Thursday, April 6, 2023

“Pretty Polly”

Addison had been around enough poets in his lifetime to know that the last thing any of them wanted was an honest opinion of their work, let alone “constructive criticism”. What they wanted was praise, lots of it, and the more of it the better…

He glanced up from the sheet of typescript at Milford, the young fellow’s tortured eyes peering through the thick round glasses beneath the newsboy’s cap.

“Have you finished yet?”

“Um, almost.”

Addison returned his gaze to the poem and forced himself to read its final lines:

The feral cats meow in the alleyways of doom,
and in the night the stray dogs howl,
but who will disperse this pervasive gloom?
None other than Polly, pretty Polly Powell!

Nuclear destruction threatens the world,
but, regardless, poets pale all now will
sing only of one particular girl,
and her name is Polly, pretty Polly Powell!

Addison looked up again.

“Wow,” he said.

“Wow?” said Milford.

“Yes, just, wow.”

“Just wow?”

“I mean, yes, decidedly. I mean, wow.”

“That’s all? Just ‘wow’?”

“Oh, no, there’s so much more I could say.”

“Yes? Like what?”


There was nothing for it but just to let loose with the bullshit, and let the devil take the hindmost.

“Certain adjectives spring to mind,” said Addison.

“Let’s hear them!” said Milford.

“’Stunning’ leaps to the fore.”


“Also ‘shattering’.”



“What else?”


“Incisive? Really?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“I never know what people mean exactly when they say incisive.”

It occurred to Addison that he felt the same way about the word. What the hell did it mean?

“It means, uh –”

“You mean like cutting to the quick?” said Milford.

“Yes, precisely,” said Addison. “Cutting to the quick.”

“To the bone?”

“Yes, right to the bone.”

“But it’s a love poem. Should a love poem cut right to the quick and to the bone?”

This was the problem with talking nonsense. It just led to more nonsense. But now that he had cast his lot with utter duplicity, there was no turning back.

“In this case,” said Addison, “yes, I think it is legitimate for a poem to cut to the quick and to the bone, because – how can I put this – I think you have, in this work, indeed cut to the quick, to the, uh –”

“To the bone –”

“Yes, to the bone, of the meaning of love.”

“Gee, really?” said Milford.

“Yes, to the essence,” said Addison.

“No kidding?”

“I kid you not,” said Addison.

“So you liked it?”

“Oh, yes, very much so.”

“It’s only a first draft. I just wrote it this afternoon.”

“Gosh, it sure doesn’t read like a first draft.”

“Dashed it off in the white-hot heat of inspiration.”

“And a damned fine job you did, too.”

“This is only the beginning by the way.”

“The beginning?”


“May I ask of what?”

“It’s only the beginning of the poem.”

“Oh. So there’s more?”

“There will be. I look on this as the introductory canto, merely the overture if you will, but I envision the work as perhaps a hundred pages upon completion.”


“Or more.”


“Yes,” said Milford. “Who knows, maybe two hundred pages!”

“Well, uh, you’ve got a swell start here,” said Addison.

“That’s only thirteen pages. Just scratching the surface of all I want to say.”


Need to say.”


“I hope the publishers don’t give me a hard time about a book-length poem.”

“Fie on them,” said Addison.

“Yeah,” said Milford. “Fie on them! What do they know?”

“Good question.”

“So I should show the poem to her?”

“To whom?”

“To Polly!”

“Oh, right. Well – I don’t know.”

“What do you mean? Why shouldn’t I show it to her?”

“Well, let me ask you this,” said Addison, and he paused.

“Yes, go on,” said Milford.

“How well do you know Polly?”

“To be honest I only really spoke with her for the first time today.”


“What do you mean, uh-huh?”

“And may I ask how long you conversed with her?”

“In toto?”


“Perhaps five minutes altogether.”


“There you go again with that uh-huh! Say what you mean, man!”

“Okay,” said Addison, trying to choose his words carefully while lifting his glass and shaking the few slivers of ice remaining in it, hoping Milford would take the hint and offer to buy him a fresh highball. “Here’s the thing. This is going to be your first date, right?”

“I despise that term.”

“Okay, not date then. Your first planned meeting outside her place of employment.”

“Yeah,” said Milford.

“All right,” said Addison, “now, I may be wrong – I’ve been wrong before.”

“Of course you have, but, please, spit it out. I can take the truth.”

“This poem, as grand as it is, might – and mind I say mightmight be just a little too much to spring on a girl on your first date.”

“First meeting.”

“Your first meeting.”

“I don’t like ‘meeting’. It reminds me too much of AA.”

“How about rendezvous?”

“Okay, I like that better. Our first rendezvous.”

“Showing her the poem might just be a bit, um, de trop for a first rendezvous.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, it might just be a little overwhelming for her for your first date I mean meeting or rendezvous.”

“But I thought you liked the poem.”

“Oh, but I do,” said Addison, rattling the ice in his glass again. “I’m only saying it might be wise to wait until you get to know her a little better before springing a thirteen-page love poem on her.”


“You know.”

“Wait a while,” said Milford.

“Yes,” said Addison. “I mean, you don’t want to scare her off.”

“Scare her off?”

“Not scare her off, but, uh –”

“Make her uncomfortable?”

“Yes,” said Addison. “I mean, just wait a little while.”

“Like until the second date?”

“Uh, yeah –”

“I mean the second meeting.”

“Um –”

“Or second rendezvous,” said Milford.

“Yeah, or, who knows,” said Addison, “maybe even –”

“Wait until the third date?”

“Possibly,” said Addison.

Milford looked away, and Addison wondered if he had put his foot into it, and if he could kiss goodbye to any more scotches and Woodbines from this source.

“I mean, again, I could be wrong,” he said. “What do I know?”

Milford turned to face him again.

“You’re saying I don’t want to come on too strong.”

“Exactly,” said Addison.

“I shouldn’t overwhelm her at our first meeting. Date. Rendezvous.”

“Yes,” said Addison.

“Maybe you’re right,” said Milford.


“I know,” said Milford. “But possibly not. You know, it may surprise you to hear this, but I don’t have a terribly enormous amount of experience with the fair sex.”

“That is surprising,” said Addison, with a straight face.

“It’s all rather uncharted waters for me,” said Milford.

“It’s all rather uncharted waters for me,” said Milford. 

“Life is uncharted waters,” said Addison.

He rattled the ice in his glass again, but to no avail. Milford was too preoccupied. Sometimes you just had to come out and ask for a free drink, but, after all, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t earned it. And he was just about to mention another round when a mousy-looking young woman suddenly appeared in the space between him and Milford.

“Am I late?” she said.

“I beg your pardon?” said Milford.

“I said am I late. I decided to wash my hair and I had to wait until it dried.”

“Oh,” said Milford. And then, at last realizing that this was the girl with whom he was in love, “Oh!”

And suddenly Addison also recognized the nickel-thrower from the automat. She looked so different now that she wasn’t wearing her white uniform smock, and now she turned to him.

“Hi,” she said. “My name is Polly. Polly Powell.”

{Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, lavishly illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

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