“Holman’s House” by Darrell Grayson

“Holman’s House” by Darrell Grayson
This chapbook will always be available on the Dead Mule. It is not archived.

It is published in memory of Mr. Grayson who was executed by the state of Alabama on July 26, 2007. These poems were, for the most part, committed to memory and then told to … who went home and recited then wrote the poems on paper because Mr. Grayson was not allowed paper, pen or even books while on death row.

Holman’s House — a chapbook by Darrell Grayson

Fear

A quickening.
It is boundless when in pursuit,
Becomes excited by life’s fluids racing,
The bouncing of heart off the ribs.
Fear, exploding in shocking fire to the
Brain in recognition of danger, terror…
And the Lord have mercy…of riding
On Lucifer’s saddle.

HOLMAN’S HOUSE

Welcome to the corridors of night. As your host, I am
Often viewed as some ancient, medieval edifice, cold and
Austere where tortured souls pass through. For a time
They slip between hundred percent southern cotton sheets,

Stamped with our sovereign’s great seal of approval.
Here in this ethereal world of my design you will be
Encouraged with radical sleep tonics that will
Subdue the savage beast. Open your hearts

To my dead, for they are the consummate houseguest.
Listen to those voices raised in righteous supplication
Pleading for help on bended knees while beyond these
Stellar walls lies an apathetic world licking its bitter

Lips at the dissonance of misery vibrating in the bones like jazz.
Be ever humble for none of those misanthropes doubts
Your tenor will lend itself, pleasingly, to my grand
Temple of harmonics.

CELLS

Within the place where I live
The hungry air becomes a vacuum
Feeding insatiably on my marrow.
Over the shell there’s a colorful cover
That has begun drying-out and is starting
To flake. The crusty old walls are synonymous
With the shedding of skin housing
Brittle bones hidden beneath aging flesh.

As soulful layers fall to the ground
There’s a rejoicing at reconnecting with
Ancient and contemporary kin who once tarried
Here. Witness now, in clarity’s bell-jar, the
Contest between evolving flesh and spirit,
And the sacred rites, which transform ashes to ashes
Dust to dust in the soul of cells.

Darrell Grayson is on death row at Holman Prison

PSYCHOSIS

Despondency comes like signs wafting darkly on weathered
wings. It creeps up on your fears and crashes the gates of
sanity. Wielding an ash it whacks at your rational thoughts
and sends them sailing past the barrier. Beyond are youthful
memories palpable enough to make the flesh recoil like
fingers on fire, the sensation of morning glory turning
to night shade.

Strapped in your sponge helmet, voices echo caring
questions that prod grey matter, offering chicken soup
and chocolate to buoy the soul. In pursuit of more space
nightmares share your pillow, swallow you whole. In
the midst of this cloudy psychosis you flounder. There
are no childish Acme products to close the hole
to keep your insides from seeping out.

Listen, there are aliens in the headcheese! You can
hear their tell tale hearts; its eye is in your ear. It
sees and hears the cracking of jaws and the demonic
seed spewing out that grows your jungle of madness.
The sturdiest plant, anger,
erupts and lashes out at its neighbor.

Listen, there are aliens in the headcheese! You can
hear their tell tale hearts; its eye is in your ear. It
sees and hears the cracking of jaws and the demonic
seed spewing out that grows your jungle of madness.
The sturdiest plant, anger,
erupts and lashes out at its neighbor.

BACK FROM THE ARMS OF MORPHEUS

Back from the arms of Morpheus, I breathe
Through pillows of fire, my path is narrow, short
And barred. An aging moth, afraid of the dark
Trembles in dull blades of angry light.

From a den of self-indulgent squabblers, I was
Transported to a place of pacific height, where
Dogwoods and sterile-tipped yews welcome their
Shoeless pilgrim on paths strewn with leafy butterfly wings.

From streams, piscian scent satisfies the need for space.
The hands of breezy masseuse slip tenderly over
Tense flesh, insert sensory key, knots are loosed
And layers of worldliness peeled away.

SUN BURNED

Pensive: instructions in honesty and humility, to
Believe otherwise would suggest a callous nature
Worthy of this wretched condition, in stocks, begging
As cardboard cut-outs of an agonized thinker.

Can anyone convince anyone of the need to
Request heaven it open and saturate these
Dreams, then awaken refreshed, bearing the golden
Combination that unlocks the mysteries of this
Sun burned existence, without witnessing
Evolution, desolation and decay; without
Bemoaning the need to belly down, placing
The face in this poisoned earth?

Tell me that which keeps you sane,
Knowing destiny is illusion, knowing we are of
A temporary kind.

From your patch of shade, bear witness
To those things seen looking side ways at the
Sun. Is it truly a glorious ball of fire,
Sitting in its own splendid air? Or is it a
Kaleidoscope of hypnotic light, waiting to
Fulfill the horrors of some revelation, its
Sphere pulsing with the sum of our
Mysterious nature, our existence?

It demands homage of every creature, as
We are nurtured by it. Our senses come
Alive at viewing its magnificence. We throb in
States of ecstacy as it draws near to its
Final destination; even the tides are
Swollen with pride, pausing in their moon
Kissed dance of sensuality. They burst free
With impertinence, picking up their evening
Attire and rush head high beyond the shore
To cool their aching bodies, unsuccessfully,
Against the sun burned earth.

VOLUNTEER

As with most authority figures there is the power,
like strong laughter, to turn a captive audience to bone.
Viewed from a human point of view, what protection is there?

In the batter of desperation, we seek council in the
tossing of bird legs in moonless nights, clutch at windy
voices intoning catechisms in the remoteness of our dreams.

Choice of life or death is contemplated. A
terrified beast of dubious lineage scurries to
and fro in concrete and steel geometrics.

THE EXERCISE YARD

In the eerie morning light blue clad phantasms
wink here and there…in the waking sun-light
black and white uniformed heads catch fire as
they come ghosting through the mist.

The eyes of black cats, curled into themselves,
reflect the atmosphere. They crowd the entrance
to the maze where social constructs frolic,
and wait soulfully on the game hit or miss
conclusion, before animating the cross.

THE CALLING
We have come, as conscientious objectors, filing our appeals
Of grievance through grief, in defense of the sacredness
Of life, one condemned to be snuffed out legally. Mourning
Publicly, the tenderness in our hearts grows as the
Deadly hour draws near, and yet, this rawness we feel
Is soothed through the concrete scented ointment of
Shared compassion.

As the handful of sympathizers gathers for the execution vigil,
A pristinely clothed bird falls out of the waning sun,
On its back, into a bowl of gun-metal colored light
Before righting itself, on elegant red legs the mourning
Dove stands, its pink nails piercing the eye of the
Supreme Court building.

Inside this stone temple, dedicated to coddling the code of
Hammurabi, are priestly figures working in conclave
Against redemption. To them, vicarious sorrow
Is an alien, crushed on the shadow of a granite monument,
That once stood guard in the entrance of this hall of justice issuing out silent
Abuse. These priests, in their deliberation, are raw as Vitruvian
Man, and who will bravely say from whence their guidance
Comes?

Silently we commune, listening rapturously to the
Mournful call of this numinous voice, bearing witness
To hope, light as the feathers that carried
It to this decadent city of the Confederacy.
Former Chief Justice Roy Moore placed a monument of the 10 Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court entrance hall.

