Eve of St. Agony or The Middleclass Was Sitting on Its Fat

By Kenneth Patchen 1911–1972 Kenneth Patchen
Man-dirt and stomachs that the sea unloads; rockets
of quick lice crawling inland, planting their damn flags,   
putting their malethings in any hole that will stand still,
yapping bloody murder while they slice off each other’s heads,   
spewing themselves around, priesting, whoring, lording   
it over little guys, messing their pants, writing gush-notes   
to their grandmas, wanting somebody to do something pronto,   
wanting the good thing right now and the bad stuff for the other boy.
Gullet, praise God for the gut with the patented zipper;   
sing loud for the lads who sell ice boxes on the burning deck.   
Dear reader, gentle reader, dainty little reader, this is
the way we go round the milktrucks and seamusic, Sike’s trap and Meg’s rib,
the wobbly sparrow with two strikes on the bible, behave   
Alfred, your pokus is out; I used to collect old ladies,   
pickling them in brine and painting mustaches on their bellies,   
later I went in for stripteasing before Save Democracy Clubs;   
when the joint was raided we were all caught with our pants down.
But I will say this: I like butter on both sides of my bread   
and my sister can rape a Hun any time she’s a mind to,
or the Yellow Peril for that matter; Hector, your papa’s in the lobby.
The old days were different; the ball scores meant something then,
two pill in the side pocket and two bits says so; he got up slow see,
shook the water out of his hair, wam, tell me that ain’t a sweet left hand;
I told her what to do and we did it, Jesus I said, is your name McCoy?
Maybe it was the beer or because she was only sixteen but I got hoarse
just thinking about her; married a john who travels in cotton underwear.
Now you take today; I don’t want it. Wessex, who was that with I saw you lady?
Tony gave all his dough to the church; Lizzie believed in feeding her own face;
and that’s why you’ll never meet a worm who isn’t an antichrist, my friend,
I mean when you get down to a brass tack you’ll find some sucker sitting on it.
Whereas. Muckle’s whip and Jessie’s rod, boyo, it sure looks black
in the gut of this particular whale. Hilda, is that a .38 in your handbag?

         Ghosts in packs like dogs grinning at ghosts   
         Pocketless thieves in a city that never sleeps
         Chains clank, warders curse, this world is stark mad

Hey! Fatty, don’t look now but that’s a Revolution breathing down your neck.

Kenneth Patchen, “Eve of St. Agony or The Middleclass Was Sitting on Its Fat” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1939 by Kenneth Patchen. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1957)

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Poet Kenneth Patchen 1911–1972

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Class, Social Commentaries

 Kenneth  Patchen

Biography

Largely a self-taught writer, Kenneth Patchen never appeared to win widespread recognition from the professors at universities or many literary critics. As the New York Times Book Review noted, "While some critics tended to dismiss his work as naive, romantic, capricious and concerned often with the social problems of the 1930's, others found him a major voice in American poetry.... Even the most generous praise was usually . . .

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SUBJECT Class, Social Commentaries

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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