Laurence Lieberman, "The Ballad of Jack-Tar Rum"




This swiftly burgeoning

          outdoor diner began as a street vender's pushcart.

       Two years back, Baidge bought

   out the franchise, installing food stands

          and display cases across his house yard. Soup kitchen,

               stir-fry counter

          and cinema came soon after. The two jam-packed bike rental

   racks are enjoying a first-month's debut.

       Bizness is booming.

          My host, hand over fist, keeps making small change

       out of the sawed-off plastic

   gallon milk carton, his home-made cash register,

          most often selling candies and smokes, single piece

after single piece. Finally a



letup in sales... And I get

yard tour. Today's a big turning point

in his plan to remodel his multi-business home

work station. Baidge meets

The Public right

out of his house parlor—

it makes for intimacy of exchange.

Friends are family,

family compadres. Nobody's a stranger here. Out-

siders, foreigners, they embrace

like kin. Insiders, we all

be. That said,


he swings one arm from

          left to right and back—half sweep, half embrace—

       taking in a dozen-odd men

   in soft hats milling about. But not

          idle, or drifters, says he. They're keen labor force

               hanging out 'til

          supper. I'll feed them myself, then pump them up with Jack-

   Tar stiff rum, for the long haul of night

       work. The crew love

          to pull off all-nighters, working best when the air

       cools down, and soft breezes

   may soothe and dry off bubbles of sweat from

          their brows. No more kids and lady customers flocking

to concession tables,


then getting

trampled underfoot by fierce

battery of floor layers, or tracking

clumps of mud & grime from bare earth of yard

into movie theater and

dining space...

That pyramid of sand

and high stacks of cement bags in mid-

yard will soon be

moulded into a fully paved floor and walk-way.

No one of his able crew will rest

until job's complete—mark

my word.


If I venture to come

          back in the wee hours, even at daybreak, I shall find

       them pouring the bubbly ooze

   and laying out the slabs of concrete, still...

          He stirs the two tall sizzling caldrons on the stove-top

                burners, both crammed

          so full of chicken legs, he must keep shifting those massive

   clumps to allow all drumsticks to remain

       submerged (stray tips

          are prone to pop up like yellowish human thumbs,

       eerily lifelike in their

   surges). One set of boiled legs will be twice-

          cooked, barbecued on the grill for sale to any comers;

while the other pot, stewed


with herbs

and dumplings, will fortify

the work crew to pull of an all nighter.

Their favorite chicken recipe will be capped with

multiple shots of Jack

Tar Rum—Hah!

Best booster he knows

for revving up the men to waves of

manic energy

and tireless effort. For each staffer, he gauges

the ideal balance of rum shots

to avoid drunken collapse

and secure


maximum output... Catching

          a flash of doubt in my surprised daze? Or perhaps

       my nods lack conviction,

   and he spins off into a historic

          anecdotal trance. Do I know why thriving sugar crops

               were so crucial

          to the first colonial Heads of State in the isles? Winning

   tactic to fend off invading armies

       or bands of thugs

          and pirates was to pump up local troops with rum, both

       novice and trained soldiers

   alike. Bequia's militia, of old, was composed,

          mostly, of ex-cons, teenage runaways, and hooligans.

True veteran warriors,


few and far

between. More potent the rum

the heftier their rampage in battle...

It would be hard to dream up more fearless dare-

devil infantries than such

bands of rookies

and raw youths who stomp

all bloody daylights out of the several

loads of prissy

French regiments, dressed in parti-colored lace-

ruffly uniforms. The tassel

hatted, jewel-handled-

sword waving


blokes outnumber our thrice-

          mended, raggedy youth corps of renegades, three or four

       to one. But in rum furies

   and braying like wild donkeys   our handful

          of scraggly-haired and unwashed chaps, few life-risk-greedy

               gloaters, may seem

          to swarm at them from all angles   above   below   behind   Each

   lad tumbles and weaves and flutters

       like a full legion

          of six men   their moves so haphazard and inchoate

       they shudder into a blur

   They repulse their enemy as a scarecrow

          throws off birds   Fire in the blood   flamy about the eyes

their nostrils   smoking   pour


out sparks...

Such is the legend of the rum

soldiers, who—like today's suicide

bombers—disband and befuddle their armed-to-the-

teeth foes by flinging

all sane measure

to the winds... When I

return to Baidge's outdoor gallery

some hours later,

a few minutes shy of daylight, I gasp at triumph!

The job is gleamily complete. All

pavement is cut to exact



Firmed up to resist boot-

          stomps without taking any imprint, and burnished to

       dull shine, almost a glow

   as winning as Baidge's eye glitter

          of pride in his rum Olympics Decathlon... Now the twenty-

               five or thirty

          viewers in his home-made movie house won't be tracking quite

   so many lumps and spangles of crud—

       fallen from heels

          and insoles—across the kitchen and theater gallery,

       where the audience, seated

   in folding chairs or squatting on low stools,

          are crammed shoulder to shoulder, knee to backside... Cement

spattered workmen, now idle,


too rum happy

and exhilarated to skip

away home to bed, stand: many stretched

tall on tiptoe, sucking in their bellies to usurp

less space, at the far end

of the ticketed

folks or around the chair

fringes. They pay a modest one EC

dollar, apiece,

for a triple feature culled from the local video

store—fees waived for pregnant moms,

kids on laps, and handicapped

souls... Inter-


mission time. Baidge claps

          two brass kettle-tops together like cymbals (he calls

       it twanging the gong), drawing

   the jolly crowd into two lines to

          wait out their share of this evening's rare treat: spicy

               vegetable and

          conch soup, steaming in the tallest third kettle. That boasted

   late snack, favorite delicacy

       for one and all,

          crowning the afterglow

               of today's floor-laying vigil....



Laurence Lieberman's poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Five Points, Southern Review, Colorado Review, and American Poetry Review. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry and three books of literary criticism.