AFTER THE STORM

When the caged came forth, wearing
Introspective miens, one of them looked
Towards his daily focal point,
Outside the chain-link fence and experienced its
Absence as through the lenses of an
Arachnid. The tree, young and
Wistfully dressed, had swayed hypnotically
from coastal breezes and the
Weightiness of a canopy trumpeting with
Emerald chimes. It had succumbed to the
Mighty fists of Katrina’s rage.

The loss became another pin-prick in the
Memory of uncushioned heart-aches, a reminder
Of those experienced as a child. From home
Grown chaos he had fled to wilds, where he
Found comfort and safety beneath its soothing
Blanket. In the stately arms of an aging
Oak he experienced renewal. Here was
Sanctuary, a place to indulge spiritual
Centeredness, where the fragrance of a
Woodland oasis and chuckling waters
Heal.

On the boundaries of this existence
He can still feel those knobby arms
That held him and allowed his anguish to form fully,
To flow freely. After forty years
that spacial voice, continues to arrest the spiritual corruption
Mindlessly pursuing an innocent, an aging
Youth, who runs onward into the
Wisdom purchased through the earning of cloaks
For every season.

LIFE LINES
BUD OF YOUTH

It’s been recommended to wise women
That she gather her buds as she may.
Women, even in June, have no need
Of manly advice, on how to love
In any season.

And women, unadorned, find not their
Buds in gardens along the byways of life
Or in the wild-lands where she rests
Her lovely head, for she is a bud of
Youth in any season.

Yet, in this peculiar wilderness bears come forth
To savor her tender shoots and find
Sustenance after winter’s sleep has bruised
The brow, leaving mighty pains that hunger
And are soothed and quenched by the
Sweetness of seasonal gifts.

Yet, in this peculiar wilderness bears come forth
To savor her tender shoots and find
Sustenance after winter’s sleep has bruised
The brow, leaving mighty pains that hunger
And are soothed and quenched by the
Sweetness of seasonal gifts.

LIFE LINES

Living narrow lives does not come easy.
Where would we be without happenstance?
This existence, constrained, is not blessed with
An embarrassment of riches. It is fundamental.

When the phone goes silent, on that voice
Sweet as a love song, the wider world is
Closed off with the finality of a vacuum sealed
Door, the least it shuts out is sight and sound.

The voice is gone, memory kicks in and we
Are saved, rescued and transported on wings
Of grace. There, the scent of honeysuckle
Demands, recognition from taste buds
Readily available for the children of the have-nots,
Playing near railroad tracks.

A NEW DAY

Inserting the key in the lock, Mary
Enters the warmth of her home, kicks
Off her shoes and makes a beeline for
Her favorite recliner, and settles in
With an evening sigh.

From the kitchen comes Joseph, a glass
Of red wine in hand and in his eyes a smile
To match his greeting. As she
Savors the wine he asks after her day.
Rewarding him with her smile she
Reminds him that it’s a jungle out
There, with the same animals, only a
New day.

THE SENTINELS

Two stately figures, seen through a cold,
Opaque eye, stand bookends at the corners
Of boxy abode. Their newly formed shoulders are scratched
By the roof. Through fresh eyes
They monitor a world destitute of care and insight.

Of the two boughs, the one in shadow glows
Vibrantly green as fiery fingers of noon
Climb over one closest to those
Golden nutrients. In an instance of insanity these
Naked warriors don cloaks of budding emeralds.

Having matured sufficiently, from shepherding
Seasons of earthly burdens, I shall venture forth
To feel nature’s inflexible embrace, may even
Bend a knee in communion with the
Resilient earth.

PULLING WEEDS

The ease and comfort of performing this task seems best suited to the shadowy ends of the day. Yet, here I am braving the brightest time of light, feeling the texture of ragweed on bare skin. Pulling stubborn shoots from vitamin rich earth, I’m reminded of my own uprooting, from one life to another.

I come face to face with the plant that blooms only in darkness, its white head mirroring mine, shapely, something special I’ve been told. Even as I pull weeds from the necks of tulips, hiding what’s rich, the scent of the black earth, powerful as love, increases the heart’s resources; I am drawn to the calming femininity of irises watching daffodils put on their Sunday best.

Across the road, a blackberry fort of thorns binds itself tighter against predators. I’m tempted to cross over and cut them back before the grandchildren’s visit. I refrain. The thorns have their province. The children’s growth reminds me that my tomato plants need attention before they become unruly. I anticipate their tender, sweet arrival with a smile.

Kneeling, puttering contentedly among an assortment of spring colors, I endure the sharp objects hidden beneath the top- soil I missed in the gleaning. In silence I remove them as they reveal themselves. Life, as do beautiful gardens, demands attention to individual needs. We apply the appropriate nutrients in the hope our lives may become crowded with new and unexpected joys.

PRIVATE DRIVE

Stepping out doors, into the crisp morning air of that southern season between winter’s death and the birth of spring, I smile as five turkeys fly low, ghostly, over-head in single file. As I walk the small, snaking red road, March winds caress my cheeks. At the end of my private drive sits a cardboard box. One corner bears a sodden hole through which hangs one of seven puppies, half in and half out, frozen to death after being thrown away in the night.

Seeing this parcel I think how sinister and feel like throwing up.

BOONDOCKS

You heard ole Bill say welfare mommas be getting’ buried
‘neath all them government checks and can’t move on, but
What he don’t say is how them roads from the welfare rolls
Ain’t paved with gold. How many of them rich folks in
D.C. help poor people pull theyselves up
By they own boot straps?

And what about all them names poured out of ADC
Bowls, where you think they gonna end up? I
Tell you, where most po’ folks land, living in the
Bottoms. Now them strong womens, they lace up they
Own boots and walk in white folks’ houses so they
Can feed they hungry young’uns.

It don’t surprise me none to see why some of these
Womens don’t take out after them other womens running
From government daddies. They don’t see the
Harm to they pride and self-respect. Now you ain’t
Gonna hear ‘bout my woman cashing them checks,
But man, I love that government cheese. Now
Kang me!

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

Long ago the ancients slumbered beneath the great
Spirit Mountain. Many days passed and they became weak.
From the earth, new shapes pushed towards the sky and changed
The laws of Human Beings, but not the laws of mother earth.

The shadow of new tribes covers the world now, coloring
Strange and hostile resting grounds in black and white.
The children of the sacred mountains are no longer worthy. They
Do not wear the sacred feathers of guardians of earth anymore.

Forgotten are our brothers, the red and black hills, who
Welcomed and protected strangers to our shores. The hardness
Of new fathers conquered our old fathers. Together
We are proud, pitiful caretakers of this land.

CROWNED

When the world whispers
We count backwards
To the day of our birth
In transcendental tears.

The flesh in absence of glory
Dances in the dirt of
Perhaps, mayhaps, conclusions,
And breathes a grimy sigh of relief,

For we are arrows pointing
Towards Eden and away from self,
Away from Achilles’ heel so easily
Acquired in markets of mortality.

