What follows is the entire text of Joseph Moncure March’s poem The Wild Party. Although finished in 1926, the poem was considered too racy for publication until 1928, when a limited run of 750 copies was printed by Pascal Covici.1 According to a conversation he had with Art Spiegelman, this poem was what made William Burroughs want to be a writer. 2

It was loosely adapted as a film by James Ivory. Because the copywright had lapsed, two separated composers, Michael John LaChiusa and Andrew Lippa were able to work on musical adaptations at the same time.

PART I


1


Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still,
And she danced twice a day in vaudeville.
Grey eyes.
Lips like coals aglow.
Her face was a tinted mask of snow.
What hips—
What shoulders—
What a back she had!
Her legs were built to drive men mad.
And she did.
She would skid.
But sooner or later they bored her:
Sixteen a year was her order.

They might be blackguards;
They might be curs;
They might be actors; sports; chauffeurs—
She never inquired
Of the men she desired
About their social status or wealth:
She was only concerned about their health.
True:
She knew:
There was little she hadn’t been through.
And she liked her lovers violent, and vicious:
Queenie was sexually ambitious.
So:
Now you know.
A fascinating woman, as they go.

She lived at present with a man named Burrs
Whose act came on just after hers.
A clown
Of renown:
Three-sheeted all over town.
He was comical as sin;
Comical as hell;
A gesture—a grin,
And the house would yell,
Uproarious:
He was glorious!
So from the front. People in the wings
Saw him and thought of other things
Coldly—
Most coldly:
Many would say them boldly,
Adding in language without much lace
They’d like to break his god-damned face.
Ask why?
They might be stuck:
They would like to, just for luck.
But these were men, for the greater part.
A woman would offer him up her heart
Throbbing,
On a platter:
He could bite it, and it wouldn’t matter.
As long as he kissed, and held her tight,
And gave her a fairly hectic night.
Which he could,
And would.
A man these women understood!

Oh yes—Burrs was a charming fellow:
Brutal with women, and proportionately yellow.
Once he had been forced into a marriage.
Unlucky girl!
She had a miscarriage
Two days later. Possibly due
To the fact that Burrs beat her
    with the hell of a shoe
Till her lips went blue.
For a week her brother had great fun
Looking for Burrs with a snub-nosed gun:
At the end of which time, she began to recover;
And Burrs having vanished, the thing blew over.
Just a sample
For example:
One is probably ample.


2


studio;
Bedroom;
Bath;
Kitchenette:
Furnished like a third act passion set:
Oriental; Sentimental;
They owed two months on the rental.
Pink cushions,
Blue cushions: overlaid
With silk: with lace: with gold brocade.
These lay propped up on a double bed
That was covered with a Far East tapestry spread.

Chinese dragons with writhing backs:
Photographs caught to the wall with tacks:
Their friends in the profession,
Celebrities for the impression—
(“[http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/so's+your+old+man|So’s your old man—Isidore.”
“Faithfully—Ethel Barrymore”)
On a Chinese lacquer tray there stood a
Gong with tassels, and a brass Buddha.
Brass candlesticks.
Orange candles.
An Art vase with broken handles,
Out of which came an upthrusting
Of cherry blossoms that needed dusting.

Books?
Books?
My god! You don’t understand.
They were far too busy living first-hand
For books.
Books!

True,
On the table there lay a few
Tattered copies of a magazine,
Confessional;
Professional;
That talked of their friends on the stage and screen.

A Victrola with records
Just went to show
Queenie’s Art on the man two floors below.
Being a person of little guile,
He had lent them to her, for just awhile.
Believe it or not—
All this for a smile!
A grand piano stood in the corner
With the air of a coffin waiting for a mourner.

The bath was a horrible give-away.
The floor was dirty:
The towels were grey.
Cups, saucers,
Knives, plates,
Bottles, glasses
In various states
Of vileness, fought for a precarious space in
The jumbled world beneath the basin.

The basin top was the temporary home
Of a corkscrew, scissors,
And a brush and comb.
In the basin bowl
Was a Pullman towel
Vividly wrought with red streaks
From Queenie’s perfect lips and cheeks.
Behind one faucet, in a stain of rust,
Spattered with talcum powder and dust,
A razor blade had lived for weeks.
Beside it was a cigarette stub.

And the tub?
Oh—never mind the tub!

On the doorknob there hung a pair
Of limp stockings, and a brassiere
Too soiled to wear.

Of the bedroom.
Nothing much to be said.
It had a bureau:
A double bed
With one pillow, and white spread.
Their trunks: boxes.
A chair.
The walls were whte and bare.
Only occasional guests slept there:
Queenie and Burrs, preferring air,
Slept with the Chinese dragons instead.


3


Sunday noon:
Broiling hot.
Queenie woke up feeling shot.
She lay stretched out on the crumpled bed
Naked: slim arms above her head.
She stared at the ceiling;
She stared at her feet;
She stared at the clock,
And she cursed the heat
Faintly:
Quaintly.
She looked exquisite; saintly.

Burrs was up,
Ugly; silent;
Unshaven;
    Dressed in a pair of violent
Pink pyjamas, badly crumpled.
His eyes were pouched,
His hair was rumpled.
He sat brooding like a captive satyr
Over a cup and a percolator.
He was gross;
Morose.
The Sunday Tabloid spread before him
Rather unusually well supplied
With murder,
Rape,
And suicide,
Left him cold: unsatisfied.
Even the comics seemed to bore him.

Queenie lifted her head
A trifle from the bed.
“Burrsie!” she piped.
Her voice was pitched
In a fretful key.
His mouth twitched:
He was dangerously still,
By enormous power of will.
Her eyes filled with a martyred look:
She registered grief, and her voice shook.
“Burrsie!”
Sharply—
“Well?” he inquired.
“Brrsie! Queenie is oh, so tired!”

His teeth snapped.
He was glittering-eyed.
For a moment or so he could not decide
Whether it would be best to throttle
Or brain this woman with a nearby bottle.
A woman who slept
Like a corpse under sod,
And woke up tired!
Almighty God!

His nerves jangled.
He saw red.
He said nothing: but Queenie did,
From the region of the bed,
Peevishly:
“Burrsie! Pour out a cup for me!”
Said she.

“The hell I will, you lazy slut!
Do you think you’re the Prince of Wales
Or what?”

Tense Silence,
Forboding sudden violence.

