The Robes of the Righteous

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The Robes of the Righteous
by Robert Ervin Howard

I am a saintly reformer,
   basking in goodly reknown
Sure of applaud of the righteous,
  cinctured in purity's gown.
Young men and old men revere me,
   women and girls out of school
Come to me telling their secrets,
   seeking my counseling cool.
Little they know of my story
   when I was the water-front's toast.
Back in the days of my glory
   down on the Barbary Coast.
Young and my lips full and crimson,
   flaming with passionate blood,
My love was the leap of an ocean,
   my passion the swing of the flood.
Changing and varied my fancies
   yet no woman ever gave more
For I joyed in the man on my body
   just as much as the one just before
Ah, nights that were lurid and gorgeous,
   under the bar lamps blaze
Flutter of cars on the table,
   faces that leered through the haze
Of smoke drifting up from the stogies,
   the red liquor flowing free
And the shout of the salty ballass
   that sailors sang from the sea.
The money scattered like water,
   the pagan thrill of the dance
The hand that groped in my clothing,
   the burning and meaning glance
Then the look as the stair I mounted,
   the man that left the floor,
The joyous and panting waiting,
   the stealthy knock at my door—
What if they knew, the elders,
   that I was a Barbary whore?
Hiding my charms with meekness
   under purity's gown
Sure of applaud of the righteous,
   basking in goodly reknown.