DESOLATION BLUES Edited by Ryan Swofford and Kevin Ridgeway
Legalities Desolation Blues Edited by Ryan Swofford and Kevin Ridgeway Copyright ÂŠ Ryan Swofford, 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced in any form, published, reprinted, recorded, performed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the explicit permission of the editors. All such actions are strictly prohibited by law. Cover art by Sarah Hensley
Contents “Coda” by Martin Willitts Jr. – 4 “Belly Back Beat Off Blues” by Steven B. Smith – 6 “A Finger, Dike” by Catfish McDaris – 8 “Sketch 6” by James Sanchez – 9 “Elegy for Diz” by Michael Smith – 10 “December in the Railroad Earth” by Matt Sailor – 13 “The Baby Police” by Brian Le Lay – 17
Introduction I have always been inspired by the Beats. You would think that I, some teenager in the middle of nowhere, would be busy drinking beer and skinning bucks in the middle of June. Nope. That’s not really my crowd. I’ve never had much of a “crowd,” per se, which really is not a problem because I don’t do “crowds.” I’m my own man, man. And so were the Beats. They opposed authority and social norms—Jack Kerouac proved to me that it’s okay to be sensitive and in touch with your soul as long as you can put on a tough exterior. Allen Ginsberg taught me how to write long mad poetry. Bill Burroughs showed me how to write junk-head prose about nothing in particular. Of course, I knew going in that none of this crap would ever sell. I would never be famous because I could write remotely similar to Jack Kerouac or Gregory Corso or W.C. Williams—but I didn’t care. It wasn’t ever about that, and it still isn’t about that. Which is why I wanted to put together a Beatnik anthology full of Beatnik writing. Some of it isn’t completely Beat, but that’s okay. No one can give you a perfect definition of how the Beat style looks, so as editors, we just used our best judgment. Sometimes it was the subject-matter that was Beat. Sometimes it was the word-usage. Sometimes it was the mad long hysterical feeling that Ginsberg had—the longwindedness of breath poetry (a beautiful philosophy with which he wrote Howl and Kaddhish and others). Whatever it was, we, the editors, felt like it belonged, and so we emerged with a small book full of great work. Some details about the book—let’s talk numbers. It’s about 30 pages long. It has a beautiful custom cover, done by Ms. Sarah Hensley, with Steven and Kevin and me sitting around like Beat angels, yak-yakking.
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It’s in black and white (except for the cover), and is hand-folded and hand-stapled with love, of course. Yeah. Of course. Anyway, that’s all. I’m blessed to have worked with everyone, and hope to do more anthologies in the future (with better funding, hopefully!) And now, back to our feature presentation! The Editors
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Coda By Martin Willitts Jr. This is the finale the club calls it quits dust-notes unsettles unsettling a cue ball on the edge of falling in a man sweeps the floor of jazz remnants Piano wire of cigarette coughs punctured lungs hitting high notes shattering shot glasses of fog cymbal-distorted smirks trumpet wrapped around a cheating manâ€™s neck, an albatross a pork-pie hat a chop-shop would not steal for parts broken sunglasses shirt sleeves caught in the music stand notes held-up for interrogation and not standing up under harsh lights repeating the same questions until it gets the wrong answer Bird is flown he is gone real gone like, in yesterday gone he left crumbs for music critics to peck at he is flying yes he is, he really is in daybreaks of his music beyond stars into the celestial jam session You wonâ€™t find him here with salt on his tail it has been tried didnâ€™t work then
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wonâ€™t work now Bird is where bluebirds fly somewhere over the rainbow a smile of a contented fan Canâ€™t get much better than that
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Belly Back Beat Off Blues By Steven B. Smith Dancing down the Corner Buddhist Beat Cafe. Digging Pretty Lady scoping Haiku Baby’s sway. Stinky Finger picking Pussy's pocket. Lockjaw John humping rhythm and blues. Crankman’s behind the wheel working latest deal. In get-away zone Monkey Jones jimmies Lucy's locket fluxing right and left in jelly jam scam for Uncle Sham. Whirl Girl does the Duze looking to shake her bad leaf break. Growl howls yet another one of his poems as Mama Boy slurs his sip & slip again. All these cats blowing their own beat Off Beat Beat Off Slippery Slope Cope Less Than Most Page | 6
Coast On Tomorrow's Sorrow Blues.