Queenie rolled up on to her side.
She looked Burrs over, narrow-eyed.
Her eyebrows rose
On a vicious slant:
Her mouth and chin grew adamant.
Burrs was afraid—
Already routed.
He tried bluster.
“Well!” he shouted,
Glaring:
But she simply lay there
Staring.

So for a long, awkward while.
At last she smiled a contemptuous smile
At nothing. She yawned. She rose.
She pulled on a pair of sheer black hose.
She rouged her lips.
She powdered her nose
And kept on going until at last her
Flesh to the knees were alabaster.
Burrs watched.

The silence grew.
Was the through?
Who knew!
She thrust one foot
    in a French-heeled shoe,
And gave both a critical inspection:
Never a look in his direction.

The silence chilled his brain.
“Queenie!”
Silence.
Again:
“Queenie!—Hell!”
He was stubborn now:
He’d make her talk, no matter how!
He set his teeth,
Swallowed his pride;
Rose:
Slunk over:
Crouched at her side.
“Queenie!”
He seized her arm; shook it.
She may have been pleased,
But she didn’t look it.
Her eyes flashed:
No truce!
She wrenched her am loose.
Up she leapt, white faced.

He lunged:
His arms went around her waist:
They tightened: they locked:
They crushed her thin.
For a moment, she writhed;
Then she gave in.

He pulled her backwards,
And her soft, slim
Body flew down and covered him.
His face was pressed
Deep in her breast.
She loosened.
She waited.
She lay still,
Giving his hands and lips their will.
She was cold as ice, all through it:
She had him now,
And she knew it.
His heart quickened:
His breath thickened.
She covered his mouth with a kiss like flame;
And he quivered; and he gasped;
And he almost came.

Now,
Swift as a snake,
She shifted.

Her shoulders rose.
Her arm lifted.
Down she struck.

His tight embrace
Gave. His hands covered his face.
She leapt up; fled, with hard laughter.
Bleeding at the mouth,
He rushed after.

“You rotten bitch!
I’ll fix you yet!”

She grabbed a knife from the kitchenette,
And a brown bottle with a whisky label
Then dodged
swiftly
Around the table.

They paused: watched:
Animal-eyed,
Furious,
From either side.
Her face was white as though newly plastered.

“You touch me—
I’ll kill you, you filthy bastard!”

The threat was banal,
But her tone lent it
A quality that showed she meant it.

A pause.
“Well—?”
It was over.

“My sweetie’s bats
But I love her!”
Said Burrs drily.
He smiled wryly.
He was wily.
Queenie shrugged, and took the cue.

“Aw nuts—and to hell with you!”
Was her not too sentimental retort.

“Come on,” urged Burrs: “be a sport!
Go on, Cutie—drop the knife!
Let’s call it quits.
I like my life!”

“Yeah?” said Queenie: “I wouldn’t choose it.
And once for all, I’ll tell you what:
The next time you call me a lazy slut,
If I find a knife, I’ll damn well use it!—
Kick that idea around till you lose it!”

Having delivered herself of this,
She gave him a condescending kiss.

She took a cracked cup from the shelf:
Rattled the percolator;
Helped herself.
Sat.
Sipped;
Perfect lipped,
Legs crossed:
At ease: engrossed.
Beautiful.

There was a lull.
Peace.

But her face was still white,
And her eyes flickered with angry light.
At last she gave an odd
Double nod.
She raised her handsome head;
She said:
“Burrsie, I think we’re about due
For a party:
Don’t you?”

Said Burrs: “I do!
My god! I haven’t been really tight
For a week!
Let’s ask the gang to-night!”


PART II


1


The gang was there when midnight came.
The studio was lit by candle-flame;
Dim: mysterious: shrouded.
Unbidden shadow-guests swarmed
About the room. They huddled crowded
In every corner; raised deformed
Ungainly shoulders, hideous, tall
Necks and heads against the wall.
Enormous blurred hands kept stealing
Spider-like, across the ceiling;
Crossing with sharp, prismatic masses
Of light from swaying spectre glasses.
The flames flickered:
The shadows leapt:
They rushed forward boldly;
Swept
Triumphant
Across white faces:
Wavered, retreated;
Turned, defeated,
And shrank back to darker places.
The party was getting underway
Stiffly, slowly.

The way they drank was unholy.
They hovered around the glass-filled tray
Ravenously,
Like birds of prey.
White, intense;
With mask-like faces
Frozen in rigid, gay grimaces.
They chattered and laughed
Stony-eyed:
Impatient:
Hasty:
Preoccupied.

They drank swiftly, as though they might
Drop dead before they were properly tight.
Christ,
What a crew!
Take a look at Madelaine True;
Her eyes slanted. Her eyes were green;
Heavy-lidded; pouched: obscene.
Eyes like a snake’s:
Like a stagnant pool
Filled with slime.

Her mouth was cruel:
A scar
In red,
That had recently opened and bled.

Her body was marvellous:
A miracle had fused it:
The whole world had seen it—
And a good part had used it.
People bought their seats in advance
For fifteen dollars,
Glad of the chance
To see her dance.

Women adored her.
Less often, a man:
And the more fool he—
She was Lesbian.

Then Jackie:
Perfectly formed of face,
Slim, elegant,
Full of grace:
Leaving a subtle trail of scent
Floating behind him as he went.
A soft-she dancer
With a special act.
New York, or Paris
His house was packed.
He had two cars.
He had been behind bars
For theft, public nuisance, rape:
Once extra for trying to escape.
Too bad?
Nonsense!
He was fun.
A good sport:
The only son
Of some unheard-of preacher father
Who had kicked him out as too much bother.
Of course—
(The Black Horse)
His hips were jaunty,
And his gestures too dextrous.
A versatile lad!
He was ambisextrous.

By contrast—Eddie:
A short, squat brute,
Gorilla-like; hirsute:
With eyes deep set,
A nose battered
Flat on one side,
And teeth scattered.
The bones about his cheeks and eyes
Protruded grimly, oversize.
A boxer, you’d guess—
And right.
The man could certainly fight.
Aggressive; fast;
Punishment-proof:
Each hand held a kick like a mule’s hoof.

He might have been champion—
He had the cunning:
But drink had put him out of the running.
Away from the ring, he was easy-going;
Good-natured—if sober—
And given to blowing.
But after he’d had his tenth Scotch,
A man to be careful of
And watch:
And when he was mixing gin and rum—
A man to keep well away from.

