says, Well? I tell him about the echoes and he says, Yeah, so what? Nothing, just echoes, I reply. He shrugs, says, I came late to the game. Don’t hold it against me. Beyond that, what do you think? It’s good I say. Because it is good. I pause a couple of seconds while the poet takes a long sip of coffee. Then I say, what’s it worth. He gives me a what the fuck look, then says, actual value. Yeah, I tell him, actual value. Maybe this cup of coffee that you bought me. Would you die for it, I ask. You know, actual blood. Who the fuck are you, Pablo kiss my ass Neruda, or what. Or what, I replied. Then I dropped it.


at a party. I am slouched way down in an easy chair nursing some weak punch. Trying to burrow a hole in the multitude. And, it’s going just fine until this kid and his girl friend start mako sharking their way toward me in the crowd. There are too many people around for me to make a quick escape so I just sit there, dead meat cooking in a very slow crock, waiting for the inevitable. When the kid gets close, he says like he always says, So what’re you writing? Poetry, I tell him, poetry. What else is there? His girl who has a very dark and sultry look says, You write poetry. Yeah, I reply, trying to underplay the all too underplayable. Trying to think of something else to say and recognizing the entire bottomless futility of the situation. The kid interrupts with, I’ve been meaning to write some poetry for awhile now, I got this incredibly fucking beyond the beyond idea for something really kickass but you know how it is. I lie and say, Yeah, but I don’t know how it is. I have never known how it is. Dark and sultry says, Lonny here tells me you are a great poet. What is Lonny snorting, I reply. The kid laughs into his beer. What kinda poetry do you write, dark and sultry asks. I sink a little farther down into the easy chair and the guy sitting next to me who has actually read my stuff says, Violence and gore, guts on the floor. He says it with a lot of phlegmy gravel in his voice. Dark and sultry gives me a you have just dropped your pants look and says, Cool. Tell me one. I flash a weak smile and say, I don’t do impromptu. No shit, she says. Not even a line? Nada? Not a syllable, I tell her. Too bad, I love violence and gore. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Shit like that. So, I get it. There is a teasing sound byte pause. Maybe they’ll arrest you for it, she adds. You know, like in Russia and you could become famous. Would you go to prison for it? I was all set with a bullshit reply when someone tapped her on the shoulder and she ducked back into the crowd, licking the glitter off her lips.


guy from Indiana writes, If you send me all three Kangaroo Court titles of DILLINGER, I will send you a switchblade knife. It has staghorn grips, the blade is six inches long, and the action on the knife is nice and clean like the sound of a pistol being cocked. How can I resist? I get the three Kangaroo Court Dillingers in the mail the same day. Somewhere way back in my head though I don’t really expect the guy to send me the knife. I figure he’ll go back on his word. It wouldn’t be the first time but in about two weeks I get this package in the mail and when I open it I discover not one but two switchblades. A big one and a smaller one, both with staghorn grips. A rubber band holds a note to one knife. It reads, I stabbed a guy with one of these. I figured you would like it. Dillinger, too. I hope you are making a lot of money from this. Maybe I will start writing, too. Then again, maybe not. If it’s going to eat into my drinking time, then not.

I am

on the list to read next. This is a house reading. We are all sitting in a circle in this faux Victorian living room. The family dog is trying hard to sniff my crotch while I am trying to arrange the three poems I plan to read. The woman I am sitting next to is going over a poem about her father’s Viet Nam War campaign hat. It has a flag pin stuck along the side. The pin shows wear in some of the red and the blue. She is moving her lips but not saying the words out loud. She sees that I am watching her and says, Did you know that I can summon the duende out of this hat. No, I tell her. I didn’t. It is a white duende she adds. Very sweet. Nothing but happy endings. The man reading is doing a poem about burying his favorite parrot. He is weeping. When he finishes he brushes a tear away from his cheek and sits down to a healthy round of applause. The hostess who is also the emcee says my name outlaw poet and a few other things and I get up and stumble over the crotch sniffing dog. I decide I’m really only good for one poem if that. I pick out something with an edge to it. That’s what most people have come to expect from me. I stand next to an old piano which is missing some of the keys. If this were a saloon, I’d be looking for a torch singer. Billie Holiday would be perfect. With Dooley Wilson on the ivories but I could never be that lucky. I feel as though someone has already thrown a plate of ripe shit and it is poised between me and the wall. In my imagination I can already see some of the soft turds splatter. Then I start in. Some lips are already beginning to separate from teeth in the beginning rush of inauthentic smiles.

