When I turned twenty-one
my dad took me here
we got a good buzz on
we actually talked, too
I don’t know about what
women, a job, the future
the big hazy things that
you don’t listen to your
old man about anyway

Well, ten years later
I got the call to meet him
he said to get the same
table, if possible, and I did
the one by the coal stove
it was early November
a gray quilt on the city
I got cancer, he said
it’ll kill me but not yet

You pick a special place
to tell your son you’re
dying, it’s that simple
he knew I could go back
and back again, though
it’s not much to hold onto
sit down with a couple ales
and wonder at how fast
all this shit disappears



(The night barmen, Scott Pullman and Mike Brannigan, who’ve seen it all over the last couple decades, claim a great invisible magnet rests in the bar’s basement, pulling in a wonderful and bizarre assortment of people over the last 158 years.)

You could work in a bar forever
        and believe in random chaos
entropic drifters pushing thru saloon doors
        a shower of human asteroids
you might end believing in fatalism
        or in some great invisible magnet
a spinning force driven in the dank dark
        sucking in sane and insane alike

In the 19th Century it was a parade of labor
        carpenters, tanners and dockworkers
peddlers, touts, butchers and costermongers
        bricklayers, brewers, printers and clerks
a medley of immigrants making a country great
        survivors and persecuted flotsam
jetsam of homos, fanatics and anarchists
        insane and sane into the vortex

The 20th Century Limited was a train
        poets, playwrights and painters
cops and firemen and pinkerton guys
        admen and radio joes and tv yokels
veterans and spies next to barbers and bellhops
        baseball players, boxers and promoters
thru world wars and depressions and memory
        they told stories to make you laugh and weep
the magnet whirred and in they came

Now it’s the 21st Carnival:
        charmers with $60 Brooks Brothers ties
psychos with Bellevue plastic bracelets
        punkers with pomaded purple Mohawks
guidos beefcaked on steroids
        eurotrash with funny money
women butch enough to take you
        dwarves, trannies and football stars
cops and firemen who’ll save your ass
        geeks and jackoffs and egomaniacs

Painters and writers of obscure prominence
        city workers with Midas pensions
busdrivers, librarians, electricians and welders
        heroes, nutjobs, nurses and teachers
vets from Korea, Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan
        some whole, all wounded
celebrities, escort girls and bullshitters
        fishers, lawyers, exterminators and lovers
professors and plumbers and charlatans

You could work in a bar forever
        and end believing only in the magnet
sucking them in, one by one by one
        particles destined to pause in their orbits
look around, get drunk, tell a tale
        then disappear back into the world
the clay of their words the muck of the bar
        the force driving the field



(An anti-aircraft shell fired from the USS Texas at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 sits behind the bar.)

Salvo whistle blast
Bloody sand curtained fate
They died so we breathe



(An early 20th Century drawing of the visage—who later came to be known as Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman—hangs behind the taps at McSorley’s.)

Postcard idiot
Irish immigrant of wit
Looks are everything



It boomed everywhere
Trickling down if you had luck
Brought low by hummer




photo of Babe Ruth
click to enlarge

(Nat Fein’s 1948 Pulitzer Prize photograph of the dying Babe Ruth, bidding farewell to all at Yankee Stadium, hangs over the original ale pumps at McSorley’s.)

This is a good place
to stop and rest
where so many have come
it is right for me
to gaze from here
above the old ale pumps
sun off the shining brass
in early afternoons
same glare as at the plate
this is a good home
Millions of eyes upon me
upon these spindly limbs
this is not how it ends
Saturday nights I hear them
surrounded by history
I hear them wondering
about me and my time
what it must have been like
a patient Babe in the howling crowd
waiting for the pitch
The roar of roaring throngs
seamed orb descending home
laughter and hope
oh, fickle god of shows
who gave me great days
who gave me this exit
goodbye to all Yankees
the whole damn crowd fused
into this cancerous lump


photo of the Lindbergh plate
click to enlarge


(A plate issued in commemoration of Lindbergh’s famous 1927 Atlantic flight sits behind the bar at McSorley’s.)

I flew the ocean
Fame swollen like the cold sea
They stole our baby




photo of the McSorley-Nine
click to enlarge



(On the east wall near the front window is an 1877 photograph of a baseball team: The McSorley Nine.)

Silk breeze on our skin
Mystery in boyish games
Never safe at home





photo of Peter McSorley
click to enlarge

(b.1856; first son of John & Honora. Seen in the "McSorley Nine" photo of 1877, he sold liquor from a storefront, broke an engagement, then disappeared from New York.)

I remember the lumberyard
the leather drivin’ wheels
the steam fired saws
chuggin’ through me boyhood
Tompkins Market across the street
where Mum would take me an’ Will
carrots an’ spuds, turnips an’ onions
"feelin’ is knowin’," the man said
lettin’ me run me fingers
o’er the roots an’ bulbs
the onions were best
me hand fit o’er it fine
that’s when the baseball began
playin’ in the 9th Street lot
the city sun sweatin’ us boys
the crack o’ the bat
me whirlin’ arm throwin’ strikes
the lads knew I’d be a great one

When Mum took to bed all white
I knew she was to die, but not
knowin’ it’d take a year an’ more
watchin’ an’ workin’, raisin’ Will
all you wanted was your feed
the way you looked at the nurse
we couldn’t but hear the sounds
a boy seein’ his father pumpin’
the girl, big arse in the air
beatin’ me was motto ‘nough
be good or be gone
so I made promise to meself
I’d be gone when I needs be
It was when I found me Kate
o’er on Greene Street

after I broke our engagement
well, I did go see herself
poxed through the rouge
disease doin’ damnation
herself knew she was dyin’
--tell ‘em I died a whore’s death,
--Kate the whore, that’s me!--
her cacklin’ was sad an’ evil
I wished Godspeed an’ walked
an’ walked to decide me fate
goin’ west an’ gone for good


photo of coconuts
click to enlarge


(A pair of coconuts dangles from the ceiling, purportedly sent by a famous French painter to John McSorley in the19th Century.)

Two coconuts hang
Gifts from Gaugin to big John
Musk scent of brown thigh