His woman at present was Mae.
She was blonde, and slender, and gay:
A passionate flirt,
So dumb that it hurt,
And better for night than for day.

Behold the Brothers D’Armano:
Otherwise, Oscar and Phil.
They sang:
They played the piano:
They functioned together with skill.
They lisped.
Their voices were shrill.
They were powdered,
Rouged,
Sleek of hair:
They must have worn
Pink silk underwear.
They clung together with arms laced
Each about the other’s waist:
Stood around in anguished poses.
They rated
A shower of paper roses;
Lavender lights,
And the stink of joss.
Suffering Moses,
What a loss!

Watch Dolores:
Dark, tall,
Slim,
Wrapped in a Spanish shawl;
With a Spanish comb making a flare
Of crimson against her smooth, black hair.
A singer
Without a voice:
But she rode in a Rolls-Royce.
She made herself up, and out, to be
Of Spanish aristocracy.
(As a matter of fact,
If one only knew,
She was somewhat Negro
And a great deal Jew.)
In each eye lurked
What she thought was a dagger;
And she walked with a slink
Mixed with a swagger.
She was swell to sleep with.
Her toe-nails were scarlet.
She looked like—and has been—
A Mexican harlot.

There were others, of course:
A dozen or so.
Sally,
With Butter and Eggs in tow—
He had seen her first two nights ago
In the chorus of a summer musical show.

And the usual two
Loud Jew
Theatrical managers stood engrossed
Bewailing high production cost.
Each of them had suffered most.
In twenty minutes both had lost
The sum of sixty million dollars—
With gestures:
After which they sighed,
And drank
Panting:
Tragic-eyed:
Mopping at sadly wilted collars.

Nadine:
Mae’s kid sister.
Fourteen:
No man had kissed her.
Excitement made her wide-eyed:
She was so thrilled to be there
She could have died!
She was quite pretty
And she looked older.
She knew only
What had been told her.

And of course, Burrs:
Natty in grey,
With a breath you could smell a yard away:
Putting his better foot foremost
And trying to be the perfect host.

The rest were simply repetitions
Of the more notorious. Slim editions:
Less practised; less hardened;
Less vicious; less strong:
Just a nice crowd trying to get along.

But to-night, Queenie surpassed them all.
Exquisite in black;
Radiant;
Tall;
With a face of ivory,
And blurred gold for hair:
She was something to kneel before, in prayer.

“My god, Queenie; you’re looking swell!”

Quoth Queenie:
“I’m feeling slick as hell!”


2


The only one not on hand was Kate.
She was Queenie’s red-headed running-mate.
She was rakish, and tall:
Slim-legged; slim-hipped:
Naughty of eye, and expressive-lipped.
Always in vogue:
Vicious,
Capricious:
A rogue—
But her manner was gay, and delicious.
She could make a Baptist preacher choke
With laughter over a dirty joke.
A touch of her flesh would drive you fey.
She could pull you in
To a state of sin
So fast it would take your breath away;
And you’d love it, and beg her to let you stay.
She had wrecked more homes
With lust’s delight
Than most women could have
With dynamite.
She was cute,
Lecherous:
Lovable,
Treacherous:
And about as healthy as a cobra’s bite.

“Where the hell is that dirty bum?”
Said Queenie: “She swore to God she’d come!”
At which point—
Bang! on the door.

“Come in!”
For answer, came only a high-pitched,
Thin
Laugh
Cut in half
By a scuffle outside.
Silence.

“Come in!”

The door sprang wide;
And there stood Kate,
    with a man at her side:
Both posing Heroic;
Mock-dignified.

“Ta-da!” sang Kate, clarion-toned:
“Well, Ladies
And what came with you,” she droned—
“Meet what brought me in a sea-going hack:
The Boy Friend—Mister—Mister—
Black!
That’s Queenie.
This’s Burrs.
Tha’s Jackie—Am I right?
My god! There’s Mae!
´Lo, Mae!—I’m tight!”

Queenie came forward.
As she came, she ran her
Eyes over Black in professional manner.
He was tall; dark; heavy of shoulder:
A possible twenty-five,
No older.
Quietly, even soberly dressed;
But perfectly groomed—a habit, one guessed.
He was carelessly straight.
His eyes were bright.
His face was tanned, and his smile was white.
His features were sharply cut
And clean:
He looked sporting: he looked keen.
He made you think of squash-rackets;
Polo; and yachting;
And dinner-jackets.
And he had that air of poise without pose
That only a well-bred person shows.

She paused for a second.
She looked askance
At Burrs:
A swift, narrow-eyed glance.
She smiled a smile
As sharp as a file
For the fraction of a while.
Again that odd
Slight double nod.
The spurs
For Burrs!

Just what she’d wanted!
He’d try to rough her,
The bastard?
Well, now she’d make him suffer!
She had planned this party to put him on the rack;
And she’d do it by making a play for Black!

Her grey eyes widened:
They grew dim.
Doubtfully, shyly, she smiled at him.

“How do you do, Mr. Black,” said she:
“We’re rather informal here,
As you can see.
It was sweet of you to come, I think.
Burrsie—mix Mr. Black a drink.”

Black said something polite: astonished.
Then:
“Please don’t think me rude
If I stare—
But—your hair—!”

“Listen to me, kid!” Kate admonished:
“Keep away from that blond-headed vamp:
She was wise to herself
When your ears were damp!”

“I haven’t a bit of doubt,” said Black.
He grinned at Queenie,
And she smiled back—
But with eyes dark: engrossed:
As though she saw a ghost.
Her lashes drooped; made a violet stain
Under each eye, like shadows of pain.
She held it a second,
Then semed to recover.

It was deftly done—
And it got over.

Black said nothing, but his clear eyes took
On a gentle, understanding look.
Poor Child! Relentless Life had used
Her Brutally, and left her Bruised!
And beautiful—
God!
She might have been
Some legendary fairy queen!

She moved off;
Left him staring after.
Kate burst out in sarcastic laughter.

“Well!
My God!
After all!
Queenie takes the brass-lined shawl!
My God, though: hasn’t she got the gall,
Making a play for you that way!”
“What do you mean?” said Black:
“What play?”
“Say kid—I wasn’t born yesterday!
I like you, kid;
And I know I’m tight,
But I know what I’m talkin’ about, all right!
An’ let me tell you—she’ll get hers
If she doesn’t watch her step with Burrs!
See?
Let her be!
I’ve told you—now take it from me!”