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A Finger in the Dike By Catfish McDaris Upon returning from the land of tulips, windmills, canals, legal grass, & Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt I proceeded to get stinking drunk & staggered down Brady Street, the Height Ashbury of Milwaukee I stumbled into a cool hip tavern & squinted around in disbelief, it was packed with women of all shapes, not one woodpecker in the flock Pinching my scrotum to make sure I wasnâ€™t dreaming, I nudged between a blonde & a perfumed set of 38s Ordering I pulled floor, I her fine
cognac & a Schlitz chaser, Miss America onto the dance bumped & boogied against booty-licious body
She was looking kind of she needed a lifeguard, on my shoulder & felt a hammer explosion upside
pale, like I felt a tap sledge my head
Trying to point out that I was a woman trapped in a manâ€™s body did no good, I woke up & my pinkie was swimming In a Bloody Mary cocktail of a smiling brunette vixen giving me a severe case of the stink eye.
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Sketch 6 By James Sanchez The scent of magnolia lulls me to some dream of you fully clothed screaming wildly at a smirking man I see the reason in your eyes but I canâ€™t speak It seems that the words run from my tongue like bulls down Spanish streets mauling men with dreams of defying death I know if I wrote you a letter you would answer in blood drawn directly from your heart but I would rip it to shreds Menstrual blood like cherry coke reminds me of ice cream runs in pajama bottoms and tie dyed t shirts So sweet so sweet to lick from your essence but you donâ€™t love me you mock me with indifference I once fought wars for your touch Now I fall upon my sadness and pierce your memory The blood flows from me like silly men down a Pamplona street daring death to dance with them.
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Elegy For Diz By Michael Smith Dizzy’s dead. Said isn’t any news, said isn’t any blues down enough, profound enough to play through these low-Buddha pains that I feel. Blow blue, blow blue at night and noon, because bebop been said and done. Blow blue because Dizzy’s dead, because bebop been said and done. Gone now, all of it: Kerouac’s roadmaps, Parker’s frantic heart attacks on horn, American poetry, too, gone now, ain’t never coming back. Dizzy’s dead. Christ, did he put it all out there— Jesus, was it a soul to see! Original hipster, the first, the one and only truth of that scene. The gig, the beat, a whole goddam generation— cheeks blown full of blues, snappy hat askew, sharp horn apprehending rhythm universe only half-dreamed by cats who can only pretend to the cool, to the rarefied, rapid-fire dance of notes tripping off the dazzled tongue and into the dizzy air. And Dizzy did own the air, owned every vibration, owned each tessellation in our startled, blue-hearted lives. Blow blue, sweet Lord, blow bluest blue. Said Dizzy’s dead, said bebop been said, and it’s done
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A Night Cap By Brian Le Lay Room 422, painted to resemble the universe, You rise from the waterbed Which is like a captured sea, To the unlocked minibar under the TV set, A shot glass, a toothpick, a green olive, Under gluttonous Jupiter's 63 known moons, You unlock the French doors, Who here do you have to be afraid of? Take your night cap onto the first-floor terrace Under the upstairs balcony With its slow drip (of what?) Under no moon, only a synthetic Ball of wax, a candelabra, The high-voltage fence, The attack dogs tethered to gas-light posts, Fight over the olive You rolled over the cobbles, Return indoors, lock, a pidgin Parisian slur speaks From the air-ducts, We'll be expecting
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December in the Railroad Earth By Matt Sailor On those long days, when time stretches out and reclines across the length of the afternoon, and the tick of the clock stalls at the same digit, I'll ditch work early and take the train north to the last station to see Jack. At that hour he’s usually just gotten up. Occasionally he’ll still be awake, if it’s one of his famous “long nights" when a girl shows up on his doorstep, or some poet he knows scores some bennies, or some stranger (a fan, a stalker) is buying the booze, or (as happens far less frequently these days) if he is writing. I’ll walk in, tie loosened, carrying a bag of bottles (a jug of port for him, whiskey for me). We’ll sit on the couch and we’ll watch T.V., or he’ll put on some jazz. If it’s good enough jazz, and if he's drunk enough, he’ll stand up, swaying slowly from side to side, cigarette in hand, and start talking, a mad mix of poetry, vulgarity, taunts, and Zen Buddhist dogma. The friends he has left all know he stole this routine from his friend Neal, subsumed part of the man after he died of exposure on a Denver, Colorado railroad track. But we put up with it. Because Jack’s earned it. He’s survived. He’s earned the right to absorb the ghosts of his dead genius friends, devouring their souls to gain their powers like some voodoo shaman. Some nights he’ll stay up until dawn, and the talking will turn into screaming. The names of women, prayers in Quebecois, verses from scripture. Usually I’ll sneak out while he’s in the bathroom, knowing that if I don’t, I won’t be able to escape for days. He’ll have convinced me to drive him down to Miami, or “’Frisco,” and I’ll be missing for a month, wind up in a jailhouse in rural Texas trying to persuade my mother to wire me money for bail. Other nights, he’ll just Page | 13
