Sentenced before Hanging-David Lohrey


Circus-like outside.

The crowd prances by;

some walk the tight rope;

others smile like French clowns.

One man’s frown deserves a call to 911;

one girl’s body is hot enough to combust.

Great displays of displeasure or delight

catch one’s eye. There is enough

hair on the women to confuse them with puma.

Some of the men, hairless, look like

patients in hospice. Others, handsome,

cultivate the look of ex-cons.

The ink spots on their bodies

do not so much decorate as distract,

like graffiti. It’s not mutilation but,

like vandalism, should be against the law.

Some of the people are said to drink

their own piss. Others like to masturbate

on the opposite sex.


(SHE’s just entered, still in hat and coat.)

You’re not nearly as tall as I had imagined.




Larry’s always liked big things: St. Bernard, Cathedrals, winter grapefruit. Do you have a big thing?


How did you get in?


Take these doors. When we first moved in, a single entrance stood here leading out to the patio. Larry took a sledge hammer and just knocked it all out. He’s very destructive, you know. I always keep a key in my bag. Larry was very good with his hands. He put these French doors in all by himself. Do you like them? I always liked his fingers. You really should get yourself a purse.

They’re very handy. You don’t love him, I suppose?


Then I really do feel sorry for you.

The Dutch settlers now are

largely forgotten. The Van Burens

and Roosevelts seem almost

quaint, just a memory like Anastasia and

the Tsar; there aren’t even any photos.

One thinks of churning butter or, perhaps

of FDR’s stuffed birds.

It was a long time ago when the Dutch

controlled the Hudson; even

longer when they built their first fort.

But who cares? We dream of holidays

in the South Pacific: topless girls

and venereal disease.

Melville prevails.


It was her nose that caught my attention, but not as a prim thing with a small IQ to match. It was something grand like a tropical toucan. As the poet’s jar engulfed by rugged Tennessee, this nose was more a presence than an object. Her green eyes though were not jungle wild; they took me to places like the Warsaw ghetto. I think today of her as a thing of art.

We met in Paolo’s car on the way to Rio, a local favorite. She sat in front and I right in back.  I had already met her nose. I couldn’t help myself and reached up to touch the nape of her neck. When we stopped and got out of the car, she whispered, “I like the hand on the neck.”

What a thing. The only time in my life I have loved someone’s nose. We fucked all the time but she didn’t want anyone to know. I was only 23 but felt freed from the unknown. Had it been another time and place, we might have had a go, but we let things flounder.

Picasso had almost got her right with his cave-dwelling ladies. She had the same angular breasts and a grand Baroque ass. She was cross-eyed, too, and carried that nose with its high-arched bone. She’d had a searching mind, a sly smile, a wicked, charming laugh – almost a cackle.

She used to bang her head against the wall. She could be cold and hyper-critical, snobby and dismissive.  She once punched me in the stomach and made me double over.

We lost touch. When I saw her sometime later, she was down fifty pounds. She kept her nose and her sexy laugh but her thighs and marvelous ass were gone. She was sleek and sickly like T.S. Eliot. She was a ghost. She’d once had Eliot’s appetite for things; now she bore his sorrows.  She belonged to Modigliani. She was brittle and, I could see a mile away, no longer interested in me. I went to our friend from São Luís, who shrugged: “Some toucan prefer Venezuela.”

Cheer up. There’s nothing wrong

that a little life can’t cure. Look at sunflowers,

think of John Coltrane, not boll weevils.

Remember the Alamo, not the Holocaust.

The American dream continues, evolving,

ever-expanding. The Dutch came and went.

It’s all been left in good hands.

We stand now blindfolded, ready to walk

the plank. The pirates are not simpletons.

They’re brothers and sisters; they’re gung-ho;

they just want justice. Let the purge begin.

We’ll declare ourselves obsolete. Their

leaders read the comics; their rallying cry

is familiar: quack, quack, quack. Nothing is

more hopeful than ducks on a mission.


All in all, it’s a display of

good cheer; like hooved

animals at mid-summer, huddled

under a tree, its trunk wrapped to protect

the bark. If you get too close,

they’ll charge. You can smell their

shit from 75 feet away. The males

have been gelded. The females play with

each other. It’s a display of stricken

harmony. Castrations are scheduled every

afternoon. The butchers await.

They might be goats. They insist they are not

sheep. There are kids running around.

Whatever they are called, they weep black gunk.

Pellets cling to their back sides.

The does’ tits are pink. The bullies await

their fate. It’s late in the summer. Soon

it will be cooler.


(SHE sits among stacks of books piled on the floor beside her.)

Literature: it’s all bound up in blood and guts and semen and cunts and dicks and gods and meaning. Don’t you think so?


That’s so deep, so deep, like Plato and Aristotle and Aristophanes and Sappho. It’s the Greeks: they’re real big, and then the French and the epics, the poets. They’re all gay and if you like literature, that means you’re gay, too, like me and Thelma. It’s too deep for appreciation. This is passion.


I’m Medea. Kill the kids, rip out their guts, this is it, baby. Bash their heads in, fuck their brains out, eat their shit. Why are we the only ones who love literature?

David Lohrey was born on the Hudson River but grew up on the Mississippi in Memphis. He currently teaches in Tokyo. He has reviewed books for The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register, has been a member of the Dramatists Guild in New York, and is currently writing a memoir of his years living on the Persian Gulf. Also, he’s freakin’ awesome.

23 thoughts on “Sentenced before Hanging-David Lohrey

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