Noir Poet: Marc Cohn

Strangers in a Car – Marc Cohn

There’s a stranger in a car
Driving down your street
Acts like he knows who you are
Slaps his hand on the empty seat and says
“Are you gonna get in
Or are you gonna stay out?”
Just a stranger in a car
Might be the one they told you about

Well you never were one for cautiousness
You open the door
He gives you a tender kiss
And you can’t even hear them no more
All the voices of choices
Now only one road remains
And strangers in a car
Two hearts
Two souls
Two lanes

You don’t know where you’re goin’
You don’t know what you’re doin’
Hell it might be the highway to heaven
And it might be the road to ruin
But this is a song
For strangers in a car
Baby maybe that’s all
We really are
Strangers in a car
(Driving down your street)
Just strangers in a car
(Driving down your street)
Strangers in a car

Noir Poet: Sinclair Lewis

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

“When a man straggles on the short death-walk from his cell through the little green door, into the room where stands the supreme throne, does he, along with his incredulous apprehension, along with trying to believe that this so-living and eternal-seeming center and purpose of the universe, himself — this solid body with its hard biceps, its curiously throbbing heart that ever since his mother’s first worry has in its agonies been so absorbing, this red-brown skin that has glowed after the salt sea at Coney Island and has turned a sullen brick after wild drinking — the astonishment that this image of God and Eternity will in five minutes be still and stiff and muck — is he at that long slow moment nonetheless conscious of a mosquito bite, of a toothache, of the smugness of the messages from Almighty God which the chaplain gives him, of the dampness of the slimy stone corridor and the echo of their solemn march? Is he more conscious of these little abrasions than of the great mystery?”

Sinclair Lewis, ‘Dodsworth’ (1929)

Noir Poet – Kenneth Fearing: “appeals urged across kitchen tables and the fury that shouts them down”

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)


She sleeps, lips round, see how at rest
how dark the hair, unstrung with all the world
see the desirable eyes, how still, how white, sealed
to all faces, locked against ruin, favor, and every

Nothing behind them now but a pale mirage
through which the night-time ragman of the street
below moves in a stiff and slow ballet
rhythmic from door to door, hallway to curb and
gutter to stoop, bat’s eyes bright, ravenous,
ravenous for the carrion found and brought by
tireless fingers to unreal lips

Her hand relaxed beside the enchanted head, mouth red,
see how at peace the human form can be, whose
sister, whose sweetheart, daughter of whom,
and now the adorable ears, coral and pink
deaf to every footfall, every voice
midnight threats, the rancor stifled in rented bed-
rooms, appeals urged across kitchen tables and
the fury that shouts them down, gunfire,
screams, the sound of pursuit
all of these less than the thunderous wings of a moth
that circles here in the room where she sleeps

Sleeps, dreaming that she sleeps and dreams.


-From ‘Dead Reckoning’, A Book of Poetry by Kenneth Fearing (Random House, NY, 1938)



Noir Poets: Abraham Polonsky

I had forgotten Doris for a moment,
And then I was glad she was there, waiting.
She was someone to talk to.
We walked down Wall Street to trinity church,
And she kept watching me,
Wondering what had happened there in that office of mine.
I think she had made up her mind
To fall in love with me.
And I wouldn’t have minded at another time.
It would have been a change from the kind of women I knew.
She wanted me to talk to tell her, to convince her
That I didn’t realize what I was doing,
That I didn’t understand the business I was in,
But I enjoyed the idea of convincing her that I did.

When was it, Mr. Morse, that Tucker walked in?

I’ll tell you.
I’ll tell you, Doris,
how the boom was on,
And I could feel money
Spread all over the city
like air,
Like perfume from those
flowers I gave you.
the smell of money.

And was that when Tucker walked in?

Yes. And I’m a man.
What have I got to do
with Tucker?
But he opened his pocket,
and I jumped in headfirst.
I sat there
and measured my strength.
I had so much, Doris-
That’s the way I figured-
So much strength,
And it all worked out
this way.
I didn’t have enough strength
to resist corruption,
But I was strong enough
to fight for a piece of it.