A DYING MASTERPIECE

Once we were a blazing thought,
An inky dot, on the consciousness
Of time, waiting to be expelled
Out into the color of existence.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

THE WRESTLING MATCH

When the announcer introduced the large, sweating black man, known the world over as Bear Cat Brown, I noticed how my father came alive, shifting slightly in his seat. There was another, the Cat’s contender, my father also admired, an Asian fellow who bore one half of an infamous name. He was called Tojo Yama Moto. On this special occasion I was carried along, as sport, to the Boutwell Auditorium, where these two muscle-bound thespians were contending for the world wrestling championship. This was one of the few occasions when some form of intimacy was attempted between father and son.

On the backseat of the large Buick car, between two of my father’s friends, I recall the space my small, six year-old body filled. As the car rocked like a big boat, my insides felt as though they were being tossed on massive waves. On the outside I remained calm and quietly attentive while my two companions teased me kindly. I am sure they were the ones responsible for my presence.

Now: in this forty-four year old mind, it occurs to me that that long dark road from Montevallo to Birmingham was a premonition of the quality of my future life. Of the four adults in the car, the two faces I don’t recall I associate with warmth and laughter. The other two, my father’s and his best friend’s still cause me painful breaths, like having your ribs broken and being whipped.

With my face covered in popcorn butter, I watched the ghostly image of my father with bated breath. Staring at him as he watched the show, his body would seemingly flinch, jerk and vibrate as though he were experiencing tiny epileptic fits. I could not determine by his body language whether he was winning or losing this match. However his chosen fighter won.

I often wonder was it painful for this man to choose one over another? He was a husband and father. Six of his eight children were bastards. He was a mason, a quiet, dignified member of the community. His best friend was the preacher.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

It was the simple chore of washing a face that has become a state highway, which made me aware of the necklace of black cat paws around my neck. Up and down the Adams’s apple they crawl tempting my disposition to turn sour. And yet, these temptations can be avoided in the least of men on their sojourn from urban avenues to eternity.

Call me Mr. Lucky! Would that I could teach them how to eat the words of honey and fly as Bly, on dusty wingtips; summon their ghost, those fallen on concrete battle fields, on fields of white-gold which have plowed under dusky souls for centuries. But life teaches us the meaning of dear skies and how to cry.

The ability to stand guard over the corner of marking time…is undoubtedly an art form. Uniformly they stand, idle hands open to the sky, open in their hearts, open in their pockets, fingers open and close in preparation for skills’ test in dark workshops. These vassals are capable of mixing pink bubbles to soothe infant skin, capable of morphing into Trigger and giving the thrill ride of a lifetime.

Once more, out of the cage, I leave these temporal blades on my dingy pillow. What if these walls could talk, had souls? Would they breathe a sigh of relief from respite of Animals in Prison, would they contemplate G. Bear’s marching off stiff-legged past the institution’s cats, knowing he has gone to confront himself in short bursts of masculine energy?

In quiet reflection, reclined against chain-linked fence, I watch the nature show in the wilds of W.C. Holman. Sipping an elixir of life from a cheap plastic chalice I watch state animals walk about; some wrestle with darkness, others pull lethargically at acidic sustenance from the Lord’s footstool. I am mindful of the abysmal levels to which some animals can sink, that most of us have heads like clocks that fail to keep the right time.
southern photo

TAINTED EXPECTATIONS

The young man no longer wrestled with, or examined the
Regurgitated love lessons that clung to him like filthy
Attire as he ran through the woods bordering
His corrosive abode. These woods, once a place of comfort
Failed now to extend their oaken arms of
Refuge. Instead, they offer thundering
Sounds of innocent feet and laboring breath reverberating
In the earth like a broken heart.

Flinging himself through shafts of broken light, which
Reflected those tainted expectations through which he
Saw the world, it occurred to him that for most of
His existence, hands, claw-like, resting tenderly
On his immature shoulders, kept him floundering
In toxic air.

Bursting free of this haven, sweating illusions
He threw himself headlong towards newly discovered
Promises, those not nurtured in a world
That had enjoined him to serve rather than bow
To each other in mutual respect.

CHEMISTRY

Being low amid the trio of personalities, the twain gave
Grudgingly of themselves, in their metaphysical order.
I wasn’t wise as a man. I knew hunger and pain of defecation.

Of life and death, each drag the other down to temples
Built on earthly cravings. It is possible
That foresight and hindsight are part of them.

Of this particular life, who knows the hour or the day?
Whether I sleep in darkness or shafts of light,
I AM NOW and live it fully.

We know the id can inspire artistry or undermine the ego.
So what is madness? Visions unacknowledged are hazardous.
Picasso’s bulls appear cross-eyed in righteous indignation. But

What of that broken woman with the uni-brow? She shared
With us her life-pains. The depth of her miseries depicted in
Vibrant colors burst from her vagina like over-ripened fruit.

Peacocks in all their rainbow glory know no chemistry.
Beauticians only bring their dye out upon request, and
Dupont solved the riddle and we bought it.

THE NATURE OF BEING

Perhaps
Through humor, love cascades
As a display of stars—these
The gods have reasonably essayed—
And further, they whispered the
Punch-line into clay to ease
Their boredom.

This
Essence is conveyed as light.
These artists crafted the senses through
Bold explicit strokes, painting us
Breathlessly across a winking sky.

Folly
Portends tragedy
Sweetens the earth like music
Caressing the senses, in
Blue jazzy waves.

Shapes
The Temple of Our Familiars
Mazes of reason are conquered
Allowing us to consume dementia
And expel rose-colored bubbles
Our gossamer wings
Shimmer in quiet desperation.

Our
Brilliant abstraction no longer loll
Over horizons that once captivated
Or swayed us through chants
From ego-centric lands, where
Philosophies eat souls as tender fruit.

.Nature

That singular crown of a face
Edified to the magnificence
Of hearts redeemed.

WHEN THE STORM STRUCK

After the trauma to my muse, we fled
To rural Minnesota to escape and
Find the key to liberate an obscure
Mind.

I’d been tormented by the
Clogged storm drains
On the old house in which I had
Secreted myself for months. Despite
Knowing the spill-over could hasten
The eaves’ ruin it took
Nearly a year’s worth of struggle to
Pull-out the tools needed to attempt
A solution to this problem.

When the storm struck I was locked
In an over-stuffed old rocker purchased
From the estate of the late genius Czeslaw
Milosz, my Polish antithesis who had
Become the bane of my existence. In my
Lap was a Gathering of 50 Men, Robert Bly,
And myself. We had been transported
To the wilds where our senses were
Newly opened and our feet were firmly
Planted in the salt of the earth.

The pounding rain forced me outside to
View the results of my plumbing efforts.
With all my being attuned I watched
The opening until yesterday’s rubbish gave
Way and spilled in a gush of
Dark mucus. Then came the waters, flowing
Clear and uncontaminated.

As the unimpeded waters collected below
I realized how help can come when we
Least expect it and from unexpected
Sources.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD

Billie Holiday’s smoky voice opens my mind
Like the door on a musical toy after being wound and
Out pops a face familiar and sweet on the last note.

Sometimes when I hear jazz I’m reminded of
My formative years where I cried wolf and
Found myself in a tar baby sort of predicament.

Resembling scales on a sheet life rises and falls.
Its rhythmic progressions endure as memories
Of pain being drummed out on youthful skin.