Black said nothing, but he thought hard.
So she lived with Burrs!
He was somewhat jarred.
He looked Burrs over, and he liked his looks
About as well as a fish likes hooks.
So this was the man of her choosing?
Amusing!
His smile grew knowing:
His drink grew small:
Just a good-looking harlot, after all!


3


The candles spluttered: their flames were gay;
And the shadows leapt back out of the way.
The party began to get going.
The laughter rang shriller:
The talk boomed louder:
The women’s faces showed flush through powder;
And the men’s faces were glowing.
The room was hung with streamers of smoke.
It billowed; curled:
Swung; swirled:
Poured towards the candle flames
And broke.
Eyes flashed,
Glistened:
Everyone talked:
Few listened.
Crash!
A glass smashed;
And a woman swore,
Shrank back
Abashed.

On the bed sat a girl,
Alone.
White: aloof:
Like stone.
Her mouth was a crimson velvet petal,
Her hair was beaten from gun-metal.
Her eyes were deeply set
In shades of violet.
And she sat with never a motion,
Like a nun wrapped in devotion.

Hungrily Madelaine True eyed her:
Slowly she crossed:
Sank down beside her:
Softly she let a hand sink
On this girl’s hand.
The girl did not shrink:
She did not speak:
She did not stir.
She sat staring at a shadow blur
That hung like a web to the opposite wall.
Gently Madelaine’s fingers slid
Upwards along her slender, small
Ivory arm.
The lace that hid
The girl’s bosom, rose and quivered:
Her petal lips parted:
She shivered.
Slowly she drew her arm away:
She rose and went towards the glass-filled tray.

Kate hailed Burrs like a long-lost brother,
And she left Black’s side
To be a red-hot Mother.
Queenie saw her going:
She stopped the Vic,
And put on a record so blue it was sick.
She moved forward swiftly:
She stood before Black:
“Will you dance with me—
Until Kate comes back?”
And ever so shyly she smiled.
He blushed like a ten-year-old child,
And nodded, completely beguiled.

So dance they did,
And dance they could:
Queenie was a marvel,
And the boy was good.

Their step was dreamy,
    and slow,
And sweeping:
And their rhythm was enough
    to set you weeping.
They stood up straight,
    and slim, and tall—
None of your sexy stuff at all:
Queenie was clever:
You should have seen them:
She danced as though there
    were a sword between them.

But the music swerved.
It sank into deep
Soft murmurs, as though it were falling asleep.
Like a dream, the melody began to float
From a saxophone’s low-pitched, husky throat:
And the rhythm whispered with the fierce unrest
Of a heart throbbing in a passionate breast.

Then Queenie stirred;
And the stir went through him;
And he shifted his arm,
And crushed her to him.
The shock of her softness
    stopped his breath.

Lights blurred:
The floor swam underneath.
And Queenie did more than her share:
She brushed his lips with her hair:
She arched inward:
She clung:
She pressed
Her body on his
    from knee to breast.

It was wonderfully timed.
About two steps more,
They’d have lost their balance
And fallen on the floor.
As it was, the music quavered:
Stopped.
They disengaged slowly:
Their arms dropped.
And she fed him a blurred,
    bewildered glance.
She smiled: she whispered:
“Our first dance!”
“Let’s get our drinks and sit somewhere.”
“Why, yes: if you think Kate wouldn’t care—
I don’t want the child to pull my hair!”

Queenie took cushions from the double bed.
“Do you mind if we sit on the floor?” she said.
So they found a corner
Half-hidden by chair,
And they dropped the
    cushions,
And they sat down there.

Thought Black:
    “This is obvious bait:
She want to be kissed.
Why wait?”

His arm went around her:
He whispered her name.
But Queenie was playing a different game.
She registered child-like dismay:
“No!—Please!”she gasped:
“Go away!”
She pushed him off: averted her head.
“I thought you’d be different,”
She said.

His arm dropped like a shot.
He choked
And his ears turned hot.
And he’d thought this woman a prostitute?
What a cad he was!
What a rotten brute!
He stammered:
“I’m awfully sorry!” he said:
“Just awfully—
Really!
I—lost my head.
Please forgive me?”

She lifted wet eyes.
She gave out the faintest of sighs.
Then bravely she winked the tears away:
Bravely she nodded:
She tried to be gay.
She smiled, wistful;
She pursed her lips,
And blew him a kiss from her finger tips.

His soul was torn.
It bled.
He wished to God he were dead!
Gloomily, he inspected his feet.

“You’re the sort I’ve always wanted to meet,”
He said:
“And now it’s spoiled.
You probably just think I’mhard-boiled:
A rotter:
A rounder:
A horrible sort of bounder!”

Queenie viewed him with large eyes,
Incredulous:
My God—what a prize!

“Well,” he said: “I guess I’m through.
I’ll go now, if you want me to.”

Queenie shook her head.
She said:
“No—
Don’t go.
You’re really very nice, you know.
Please be my friend—
I need one so!”

His eyes lit with the pleasure
Of a man discovering treasure.
“There’s nothing I’d rather be!”
He told her
Fervently.
Up rose his drink:
Up rose her drink.
The glasses met with a faint clink.
Glass met lip.
Each took a sip
To friendship.

Meanwhile, on the double bed,
Eyes closed in bliss,
Burrs and Kate lay locked
In a five-minute kiss.
Of course —
It meant nothing to either one:
They were simply snatching a bit of fun.
They stirred:
They unlocked:
They came up for air.
Their eyes blurred:
The room rocked:
They peered here and there.
Suddenly Kate had a moving thought:
“Where’s that cock-eyed bastard I brought?”

Her eyes found the corner,
And there they stopped.
Her head shot forward,
And her jaw dropped.
“Well!
May Jesus give me grace!
He’s mushin’ it up with your angel-face!”

“Yeah?” said Burrs.
He turned to look.
His eyes narrowed, and his hands shook.
“Yeah?” he said: “So they tell us!

Kate winked slyly:
“You’re jealous!”
“Jealous?”
He gave her a glittering stare:
“You’re crazy!
What the hell do I care!”


