House of the Rising Sun
John C. Mannone
The shot glass shatters in his hand
as he slams it on the bar. His callous
hand doesn’t stop the blood. And
the bartender says something wrong.
The drunk says he’s not a sociopath,
just a simple murderer. The bartender’s
wife wails in the corner, her husband
dead from a busted bottle over his head.
She swears he’ll regret what he did,
chants some strange words he doesn’t
understand, even if he were sober.
He pours himself another whiskey.
Police come to take him away. They smirk,
know the hoodlum, say that he misses
his fashion apparel—striped pajamas with
matching accessories of a ball-and-chain.
After several years of hard labor
the convict escapes the penitentiary
into the Louisiana Bayou. And the gators
cluster under the bridge, their skin
ripples with hunger. Rust flakes off
the girding—metal spent in swamp
air—just as it does with the escapee,
the mettle of this man worn away
by crime. There’s a brisk
heat over the black water swallowing
the moon, the stars also wash away.
His reflection in the pallor, dulled
by years of disquiet in his chest.
Even remorse is silent. He senses
a percussive rage rise in the distance—
djembe drums beating faster than his heart.
Fog begins to swirl, electric blue.
Ozone-burnt air, and the smell
of acrid flesh, fill his nostrils.
Gators gnash their teeth.
He hears their thoughts, shakes
his head. And then again the words,
We’re going to eat you. He spits,
then bites into a red apple he had
stashed. Blood empties into his mouth.
Expels the chewed-up skin and flesh
of the fruit into the backwater.
Lizards frenzy. Startled, he slips
on the mossy wood. His fall, broken
by the cracking oak and pine. The snap
and thrash of alligators in the half-dark
mix with memories of that woman
whose husband he had killed—
those disdainful chants. He pushes
himself off the rough-cut wood,
viscous slime burns his palms like fire.
He manages, stumble after stumble,
to escape through the marsh-woods,
hundreds of iridescent snake eyes, red
beads, stare him down.
He had never prayed before. He breaks
into a run, a run back toward the prison
he had broken free from. High-pitched
barks getting louder.
Thank God! he thinks to himself, yells
“I’m here, over here,” while dropping
to his knees and raising his arms under
the full voodoo moon. And the hounds’
shadows loom and lunge without
hesitation or permission.
He closes his eyes, hides his face.
One of the guards shouts to the others
over his shoulder, “We got ‘im… Wait.”
The dogs sit quietly, wagging their tails.
“This man is dead. Looks like he suffered
a heart attack.”