Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Blackbird Noir
John Vanek

Raindrops plump as seedless grapes
spatter the pavement, batter the roof, as I
enter the haven of The Leeward Lounge.
Egan squats on his usual stool, drops a depth-charge
of his friend, Jim Beam, into his beer,
caresses his Marlboro, stares at the deaf-mute
TV, talks politics, dirty tricks.

Outside the alley window, backlit by a streetlamp,
a dark figure flips a coin,
sets it on the sill,
cocks his head, looks straight at me
like some street punk—then taps the pane,
bobs his head, picks up the coin
in his beak, flips it again.

A door slams; I await the arrival
of the late, great Mr. Poe,
but it’s Egan, not Edgar,
back from the john.
He glances at the window, says
In the old country, a bird at the window
means death
, then segues to lawn care.

The other stool-toppers look, but do not see.
As the jukebox flat-lines, the bird
taps out an urgent rhythm.
I half-expect him to spit in the street, light a stogie,
sell me tout sheets or tiny Rolex knockoffs
hidden under feathers, but he
just keeps flipping: heads, tails, heads.

What does he want? I wonder
if he’s warning or threatening,
but like Egan’s chatter, there is no end.
Maybe he’s laying odds on my demise:
if it’s tails, will my neon-red life
drain from my veins, mix with spilled beer
on the peanut-shelled floor until

I fade into the night, as black as he.
Mayhem taps again on the window.
A cackle erupts, yet he’s not smiling.
A drop, too dark for rain,
trickles down the pane.
As Egan rambles on about dental care
through yellowed teeth, I pocket

happy-hour nuts, pay the barkeep.
Outside, I raise my collar,
enter the alley, but he’s gone.
I stare at blood on the window,
the tail-side of a penny on the sill,
trade peanuts for the coin, payment
for advice given, time spent.

Today in church, I long
to fly home, long for Jim Beam
to ease the scratch
of gravel in my throat, yet
tuck the penny under the coffin pillow,
plod the stairs to the podium,
croon my short elegy for Egan, my heart

like the beating
of black wings.

John Vanek is a physician and poet with works published in numerous literary journals and showcased on public radio. He has read his poetry at the George Bush Presidential Library, the Akron Art Museum, Eckerd College, and the Cleveland Clinic. His book, “Heart Murmurs: Poems,” is available at