4


The candles flared: the shadows sprang tall,
Leapt goblin-like from wall to wall;
Excited:
Delighted:
Mimicking those invited.

The noise was like great hosts at war:
They shouted: they laughed:
They shrieked: they swore:
They stamped and pounded their feet on the floor:
And they clung together in fierce embraces,
And danced and lurched with savage faces
That were wet
With sweat:
Their eyes were glassy and set.

On the bench before the grand piano
Sat Oscar and Phil: the brother’s d’Armano.
They played with fury to the crowd about them:
Banged, and sang,
And tried to outshout them.

They swayed: they bent:
They hammered on the keys,
And shrieked falsetto melodies.

Now Jackie stood back of Phil,
And his hands just wouldn’t be still!
One hand clutched Phil’s shoulder:
The other was bolder:
It ran white fingers through his long black hair,
Then fondled his throat,
And rested there.

Phil’s hands played on with agile grace,
But he leaned back:
Lifted his lily-white face.
Jack took it between pink finger-tips:
He bent down, and kissed Phil on the lips.

Oscar saw,
And his hands went crash
On the keys.
He leapt up like a flash.
His voice rose in a thin shriek:
“You kissed him!
I saw you—you nasty sneak!”
Phil raised his eyebrows:
“Well—what if I did?”

A groan from Oscar.
He sank down. He hid
His face in his hands.
He cried.
“There—there!” soothed Phil:
He embraced him;
He sighed.
But Oscar jumped up, tragic-eyed.
“Don’t you dare touch me!” he shrilled:
“Don’t touch me!
I’d rather be killed!
After all that we’ve been to each other,
You offer yourself to another!
My God! I can’t bear it,
I swear it!”

The onlookers’ views were varied and divided,
And they offered advice
To the one with whom they sided.
They grinned:
Egged them on:
Cheered: laughed: derided.

Finally Phil:
“Go to hell, then, will you?”
Cried Oscar: “Oh, you beast!—
I’ll kill you!”

And he leapt on him, then and there.
They slapped:
They pulled each other’s hair:
They sobbed, and panted:
Their faces grew smeared
With tears and mascara.
The crowd cheered:
Jeered.

But Jackie stepped forward:
He pushed in between.
“Look here,” he said: “you’re making a scene!”
Oscar turned on him, streaming-eyed:
“This is all your fault!” he cried.

“I know. Sorry. I didn’t think.
Let’s all get together, now,
And have a drink;
And be gentlemen, instead of boors:
And you’ll sing us that nice new song of yours!”

After much persuasion, they were pacified.
They kissed;
They sat down side by side.
And Jackie rose
On the tips of his toes:
(How he kept his balance
God only knows.)
He waved both hands to still the noise:
“Be quiet a minute, girls and boys!
The Brothers d’Armano—
(Stand up, boys: bow!)
Have a brand-new song;
And I’m sure it’s a wow!
‘My Sweetie is Gone’ is the new song’s name.
They will now proceed to sing you the same!
And I know right now, it’s going to be grand;
Now—!
Give these two boys a great big Hand!”

They cheered: they whistled:
They began to clap:
And Jackie sat down suddenly in Sally’s lap.
The room stood waiting:
The room stood still.
In the hush,
    a woman laughed;
Drunken: shrill.

A chord rang out: turned blue, and ran
Through a syncopating vamp,
And the song began.
The verse was nothing—but the chorus was Art;
And its music was enough to tear you apart:
“My
Cuddlesome
Blond-headed-sweetie
Is
Gone !
(Doggone!)

Oh!
How
I wish I had
Never been
Born!
(I told you, Born)

She had those
Kiss-me eyes
And lips—
What legs!
What a pair of hips!

I never had
A sweetie so bad—
So glad—
So sad—
She drove me mad!
O-oh—!
My
Adorable
Tow-headed cutie
Is gone!
(She left at dawn)

Get out your
Handkerchiefs,
Brothers and
Sisters and—
Mourn!
(I said to M-m-mourn!)”

The crown went wild: they swore it a wonder!
They roared,
And stamped applause like thunder.
Even three couples who lay tight-clinched
On the bed
Stirred
A little as they heard,
And looked up to see if the place was pinched.

“Do it again!
Encore! Encore!”
The Brothers submitted.
Came a hush once more.
But just as Phil’s fingers were about to light
On the keys, a voice came out of the night.
And the voice was angry,
Sepulchral
Deep:
“Cut out that noise! I want to sleep!”

Silence.
For a moment’s fraction:
The silence of stupefaction.
Then they growled;
Howled:
They took action.
They swarmed to the window
Like a subway crush
Storming a train in the five o’clock rush.
They jostled:
Stepped on each other’s toes:
Elbowed:
Clawed:
Their voices rose
In imprecations, fiercely applied.
They thrust grim, furious heads outside.

Night.
And against this night, the steep
Black neighboring walls
Shot up out of sight:
Sinister: silent:
Cold.
Asleep.

They peered up the slanting face of stone.
Across the gulf
A window shone:
Square: yellow:
And they shrieked—
“There’s the fellow!”
A man’s figure appeared,
Stood set
Against the light in silhouette.
Again the voice:
“Cut out that noise!”

“You bastard! Who the hell are you?”

“My god! It’s only half-past two!”

“Pull in your neck!— ”

Go soak your head—!”
Were among the more polite things people said.

“You’re keeping decent people awake!”

“Aw, shut up! So’s your Uncle Jake!”

“Decent?” roared Eddie.

“Yes—
Decent, I said!”

“Come here and I’ll break your lousy head!
You cock-eyed son-of-a-bitching scut!
D’you think you own this town, or what!”

“Yeah? I guess you’re pretty tough!”
Said the voice, sardonic:
“Now, can that stuff!
I’ve asked you decently to stop—
If you don’t,
I’m going to get a cop!”

“You can have your cop, you naughty boy!”
Shrilled Mae: and the others roared with joy.

“You heard me—!”
The silhouette disappeared.
The victors cat-called:
Hissed:
Jeered.

The light across the way went out.
They pulled in their heads.
They stood about.
They grinned.
With lurid epithets,
They said what they thought of silhouettes.
“He wants t’ sleep, th’ dear sweet bastard!”
Sneered Eddie: “That guy ought to be plastered.”

“You can have yer cop, see? I told him—”

“Yeah! great stuff, kid; that’ll hold him.”

“You piped him down, Mae!”