In the depths of memories we remain potted, nurtured.
The imposition of etiquette, the oiling of ashy faces,
The keys of love are expressed through tradition.

Homing pigeons leap faithfully from places of safety
To stir the air in improvisations of freedom
Before returning in flights of synchronization to roost.

Music can sweeten the immigrant’s bitter tea, become
The pulse and pole of ones life’s compass, be the
Posthole of rearing that keeps us upright.

LIFE

A man goes to the hospital
Has his foot cut off
Goes home, has a beer
And goes to sleep.

I DON’T KNOW WHY IT IS THAT WAY

I

Lying here formed in a half mold of foam,
I peer through lattices of steel at a universe
Not mined. This privation has been long
Since seated, etched in steel and stone.
The condition is like rushing waters, rubbing away
Understanding. Should we hold fast
To a constellation of inquiry? And what of those souls
Born in winter, poised beneath the living word,
Wearing winter clothes in the spring-time of
Their lives? For all the well spring
Of life is contaminated with the raw seepage
Of dislocation.

II

It is at the deep end of innocence where
Individualized humanity is created as living
Templates: bottom-feeders, self-sufficient as pirates,
Or orchids, enthusiastic for sustenance of life
Hidden behind a waterfall. Were we actors, in
The Fall of Man, naked we would have run
Towards our unsympathetic nature.
Predators, in pursuit of our temporal names, seek answers
To why essential humanity swirls in
The bottom of blood.

III

Pressed perpendicular against tradition, man-
Kind quizzes satellites as to what is or is not
Wisdom. In a singular fashion the one true
Source visits that quiet, awake place
And reveals the ineptness of the tribe
That knows little and should save itself.
We have become barterers, sun-bathing in
Hourglasses, contracting with dark angels for
The backside of mortality. Even these servants
Of man ask, Where is your grief? Why have
You surrendered to a home where flesh rules?
In olden days, memories… our elders,
Placed their temperament between stone and lamb’s
Blood. Their feet were steady in the stirrups of
Grief, knowing, that two deaths are not more
Than one and that it is the one that breaks the
Heart.

Mercy Seat Press offers this bio of Darrell B. Grayson:

Darrell B. Grayson was raised in Montevallo, Alabama with eleven siblings in a single parent household. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. At age 19, and with no prior criminal history, he was convicted and received the death penalty from an all white jury. He has been on Death Row at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama since 1982. After some years of severe depression, which he describes as spending flat on his back, the death of his mother brought about the decision to better himself. He began to write commentary and poetry and received his GED and Associate Science degree. In 1994 he became active in Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization founded and operated by Death Row inmates. In 2000 he became its chairman. He edits and assembles Wings of Hope, the Project Hope newsletter, with primitive equipment in the prison.

***

The Death Record

Darrell was sentenced to death in 1982 at age 19, before DNA testing. He had been convicted of rape and murder by an all-white jury, defended by a state-appointed attorney whose professional focus was divorce and who acknowledged being unprepared and underfunded by the state to defend Darrell. – See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/2008/06/the-murder-darrell-grayson#sthash.Ax8PZkaN.dpuf

Helen Losse: Snippets of Holiness (A Chapbook)

Snippets of Holiness

A Chapbook of Collected and New Poems

by Helen Losse

***

I. Poems from Gathering the Broken Pieces (FootHills Publishing, Kanona, NY, 2004)

Voices

I want to eat ambrosia,

dine with the gods. Dance.

Seraphim at the gate, velvet-winged.

“A plea is not a call,” says the tallest angel.

“One should not taste of success too soon.”

“Yes. Wait’s a word to ride the wind,”

says another.  “And who will know the

mind of God?”

A celestial chorus in a quick response.

And I, reaching upward, raise uplifted palms.

A spurt of boldness: Each—in its own way.

The voices fade, and things I reach for seem too far.

Then just as silence slices through morning,

heaven’s jagged edge cuts my finger to the bone.

first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

**

The Danger of Pretense

The wind ruffles a blue windsock,

slowly—it gathers the courage

to kill. I do not know

the nameless man, loved by God,

whose wife will die in the storm.

Where is the mercy? The stars

do not console the wounded,

nor the sandman the young.

The hills?

The rocks?

Why, even the storm invites our trust.

Are we a people

apart from the fury?

Today I walked around a patch of violets,

planted together in the yard,

tranquil, beside the rocky path

where their purple belongs. Perhaps

the flowers felt the peace.

I do not know.

Perhaps there was one, off to the side,

that I did not see.

first published in Domicile

**

Gathering the Broken Pieces

Life flows free in that place

where droplets glisten, where

mean-spirited clouds

released their rains.

Dampened pigmentation

fingers a part I cannot touch,

soaking deep to the very root, tenderly,

anointing a once-slavish soul.

After the surrender, life:

a gathering of broken pieces.

Stillness? Is that the home

from which I dare not wander?

Today—light, and the spattering

of a wet fern:

in that place I will bask,

though not yet fully yielded,

radiant, in the spring of

life’s possibility.

first published in Domicile

**

II. Poems from Paper Snowflakes (Southern Hum Press, Lafayette, LA, 2006)

republished as Mansion On Memory (Rank Stranger Press, Mount Olive, NC, 2012)

The Mulberry Tree

—for Pam and Michael

1

I think we’re all children when lightening bugs mate

and surely at home in our Mulberry Tree, those branches

lending us sanctuary—for the best of all reasons:

For the three of us at the back of the yard—together.

And our “other brother,” Mike,

who lived across the street with “Muddy.”

And with “Pokey.” And with Renee. For her.

For her, even in high school, when, converting, she

became Lutheran, and, after that, seldom climbed the tree.

It’s my guess she knew, by that time,

that the berries were filled with small, white bugs.

For our having missed that detail,

perhaps due to their smallness, or to ours.

Or maybe they didn’t frighten us like Ol’ Henry did.

For Ol’ Henry, who pushed his wooden cart through the gravel,

his slow gait giving a fearsome drama to our part of Joplin.

For interruptions in the alley during baseball,

where I was a kicking-wanna-be (after Spahnie).  I, who

knew major league statistics better than the guys,

stopped mid-wind-up to untangle my limbs,

while old “Tommy” eased his car slowly past each rock

and past the Mulberry Tree that shaded the rock

that was third base. The Mulberry Tree

gave us hands with juicy berries: berries the color of church-carpet.

For leaving the ground like rockets in stealth mode,

or up that tree like chattering squirrels, making plans

for the vegetable can, kicked at night from yard to yard—

hiding, seeking. For bags of locust shells.

The request line, called, giggling, after seven, using

made-up names instead of our own. For those summers,

when childhood gave us the gift of each other.

2

I should have been in the school-chapel, by ’69—

newly married, in Charlotte, safe in the wide arms of

God.  Instead, I’m atop an old Mulberry Tree.

Sure the tree bears fruit: The rooms keep getting darker,

each ascending floor more mysterious.

The floors go up and up.

My friends are my children: Victor and Troy.

Both children become Michael.

And we’re playing with Linda at church, after the meal.

