Crack House and other works by Chuck Perkins

Chuck Perkins is a native of New Orleans, a former U.S. Marine, and was at one time a transplantee to the industrial north of Illinois and Wisconsin where he began raising his young family. But he also kept strong ties to New Orleans, and eventually returned there, bringing his family to live near his blood relatives. Long a favorite of audiences at Chicago's renowned Green Mill Lounge, Perkins has consistently been featured at equally respected poetry venues across the country. His poetry comes the street, part working man's voice, part everyman reaching for the stars. Perkins' voice signifies American history in the making with fresh memories won from the civil rights movement, and hopes still to be fulfilled.


Crack House

I knew that beyond the façade of the boarded windows and doors
Existed a world where birds never sing and flowers never bloomed
So I entered
Instantly emerged in the life threating riddles of the uneasy darkness
A cigarette lighter was the touch that illuminated walls that revealed the graffiti
And offered the clues of the down trotted
Who had come here to blast off are find a piece of peace in sleep
There were enough mattresses for everyone
The cigarette lighter illuminated the Neanderthal craftsmanship of the door maker
Big feet through sheet rock at just the right place
Now no room in this house is safe
from the misery that grows in the palms of this nickel begging tribe of seven
the first room on the left hand side of the house is where I saw them
they were young and old black and white
half footed Vietnam vets exclaiming something about squatter's rights
quoting scripture between drug induced trips to Pluto
it's where the Flintstones meets the Jetsons
Everybody's stone and flying high

Needle sized red rivers criss crossed the whites of his eyes
like kindergarten chicken scratch
Matted threads on his face and head screamed in all directions
Almost concealing the missing piece of yellow ivory behind a top lip
His pale skin wore the gray tint of French Quarter grime
And when he stood he balanced himself with a half a bottle of cheap vodka
Moaning a gospel that cut like the blues
He was T-Ray
King of the squatters

One year shy of 60
Longreen was the old black man
Still hopping to cop some drugs
Returning with two quarts of Miller and a pocket full of stones
He'd be your errand boy if you break him off a piece
A blue bandanna soaks the sweat of anticipation that paints his dark face
Looking like smeared on Vaseline
Shining under the flicker of an orange fire

With no cloth to soak the sweat
Hands attached to dirty fingernails and tattooed forearms
Remove shoulder length hair from John's eyes
As stringy and greasy as the gas attendant shirt
That John could have been wearing when he turned his back on civilization
And John could have been forty
And he could have been a mechanic
And he could have been a red neck until he opened his mouth
Showing his fondness for Longreen
That's my dog
That's my dog
That's my dog
And when T-Ray boasted about how all of his neighbors loved him
John could have been right
When he informed him that Ms. Smith
well she was the one who called the police on you
and could have been wrong when he accused Longreen of stealing his pipe
but he could have been right
he could have been white
he could have been Creole
he could have been a lot of things
but unless he finds the escape hatch soon
he could be sorry

I cannot remember her name
The twenty something year old black girl from the neighborhood
With the round figure and half combed hair
She worshiped to gods
Equal and always separate
Until tonight
With a glass cylinder in her mouth
She praised the white crystal idol of momentary bliss and eternal damnation
While T-ray crack the Christian bible to the book of psalms
Unleashing her other god
And for a moment her opposing gods clashed in the pit of her stomach
Pulling her in opposite directions
One toward the fire the other toward the door
I cannot mix the two she lamented

In a guardian's tone with palms tilted up
T-Ray announced that Wildman was always welcomed
After streaking floor boards from the other side of the shotgun double
Signaled his arrival
They say that Wildman was born with out the use of words
But that he had good understanding
And that he didn't like people
And that you shouldn't get too close
Unless you find out why they call him Wildman
He never came to the room of fire
But I saw him through the door in a room of clutter
Lying on his side with his face to the wall
All I can see is the silhouette of his black back
And he reminded me of a slave on a ship
Shackled to this pissy mattress by his inability to speak
Unable to escape its loneliness

With T-Ray's palm on my head
He babbled biblical references
Moving his hand to my chest giving a slight push
He asked if I could feel the power
I wondered how many runaways had been con by this
Last week he had his hand on Wildman's head
Babbleling the same babble
He said that he wanted to give him back his words
But it didn't work
A lot of men may dream about winning the lottery
I believe that Wildman dreams about talking