“Say, you’re swell!”

“‘Be quiet,youse—’!
Say!—
Let’s raise hell!”

Burrs turned.
A group or two away
Stood Black and Queenie:
Intimate: gay.
He stopped: he eyed them.
For a minute, a mist seemed to hide them;
And Queenie’s hand rose; made a white streak
Against the tan of the stranger’s cheek.

Burrs’ eyes narrowed.
His brows met.
The palms of his hands grew cold with sweat.
Then his eyes grew sharp:
Bored them.
He shouldered his way toward them.
“Queenie!”
She turned:

“Oh—hello, Burrs.”
It was coolly delivered.
His mouth quivered.

“Queenie! Come here!”
She turned white.
“Just a minute,” she said to Black:
“I’ll be back.”

She stepped aside with Burrs.
“Well—?”
Her tone was as hard as a steel bell.
His stare smouldered. His voice was rough:
“Lay off that stuff!”

“What stuff? What the hell do you mean!
Are you trying to make a scene?”
But her eyes glinted:
Her white cheeks tinted.
So Burrs
Felt the spurs!

Swell!
She’d give him a gaudy taste of hell!

“You know what I mean! Lay off that guy!”

“Why?”

“Because I tell you to!”

“Yeah?—And who the hell are you!”
A pause.

“Drop it!—It’s the bad news!”

Flashed Queenie:
“I’ll do what I damn well choose!”

“Not if I know it!”

He seized her wrist:
Gave it a twist.

She flinched,
And made a low wail.
Black stepped up:
He was ghastly pale:
He gave Burrs one knife-like glance,
Then turned to Queenie:

“Would you care to dance?”

Burrs watched them go with out-thrust head.
He sneered.
He joined Kate on the bed.


5


The candles flared: their flames sprang high:
The shadows leaned dishevelled, awry:
And the party began to reek of sex.
White arms encircled swollen necks:
Blurred faces swam together: locked
Red hungry lips:
Closed eyes:
Rocked.
White shoulders burst their ribbon bands;
Rose bare to passionate, fumbling hands:
White slender throats curved back beneath
Attacking mouths that choked their breath.
They murmured:
They gasped:
They lurched, and pawed, and grasped.

The bed was a slowly moving tangle
Of legs and bodies at every angle.
Knees rose:
Legs in sheer stockings crossed,
Clung: shimmered: uncrossed: were lost.
Skirts were awry.
Black arms embraced
White legs naked from knee to waist.

Madelaine True and the girl like a nun
Lay deep in cushions, locked as one.
Madelaine’s uncovered shoulder shone
Through gun-metal hair, dully; like bone.
The girl’s face was hidden: pressed
Deep in her slow, uneasy breast.

Dolores had broken her comb:
She wept to be taken home.
She shook off a shoe:
She pulled off a stocking:
A young man joined her,
And they sat there rocking.
They stared sadly at her scarlet nails.
The young man wept.
She burst into wails:
She hid her face on the young man’s shoulder.
What could the young man do but hold her?
Her nails were his secret passion,
He told her.
She seemed to believe it.
They clung:
They kissed.
Shortly, they left together:
Unmissed.

The bedroom door swung open wide,
And a girl sauntered out
With a man at her side.
They kissed, in a matter-of-fact way,
And were mildly gay.
His suit was badly out of press.
She tried to smooth her crumpled dress
With small success.
He pull his tie back in its place:
She rouged her lips:
She powdered her face.
She rearranged disordered hair.
What had been going on in there?
Everyone knew
Who noticed the two—
And nobody seemed to care.

Over blurred keys swung Oscar and Phil.
Their hands were numb:
They had lost their skill.
With faces ashen
And smiles set,
They played a duet.
Their fingers slipped:
Their fingers stuck,
Mangled the jarring notes they struck.
They clattered:
They rumbled;
The rhythm was staggered and stumbled.

Through all this sound
The Victrola kept flinging
Dim snatches
That had no end,
No beginning.
Three couples circled
Slowly:
Clinging.

Back to the room; sprawled on the floor,
Black and Queenie sat once more.
Drinks stood beside them.
They slouched at ease.
Her hand rested on his drawn-up knees.
And this was all right—
Quite.
When people are sworn friends,
All carnal thought ends.
Sex is despised:
You’d be surprised!
So, then, they sat; and his fingers played
Gently with the blur her gold hair made.
From time to time, they would brush her cheek.
Once in a while, each would stare, and smile:
When the spirit moved them, they would speak.

Now Black looked her a soft, adoring kiss.
“It seems so queer—
Finding you here:
Like this.
It’s wonderful.”
He hesitated: shy.
“It’s hard to say: I don’t know.
You—
And I—
And all the noise back there—”
(A frown. A stare.)
“Perhaps all that’s the world.
And we don’t care.
Just being here together
Makes it seem
Unreal, somehow.
It’s rather like a dream.”

She nodded. She closed her eyes, and opened them.
Each eye was like a water-misted gem.
She sighed softly.
She smiled:
“You’re a sweet child—”
With eyebrows raised,
She shook her head a little, as though amazed.

Again, he scowled: he took a longish drink.
“Don’t think me rude—
You’re marvellous, I think.
You’re much too fine for what’s around this place.
This Burrs, f’rinstance.
I’d like to smash his face!
Twisting your arm!
He’s yellow, I’d like to bet!”

Fiercely he struck
A match for her cigarette.

Then Queenie gave him a queer look.
Her voice spoke, and her voice shook.
“When I first met Burrs,
He was grand—
You understand?
As nice as a man could be.
He was sweet to me.
I was sick, and awfully lonely,
And tired. I had no show.
And Burrs is the sort who pretends
He wants to just be friends.
I was only sixteen; how could I know?”
She shrugged:
“It seems ages ago.”
Her mouth drooped.
Her lashes fell.
“You’ve no idea. I’ve been through hell.
What good does it do
To say I’m through?
Who have I got to turn to?”

Bravely she smiled,
Poor, battered child!
Tears filled his eyes to overflowing.
He turned his head
To keep them from showing.
He cleared his throat:
His eyebrows met:
“You’ve got me—always!
Don’t forget.”

“Dear boy!” she whispered.
Her finger tips
Rose in his hand, and met his lips.

