Tuesday, April 12, 2011


(based on suggestions from @slimejam and @pcblues)

Deptford told me about the Great Depression

tramps who put prunes in a tin in the sun

just to wrestle some pleasure out of the grime

They paid the price with black vomit and then

they put prunes in a tin in the sun again.

They woke up each morning with canned heat on the mind

Trampled brains in clear jelly warmed up

just to salmonella temperature with the dawn

As the sun rose they cradled that rough metal

bain-marie of poison and pressed it through white bread.

By evening everyone got the Sterno runs

can opener peeled the lid off their tinned fury

There was many a stiff fist swung at strangers

but nary a punch thrown that hit its mark.

Somewhere they had children instead of bindles.

Run here somebody and take their canned heat blues

Take the white bread and prunes away

lay out a roast with potatoes and beans and gravy.

Spread a warm bath to wash between their tears

a soft frayed towel to wrap them up like family.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from two peeps:

  • @slimejam: "Canned heat."
  • @pcblues: "An' Nary A(n) Punch to be seen." (Honestly Mark, you're having to work hard for puns on my name now.)

Canned heat is "a slang term for Sterno, a commercial jellied alcohol used to heat food, typically placed beneath metal pans on a banquet or buffet line. Strained through cloth (or sometimes even white bread), it can be drunk to get intoxicated. Early Mississippi Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson is said to have drank "canned heat," and wrote his song "Canned Heat Blues" about the nasty stuff."

Sounds absolutely horrendous. The first lines of stanzas 2 and 4 are based on Johnson's song lyrics.

Canned heat made me think of a part in Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy where the tramps are desperate for a high:

"Know what a tramp drinks? Shoe-blacking sometimes, strained through a hunk of bread; drives you crazy. Or he gets a few prunes and lets them stand in the sun in a can till they ferment; that’s the stuff gives you the black pukes, taken on a stomach with nothing in it but maybe some raw vegetables you’ve pulled in a field."

Think I'll stick to Listerine and vanilla essence.


Mark D Osborne said...

Get thee to a n(annary an' punch) the clock again.

ern malleys cat said...

I missed this one at the time, but I really like it.
Very blues, but with an ending of hope.