fall asleep. Tears will run down his cheeks as he murmurs “mother, mother, mother” in his dreams. I will gingerly transfer his head from my shoulder to a pillow, propping him on his side so that he doesn’t Jimmy Hendrix himself, become the last in a long line of dead clichés. “I should have died young,” he’ll tell me, gesturing at the parking lot of the Taco Bell where I’m buying him lunch. "What am I doing here?" “That’s stupid," I'll say. But a large part of me will think he is right. Sometimes he’ll need cheering up. Sometimes I will. I’ll finish another whiskey and complain about my job. He’ll turn down the volume on the Home Shopping Network. “I thought you were going to concentrate on your writing this year,” he’ll say. “Yeah,” I’ll answer, “but it’s hard. By the time I get home it’s dark, I have a sink full of dishes and laundry to do, or there’s a game on. I fall asleep by 10:30 most nights.” He’ll scoff, take a glug of port from his jug the size of a piece of Mesoamerican pottery. “Pal, I wrote The Subterraneans in the back of a pickup between Houston and N’Orleans.” “I thought you typed it in three days in a San Francisco motel?” He’ll get cagey, wipe wine off of his lips with the thick hair of his arm. “Yeah, well, I worked off notes." "So much for legends," I'll say, and he'll try to laugh, but things like that get to him. Sometimes I’ll egg him on, just to see what he'll do. “What are you doing, Mr. Paradise,” I’ll say, a bottle of whiskey in my belly and a jealous heart beneath my ribs. “Look at yourself! Look around you!” And I’ll pull the Venetian blinds so hard they break off from the wall. I’m pointing out the window now, where all you can see through the shorn pine trees is the elevated train line, a length of track simply Page | 14
ending, red lights heralding the jut into space. And just behind it, another parking lot. “I like trains,” he’ll say meekly, and even though he sounds like a child, like little baby Ti Jean begging for his mother, I won’t let up. “It’s fucking mass transit, Jack! It takes guys in suits from their huge houses to their corner offices, and it’s in the sky so they don’t have to look at the kind of people we used to be!" He won’t look angry. He'll agree with me. But that makes it so much crueler. “And you’re living at the wrong end! Living in squalor so you don’t have to feel bad about the movie rights and Gap ads!” I'll leave once I’ve finished. He’ll be glugging port on the couch, listening to the ghosts of his past chanting, “Go! Go! Go!” After that I’ll stay away for a few days. I’ll put in overtime at work, get a pat on the back from the boss, and go out with the guys from the office. It’s all single malts, strippers, loosening ties. We talk about the market, the economy, the prick in the White House, the boys on Wall Street. I’ll go home, catch up on the TiVo, sink into my 1,000 thread count sheets, and set the alarm for six. I’ll never be able to stay away for more than a couple of weeks. He won’t call, and neither will I, but I’ll show up at his door, booze in hand, and he’ll let me in with a smile. There may be girls there, or some old hobo he’s met on the corner, or a whole party. We’ll do something crazy, like the time he hurled his television out the window at dawn, convinced the angels would catch it. Or maybe he’ll be alone, writing. He'll ask me to leave. He’s working on a book now. Something new. Something good. He'll be secretive. "It's about parking lots and ghosts," is all he'll say. "But maybe I can grab a bite. I've been at it for hours." Page | 15
"I’m buying," I'll tell him. “I know,” he'll say, giving me that famous, All American football player smile. We’ll go to the pizza place on the corner, or more likely, to McDonald’s. We’ll feel guilty about the burgers, but we’ll sit on the curb outside and drink milkshakes. He’ll improvise a poem about a Big Mac, or start a diatribe about fluorescent lighting. “It’s getting late,” he’ll say eventually. We’ll walk up to the corner, where our ways split. At that time of night, the corner will be deserted. The lights will flash green to yellow to red to green, looking like flashing bulbs in some giant marquee. But they're not. They're just sitting there, waiting impotently for the sleeping traffic, all alone in the darkness of the American night. Jack and I will shake hands, promise to meet up soon. He will walk off, but I will stand there for a minute. For too long, probably. I will check my watch, and ask myself whether I have time to make the last train home.