“Mother, May I?” comes softly from whispering lips.  Or

are we at the ice cream social,

where, with several saw horses, in the sweltering August heat,

the deacons blocked off Fourth and Pearl? We tip-toed

up rib-coated, baptistery stairs.

And what did we risk by running in church?

3

Tonight’s sky, like the droning of crickets,

like briquettes in the shadows, bituminous coal,

the cloud-concealed moon,

far, far away—breathing smog.

Tallish trees in the distance

with leaves and trunks feathered into nightfall.

Even the umbrage fades into evening’s soft face.

There’s no color now. No Mulberry Tree.

Just a barrel beneath the elms,

where, two days ago, our neighbor’s cat gave birth to

one stillborn kitten and two that were alive.

At dusk, everything’s black.

I’m not afraid of the dark.

But about midnight, despite well-designed eves,

a pelting rain wets my outstretched legs. Low

flashes of lightening cause me to shiver,

to reach for a blanket, the fern to my left

flex its emerald-bright fronds. At dawn,

an infant sun peeks shyly through.

A row of trees, sky-scraper tall.  In the distance:

green leaves, trunks, yellow-brown, drops of liquid silver.

That’s not all from memory though.

Yes, there’s nothing like life in the firefly shadows:

Sometimes I dance with my shadow and sing songs to the moon.

first published in Facets: A Literary Magazine

­**

Summer, Back Then

In my teenage years, I coveted a red bathing suit—$25.00 at Macy’s—

to which my parents said,

“No.” I got one that was blue and cost about half.

If I’d gotten the “better” suit, my life would have been different.

I’d have been wildly popular and at least one cup size larger.

Guys noticed things like that back in the 60s.

first published in Heavy Bear

**

Perspective

Standing on the wooden walkway.

Leaning against the rail. Salty air

sticks to my skin.

Ocean waves

break against rocks

near the shore. At times like this,

I feel like a child.

My needs are simple:

Someone to feed me fish.

Someone to bring me wine.

Someone to walk on water.

first published in vox poetica

**

III. Poems from Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, Mount Olive, NC, 2009)

The Triple Evils Presented In No Particular Order

1

Frosty moonlight

filters through church-window prisms,

striking the cross,

the Hungry One crying out of the dark,

words to the Sacred.

In the dark, no one remembers the sparrows.

An old man dreams

about a cheeseburger and hot fries.

Where will he lay his head?

Left half-dead outside in the cold,

perhaps, through some oversight,

shivering and naked,

with no bowl of hot soup

to warm his belly. Might as well be dead.

Holy candles flicker as they burn.

The old man dreams a valid dream.

2

Dirty children line blasted streets,

sucking babes who cannot cry,

their parched throats

swelling amid the rubble.

Have they no homes, no mothers?

And, oh God, the men.

Yes, the men. Are they so guilty

as to die for those who govern with

trumped-up creeds, pitting brother against

brother, maiming for life, stealing

divine creation one-by-one?

The world must lock the door

to keep war out, the people safe.

3

A woman rises from a third row seat

with stomach churning

and lungs that will not fill.

She’s a Pillar of Fire

who wants to burn like

God’s voice at midnight. But ice crystals

cast thin shadows in the place where she’s going

in a room filled with strangers.

There’s no make it plain in the buzz of this crowd.

The woman’s dream is divorced from the cross:

Small embers in fallen leaves,

the Promised Land in the incensed air.

And all she totes are borrowed words.

first published in TimBookTu

**

Destiny

Who can deny how gently

tender petals float on the wind?

Yet each day more flowers fall,

withered and dying.

Even the leaves

remain where they drop.

Is this not a sign?

Gone—

the pinks of summer.

The wind blows colder now

and hardly for the better.

Stiff brown leaves crunch

just where the fog is dancing,

but look—look,

a Rose of Sharon blossoms

from a Virgin’s womb.

And the wonder of it is

it happened just like that.

first published in Domicile

**

Prayer in the Fog

for Lisa

The morning fog

at the back of the yard—

like the smoke in the mountains,

only thinner and lower—

invites. The fog dances in sun

like my feet to a proper rhythm.

The sun makes golden

the uneven weeds and the grass.

As the sun rises over the right of way,

shadows cause a false elevation

behind the familiar man-made ditch.

I embrace those shadows—

though they may be untrue—

for this is the first morning this week,

I have awakened to a fog so penetrable

I can walk into it and set myself free.

**

IV. Poems from Kaleidoscope World (published online with Miki De Goodaboom, 2009,

2014)

Living In a World

I see Grace in the upper right hand
corner of the picture which may be

under water. Under glass or Plexiglas.
Maybe ice. Bubbles around her face,

hair the fuchsia of flowers. Pictorial
division is vertical, in front of which,

the shadows become women
whose arms are tree branches—

mirrored, stretched, stretching, reflected.
Certainly raised up over their heads.

Some of the trees have green leaves.
This place is “a pressure cooker.”

Precisely.
A world held together by string.

**

Dominance of Pink

Looks like the world’s imploding,
while some poor soul got shot out
of a chimney. The rest of the people
are rushing toward center. Why

even the trees seek the white-hot light.
Will we recognize the world when
the wind stops blowing, the brush in

the hand still painting its acrylic?

first published in Right Hand Pointing

**

Better Not To Know

Somewhere a stranger
sits on a hillside. Somehow
a light shines deep in the night.

The man with the purple face
has three fingers on his hand.
He looks upward, face frozen.

A woman raises her arms, cries.
Buzzards slowly gather.

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

**

When God Looks Like a Snowman

My eyes leave the women—dancing and worshiping—
advance to the water, color and texture of glass,
the light the droplets falling.

At one point I think the women could be mermaids
but abandon that theory along with the one about ice.

The water is blue, green, purple, the women silhouettes.
Then I notice the face—looking upward—
central to the red section, where God looks like

a snowman, blowing bubbles through separated lips.
The power of the breath of God is grace befalling.
And even wonder.

**

When Worlds Collide

A church stands on a hill behind the action.
I look up at the belfry, the steeple.
The sky is blue and normal enough. In it
is a trail of white, left by a jet.

The side of another building is pictured on the right;
the rest of the town concerns me.

Toys from the junk-yard:
blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, orange.
Only a fence stops plastic town—sliding down the hill—
from crushing yellow flowers.

All the houses are playhouses made from colorful plastics.
They wear tags like Playskool and Little Tykes.
Blue cardboard in front of the fence
forms a monument to childhood.

I’m an old ghost in a tumble-down town.

**

Miki’s Spanish Village

The bold colors you have chosen
for the trees and the sky and the roofs

invite me to participate in your water
color in a place that is documented

but not interpreted. You have captured
the Spanish village and invite me there.

Your colors explode around buildings—
built at odd angles. Your tree

on the left looks as though a horse is
jumping through it, and the trees themselves

look effervescent. You invite return
to a place I’ve never been.

**

V. Poems from Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2011)

nominated and long listed for the SIBA Book Prize in poetry in 2012

Dual Perspective

Fading light filters through

an open window, & from where I am,

I see a pot of dark pink impatiens

under a layer of evening calm.  Inside,

a folded newspaper, an odd sock

on the glass coffee table, off to my left.