From time to time, lying on the bed
With Kate, Burrs raised a dishevelled head
And scowled at blurred gold hair on a pair
Of wavering knees. The edge of the chair
Cut off the rest.
What went on there!
Burrs trembled:
He felt sick.
He ached for a bottle, a whip, a stick:
He’d batter that bastard green and blue
Before he was through!
And Queenie too!

“Lie still, Burrsie!”
Kate’s hand pressed
His hot head back against her breast.


6


The candle flames stood stiff and tall:
And the shadows lay overlapped on the wall.
A candle guttered; its flame died:
The shadows rushed in from every side;
A sinister, swift procession,
Taking grim possession.

The noise dropped to a strange, jumbling,
Low-pitched sound, like distant mumbling.
Over this blur the Victrola threw
Incessant music, soft and blue.

Under the grand piano were curled
Oscar and Phil, dead to the world.
They sprawled like corpses.
Their pinched faces
Showed ghastly white in unrouged places.

“Everyone elsh’s awful tight:
Yessir!”
Said Jackie.
“As f’r me, could drink all night.
Yessir!”
Said Jackie.
“Mix ’em, too! Gin, wh-whisky, wine—
Twenny-five, thirty—still feel f-fine!
Yesshir!”
Said Jackie.
“So wassha use drinkin’?
    Makesh me mad!
Makesh no different how many have had!
Noshir!”
Said Jackie.

His eyes blink.
His eyes shut.
He mumbled something—
No one knew what.
His mouth opened,
    and his face grew haggard:
He lurched forward:
Swayed:
Staggered:
Put out a hand,
Found nothing to hold,
Sank to the floor
And passed out cold.

Nadine,
Mae’s kid sister,
Vanished.
No one missed her.
Suddenly a scream shot out:
“No! No!”
Heads lifted, peered about.
Again the scream of fear:
“Mae!”
Mae leapt up, swaying.

Nadine lay
On the floor, half hidden by a man in grey.
Her slim legs kicked.
She tried to seize
Her skirt and pull it down to her knees.
Mae rushed forward:
“Eddie!”
But he was there already.

His hand swept down; his grip grew tight
On the man’s neck. His knuckles showed white.
His shoulders heaved.
With one drag
He pulled the man up like a limp rag.
The man’s head rolled from side to side:
He stared at Eddie, vacant-eyed.

“You bastard, you! Foolin’ with a kid!”
Snarled Eddie: “I’ll show yuh!”
And he did.

His shoulders swung:
His fist drew back,
Shot out,
struck
With a dull smack.

Back went the man’s head:
He spun where he stood:
He fell flat, and lay there,
His face oozing blood.

The bystanders murmured in awe.
Eddie thrust out his jaw.
A woman laughed:
His ear caught the sound:
He snarled.
Ducked his head,
Swung swiftly around.
“Who yer laughin’ at, yuh tart!
I’ll break yer god-damned face apart!”

His lips curled, and his fang-like teeth
Gleamed crooked and savage underneath.
His shoulders began to twist.
Slowly he circled each fist.
He crouched:
His eyes shone red:
Grimly he said:
“Foolin’ with a kid!”
He scowled.
“Come on, you bastards!
Fight!”
He howled.
“I don’t like yuh, an’ I don’t know yuh!
And now, by Christ, I’m gonna show yuh!”

Among those present were Queenie and Black.
They stood in the circle behind his back.
Queenie turned white.
She whispered: “Slopped!—
He’ll kill somebody if he’s not stopped!”
Black heard, and his muscles tightened.
Eddie advanced,
And the circle gave,
Frightened.

Black stepped forward.
With one hand he grasped
A slim, empty bottle.
The watchers gasped.

They waited,
Fascinated:
Suppose Eddie turned!
They held their breaths,
And their sharp eyes burned.

Black leapt:
The bottle glittered,
Flashed,
Crashed
On Eddie’s head:
Smashed.

Eddie grunted. His eyes shut.
He sagged like a pullet
With its knee-strings cut.
His arms swung limp:
His face turned white:
He rocked:
Fell forward:
Went out like a light.

The watchers cheered:
They scattered for drinks.
But Mae leapt forward like an angry lynx.
She screamed.
She clawed.
She almost tore
Black’s clothing off.
She sobbed:
She swore:
“You hurt my man! You bastard, you!”
Black held her arms: what else to do?

“Let go my arms, you cock-eyed swell!
Let go,
God damn your soul to hell!”
She wrenched free,
Struck him once, then fell
On Eddie’s back:
Writhed like a snake,
And sobbed as though her heart would break.
At intervals she would caress
Poor Eddie’s head:
Shriek he was dead.
Then little by little
 &bsp;   her sobs grew less:
Fainter and fainter:
They stopped.
She sighed, and her head dropped.
Her eyes shut.
Her breathing grew deep.
Her lips parted,
And she lay asleep.

Burrs had been watching.
He stood there
With dishevelled hair:
Feet apart; shoulders stooping;
Hands in his pockets; head drooping:
Furious:
White:
His eyes had a glittering light.
Queenie joined Black:
They came his way.
Burrs stiffened, and his face grew grey.
They drew abreast; they made to pass
With cold shoulders and eyes of glass.
Burrs snarled.
He turned:
He tried
To shoulder Black aside.
But Black stood rigid: cut from rock;
And Burrs recoiled,
Staggered from the shock.
Then they passed on:
Not a word.
As though nothing at all had occurred.

Burrs raised clenched fists—
But his guts turned hollow.
He watched them go,
And he dared not follow.
He shook.
His face began to twitch:
“I’ll fix you plenty, you son of a bitch!”

In a corner, a group well under the weather
Put arms across shoulders,
Thrust heads together.
With mournful voices, they howled that fine
Heart-rending song: “Sweet Adeline.”
Their voices wailed from quavering throats
And clung fondly to the long, sad notes.
They swayed,
Leaned backward,
Closed their eyes
In sour attempts to harmonize.


7


Now,
Outside, in the night,
A window suddenly blazed with light.
The silhouette again,
About to complain!

But this time no sepulchral voice
Objected to the noise.
The shade stayed down:
Against its glow
A huge shadow moved to and fro.
The shadow sharpened,
Shrank,
Made
A clear black image on the shade.
In pantomime, a man was shown
Talking over a telephone.


