Allison Chestnut : Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Florida, I received my first round of higher education at the last state supported nunnery: Mississippi University for Women, where I majored in music, theater and religion: like all professional spinsters, I can sing, read, pray and starve. I was raised on sweet iced tea and guilt: the house wines of good Southern establishments. I worship at the shrines of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Evelyn Gandy. I recognize that Saturdays from late August through January are holy days. I know the universal southern password: bless your heart.

The Old Gray Mule and The Airplane: Blake in the 21st Century

Old Gray Mule who killed thee?
Dost though know who killed thee?
Cracked the whip and chained thee
To the sweet gum sapling tree
Gave thee such a fearsome blow
Slipped thy hooves and laid thee low
Fetched the saw and felled the tree
To save thy life and set thee free
Old Gray Mule who killed thee
Dost though know who killed thee?

Old Grey Mule I’ll tell thee;
Old Grey Mule I’ll tell thee.
Not the boy of chain or scourge
The man that boy became did purge
From story facts of you demise;
To spare the children, kindness lies.
Old Gray Mule, God bless thee.
Old Gray Mule, God bless thee.

———————————————–
Airplane, Airplane, burning bright
In Manhattan sky of night
What immortal hand or eye
Could cause or watch impassively?

From what heaven, from what hell
Could the senseless action swell?
What great lesson could require
The sacrifice in airborne fire?

And what power, and what art
Could twist the airplane’s frame apart?
And when so many ceased to be
Did pain and loss reach even Thee?

What the motive? What intent?
A random act or of elect?
What the consequence? What gain?
Benevolence or evil reign?

When the stars did pale their light
And showered waters with the flight
Did God smile that work to see?
Free will absolve both man and He?

Airplane, Airplane, burning bright
In Manhattan sky of night
What immortal hand or eye
Could cause, or watch, impassively?

Norvin Dickerson: Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was conceived on a houseboat on the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina and was born in Monroe, North Carolina first year of the Baby Boomers. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. My kin, Irish immigrants to North and South Carolina, fought for the Confederacy. I drive miles out of my way to eat Lexington Barbeque, and belong to a band of pirates and sailors, Brothers of the Coast, located in Savannah, Georgia. I live in the town of Black Mountain in western North Carolina.

[five poems]

17 HANDS

The big kid in class, I rode the new horse, 17 hands high.
Old Fisher thought
I could handle him. I threw up the saddle, saw lather on his back
from a workout. He jerked
at the cinch. Fisher’s daughter, Mary Lib, boosted me up. My mother
carpooled us that day,
waited in our paneled station wagon reading until the horses entered
the ring. Big Brown
and I marched second. All the horses knew the drill so I kept the reins
slack. They walked in line
to the far end of the ring next to Providence Road. We always trotted
first and on the correct lead
put the horse into a canter and cruised around the ring. Stable
horses knew the slap
of reins, dig of heels. My turn. On the first bounce up of the trot
Brown broke into a gallop.
He dashed 30 yards and fell. Brown had me pinned under his belly,
my head between his hooves.
I heard someone yell Stay still. We’ll rock you out. I saw my mother
at the horse’s hooves,
heard Mary Lib’s panic. Then the same man who spoke to me
told Mary Lib to sit
on Brown’s head. He rocked the horse back and I skittered out, dusty
face, a puffy lip
but unharmed. The man, a doctor, checked my teeth,
and my head for lumps.
Bruises started to bloom on mother’s legs. The other children were
sent off. On our way out
I heard a gunshot.

Kumatage

Moon low over pines
on Sisters’ Key, pumpkin

with its stem blown away.
Dark water mooring.

Wind ripples a thin strip
of light to our sailboat

Stops short abeam
but we know it’s meant for us.

Boat shifts with the current
and the moon changes its angle.

Every boat anchored
nearby receives its own beam.

The moon stands watch.
We sleep.

NIGHT TRAIN (Durham tobacco warehouse, 1967)

It ain’t the band’s fault
or the Flames’. Band’s tight.
They know I stare down a false
note, but these frat boys singing
along are stone deaf. Nothing happens
here by chance. It’s all choreographed.
Flight of my cape, sling of my sweat.
My knees sink to the stage, and I levitate
from inner thighs.
I can do road gigs another 30,40 years,
with help of the Good Lord
and a little herb.