A balding man sleeps on a green chair,

his forgotten tea, with a small wedge

of lime, going cold in a cup painted with

flowers the same fuchsia-color as those

in the pot outside. A nominal breeze is

present but too slight to alter the picture.

first published in Rusty Truck

**

Spin, Spin, Spin

The world’s gone where

in a handheld basket?

People with crosses have

various purposes.

We know most are dangerous,

except for the chosen few

God actually likes.

I think not. But what do I know?

I’m just an old soul

wearing nerdy glasses.

Aren’t most of us rather

forgettable in the long run?

And maybe even if the run is

not-so-long.

The earth spins, yes?

Spin, spin, spin,

and we have lost the faith of the daisies.

Sweet hickory smoke floats like violets—

or maybe violence—on the wind.

first published in Blue Fifth Review

**

On the Path to Jericho

On the path to Jericho,

I’m plagued by uncertainty,

“Is the man wearing a top coat

my neighbor?” A girl nudges me,

startles me with gentleness. We dance.

And the way she tells the story,

no one dances alone. “Include

is a verb,” she explains.

“Am I wearing the clothing of a liar?”

I ask.  Thankfully, she does not answer.

first published in In the Arms of Words:  Poems for Tsunami Relief,  limited edition, FootHills

Publishing, together with In the Arms of Words:  Poems For Disaster Relief,   Sherman

Asher Publishing

**

It should be obvious

what happened on the beach

where moonlight called to us

by way of sea-foam the color of oysters—

where rounded sea-rocks bathed, sea-oats blew,

where sand was sculpted by and over time—

where his right hand with its hungry palm

settled itself on my left shoulder, even before

we drank wine the color of juniper berries.

first published in Red Headed Stepchild and nominated for Best of the Net in 2011

**

Absolution

On rocks’ underside,

sleeping in soft dirt,

earlywigs roll themselves

into balls.  Scent of musty

earth floats upward,

and they scurry to get away—

wishing to live in peace.

How can I justify

this abruptness of sunlight?

Nothing is pure

among thin shadows.

A chill invades me,

and I cast the rock aside,

falling to my knees,

as though my action

might proclaim my innocence.

But who will listen

while I explain—

crying a plaintive cry

to a lonely field

where summer is dying?

Those grubs lie still.

Still. With no premonition

of autumnal joy.

Those grubs lie still

beneath the lifted stone.

first published in Domicile

**

VI. Poems from Facing a Lonely West (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2014)

The Icicle Passes

A lone jay soars past the icicle

into a corridor of ice and pine,

and I am not so sure

I want to be happy. Yes,

I have thought this through.

Outside my window

a dying teardrop leaks itself

in to a puddle two floors below.

Why does its thawing

remind me of Mummy?

I see myself—lonely as that jay—

reflected in the cold glass.

first published in Domicile

**

Nothing But Memories

I’m thinking back

on certain teen-age butts,

stuck out the Pink Lady’s open window

near Ft. Fisher on a beach trip. Most of

the adults were very young

and had already painted concrete walls

with that barf-colored primer. We

marveled at the shag carpet squares

glued carefully to the platform

of our multi-purpose room. How

the words of “Jeremiah

[who] Was [actually] a Bullfrog,”

came blasting out

from under the principal’s office door

late weekday afternoons.

A Bible on Dan’s head, we cried ’til we

laughed, laughed ’til we cried.

We’d say, “Merry Christmas,” at each Bible Study.

Sunday nights, we let strumming guitars

make way for grace,

before it all came to an end on Freedom Drive,

quickly or slowly, intentionally or not.

first published in Distillery

**

(Obsolete) Mare, the April Fragment Poem

The water beneath my feet

rises, and a loon calls from darkness.

When flooding reaches my neck, I panic,

& I’m gagging.

Could I die in a river this blue—

seeing whitewater shoals, thinking of heaven—

puking & choking & hoping? I survey the damage:

Even shadows washed away.

Gypsy-hands hold ancient rivers,

but some wounds won’t

pass the test of time. Some of my wounds

hurry me on toward eternity.

Is it darker than before? The river rocks

look forgettable as do the trees. In the hills are six graves

to pile flowers upon. And I know responding with silence

is one of the most effective tools in truth-finding.

No. I’m not Sylvia Plath. This is no suicide note.

Really. I’ve drunk no scuppernong wine,

sniffed no mercaptan, no model glue.

(It may be a dream.)

I’m not a fortune teller who forgot the importance

of phases of the moon, a teenager without the angst,

a young mother without her child,

the Carpenter from Bethlehem whose followers

all went home. I’m the one who still believes

and like Mary chooses to “ponder [so many] things

in [my] heart.” My plan is, to ride this day to the fullest.

Life bittersweet, I’m going to make Wednesday count

as something wider than a place holder

stuck between two other days.

first published in Referential Magazine and nominated for Best of the Net in 2012

**

Poetry As Sloe Gin

Poetry is a frumpy man,
who, in my humble opinion,
wouldn’t know a communist,
if one bit him on the butt.
I’ve taken license here no doubt,
since we all know a picture’s value,
when contrasted with mere words.
Poetry’s in the details or their distortion.

Poetry hides in a man’s arm pits,
and maybe in a grilled cheese sandwich
or even under the tomato, off to the side.
Poetry burrows, along with other rebels,
in the spiciness of a side dish. Coleslaw
generates some poetry upon occasion.

Poetry is an English schoolboy with tousled
hair, a jacket, clearly a part of his uniform,
who runs when he kicks a soccer ball and at
various other times. He runs, not because he
is going to chase away someone bad (read;
an Obama-loving socialist), who’s always
lurking by the playground, but because he is
young and running is fun. Nothing hides
in this lad’s torso. Poetry is the whole
of a schoolboy, not one select part.

Poetry is a sultry woman on a chaise lounge,
eating pickles and ice cream.
Playing word games and mind games, she’s
pregnant only with thought.

Poetry’s a Bloody Mary
made from vodka and tomato juice:
orange-red like the setting
of a Carolina sun, a mere dash
of pepper sauce to give tang,
to punctuate.

Poetry is a brown field
in autumn:  all thorns, no blackberries.

Poetry is sloe gin: all blackberries, no thorns.

first published in Hobble Creek Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012

**

Her Actual Question

The poet wonders

if she can write another poem,

flesh out an image,

wrestle verbs & colors

into believable details,

compile a book

by rewriting poems

to the chagrin

of editors who published them

in earlier forms. She fears

she might crash to the floor

like an aging ballerina, arthritis

having exchanged a pirouette

for the propensity to fall.

But that was another poem.

Her actual question is,

if she writes the words,

I flung a glow-in-the-dark rosary,

won for $2 on eBay

into an oak tree, will anyone care?

 

**

VII. Poems from Every Tender Reed  (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC, 2016)

Discovery

Why I should long for

ancient scripts and artifacts?

Search libraries, Internet,

explore dusty catacombs

of religion and  history?

I meet century-old saints

whose lives are snippets

of holiness, buried in vaults

beneath forgotten churches

and glorious cathedrals.

I read tidbits of news

from multi-year wars,

unearth a bloody shroud,

imagine other evidence

like one ancient sandal

rotting in dry sand.

Why I should long for

artifacts old and scholarly?

Truth of God persists

throughout the ages,

living today in the humble

yellow dandelion.

