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Steve Shepherd: a poem

lenny's last christmas


lenny might have made an effort for his daughter

but it's as likely (legal papers; heroin)

that christmas '65 didn't exist for him.

philosopher; poet

jazzman; saint – 

deep down he knew that he was faking.

tangents, they were his thing,

you never knew where a riff might take him. 

in the late fifties he was best at getting a party going; 

and he was funny, 

he used to say the microphone is my horn

alone, though. always alone.

he was the only guy jack sheldon knew 

who could steal heroin right in front of you,

while he was cutting it up. 


lenny, on fire in the snow:

trudging through the drifts towards carnegie hall

a black kid on a bike skidded and pinned him to a wall. 

that’s why they don’t let you guys on buses

lenny said, quick as an echo,

and the kid cracked up.

his fantasy for carnegie hall: 

he would enter stage left with a violin, play for an hour, 

say nothing and leave.

instead, it was religion, abortion, the bomb, cuba.

from that night on it was open season.

cops scribbled notes 

and lenny was forced to defend himself

against their shorthand,

like fighting smoke.


in ‘65 lenny nodded out of a window right here 

across the street from city lights

after that he was in a wheelchair 

"super-jew",  said lenny,

but by the time he hit the sidewalk 

he was no longer a comedian. 

august '66 the cops arrived for the last time,

walked through the legal papers strewn across his room

and found him face down, needle in arm. 

he lived to share his insights, lenny needed to perform,

by stopping him they may as well have put a gun to his head.

not a philosopher or a poet, not a saint or a jazzman,

just lenny bruce, dead.

Steve Shepherd writes poems and takes photographs. He used to make radio programmes, mostly jazz. You can find his documentary on Lenny Bruce here.


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