This kid was a northsider from Chicago
Who had only been in town for three months
The wall nuts sewn beneath each eye
Suggested that he hadn't been to sleep yet
And when he wasn't at work cooking Creole cuisine
He was cooking his brain
He was the Santa Claus responsible for the crystal stone on the tip of everyone's pipe
A cigarette lighter was the touch
Psalms 31 was the commencement
A symphony of lungs inhaled
Smoke rose
And for a moment this flophouse became a palace
The silent screams of dysfunctional childhoods
Broken memories
And bad decisions disappeared
But gravity was quickly restored
Returning their oasis to the filthy mess of reality

The northsider did not blow his smoke with the symphony
He opted for the solo note
And as soon as he put it to his mouth
T-Ray said let me hit it first
I want smoke it all
I hit it one time and when it sizzles I give back
The northsider protested in vain
Because after T-ray ran with the solo note
He reminded all who could hear that he was the first one to move here
And that this was hid squat
And that if somebody didn't like his rules
They could move out
I see how come the day before
T-Ray was called a squat Nazis
The northsider was a white kid whose pipe lies limp between his lips
He pontificated about the plight of black Americans
Oblivious to the shipwreck he was standing in

Amy's blond hair and blue jeans did not possess the gritty patina of a crack house elder
She must have been new to this
The last room on the left hand side of the house use to be a kitchen
And someone from this tribe had been shitting on the floor
They say whatever you do
Don't open that door
Amy was still human enough to use a bucket
She could have drowned in the embarrassment that had swollen in her eyes
Aware that I was aware
Afraid that I might go back and tell the world what I saw

They were primordial cave dwellers
Squatting around a can of fire
Trying to shield themselves from the chilly darkness
That could not freeze out the stench
Emanating from castles of human shit
That decorated the floors of what use to be somebody's
Biscuit making paradise
Whatever you do
Don't open that door


We ain't Dead Yet

She's the Queen City of the south
but she ain't no Southern Bell
she's a Bourbon drinking broad
made hard, by her battles
in wars, diseases and other floods

at night, her street lights,
are the twinkle in her eyes
and from the high rise
on those nights
when the clouds have deserted the rain maker
you can find life in them sockets
that sparkles like the Big Dipper

but when the levees broke
our hope got soaked
and so did the twinkle in her eyes
it was wondered
if this might lead to our demise
cause from the high rise
you can see what is left when light is sucked back
into the belly of its creator
the remaining darkness wrapped its arms
around the mangled body of the city
hiding her gaping wounds, from a nervous moon
who wondered what happened to the music
and wanted to know how come lately
the rain smell like tears

the sad smell of fearful children and water logged dreams
made the moon blue
the rancid smell of neglect, and raw sewage
made the moon reflect badly on water and the United States government
so badly
the blue moonshine drinker got full
started pulling at the water, and kicking up a storm

articles in the New York Time title death of an American City
had people from uptown to the lower ninth ward
pinching themselves and blowing in mirrors
looking for conformation of life
while trying not to lose hope
like Mr. Joe who was an optimist
because he had hope all of his life
when he was first told about his flooded home
he woke up every morning to a cup of coffee
and the hope that things were not as bad as they said
and when he saw his home for the first time
he momentarily had the hope that he would have the strength
to repair his home and to repair his life
this time he embraced hope firmly in his hands
because he was a carpenter
but he turned his head long enough
to wipe his eyes and blow his nose
only to turn back
and find that his hope had flat lined in his hands
a double Katrina whammy
to much pressure on a seventy year old heart
so days later he went the way of his hope
and his friends wondered what hurt most
was it the destruction of his home
or the death of hid hope

talking heads serving up 24 hour news slop
referred to us as refugees
just before a US congressman suggested that the old girl be bulldozed
forcing us to collectively fish our birth certificates
from the toxic soup
to find that space that talk about place of origin
to confirm if we really did live in a city
that really was in a state
that really was in the United States of America
looking for conformation of citizenship

the replay was called a Requiem in Four Acts
so we found our reflection in the muck
and whispered in its ear
can you tell us if we're still alive please?
unable to come up with the right words
our reflection didn't answer back
and we were unnerved by the silence
because the eulogizers were beginning to eulogize

but then we saw your tambourine shake
and we heard your drum beat
and when we felt the hot air streaming from the fat end of the brass
we knew that it was the breath of this city
and it was the conformation that we were looking for
so we shouted out to the grave digger
hold on to your dirt partner
cause we ain't dead yet.