**

Hospitalized in December 

I look back,

through silvery linen-shades

on east-facing windows,

at Winston-Salem,

black, dotted with fireflies,

especially through the shade

left one-quarter open in my ninth-floor

room. As the city wakes, I realize bugs

are actually street lights, and when

I squint, Matchbox cars creep along I-40.

A siren screams; a truck horn sounds.

The horizon flames: rose-red;

then it changes to rust. Navy blue clouds

navigate through brightening sky; smoke

curls upward. The charge nurse

enters, breaking my chain of thought.

I am accustomed by this time

to the sting of a needle-prick.

And with this particular nurse,

who draws blood on the count of three,

the procedure hurts. It was also she

who inserted my NG tube.  A friend, who

had one inserted and kept it in far longer

than mine, called it “waterboarding.”

I pushed my hands under a blanket

to combat my urge to smack,

as the nurse crammed the tube down

so my body would give information.

Drink,” she said. Today I am able

to manage a smile. Today I go home,

where I’ll miss only the Moravian star.

Hauled, on a clear day in late November,

to the twelfth-floor rooftop, its 27 points

shed multiple lumens of light.

Every December the star helps God

and the never-sleeping hospital

keep watch. I walk to the window

to see the star. But tonight, I’ll be home,

surrounded by hallmarks of season:

packages of warmth, stockings of joy,

candles, a tree of love. And the star

will be only a memory.

first published in Pirene’s Fountain

**

Reflections

At four o’clock

sunlight strikes the beach.

Sparkles tap-dance in the sand.

Reflections pirouette on water.

A priest studies his missal,

his hands hold it sure, strong.

Should I wonder that his hands

are full of light?

Later in the sanctuary,

the priest sings. Candles burn

in the darkness of Heaven’s

redeeming hour. My mind

reflects on the rectified shadows

of remembered seagulls.

first published in vox poetica (under a different title)

**

Every Tender Reed

The music is silent now,

and I search for Our Father

in the quiet of evening

on the bank of a salt-water river

where a briny flood of hope

stains the rotting door

beneath the ripped awning

on the side of Manly Jail Works.

Daily an old man comes

to feed captured cats

who live in wire cages. God’s Son

can be found in the adjacent field

full of rocks

& tall red clover. He befriends

the grizzled convict

lying low in that same meadow.

Jesus holds a wiggling toddler,

pets a newborn lamb.

He walks on water. Spirit hides

in every smoldering ember,

every candle-flicker.

The Comforter

in soft-lighted forgiveness

waits for every struggling parent,

high spirited youth,

and tired octogenarian,

for each selfless priest

who burdens himself

by absolving others

and seeks absolution

for his own sins. God wants

to gather every tender reed,

to save every soul from drowning,

even if the water’s deep.

**

VIII. New Poems

Rainbow of Tenderness

After an unwanted storm of envy,

I toy with the idea

of leaving poetry behind—

writing, say, memoir—

then talk myself out of it

as I speak with a priest.

A rainbow of tenderness follows,

leads me to my own best self,

provides me with purer intentions.

published in an earlier version in Catholic365.com

**

Life of a White Child

In the “Good Old Days”

when she was three,

Daddy slid down the pole

with her in his arms and

bought Juicy Fruit gum

from the firehouse machine

for them to share. Neither

Daddy nor Mummy told her

about the savage murder

and the dead family’s bodies

found stuffed down a well

not far from their house

that prompted Daddy

to find other work.

One day on the way home

from Jimmy’s Koffee  Kup  Kafe

where she got a single-scoop

of ice cream in flat-bottom cone,

Daddy talked with a black

motorcycle cop.

Like other five-year olds,

she’d never heard the word “lynch”

and certainly didn’t know blacks

had been “driven from town”

like cattle, packed

onto a north-bound train.

She never wondered,

even in high school,

why Joplin had so few black people.

She hadn’t read the books

or seen archived articles.

She lived the life of a white child,

her yoke light, moon-glittered

like the world beneath the stars.

published in Rusty Truck

**

Surrender

After a difficult day,

the priest tosses his collar onto a chair,

drinks a glass of fruit juice, and swallows two

small pills. He yawns but ignores his fatigue

because he knows he needs to pray.

The priest feeds his dog and locks the door.

He takes off his shoes and loosens his belt,

pulls his shirt from the top of his pants

so that fifteen-hour wrinkles fly free.

The priest kneels before a small altar

holding a crucifix, a statue of Mary,

three artificial roses, and his well-worn

rosary. He bows his head, shifts his weight,

takes a deep breath, and utters his first prayer

from memory.

The Blessed Virgin runs gentle fingers

through his neatly cut hair. She has been

waiting for him to come home and, by now,

has heard enough to know the truth.

Tonight, inside the priest, the shadow of the boy

he once was is winning. Caressing the man

like a child, Mary guides his tear-filled face

into her motherly comfort, then slowly upward

toward God Her Son. Responding to Her love

as he prays, the priest slips his hand into Mary’s.

In earlier years, the priest might have ignored

the Divine, failed to touch Mary’s delicate fingers,

thought the wing of moth or another bug

had brushed him as it flew by, for Mary’s touch

is light, unlike his own and, yes! distinctly other.

Mary, truly his Mother now, will hold him

all night long, as he seeks the wisdom

to sort every burden he must lay down

from those he must surely bear, and later,

when he finally goes to bed, to sleep.

The priest sighs when the clock strikes two.

Both he and Mary know, come morning

he must gather God’s grace once again,

and go forth to do what he must do.

published in Rogue Homilies

**

How Faith Works

I see flashes of holiness I call miracles:

a butterfly pausing to speak to my heart.

I acknowledge the kiss of cool, stray raindrops,

admire a skunk mother who adopts abandoned

kittens, even a man who acquires a sick dog.

A child humming softly makes me wonder.

Light accompanies my propensity to sin

with its tiresome dualism: that partly truthful

either/or. Tall grass sways as the wind blows.

God requires me to speak well of my cursing,

junk-collecting neighbor I cannot even like,

to be generous with one who might

waste my money,  to recognize the power

of His mercy as it extends beyond

the feeding of a sparrow, to collect the grace

that makes faith work.

published in MockingHeart Review

****

Jessica Mehta: A Trio (poetry)

No southern legitimacy statement but we have an autobiography: Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of six collections of poetry including the forthcoming Savagery , the forthcoming Constellations of My Body, Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. She’s been awarded numerous poet-in-residencies posts, including positions at Hosking Houses Trust and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, Paris Lit Up in France, and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, NM. Jessica is the recipient of a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund in Poetry. She is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karma yoga movement.

