Brian Jacques had a gift for creating a voice for his characters, not only in his Redwall series, but also in his poetry. And sometimes that voice was quite striking in its forlornness, such as the character of McCann in “Plonky,” a drunk wandering Paradise St. in Liverpool, England, circa 1970s. Give it a read and listen here.
Plonky, by Brian Jacques
Even the cheapest wine was expensive now
McCann held the bottle out at arm’s length
So he could read the label without putting his specs on
“Fine Olde Port Style Ruby Wine-
Produce of More Than One Country” it said
Two pretty young girls passing along Paradise Street
Saw the old man holding the bottle out.
They both laughed. One of them said “Cheers!”
McCann stared at them
And to discourage further familiarities
He stuffed the bottle back into his Mac pocket
Horked noisily, and spat on the pavement.
The girls hurried off back to work
As he closed his eyes, and leaned back on the bench,
The dappled Shadows from the bushes behind giving
His face a leprous look.
Plonk. Where’d had he first heard the word?
1944. On the front steps of that little Italian church-
What was it called now?- Santa Therese de Liscious-
He could remember the statue outside.
It was a lady, dressed as a nun, with a face like a Madonna.
Sargent Thomas had translated the Latin inscription
Beneath the statue for the benefit
Of McCann and his mates.
“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
The soldiers had laughed and sang “April Showers.”
They bought rough red wine from a man
Who sold it off the back of a cart.
“Chianti del Classico” it was called.
One of the lads from McCann’s regiment
Said it was only plonk.
McCann stood up and swayed as he took out his bottle again.
“Plonk! It’s all only plonk!”he told the whole of Paradise Street,
Aloud, with his arms stretched wide.
Nobody was taking any notice,
So he broke out into song.
“St. Therese Of The Roses”
The panda car stopped at the curb alongside,
And he found himself looking into the face
Of a young policeman.
Immediately, McCann straightened up
And threw the constable what he imagined
Was a smart military salute.
“It’s s’alright. S’Alright, Sarge! Just goin’…” he mumbled,
As he pocketed the bottled and retreated
Along Paradise Street in the direction of Duke Street
The young copper watched him go,
Shook his head in disgust
And climbed back into the car.
“Another plonky,” he said to his mate.
McCann wandered aimlessly, staggering
And talking to himself.
People avoided him, and crossed over the road
When they saw him coming.
McCann didn’t worry, he didn’t care.
Let ‘em move out of the way for him.
He fought and bled for the likes of them.
Yeah- fought and bled!
I caught shrapnel in me left leg
And a silver plate in me skull.
Let ‘em move out of the way!
He wished he hadn’t sold his medals-that’ve showed ‘em!
Oh he still had Marty’s medals, but…
They belonged to Marty, not him.
I’ll bet he didn’t get much plonk out in Korea-
That was where Marty was buried- by the 39th Parallel.
Betcha no one even remembers that-
The 39th parallel.
That was where his son, Corporal Martin McCann was buried.
It was never the same after that.
Mary left him, and went to live
With her sister and her mother.
Plonky, she’d called him.
Said he lost all his self-respect,
Especially when she caught him taking the rent money
Out to the bars on the dresser.
He hadn’t seen her since.
Probably wouldn’t recognize her now.
McCann looked around at the doorway he was leaning against.
It was a church.
Let’s go in and ‘ave a look around.
He liked churches.
The parish priest was in the vestry,
Composing Sunday’s sermon
When the little altar boy walked in.
“Hey, Father- there’s some old man out there-
Sitting by St. Therese’s statue
And he’s drinking out of a bottle and singing
“St. Therese of the Roses.”
Ah, that’s alright John, he often does that,
He’s only a plonky ya know.
There’s no harm in it.