Artwork by Nick Gentry
“Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly
we pay for its counterfeit.”--Hosea Ballou
If one day, you wander into that hick cemetery
in Cottondale, TX, you might stumble onto
a small tombstone, ground level, simply
marked GEORGE B. KELLEY--1954;
which was not me--hell, they even
misspelled my fake name.
I died at 54 in 1954, how about that for a fucking
cosmic coincidence? I was born George Francis Barnes, Jr.
I made a bit of a splash during Prohibition.
They called me Machine Gun Kelly,
because my weapon of choice was a Thompson sub-machine gun;
but hell, I wasn’t really a hard case stone cold killer like
some of them, you know--Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Lucky Luciano--
that whole fucked-up crowd.
I mean, I liked to work with my hands, & if my old man
hadn’t kicked my ass out of the house at 15, & if I hadn’t
had early successes as a bootlegger & leg-breaker,
I might have ended up as a garage mechanic.
I admit I turned into a bit of a flashy punk in them early days
just before the Depression, had a lot
of run-ins with the bulls in Memphis;
they was a tough bunch of bastards, so
anyway my girlfriend, Kathy, & I
lambed it to Tulsa, & got by
robbing a few farmer’s banks, but in 1928 I fucked up bad,
& got caught smuggling booze into an Indian reservation--
those crazy Cherokees liked their fire water.
I hate to admit it, but it was Kathy who was really the tough one in our
crime duo. She really took to the gangster life. She was the one who
coined my gangster handle; George R. Kelly. She planned all the little
chicken bank jobs, pushing for my notoriety, pushed for my meet with
Dillinger, talked me into getting hitched, chose the name Kelly since I was Irish.
Shit, she was the one who bought me
my first chopper,
a shiny new $225 Thompson
sub-machine gun, with three $5
Type C drum magazines
that held 50 .45 ACP cartridges each.
Guys called the Thompson a lot of different names:
the Trench Sweeper (from its WWI roots),
the Chicago Typewriter, Organ Grinder, & Piano,
but in any real shoot-out,
you had to be careful not to blow
your wad too soon,
spraying fifty shells willy-nilly,
had to learn how to squeeze off bursts, because
it was tough & damn slow to change out the fucking drum,
& God help you if you had a jam.
Yeah, I shot up a few guys,
most of them cops, but I don’t think
I actually killed any one--but Miss Kathy
took to wearing a Bonnie Parker beret
& she certainly plugged a lot more guys than I did.
but then in July 1933, we got greedy
& kidnapped a fat cat oil tycoon named
Charlie Urshel--& things just went sideways
from the get; fucking Charlie was crafty,
memorizing background noises, counting
footsteps, putting his greasy fingerprints
on everything he could. So we ransomed him
for 200 thousand bucks, but
our success was nothing but sham. We had stashed
half the take at the Coleman Ranch in TX,
old Earl was Kathy’s uncle. We were laying low over on
Raynor Street in Memphis, & a swarm
of them FBI pricks burst in while we was
eating our ham & eggs. I was unarmed, so
I panicked and yelled out, “Don’t shoot, G-Men!”
That stupid utterance came back to haunt me
all the rest of my days.
Shit just went south & sideways; Kathy got pissed off
because the newspapers hardly even mentioned our arrest,
since that was the same damn day that the Dillinger
gang broke him out of the pen over at
Michigan City, Indiana.
Then they tracked down Uncle Earl,
& napped our 73 grand out of his cotton patch--
& of course that little pompous faggot, J. Edgar
fucking Hoover used my battered butt
for a springboard, glorifying the FBI. They allowed
, for the first time, film cameras into our trial,
& kidnapping, after the Lindbergh fiasco,
became a federal crime; turns out that our case
was the first major crime solved by his newly formed
gang of FBI thugs, so
Kathy & I both got life sentences out of the deal.
I lasted 21 years in the joint, starting off
at my alma mammy, Leavenworth, but then
I got lucky & got sent to the rock, Alcatraz; yeah,
so for 17 years I was inmate 117. I let everyone know
from day one that I wasn’t no tough guy; made trustee after
doing a dime, pretty happy actually working in the shop
making stuff for them to sell.
Then the assholes transferred me
back to Leavenworth in 1951; didn’t last long in that shit hole,
bit the big one in 1954, sort of died
of a broken heart.
Kathy, of course, outlived me;
got out on her good behavior
while I was still on the Rock. She was studying law
when they shipped me back to Kansas.
I am tickled as hell when I think of her
as a lawyer, always a tough lady, smart,
a great piece of ass, born with
fire in her belly. I would have been nothing
without her; crazy bitch married a Sheriff
& lived to be 90.
My final thoughts were of her, me
sitting on the crapper, smiling, straining,
just before my heart exploded.
Posted over at dVerse Poets Poetics
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