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The Baby Police By Brian Le Lay The woman arrived at the front of the hospital in a van full of vinyl flowers. When she knew it was time, there was nobody home to chauffeur her. She lived alone. But she preferred it that way. She didn't want any dirty underwear bandits destroying the chastity of her home by hanging their dirty underwear from her doorknobs. She didn't like to wash dishes or put mounds of sweat-soaked laundry into the washing machine. Unwilling to compromise, she only liked to watch her favorite programs on TVâ€”mostly live surgeries and crime drama marathons, or made-for-TV tear-jerkers on Sunday afternoons of supreme self-loathing. She had hoped that when it was time, the mailman would happen to be sliding a thick bundle of manila envelopes into her mailbox so that it could be the mailman's responsibility to deliver her safely to the hospital. Or maybe an ice cream truck would be prowling the street in search of adolescent sugar junkies, and she could listen to the pleasant bubblegum muzak of lost childhood while being fast-tracked to the delivery room in a giant metal box full of popsicles. Or maybe an empty pedicab would be rolling through the neighborhood, the cyclist smoking a cigarette, mad because he doesn't have any passengers, or mad because he has had too many and this would be his first cigarette in hours. She waited by the window, tapping her fingers on a beige vase with blue flower print. When it was time, the neighbors and their menacing children had long brought their rolls of quarters and rotten teeth to the local carnival, stationed in a churchyard which looked solemn and empty 358 days a yearâ€”especially the first few weeks after the carnival Page | 17
had left town: a few rumpled tents left hanging halfmast, the lawns strewn with old hamburgers and ice cream sandwich wrappers and summer dew, and maybe a lost ribbon from a small girl's wild hair. She had seen them early that evening go down the gravel driveway on foot, crashing through puddles, onto the sidewalk, around the corner, and to the churchyard, where they would sit for hours under the pavilion swatting horseflies with manure hands, trade fragments of gossip with their fellow yokels at wooden foldout bingo tables, spend twenty dollars in lottery tickets to hopefully win a drawing for a four-dollar stuffed bear with one eye. She could even hear the carnival. But she hated carnivals. The blinking lights and sudden noise and tidal waves of joyous screaming children spinning on rides above made her feel that her head was filling with larva. A larva-filled head was bad unless it was someone else's head on TV, sliced open, a doctor's hands going to work with a white-hot scalpel to remove the swarm of intruder pests. There was a flower shop a couple buildings down the street from where the woman lived. But their flowers, though beautiful, were made of vinyl and never wilted, so the shopowners were quickly running out of money. They owned a pink delivery van, which hadn't left the curb in weeks. Knowing that it was time, the woman went onto to her front porch, locked the door, jingled the knob and leaned into the door several times to ensure that nobody could get inside and steal her Beethoven records. Toeing down the walk, she could smell the scent of cotton candy wafting in the wind. She held her nose. Heading for the flower shop, she decided that even if it were closed, she would borrow the pink van and drive herself to the hospital. She was sure the doors were unlocked and the keys were left dangling from the ignition. To own a flower shop, she condescended, one had to be hyper-invested in Page | 18
the presentation and purveyance of beauty. One had to act light and beautiful all the time, to the point of over-trusting negligence. The son of the woman who owned the shop was outside scrubbing the van with a thick yellow sponge, and whistling a made-up symphony. Suds were dripping down the sides of the van in streams and patches. "Hello, young man," said the woman. She hated his dilettantish attempt to symphonize, but she feigned kindness. Thinking this might be a potential customer, the son stood upright and dropped the sponge to the curb. With wet hands he smoothened his rumpled red shirt, now soaked with soap. The woman pretended not to notice.
