Helen In Troy


The bar squats at the bend in the road where Mill becomes Burden,

Walls somewhat recently painted, roof re-shingled ostensibly within memory

A derelict stockade on a front line where cowboy and Indian alike

Have each thought better of standing their ground,

Now defended by a few solitary souls,

Veterans of the days when the place hummed with those

Who’d finished shifts at Troy-Bilt or the Freihofer bakery

(Places either long gone or in the hospice stage,

The bar itself not profitable in any sense of the word,

Opening each afternoon for no palpable reason

Save some madness of inertia)

Who had not moved in with children in Latham or Malta,

Or gone to some frowzy, weedy southern trailer park

Sweating and sweltering through ninety-degree dawns in Sarasota or St. Pete.

One corner of the building still bears a neon sign

Which sternly announces “Ladies Entrance”

Though, as the resident wits are fond of noting

Ain’t been no lady on the premises ‘n a month of Sundays,

But, on this particular evening, there is one of that gender

Haphazardly arranging herself on a stool

In search of a compromise between physical comfort

And simply remaining somewhat upright.

She is there in the company of a squat, horny-handed man

Who sits beside her, leering and yakking away

As he signals the bored and ancient bartender

For a couple more Buddy long-necks

(She cannot remember his name—Clyde, Clete,

In any case she’ll assign him an identity later.)

Their acquaintance is of a recent nature,

His end of the deal a burger at the diner on First Street

And a drink or two or three here

(There is a return on his investment, implicit and fully understood,

Though she has not—in her mind, anyway—reached such a point

As it needs to spelled out in plain English.)

She clutches (tightly, though surreptitiously as possible,

For she occupies a social stratum where having a death grip on something

Marks it as valuable, putting a bulls-eye on object and owner as well)

A purse, a three-hundred dollar Coach bag

Bestowed on her by some gum-chomping Russell Sage undergraduate

In a random, futile, wholly absurd gesture

(This was some time ago, and the bag, once a fiery crimson

Has faded and the fine leather has creased and mottled

Until it now appears to be a miniature strawberry heifer on a strap)

Though she would note that she was a family of some substance,

Having once attended a fine all-girls school

Where she became engaged to a professor in the Fine Arts department

(It is unclear whether it was Smith or Bryn Mawr

Or, perhaps, Sarah Lawrence, if anywhere at all,

Her suitors and specters all but indistinguishable from one another.)

All that, however, is clearly a matter of was;

Her will be is a less fanciful thing,

A measured yet inevitable and precipitous slide into transactions less palatable

Exchanged for comforts colder than such as she settles for now

(But perhaps not—there is a persistent and palpable pain in her side now,

Accompanied by a noticeable swelling; Probably benign,

The nurse practitioner had noted at the free clinic,

But she occupied that societal niche where further, if unheroic, measures

Were unlikely to be forthcoming.)

In any case, she and her paramour pro tempore

Will call it a night, she pinning her bag to her side

As she instinctively swivels her head to and fro

To ensure no one is seeking to relieve her of her prize possession

(Though its contents are meager—a few dollars in change,

A sweater, a change of underwear,  the whole blessedly insubstantial,

As it is likely she could shoulder any additional load.)



(Submitted for This here Toad prompt, which is good, ’cause without it I got nothin’.)




6 thoughts on “Helen In Troy

  1. Or in the words of Tom Waits, “There’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix / She has that razor sadness that only gets worse / With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by.”
    You paint quite the picture, man. Love it.

  2. What I find the most intriguing about this piece, is that in the telling, the narrator captures all these internal items of the character (used to be of a good family, who bestowed the coach bag to her, her will be)….though it is still told from the third person, making it seem as if the narrator was the character, filtering the evening just right. Also, I only go to places with a separate Ladies entrance, as we need to shielded from certain items, lest are delicate nature be assaulted.

    On the whole, this one was a bit sadder than your usual…a downward spinal frozen into stream of consciousness. Complicated and evocative. Well done and viva la

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