And now you want to get out. Is that what your trouble is?

My trouble is, Miss Lowry,
that I feel like midnight,
And I don’t know
what the morning will be,
Except, for a little while,
I felt pretty easy here,
Talking to you,
liking you.
You’re the only one
I ever talk to, Doris.
You’re the only one
I ever talk to,
And I don’t know why,
Except that
you caught me tonight
When I would have talked
to the devil.

But I… thank you.

It’s the truth, Doris.
A man doesn’t tell lies
at midnight,
But now I talk to you
because you’re Doris.
You see how lovely
that makes you?

What are you now?

Someone to say,
To fool himself
or me, that…

that you love me?

Not so soon.
I won’t tell you that,
But it would be such
a comfort to me
To kiss you.
Is that strange?

No. No, that isn’t strange.

The Force of Evil (1948)
Direction and Screenplay by Abraham Polonsky. Based on Ira Wolfert’s novel Tucker’s People.

Noir Poets: Henry Miller

Crime begins with God. It will end with man, when he finds God again. Crime is everywhere, in all the fibres and roots of our being. Every minute of the day adds fresh crimes to the calendar, both those which are detected and punished, and those which are not. The criminal hunts down the criminal. The judge condemns the judger. The innocent torture the innocent…  Can you hold the mirror to iniquity when it is close at hand? Have you looked into the labyrinth of your own despicable heart? Have you sometimes envied the thug for his forthrightness? The study of crime begins with the knowledge of oneself. All that you despise, all that you loathe, all that you reject, all that you condemn and seek to convert by punishment springs from you. The source of it is God whom you place outside, above and beyond. Crime is identification, first with God, then with your own image. Crime is all that lies outside the pack and which is envied, coveted, lusted after. Crime flashes a million brilliant knife blades every minute of the day, and in the night too when waking gives way to dream. Crime is such a tough, such an immense tar­paulin, stretching from infinity to infinity. Where are the monsters who know not crime? What realms do they inhabit? What prevents them from snuffing out the universe?

– Henry Miller, ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’ (New Directions, NY, 1945)  pp 86-87

Noir Poets: Bruce Springsteen

Atlantic City

Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night
Now, they blew up his house, too
Down on the boardwalk they’re gettin’ ready for a fight
Gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now, there’s trouble bustin’ in from outta state
And the DA can’t get no relief
Gonna be a rumble out on the promenade
And the gamblin’ commissioner’s hangin’ on by the skin of his teeth

Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well, I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that coast city bus

Now, baby, everything dies, honey, that’s a fact…

Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold
But with you forever I’ll stay
Were goin’ out where the sands turnin’ to gold
Put on your stockin’s baby, `cause the night’s getting cold
And maybe everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Now, I been lookin’ for a job, but it’s hard to find
Down here it’s just winners and losers and don’t
Get caught on the wrong side of that line
Well, I’m tired of comin’ out on the losin’ end
So, honey, last night I met this guy and I’m gonna
Do a little favor for him

Well, I guess everything dies, baby, that’s a fact…

– Bruce Springsteen (1982)

Noir Poets: W R Burnett

“And suddenly Roy didn’t give a damn about Velma, or about Pa and Ma. He realized that they had never been real people to him at all, but figments out of a dream of the past. He began vaguely to understand that ever since the prison gate clanged shut behind him he’d been trying to return to his boyhood, where it was always summer and in the evenings the lightning-bugs flashed under the big branches of the sycamore trees and he swung on the farm gate with the yellow-haired girl from across the road while the Victrola on the porch played Dardanella. . . . Pa and Ma were replicas of his own folks merely, and Velma wasn’t really Velma, a slim, ordinary little blonde, but the ghost of Roma Stover, the yellow-haired girl swinging on the gate. . . .”