Blue fumes plumed from the exhaust pipe. The son didn't think the van could go so fast. He hadn't even been sure the van would start. While turning the key, he had pounded his fist twice on the dash, tapped the accelerator with his foot, and the van sputtered into an unstable rumble, like a furnace beneath an old brick house. Along the freeway, there were dental schools that looked like penitentiaries and billboards advertising the graceful forgiveness of God. The woman was restless and twisting in the plastic bucket seat, but doing so like a charm school graduate, trying to hide it, growing frustrated. The son was both anxious and excited. He figured this would be a prime opportunity for good publicity. The papers would write touching stories about his heroism. Girls would finally fall in love with him, though he was willing to accept lukewarm lust as a consolation. Most importantly, his heroic act of valor and vigilance would boost sales of vinyl flowers at his mother's fledgling shop. This would make his mother happy and his family richâ€”which would increase the Page | 19
possibility of pale naked neighbor girls yearning to dip into the tepid waters of love or lust with him, for him. He didn't know who Don Juan was, but he wanted to be him. He wanted to walk down the street with a cane and a top hat. The old men in luncheonettes would turn their heads and watch him walk down the street and turn the corner. Why couldn't their daughters have married a man like him? But he wanted his walk, no matter how lifeless, to come off like an effortless dance to his admirers, the onlookers in storefronts, on fire escapes. The owners of cigar shops would implore him to smoke their offerings, in exchange for a ringing endorsement. The newspaper men would be after him, asking, "How are you feeling this morning, sir?" He wanted to engage in a heated, salacious affair with a society woman. He wanted to attend luxuriant metropolitan soirees, the toast of the town, dazzle and dance with all the unhappy wives while the husbands smoked cigars and gossiped politics and business in the smoky card room. He wanted to hand his hat and coat to the bow-tied expressionless peon, without making eye contact or saying a word, only scoffing. He wanted to think that no matter where he went, the help was hopelessly incompetent. But he was still the help. With this thought, he became angry with his mother. All this, as always, rested in the hands of her flower shop, same as when she owned the candy jewelry store and he was the irritating lackey on the sidewalk, dressed in a banana costume, waving a sign at motorists and pedestrians, candy bracelets tethered around his wrists. He remembered it well. It had been summer and the flies would not stop harassing him. His dreamy, ebullient expression tightened and reddened.
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"Are you all right?" asked the woman. "Can this tattered hunk of rusted sprockets and termites-holdinghands move any faster?"
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Beat of the Alley By Kent L Johnson I smell pizza cookin' as we approach the joint. My mouth waters. I push Larry the Gimp along in his wheelchair. Diving accident is no reason not to enjoy life, just watch out the crazies don't take your government money on the third day of the month, leaving you hungry. I remember the hot day swimmin' the east side river; Larry dove in but hit bottom too quick. We been neighbors and friends since grade school. We know each otherâ€™s secrets, not all, but enough. Mark D with the Blues is playin' open stage. Great blues voice and not too bad on guitar. He likes Dr. P and Canadian Club. Carries a thermos of pre-made in his stage case, especially on nights when he just plays a beer only joint, like Figaro's. We wheel up near the stage, get us a pitcher of cheap on draft. My foot taps to the beat. Larry can't move his feet. He has no problem lifting a beer though. We say hello to some regulars. "Frankie and Johnny were lovers, They had a quarrel one day..." Mark D says hi over the mic after he finishes his version of the old blues tune. He pours himself a little cup from the thermos, steps down off the stage and comes over to the table. His eyes red and a bit of white dust next to his nostril. "What you two doin' tonight?" he asks. "Nothin', just gettin' beer and a little food," I reply. "I'm ready for something different," Larry the Gimp says. "I got that folded up in a nice bindle. You got some green?" "Pay day was today," Larry the Gimp says.
