Marlboro Charlie*

my neighbour downstairs
whose real name i never caught
who returned my ‘good morning’ with
a long throaty ‘aaah!’ like a pleased crow
that’s spotted something shiny

eighty and lean as a hound
always in white singlet
and the whitest white shorts
who walked on springy parentheses
in Doppler-effect flipflops

took a tumble on wet concrete
and gashed his knee outside the shop
he went to every morning at nine
for his pack of smokes

the stout lady inside sent
her delivery boy and trolley out
to load the fallen and push him
through the hawker centre to Dr Tay’s

after the rain came patient
two boxes of groceries and the boy
tobogganing down the wheelchair
incline at a hundred miles an hour
a bandaged leg sticking out
like a broken tree limb after wind

i held my breath for the turn at the end
gurney boxes and boy managed right
Charlie carried on

skimmed the lacquered grass
stone on pond
toward fence and shrubbery
stopped a foot short
horizontal and herbal green mummy
with cigarette still in his mouth


*Charlie never fully recovered and passed away
a few months later. His wake, like many Chinese wakes,
was held for two days at the void deck of our building.
I didn’t officially attend, not family, but for a few minutes
stood a discreet way off and bowed by head and smiled.

71 thoughts on “Marlboro Charlie*

  1. I hear the splash of rain and urban noise in a language I do not comprehend! How it this possible? Too many movies about China Town? Or perhaps you captured a deeper truth! Thanks so much!

  2. You are one of his perfect neighbor brother John, I guess he should have considered you same. RIP Charlie!

    Be Bettr, Stay Bettr! 🙂

  3. This is the amazing poem, John!
    Makes me feel sad and happy at the same time… What strange dual feelings!

    Please, take care, dear John
    Your Tati

  4. Now that’s a memory for one’s mornin’ cuppa. A hi-by neighbor takes a tumble from which he does not recover. Still, he has left behind a feeling that we cannot forget.
    blessings ~ maxi

    • Laura
      Thank You very much.

      i appreciate it deeply when a reader mentions
      a particular line, verse or passage, it means so much to me.

      Again, Thank You

      Best to You


  5. What a memory! The thought of him careening down the wheel chair incline…I’ll bet he was having the most fun he’s had in years. Charlie would be so pleased you have memorialized him with your words!

    • May good Charlie rest in peace. We had no contact other than those morning exchanges and yet I felt I knew him.
      Thank You, Noelle, for your sensitivity and for your great support.



  6. I love “after the rain came patient” ; that line evokes a pleasant image, and it’s a surprise, to read it! I feel that this story, so well told, shows the silliness of humanity. (I hate to say idiocy, but that comes close, since we are all stuck in the tangled webs that are woven). Poor Charlie, but what a great tribute.


  7. Love it Broher John, especially the imagery. Especially liked, “who walked on springy parentheses
    in Doppler-effect flipflops”
    Wonderful. Sorry Charlie passed on.

  8. John, this is a lovely tribute to the one you call Charlie. The poem is delightful, I found myself smiling even thought this is serious. Your description of Charlie’s tumble, and then Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride back to his home, very entertaining! Even more amazing the cigarette remained in his mouth! Wonderful writing, fantastic imagery, I can visualize it all. For me the 2nd and 5th stanzas are my favorites, so terrific, packed with many moving and colorful pictures. It’s always a delight to read your words, thank you!

    Hugs and warm wishes,

    • Pepperanne,
      Once again you do a me a great honour..
      Thank You

      I’m happy you enjoyed Charlie and his misadventure – a tragicomic situation really.

      You take the best care and I’m still recovering from that cowboy poem of yours!

      Big Hugs


  9. ” a bowed head and a smile ” ….such a beautiful honor for Charlie ….I see the void only because you , John , filled the moments with such descriptive poetic life …respectfully , megxxx

  10. Very nice story and I did imagine Charlie quite picturesquely, of course, a smoker always notices the fags that never desert its loyal pal 🙂

  11. Wow, Charlie sounded like he led an adventerous life. I hope to live a life where I’ve broken a bone or two before I go, or at least lived a life where I could have. I image being on the mend for months on end is a high price to pay for seizing the day in the wildest of ways, but if it’s done with the right friends I imagine I could count the cost and reap the wounds of spontanity while still young. I get much older though, or worse, get hitched and have a kid, I will have to change my tune. Great word snapshot of a life brother!

    My best to you John!


  12. I love this, the scenario played out perfectly, Oh, John you are a fine teller of tales!
    Doppler-effect flip flops…wow, hats off to you! 😀

  13. Dear John,

    A tribute to one who seems to have lived his uncomplicated life, puffing away, keeping himself physically spick and span. Your observations give him dignity and your humourous portrayal summaries his nicotine-dependence so brilliantly – devoid of ‘nanny state’ dictats !

  14. Devotional and laced with respectful humor. ‘Marlboro Charlie’. Depth of description always fascinates me with your powers of observation and the ability to successfully relate in print sharp and clear with the ever present cushion of the romantic. Bravo! Charlie’s singlet ever defining in my imagination. Ever your friend, Jon Michael

  15. You paint a living movie with your words, John! I saw the whole thing, from beginning to end. I so admire your creative ability! Hope all is super in your world ❤

  16. I’m not sure why, John, but I have a habit of imagining the writer’s voice as I read back with utter respect and fascination. In your case I am hearing the deep, authoritative voice of talk show host Larry King, embellishing upon every single word as born somewhere deep within, a gentle conveyance with a marvelous blend of life in careful measures large and small.

    Your gift for storytelling is deeply engaging and commands the imagination’s responsive visualization as those stories seamlessly unfold.

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