the way

i write
is strictly
fuck you
no cap
ital letters
no punc
the words
or all
up like bro
ken glass
pop cans
& used
the ameri
can sen
tence is
either a
or a
& i’m
to watch
it explode


was no applause. A kind of white silence settles over everything. Those lips never make it into smiles. The teeth barely stay hidden. A woman with her hands clasped over her eight year old daughter’s ears said, What did he say? A guy leaning against a shelf of leather bound gold embossed Zane Grey novels said, Would you call that Language Poetry, and the editor of a local small press wearing his long hair in a pony tail glanced over at the hostess/emcee and said I thought we agreed on a carefully selected list of readers. Poets who see things the way we do. Who invited him? When he said that, pony tail glanced over at me and the man sitting on the other side of me said, What is a poem worth. He smiled and I knew this was a trick question. Then he said, You always pay for reading the good shit. The good ones make you bleed.


I suppose, is the answer to the question what is a poem worth. A poem is worth whatever you are willing to pay. Whatever you can put on the table. See, nobody else pays for a poem. Which means, you put up it all up. Pulling a Bukowski is a one in a trillion. Pulling a T. S. Eliot you either have to work in a bank or rob a bank, pulling an Allen Ginsberg, well, you get the picture. This is all about whatever it takes to ante up the way that Tony Moffeit anteed up with BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID, the way that Tom House anteed up with THE WORLD ACCORDING TO WHISKEY, the way that Kell Robertson anteed up with A HORSE CALLED DESPERATION, the way that John Macker anteed up with ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE, the way that Mark Weber anteed up with PLAIN OLD BOOGIE LONG DIVISION, the way Ed Dorn anteed up with GUNSLINGER, the way that Ron Androla anteed up with WHAT TO SAY TO DEATH, the way that S. A. Griffin anteed up with NUMBSKULL SUTRA, the way that Tony Scibella anteed up with THE KID IN AMERICA, the way John Yamrus anteed up with BLUE COLLAR, the way Gary Goude anteed up with A CRUSHED ROTTING DOG, the way Raindog did with ROADKILL. What else can you ante if all you have is poetry and blood?


I was reading, I wish there had been just one Lee Marvin in the audience. I wish there had been just one Harvey Keitel in the audience. Where the fuck are you when we need you, Harvey? I wish there had been just one Sean Penn in the audience. I wish there had been just one Steve Buscemi in the audience. I wish there had been one Nick Nolte in the audience. I wish there had been just one Humphrey Bogart in the audience. I wish there had been just one Charles Aznavour in the audience. One is all it takes. One is all you need. Someone dragging the night behind him like a corpse that can never be gotten rid of.


practically paying rent for the dead last booth in this north of the border bar called Pistoleros which dreams that it is jacknasty south of everything anyone has ever dreamt of. Death is trying to get me to do shots with him but I pass because I know once I accept a drink from Death I am down for the ride. In fact, he knows that better than I do. He says, I can make both you and DILLINGER hugely famous, live forever, know what I mean. You wanna be famous, don’t you? Death’s voice comes out of his mouth like a series of loud farts and belches. I shake my head, he says, What do I have to do to sweeten the pot? How about money and fame, he says, smiling. Wadda combo. You can have anything you want. His teeth have black shit on them. He waits several seconds for my reply. When he doesn’t get it, he says, What do you think DILLINGER is worth? I stay silent and this begins to piss Death off. He stretches himself as far as he can to lean halfway across the table, says, I know where you dream, motherfucker. The dead fly on the wall is warning me not to do anything funny, but I can’t resist. When Death gets his head up even with mine,

I give him the finger.


Filed under essays by todd moore

3 Responses to what I want to know

  1. Todd
    Goddamn you! When the new world order is declared I hope you resist the temptation to become it’s dancing monkey…you’re fucking great!

  2. tony moffeit

    Todd Moore does it again. This time in a real documentation of the outlaw life. He captures the crux, the core of it all. He says what cannot be said. He tells us what we already know but somehow cannot get out the way he does. This lays out the whole territory, right down to the best conversation with Death.

  3. Todd,
    This reminds me of that country song “Who’s Going To Fill Their Shoes?” But you say it with much more style and class. I’m glad to live in the same world as you.

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