8



Black took a drink as they passed the table:
A long one:
A strong one:
Then suddenly felt unstable.
The room blurred,
The room receded.
Another drink was what he needed!
So he poured it out, and he took it.
His head buzzed; and he shook it.
“Let’s go sit,” he suggested:
“Let’s talk.”
It became somewhat of a problem to walk.

They moved around the corner chair
With care.
He stumbled over a leg:
“I beg—”
He lapsed a second:
He shook his head,
Recovered:
“I beg your pardon!” he said.
Queenie’s giggle was delicious,
Light.
“Oh, I’m all right,”
He said:
“Quite!—
But I think I must be tight!”
The words seemed out before he could speak:
They sounded far-off:
Strangely weak.

They both sat down in the usual place.
She arranged her skirt.
He pushed a rough hand over his face
Till it hurt.
There!
Now!
He felt much better.
He couldn’t get drunk,
Having just met her!

With a sigh, she settled her head on his knees
And wriggled a little, till she felt at ease.
She smiled.
“Don’t let’s talk,” she said:
“Let’s be quiet for a while instead.”

So there was silence there.
His fingers played through her golden hair.
She closed her eyes.
Her head swirled.
Music came faintly from another world.
She forgot Burrs:

Her revenge grew dim.
This man wanted her,
And she
Him.
She had played: she had won—
But she was caught!
Her body ached madly at the thought.
What a man this was!
He seemed able to bring her
Heart leaping up with a touch of his finger.

She smiled
Like a child
In its sleep.

His hand left her hair.
It began to creep
With gently moving
    finger tips
Over her eyes:
Felt her lips;
Parted them:
Touched the perfect
    teeth
That lay underneath.
Lightly his hand began
    to float
Over the smooth white
    skin
Of her chin.
Then suddenly came
    to rest
With its palm pressed
Soft and hot on the pulse
    of her slender throat.
She gave a sound like a sob.
Her body began to throb.
Some wire inside her broke
    with a snap,
And her head slid slowly
    to his lap.

For a while, they were motionless:
Flushed:
Hushed.
Slowly the air about them became
Too thick to breathe:
Heated by flame.
Their hearts pounded till their brains shook:
Blood roared through their veins like a swollen
    brook.

His fingers ached
To feel fresh,
Cool flesh.
His hand waked.
It discovered her shoulders:
Began to explore
Under the edge of the gown she wore.
The edge of the gown was drawn taut
Across white flesh.
His knuckles caught.
The figners began to retreat
In defeat.

Her head stirred in his lap.
She undid a shoulder strap.
Slowly his hand sank out of sight.
His heart pounded:
His throat grew tight.
His fingers fumbled at her brassiere.
It loosened.

He paused:
He did not dare.
Then his hot hand
Cupped her breast
Suddenly;
And came to rest,
Ecstatic: frightened.
Bur her hand covered his,
And tightened.
She gasped,
Started:
She flushed;
Her lips parted.
Unevenly her bosom lifted
And sank.
Her hand rose; it drifted
Light fingers slowly across his face.
Their breaths whispered:
They swirled in space:
And the soft, hot vortex of desire
Sucked them down
Gasping:
On fire.

His eyes opened. Through misty light
Her red mouth quivered in a blur of white.
Down drooped his head.
His breathing grew hoarse.
Suddenly
Their mouths leapt,
Met with a force
That bruised their lips; crushed them thin.
Their bodies stiffened;
And their cheeks sank in.

Tighter!
Tighter!
Their faces hardened,
Grew whiter.
Tighter!
Till every nerve and vein
Was shot with sharp, exquisite pain.
Sounds blurred:
The room began to sway.
Queenie tore her mouth away.
She gasped:
Buried her face in his breast.
For a moment, he held it there
Tight-pressed.

Then she raised her head and shook it.
She rose to her knees,
Put a hand out:
He took it.
They stood up, clinging:
They kissed.
They drew apart.
She took his wrist
And put that arm about her waist;
Then hers about his.
So, tightly laced,
They stood.
Her head dropped on his shoulder.
“I love you!” he told her.

She smiled dimly:
They kissed.
The room was hung with
    amber mist.
Exultant-eyed,
Side by side,
They floated dream-like
    across the floor
Towards the bedroom door.

No one stared:
No one cared.

Burrs—?
To hell with him!
As they passed the bed
She glimpsed his head
Face up,
White,
Dim:
Eyes closed;
Dishevelled of hair:
Mouth open:
Throat bare.

The door opened,
It closed behind them.
Jet-black darkness swept up to blind them,
And the air was strangely fresh and sweet.
They stood blinking:
They swayed on their feet;
And blank silence wrapped them in.
Little by little the dark grew thin.
A window glimmered with faint light:
The bed made a dim, soft blur of white.
They lurched forward,
Stumbled round a chair,
Staggered to the bed
And fell down there.


9


Some love is fire: some love is rust:
But the fiercest, cleanest love is lust.
And their lust was tremendous. It had the feel
Of hammers clanging; and stone; and steel:
And torches of the savage, roaring kind
That ripped through iron, and strike men blind:
Of long trains crashing through caverns under
Grey trembling streets, like angry thunder:
Of engines throbbing; and hoarse steam spouting;
And feet tramping; and great crowds shouting.
A lust so savage, they could have wrenched
The flesh from bone, and not have blenched.


10


The studio flickered with uneasy light.
Two sunken candles made a fight
Against grim, overwhelming night.
Their flames flared,
Whirled up gyrating;
And a crowd of shadows hovered,
Waiting.

The curtains shivered with a sudden chill:
They stirred a little on the window sill;
Then billowed, and flapped inward
Blown
By a wind that smelled of damp stone.

The room was filled with a tale reek.
It looked dishevelled:
Sordid:
Bleak.
Figures sprawled out
Flat on their back:
Their faces were death-masks
In dirty-white wax.

The table was a wreck.
Bleared glasses stood
Half-empty, bottles stuck to wood.
Cigarette stubs:
Ashes:
Bits of bread:
Bottles leaning,
Prostrate;
Dead.
A pink stocking: a corkscrew:
A powder puff: a French-heeled shoe:
Candle-grease.
A dirty cup.
An agate saucepan, bototm up.
And a wet towel, with a stained border:
All stirred together in wild disorder.

Propped in a corner, two men stood giving
Each other a lecture on the high cost of living.
Horribly tight,
Equally polite,
Each insisted the other was right.
They stood there mumbling,
Gesturing, swaying:
Neither one knew what the other was