A Trio

While Zozobra Burns
My first night in Santa Fe I walked
for hours, lost in adobe mazes.
Parking lots were punctuated with hatch
green chilies tumbling in iron cages
while dusty sedans stood guard. Indigenous
red suns rested on fields of yellow
and for once a Native man told me
I was beautiful.
Say something
about her hips,
his friend with accent
thick as panocha whispered.
Esas caderas—
but you shook those oiled braids
like whipsnakes and we matched
smiles over mesa cheekbones. Ashes
from the burned stick man built
nests in our plaits and I licked
charred woes from strangers
off my sun-cracked lips
as the big white cross guided me home.
A Consenting Platypus
The septuagenarian served me tea
in the garden of her thatched roof
British cottage. Between spoons
of fish pie and too much Prosecco,
I told her about the best-selling erotica
I ghost write. How people don’t like sex
until at least chapter nineteen.
She asked me about bestiality, which of us
animals are the nastiest.
No, incest
and animals are my hard lines.
“That’s too bad,” she demurred. “It’s incredible
what one can do
with a consenting platypus.”
Namesakes
My mother named me after her
father she hated. Like buying Papo’s notice
with a fat grandchild would make up
for anything. My mother
named me after famous cowboys
then went and married an NDN
herself. Meanwhile her own
mother said
No
darker.
My mom named me
the second most popular girls
name in 1981 because firsts
were for good girls without
panic. My middle
name was the same as a boy
in sixth grade with greasy
nails and dirty hair so I
said it was short for Colette.
My mother was a surprise
fifteen years too late. In the hospital,
her father said,
She ain’t much
to look at, is she?
and asked
the nurse to name her. The little Mexican
girl chose Rita after her own
child and nobody not nowhere ever
could say a pearl was an ugly thing.
My mother named me
for a man she despised well
after his girth had gone
to skeleton and the coffin flies
went still—but still,
I thought a namesake
should mean something
good and holy like clean
slates, buried shames and starting overs.

J J Bitters: A Fast Food Burger (poetry)

A FAST FOOD BURGER

Late last night I was in a bad mood,
So I sought the comfort of eating fast food.
I bought a burger with a side of fries,
And I’m ashamed to admit they were both supersized.

On my very first bite, the bun was stale,
The beef was like rubber, and the lettuce was pale.
The fries were all cold, the burger unheated;
I doubt a swarm of flies would’ve dared to eat it.

But I finished that meal using all my might
Even though I hated every single bite.
My mood went from moderately depressed to morose
And then I went to bed sweaty and bloated and gross.

My stomach was turning; I was sick as can be,
So I woke up and wrote a message to the future me:
“Life can be rough, so when you’re in a bad mood,
Don’t make it worse by eating fast food!”

Scott Hutchison : Three Poems (poetry)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in Richmond, Virginia and raised on a thoroughbred race horse farm in nearby Ashland. My upbringing pulses in my veins: I have been blessed by both earth and animal.

Shooting Holes in Signs

Grandpa’s .22 bolt action, plus a pocketful of plinking bullets.
Dependable, a history of varmint hunting and honor
hand-rubbed into its fine maple stock. Of course
the local editorials and chock-a-block letters to the editor
rage about guns, rant over reckless and illegal shooting,
the general voice seethes over taxpayer money
bleeding out for sign replacements. But I’m not one of those
“Bubba Sports” enthusiasts doing the public dirty
by four-wheeling sweet summer hiking trails, grinding out
deep rutting fun, creating black mud depressions;
I don’t wintertime thumb my nose at Fish & Game
by skimming a snowmobile over open water while pulling
one seriously beered-up water skier behind me.
That’s somebody else clouding the issue: my pastime
is imbued with gunpowder-grain and sulphurous purpose.

Staying on the right side of the road, I cruise, then nighttime park,
choosing my targets carefully. I know Deke Smitty beats his wife—
so his Used Cars sign needs to bleed enamel and rust while bruising
just a little. The proposed development 24 X 12 billboard
along the frontage of McMillan’s bank-taken farm
might not get too many plot-takers if potential buyers feel
there’s a nest of rankled hillbilly-rattlers hiding in the bushes
bearing fanged weapons. The XXX Shop peddling smut
needs an angry face hollow-point punched in its
neon sleeze-metal girly-form as a brazen reminder that some of us
raise daughters and we surely don’t approve.

I revere stop signs, refuse to desecrate pedestrian instructions
and the yellow announcements of deer crossings.
Before blowing out my breath and squeezing the trigger
I give due consideration to where that bullet will finally land
in the far distance. Don’t much like signs in the first place,
but being responsible is important when you send a message
to anyone traipsing or selfish-ing round about the community: whole
and wholesome must be preserved with public displays and the threat of
punctures, our rough and ragged-edged way of letting the sun shine through.

***

No Pity For Poor Boys                                                          

In the ramshackle night
they talk between windows
with tin cans united by string,
blink flashlight coded messages of tomorrow doings
into the gloom long after lights out.

In the heat shadows of day a long hardwood stick
becomes a gun, or a sword, the oils of the hand smoothing
its martial surface, and imagined defense against
the advancing army is bolstered by notorious
friends, an adopted pound dog, by green leaves and the air.

In time, cans and bottles become
faceless targets for rocks chosen according to
shape and heft, aluminum denting and
glass dust bursting under hours of practice,
chisel-pointed rainbows against the sun.

In summer, the steep hillside becomes a raceway
for cardboard boxes sliding the green, then later in winter
they ride trays stolen from fast food joints, or ride
an abandoned car hood seven shooshers strong
screaming against icy gravity. They grow, bold.

In the passage of days the poor boys wrestle, box, run
when they break things, tough and fast and careless
with the law. Worried mothers do not know where they are
half the time—but they are happily bruised and fine, they own escape
routes, both real and the just maybe possible. Danger is their friend.

And if you shake your head at their prospects,
then you’ve never seen the face of a young woman
skinny dipping at midnight, embracing a poor boy’s
warmth against the cold racing water, moonlight
filling her smile against the pull dividing around them.

***

North End of Town

The supposedly seedy end, an old tottering
beat trailer/tar paper shack extremity
of human habitation with barely-there ditches
sluicing rainwater and beer cans through poison sumac
bittersweet and jointweed whenever thunderheads
crack, the deluge curling toward a shanty-land
with chickens scrabbling across the roads crazed by a hunger
for brown grasshoppers. The scary part of town
that wild rich boys dare in the nighttime
recklessly aiming their gleaming trucks and sports cars
into streetlightless blind-curves while attempting to lose
pursuing cops, turning their headlights off and picking
a crooked fork in those dangerous parts where wise folk
don’t go after dark. The unfortunate extension of fissured
grass-overgrown tarmac—home to kids who skew
the high school’s dropout numbers, ancestral birthplace
to hard-ass parents hanging on to each other
and their seasonal second shift jobs at the cannery,
bridge-fishing the river for a no-cost pan-fry supper,
picking the free room clothing bin at the dump
on weekends. Here’s what the hellion and high-mighty
don’t know: everyone residing out where the town line fades
lives surrounded by lilacs, tough light-seeking shoots
all descended from a single bush someone smiled over
and shared around with all the others scratching
out a life a hundred years ago. In every single struggle
of country yard there are light purple olfactory beacons
blooming with spring ambrosia, a community
of cascading flowers, honey and bumble bees, Monarch
and Viceroy butterflies bouncing along with
ruby-throated hummingbirds flitting their aerial pirouettes
in annual duty to pollinating a golden wide world
for its own good. When spring descends on the north end of town,
just like it does everywhere, fine people should choose
daylight and cruise out that way, breathe in
and live in that momentary sweetness where a gratifying ease
has taken root, where the cost of neighbor
waving to neighbor is as precious
as a perfumed cutting, lovingly brought inside,
prospering in a mason jar.