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"Larry, be careful, you got to make that last a month. You be eatin' at the Mission again come a week from Saturday. Eatin' with the people with no teeth, man. No shower, no reality ever." I try to warn him. He don't want to hear me. I know he misses his legs, misses dancing, misses basketball on the street court, misses going to the toilet like he once did. It's his life. He flips Mark a Grant and Mark flips him a piece of magazine folded in that special way before he starts up on stage again. The guitar hits a slide guitar riff and the crowd quiets. His raspy deep voice scrapes the dust out of your ears. I gotta pee, and I'm up and gone for a bit. I don't know how they know, but they do: Alley cat Mary is set up next to Larry. She's talkin' and smilin' at him. Larry gets another pitcher of cheap and another glass. She's drinkin' with him. She's got his hand in hers. I know where this is goin'. "Woke up this morning, I looked 'round for my shoes... You know I had those mean old walkin' blues..." They call her Alley cat Mary cause she always manages to land on her feet and get fed. She's nice enough, and she purrs in your ear and rubs you the right way. She takes a drink of cheap and pulls Larry's hand to her chest. I been there before, a year or so back. She can scream like an alley cat too. I don't say nothin'. It's Larry's deal now. "Some people tell me that worried blues ain't bad, It's the worst old feelin' I've ever had..." I sip cheap and watch Mark D. We played street corners together for tips a time ago. I got work, Mark D got the Blues. He motions to me durin' an instrumental filled with the chord changes that make me wonder how a drunk man can play like that. I move up to the stage. He's playin' E, and I pull out my A harp and bend the notes like momma used to Page | 23
bend a switch cross my ass. I'm huffin' and puffin' on that harp and I look up to the crowd. I watch Alley cat Mary push Larry the Gimp out the back exit into the alley. "Minutes seem like hours, and hours seem like days, Since my baby started her low down ways..." We finish the song and folks applaud before pushin' pieces of pizza in their mouths. A group of, looks like college kids, maybe, a dozen of them sittin' at a big table, all guys. Got a guy pullin' a big wad 'a' money out of his pocket and buyin' drinks for a couple single gals sittin' in a booth next to the juke-box. They don't pay him no mind. It's time to teach him somethin' new. I get off the stage and walk to the back, waitin' for Larry the Gimp and Alley cat Mary. They come through the back door, sniffin' and smilin'. I pull up behind them and point out the college kid to Alley cat Mary. Larry can't see me cause Mary's behind him, pushing the chair. I whisper in her ear: "Kids got a grand, I swear. Watch him buy them gals drinks with that wad 'a' cash." I point in the kid's direction. "Why you so interested?â€? she asks me. "Larry here don't have much," I whisper again in her ear. "What he do have, he needs to live. You just got a good jolt from him. Find another Daddy for tonight." She looks in my eye. I was playin' with Mark D before she was on the scene. She knows I know, cause she did it to me. She pushes the chair to the table and excuses herself to go to the toilet. "How much you got left Larry?" "We snorted most of it, maybe four, five lines left." "Hundred bucks bud. Lot of dough for fifteen minutes." "I got to feel her up between lines. It's been a while since I been with a woman. I can't do much since Page | 24
the accident, but it doesn't mean I don't want to. You know what I mean? I'm gonna see if Mark D got some more." "I don't want no woman, wants every downtown man she meet..." Alley cat Mary stands next to the college boy at the counter. He's buyin' a pitcher for the table. She whispers in his ear and holds his hand. She nods toward Mark D. Mark D nods back. College boy sets the pitcher on the table, turns, and walks out the back door with Alley cat Mary. "She a no good doney, They shouldn't allow her on the street." The music stops and the sound of conversation slowly fills the room. "Where's Mary?" "You didn't know, Larry? She and Mark D are a pair." "A pair?" "Yeah, like dice, snake eyes. They live the low down dirty blues. Got to at least once if you're gonna sing it. Hate to say this Larry, rich kid with a big wad got himself some cat tonight. If he's lucky, that's all he'll get." Songs: Frankie & Johnny song, unknown artist, Walkin' Blues and Dust My Broom lyrics by Robert Johnson, Country Blues lyrics by Muddy Waters.
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Thanks To: Kevin Ridgeway Steven Purkey Sarah Hensley Frankie Metro Kent L Johnson Brian Le Lay Steven B. Smith Martin Willitts Jr. Catfish McDaris Michael Smith Matt Sailor James Sanchez Modus Operandi Red Fez The Weekenders All yaâ€™ll
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