W. R. Burnett – High Sierra (1940)

Noir Poets: William P. McGivern

New York, 1957

Earl Slater – the white man:

Earl limped about pointlessly examining the junk on top of the mantel, studying the sturdy old beams and floor boards, pausing once to frown at the broken radio on the table. I’ll never see any of this again, he thought. Never see this room again in my life. Why should that bother him? he wondered. It was a cold, stinking dump. No man in his right mind would want to see it again. But leaving it reminded him of the other places he had left. He stood fingering the glass, while a dizzying succession of rooms and barracks and Army camps flashed through his mind. He was always the guy who had to leave, he thought. Everybody else stayed put, cozy and snug, while he hit the road. He never went back anywhere. There was no place on earth that called out to him, no stick or stone or blade of grass that belonged to him and nobody else.

Was it because he was dumb? Because he couldn’t feel what other people felt? The confident peace he had known after talking with Ingram had deserted him; he was uncertain again, worried and tense, afraid of the shadows in his mind.

Talking with Ingram he had licked this feeling. Or thought he had. Everybody was alone. Not just him, everybody. But what the hell did that mean? How did knowing that help you? he wondered.

Johnny Ingram – the black man:

A state trooper in a blue drill uniform was staring curiously at Ingram’s tear-filled eyes. “What have you got to cry about?” he said. “You’re not hurt.”

“Never mind,” a voice cut in quietly. Ingram recognized the voice of the big sheriff in Crossroads. “Let him alone.” The authority in the sheriff’s voice was unmistakable, but so was the understanding; the trooper turned away with a shrug, and Ingram wept in peace.

Later he was taken outside on a stretcher. The rain had stopped but a sprinkling of water from the trees mingled with the blood and tears on his face. Far above him he saw a single star shining in the sky. Everything was dark but the star, he thought. In his mind there was a darkness made up of pain and fear and loneliness, but through it all the memory of Earl blazed with a brilliant radiance. Without one you couldn’t have the other, he realized slowly. Without the darkness there wouldn’t be any stars. It was worth it then. Whatever it cost, it was worth it. . . .

Noir Poets: Ira Wolfert

All the things a man has to go through to get to live here, thought Leo, the things, the things, thousands and millions and millions of dirty things to hurt people and hurt himself.  The street seemed drowned in stone. It looked narrow and drowned, a thing emptied of life and walled with swollen, stone bones. The feeling of costly desolation was heavy in Leo. This costly desolation was splendor, but Leo did not think of it as splendid. Yet he tried to be faithful to the rich. He tried to think of the costly desolation as good for sleep. Only the rich could afford to buy quiet like this in the heart of the city, he told himself. He felt suddenly that only a man who had made himself rich could become barren enough to want and be comfortable in this desolation.

–  Ira Wolfert, ‘Tucker’s People’ (aka ‘The Underworld’), NY, 1943, p. 71

Abraham Polonsky’s and Ira Wolfert’s screenplay for Force of Evil (1948) was based on Wolfert’s novel.

Noir Poets: Lou Reed

Dirty Boulevard

Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
he looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
his father beats him ’cause he’s too tired to beg

He’s got 9 brothers and sisters
they’re brought up on their knees
it’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that’s a slim chance he’s going to the boulevard

He’s going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
he’s going out, to the dirty boulevard
He’s going down, to the dirty boulevard

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month
you can believe it man it’s true
somewhere a landlord’s laughing till he wets his pants
No one here dreams of being a doctor
or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

Get to end up, on the dirty boulevard
going out, to the dirty boulevard
He’s going down, on the dirty boulevard
going out

Outside it’s a bright night
there’s an opera at Lincoln Center
movie stars arrive by limousine
The klieg lights shoot up over the skyline of Manhattan
but the lights are out on the Mean Streets

A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel
he’s selling plastic roses for a buck
The traffic’s backed up to 39th street
the TV whores are calling the cops out for a suck

And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
he’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
“At the count of 3” he says,
“I hope I can disappear”

And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
I want to fly-fly-fly-fly, from dirty boulevard…

– Lou Reed  | LP Album ‘New York’ (1989)