A frenzy to fool them –
mike dropped to the floor
and jerked back then prayed
over. Escape from handlers
leading me off stage exhausted
to sing one more song hushed
low then screeched high.

My fans ask If you’re so famous,
how come the Law rousts you
out of bed? I point to the Free
James Brown bumper stickers.
It’s cool.
I’m not only the Godfather
but also the Ambassador of Soul
with full diplomatic immunity.

ARLEVIA

I had a vested interest in Arlevia’s staying as our cook. My mother
couldn’t cook. Arlevia later fed my three children standing
behind her at the stove waiting for pieces of crispy fried squash,
eggplant and okra. My youngest Logan still remembers Arlevia’s fried
chicken, better than Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte picked second
best in the country by Good Morning America.

I was her boy, greeted by a hug and smile across her broad face.

My mother didn’t take a cake or casserole when Laney, Arlevia’s husband,
died but she did testify at the funeral. Mom and Arlevia grew old together,
gardened after Arlevia retired. My father fitted a golf cart with a long bed
to haul plants and vegetables. They rode it up the hill, taking turns driving,
wearing floppy smudged hats against the afternoon sun.

Mom learned Arlevia had a stroke and couldn’t speak. Shortly after, Mom fell,
didn’t break anything, but knew she couldn’t return home. I cancelled
the Monroe Enquirer-Journal in person. The man I talked to followed me out
to the street.

Didn’t Arlevia Laney work for your mother? He told me she was still alive
and could speak a little. I said, Mom, you should call Arlevia. She replied, I can’t.
We need to remember each other strong, working in the garden.

Growing vegetables, not becoming one.

CRYSTAL’S FACE JUGS

See how cruel the whites
look. Their lips are thin.
(Chief Mountain Lake
to Carl Jung, 1932)
One of her biblical lions –
ready to roar, tongue lolling
between incisors, tail arched –

is exhibited in the Mint Museum,
but she spends most of her time
pushing clay into the shape

of bug-eyed, crooked-toothed idiots.
Slaves first made these jugs,
she says, with clay left over

from firing master’s dinnerware.
I can’t say, Why copy
something ugly, so I ask

Whom were the jugs modeled after?
She smiles, Don’t the thin lips
tell you?

Jimmie Ware: Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I love magnolia trees and the scent of pine. My favorite aunt is name is Nellie Bee. I made mud pies in red dirt. I was born in Grove Hill and it holds priceless memories. I am a female named Jimmie. I’ve lived in Alabama, Chicago, Anchorage and Arizona. My southern roots are the very essence of who I am to this very day. Deep down, I am still that little freckled face redhead kid, running barefoot on my grandparent’s land spinning around until I was dizzy and breathless.

Uptown

Six city blocks
Four hundred lives
83 cultures one high rise
Eyes filled with pain
No A game
On the B train
Ethiopian grocery stores
Selling Indian spices
Gang graffiti
Baked ziti
Laundromats and bars
Slumlords thrive
Crowded busses
The daily grind
Cities never even nap
Forget sleep
The beat goes on
Sonny and Cher were
Absolutely correct
Paradise was paved
Concrete is so unwelcoming
Flowers can’t grow
The Sun Times
The hateful crimes
Luckily the sun shines
Thank God for the Lake
Vast and reassuring
If I ever get out of this place…

Perfecting Chaos

She left the jalopy running loudly
Sputtering oil and dark smoke
As she ran back into the mausoleum of a house
Hurriedly seeking her silver cigarette case
Her laughter pierces the night sky
Tonight she will waltz with her demons
Serenaded by cryptic ballads in her head
Joyful confusion, temporary conviction
Gentlemen callers awaiting her wrinkled hand
They will whisk her across the floor
She will remember to be coy in a Bette Davis
Kind of way, she peers into a mirror gazing
At a strange reflection and she screams
Silently, for it is her soul in denial
No longer the belle of the ball
Daddy’s picture shouts from the wall
Mother ghostly presence screams,
“Who’s the prettiest of them all?”
Contrary to the fairy tales told
Pretty girls do grow old
Still there will be one last Mardi Gras
One last night of debauchery before the velvet curtain falls
She makes it back to the car
Carefully places a smoke between her red lips
She disappears into the February moonlight
After all the jalopy still runs

