Ken Meisel

The Burnt Out Prodigals of the Train Station


Under the gaping arches they come,

parading themselves

in fingerless gloves.


Fables of the deconstruction, dust bites

in the blood of my eyes.

Someone calls them


broken bicycles, shelved garbage, leakage.

The newspapers call them

beat angels, refuse muck,


pickers, stealers. One is an enchanter,

a holy sepulcher of greasy splurge.

A Psalmist.


Teeth the color of used up endpaper,

eyes like fuel,

skin burnt as diesel.


One is an empty chance.

A one time poet. A drunk,

a street minister.


One hawks up a saxophone,

father thoughtful squawking ‘Trane,

squawking all the fat in the fire,


all the coal in the blaze, spits music.

Chimney sweep in the ash-grime

of a burnt out Cadillac.


Now Gribaldi in a top hat

bows speculatively,

garbles a drink,


bows again to a fire hydrant.

And Frankie,

one of the druidic Ellyllon


who squats on the outer rim of a fire,

cobbles out, spits, spats,



chews on the old smoke in his teeth,

hurrays and hoo-hahs the dawn,

chirping birds in his brain,


fire ants in his pants

as he opens his trousers

to wiggle dwiddle…


spills his fortune into the weeds.

I come upon them, here in the grass

of Roosevelt Park


in front of the train station, fighting kings

who ignore the economy,

refuse advice,


refuse love, refuse me,

refuse all the state-funded

improvement going on.


They’re fathers, really,

of the Church of

“Only the Burnt Out Prodigals Remain...”


And we owe them

for absorbing our nightmares.

They are our speakeasy Philistines,


our best public housing symbols and signs.

They remain a delirious

encomium of ribald drunks


hollering out praises to the morning,

to the dereliction of duty.

One of them bends over,


hurls, flays the fox into a card board box,

raises his roughed-up head

and he coughs up


last night’s drink like a drunken Friar John.

Raises his head to the Fair Maid

of February morning


blossoming up through the foul,

false ceiling of skyline clouds, the sun.

Then they ramble on


in a rain-tree group through the forecastle

of ruined cars,

through open fields


and speckled scrap yards, rumblefish men,

godless men struck with falling sickness,

memory, delirious fantigue—


on through the filibuster of traffic,

through the fill-dyke snow.

Flat-fish dumbbells they are,


corduroy coat minstrels,

pop-n-jay fools

walking yesteryear off.


Like flap dragons,

our seed oracles, our fortune tellers,

our kin.


Ken Meisel the author of five poetry collections, the most recent being Beautiful Rust [Bottom Dog Press: 2009.] This June I was awarded a Kresge Arts Fellowship here in Detroit.

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