BIRTHDAY CARDS FROM THE CONDEMNED

Q7 was the button you pressed for Phil Ochs
Q7 was the button you pressed for
I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore
E3 was the button you pressed for 
London’s Calling by the Clash
F2 was the button you pressed for Patti Smith
singing Because the Night

These were but a few of my many favourites
on the jukebox at the Chateau Lafayette
I knew the numbers blind drunk
like Helen Keller’s fingers on brail
The Chateau Lafayette was a tavern
in the early 1980’s
just down the road from
the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa
filled with American expatriates
who had fled the war in Viet Nam
They were all dying in their own various ways

Also known as the Suicide Club
with patrons and their yellow faces
from liver disease and drinking X
The waiter was my friend Jerry D’Aoust
He was in charge of the selections
on the jukebox
He was a monk of some kind or another
He was in charge of the musical digits
that I learned to master in the dark
He was the leader of the American expatriates
He was the leader of the nocturnal insurrection
performed every evening at twelve o’clock

R3 was for the destruction of the FBI
L7 was for the replay of the assassination attempt
on Ronald Reagen
D3 was for the peace treaty authored by Marilyn Monroe
B5 was for the free beer movement
performed every evening at twelve o’clock

On the third floor of the tavern
We all lived in tiny rooms
that smelled of napalm, beer and vomit
Nevertheless, I heard the sound of laughter
beneath all the yellowed skin
The drunkards like Billy, who drank more than I
were a comfort to everyone

We started to drink when the doors opened at noon
To fall asleep drunk with your head on the table
this was a sign of honour
and you were not to be disturbed
These were on direct orders from Washington
Keep the exiles drunk and impotent
they will die more miserable deaths
than they would in Saigon

I was unconscious with my head on the table
most of the time
I grew a beard and my hair long
over my forehead like Jesus Christ
to cover the bruising to my forehead and chin
like everyone else I knew
Imagine, twenty young men in a drunken bar
who all looked like Jesus Christ
collapsed around some table
near the jukebox

I would stumble through the darkness of the bar
to the jukebox and press Q7 repeatedly
through the night
You see, Phil Ochs was a personal friend of mine
and I met with him often
The Clash, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen
they were all good friends of mine
they never let me down
Every year since I have sent them
Birthday cards from the condemned

(for Richard Wicka 2011)

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