Studs Lonigan’s Angry Ghost, a Rag-Time Vision

Listen to the Maple Leaf Rag by the great Scott Joplin while reading. Click “listen” and the YouTube ragtime melody will open in a separate window. You can come back here to read the poem.

For James T. Farrell

Studs Lonigan’s angry ghost
Walkin’ down Michigan, boy is toast
Panic on Wall Street, State street is hate street
Her Pa’s mortgage underwater
And you knocked up her daughter.

You Irish think it’s the Jews
Is why baby got no shoes
Listen to Father Coughlin or Glen Beck
Explain why it ain’t you by heck.

He goes to the peepshow
Pays Captain Billy to watch her go.
Turns the crank of the nickel odeon
See if she got any pants on.

If only I’m lonely
If only I’m blue
Then Peggy Sue
Would to me be true.

Wheebopalula wham bam
Ain’t no eggs, ain’t no ham
Lightin’ a Camel with the ass of the first
Drinkin whisky that only sharpens thirst.

And down somewhere on Luther King Drive,
Black man says, you gotta stop your jive.
In the church on Cottage Grove
Black gal says you is crazy love
Get yo’ white ass washed in the blood of the lamb
Stop eating pork and stop eatin’ ham
Prayin’ to stone and chewing on bone.

Who they grinnin’ at? Who?
You stupid motherfucker they’s grinnin’ at you.

Notes

“Studs Lonigan’s Angry Ghost” is what you get when you combine James T Farrell’s Chicago trilogy (Studs Lonigan) with Edward V’s line in Shakespeare’s Richard III, which I misremembered as “Julius Caesar’s angry ghost” but which is actually the Duke of Clarence:

Marry, my uncle Clarence’s angry ghost:
My grandam told me he was murdered there.

At the end of the final volume of Farrell’s trilogy, Studs Lonigan, broken down through smoking and booze at the age of 30, is looking for a job in the Depression. He is humiliated at the old Standard Oil building on South Michigan and goes to a peepshow on State street, and then collapses with influenza. He crawls home to die.

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