Friday, August 26, 2016

"Christmas Among the Damned"

As our dedicated staff of graduate assistants is still busily preparing the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven for publication in the form of an actual "book" later this year, we thought that – in lieu of any new episodes (at present) of Arnold's massive and towering chef-d'œuvre – we would present today another one of his classic poems, in the hope that it would bring a touch of Christmas cheer to these dog days of August.  "Christmas Among the Damned" is one of the very few poems of Schnabel’s to exist only in his holograph — written, as was his custom, with a Bic pen in a black-and-white marble copybook. The poem is undated, but carbon dating of the paper indicates that the poem was probably written sometime during his stay at the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry in early 1963, following his complete mental collapse in January of that year. The poem is probably unfinished, lacking as it does the formal perfection of the great bulk of poems that Schnabel published on a weekly basis for some thirty years in his neighborhood paper, The Olney Times, but nonetheless we feel it worthy of sharing with his many readers, even if he chose — undoubtedly for his own good reasons — not to submit it for publication.

“Christmas Among the Damned”

Their eyes blear,
their voices coarse,
they wander from tavern to bar,
full of fear
and cheap remorse;
they know death is not far,
and that the Lord on high
will not come for them;
He would rather drop
a bomb on them;

He does not heed their grumbling,
He does not hear their curses,
He does not hear them mumbling
as they scrabble through their purses
and their wallets made of plastic
for the price of a glass of Ortlieb’s
or, tripping the dark fantastic,
perhaps also a shot of Schenley’s.

These are the damned, these
who seek but know not pleasure,
damned once,
damned twice,
damned thrice,
and damned once again for good measure.

Their eyes bloodshot,
their noses bulbous and red,
their flesh carbuncular,
where it is not the color
of the belly of a week-dead
these are my friends.

I see them at Pat’s,
at the Huddle,
and at the Green Parrot;
I see them at the VFW,
and at the Knights of Columbus;

some of them even have wives
or husbands as the case may be;
many of them have children,
even grandchildren
(unlike bachelor me);
they all have homes of some sort
a rowhome, apartment, or rented room,
most have jobs of some kind,
working at the Heintz factory
or at Philco or Tastykake,
but this is their real job,
sitting in a bar, staring at
the TV playing I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster,
sitting silently,
or talking petulantly,
this is their calling
and their place,
in the legions of the damned.

Yes, some sit silently on their stools
but most will talk at the slightest
provocation, or even if there is none,
even if they have nothing to say
which is nearly always,
because the hell they carry within
loves to overflow into the hell
outside them.

At last the bartender, last call
long called, stands in his coat by
the door. “This is not a hotel,”
he yells. “You don’t have to go
home, but you can’t stay here.”

One by one they shuffle through the
door and out into the cold,
into the night, from one hell
into another, and off they stumble,
to rowhome, apartment or rented room.

Gay colored lights are strung
outside the windows of the modest homes,
and along the shops on Fifth Street,
for it is Christmastime,
the anniversary of the birth
of the Savior, of someone’s savior,
but not theirs, not these,
who are beyond saving;
It’s Christmas on the streets of Olney,
and a gentle snow begins to fall,
on these the damned who have
nothing to look forward to
but another hangover.

It’s the eve of Christmas Eve,
the cold wind licks their faces,
the snowflakes find their way into
the collars of necks whose scarves
have been left in the sawdust of the
barroom floor.
A shortcut is taken through Fisher Park,
but the scrubby grass is slick and wet;
a fall is taken down Dead Man’s Hill
where the children love to sled
on their Flexible Flyers:
down, down he tumbles, down and down,
until finally he lands at the bottom,
in the slush and jagged ice,
where, in pain,
which means at least not dead,
not yet, he lies on his back,
howling at the universe,
the snow rushing down
heedlessly into his face,
and somewhere among the rowhomes
on Nedro Avenue, a dog replies,
howling also, and then another on
Sixth Street, and yet another on Spencer,
and soon a whole chorus of dogs join in,
drowning out the screams of the human,
or of what once was human.
Yes, it’s Christmas,
for God and man and dog,
for those who are heaven bound
and for those forever banned
from paradise.
This is Christmas,
Christmas among the damned.


(The illustrative frame up top is from Lionel Rogosin's
On the Bowery (1956). Kindly scroll down the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to many other classic poems by Arnold Schnabel. Our serialization of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume autobiography, Railroad Train to Heaven, with all new and thrilling episodes, will resume, God willing, in a month or so.)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"One Night"

While our editorial staff continues to prepare the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive chef-d'œuvre for publication later this year, we should like to present the following classic sonnet, written sometime in January of 1963 during Arnold’s commitment at the Byberry state mental hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.

"One Night"

One night the ceiling opened and I rose up slowly;
above my house I twisted round, looked down and back
on Nedro Avenue, B Street, and the Heintz factory;
black smoke billowed from a gaping maw-like stack,
smoke enveloped me and all was dark;
like a dead cinder upward I floated and spinned:
I called to God for light, a tiny spark:
he did not answer. The reason? I had sinned.
For fifteen years I stared at the night within my head
and then at last I slept for another fifteen,
till I awoke firmly bound to a clean white bed.
It’s been several days and now the bed is not so clean,
and neither am I; each night I watch the ceiling yawn,
but I am well-strapped in: I await the dawn.

(Kindly scroll down the right hand column of this page to find links to many other poems by Arnold Schnabel, as well as to all cyber-published chapters of his memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Saturday, August 6, 2016



Our dedicated staff of interns and volunteers continues to work feverishly preparing Volume One of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre for publication as a “book” later this year, and so, in lieu of any new episodes, we present the following classic sonnet from our hero, first published in the Olney Times for August 10, 1962, in that troubled but artistically rich period preceding Arnold’s complete mental breakdown in January of the following year. And rest assured, new chapters of Arnold’s saga will be forthcoming as soon as our current editorial labors are completed.


The streets shimmer as the old women stag-
ger with their pendulant sacks filled with God
knows what. “Potatoes mostly,” says the wag
on the corner watching all the world’s odd-
ness float past him, smiling indifferent-
ly, even as the world evident-
ly ignores him. “You see it’s for pota-
to soup. They make it every single day.
They think that we're all still in the Depress-
ion. Oh, by the way, do you think that you --”
I toss him a dime, and with the sun press-
ing against my back, I walk on, home to
Mother through these streets so bright;
She's made some potato soup for tonight.

(Kindly scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to many of the other fine poems of Arnold Schnabel, suitable for declamation at weddings, retirement parties, and funeral obsequies. This broadcast made possible thanks to the kind permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia.)