The Ultimate Ascension

It is the least of imaginings most deserving of our attention
The storms beneath skin no one is mentioning
Place your hurt upon this page
Begin the dissipation of rage
Romance is an overrated inflated lie
Love is not guaranteed yet we must try
It is not a novel with lovers kissing tenderly
Sailing on a river with a perfect honeybee in sight
Designer clouds whispering everything’s alright
Love is being there when times are tough
It is going the distance when life is rough
Not walking away when the option is there
Much more serious than fingers in your hair
Love overcomes fears, tears and the golden years
It lasts when lust is gone when the quintessential honeymoon is over
Love, more realistic than that elusive four leafed clover
The ultimate ascension deserving of our attention

May Jordan : Poetry!

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I went through the Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina in 1969. I married a Texan from Brownsville, and you cannot get much further south than that. We had a hound named “Dog,” and a dog, named “Cow.” I am a published poet, thanks to God’s favor, but I haven’t forgotten where I came from or the people I still love.

Back Down
Memory of Cindy Bohna

It’s early June
while I saddle up Doc.
We are gathering
Tony and Cindy Bohna’s cattle
and moving them
to higher grazing land.
Cindy rides off heading north . . .
Three of us are plowing
through thick brush
and looking for strays.
Doc doesn’t go any faster
than I want him to go~
though I sense him stir
and tug against the reins,
wanting to join the others.
As I glance at tiny red
and yellow wildflowers
close to the ground,
a mule deer hides among
the shaded bull pines,
nibbling on sweet grass,
and lifts and extends her neck
listening to our horses shuffle.
Then she leaps off
like she’s chasing the sun.

My husband and Tony
reach a daunting cliff~
It is split revealing daylight.
Twin towers of rock upon rock
straight up to eternity.
The complexion of this ride
has changed. . . .
I know about bottomless bogs
that appear harmless,
but can pull you down
into the sinking mud.
The men start to climb
while pulling out cigarettes
and telling jokes. I hold on
and Doc digs his hooves in.
We lope higher and higher
as pieces of granite crack
and fall, echoing back down.
The men finish their smokes,
and the horses turn
and start back down.

Red Appy

I had an unreasonable red
Appy I called Sister.
She used to stand along
the wooden fence line,
cribbing and horsing around
like a stumbling-block between us.
I gave her all the love,
and attention
one could give a horse.
She was green broke,
and had a nasty disposition,
as if she was half-mule.
I knew that Appaloosas
were stubborn in nature.
So I found her a horse whisperer
because I was ill-qualified.
The time came though
when belonging reigned.
I had to give her her own head.
There was no room to agree
to disagree on her part.
Nothing I would do or say
would change her mind.
I sold her to a barrel-racer,
or so she claimed.
She was confident in training,
and taming any horse.
But the last thing I heard
about that filly of mine,
she kicked a fine horseshoer
square in the chest
with both hind feet.

FireFlies

As I watch
our granddaughter, Jocelyn Rose,
squeeze her glow worm
and whine for her Mama,
before she dozes off for a nap,
it rekindles memories of fireflies
during the midsummer
on warm and humid nights
in Hagerstown, Maryland,
when nothing else mattered,
except for our Father carousing.
We’d watch with wonder,
these winged lightning bugs,
flying about, up-and-down,
flashing their light throughout
the dark yards on Pot lickers flats.
My brother would run past us
hugging his glowing mason jar.

Our Mother’s mood would change
between long dreary seasons.
If only I could have been
a firefly pinned to her collar
on cold lonely evenings.
But on those summer nights
when the sparks of fire came out,
she was happy beyond reason,
watching fireflies glow
like they held tiny lanterns up
searching for their mates,
and knowing it was closing time.

Robert Klein Engler : Poetry!

NIGHT TRAIN TO BENARES

when the oily skinned boy offers me some nuts
from the bowl he covers with his headband
I have to take them like it or not he is thankful
but can’t say so in English I stopped the man

with a tractor tire from getting on the train
I saved the boys business because he sells
nuts from the train’s doorway it was either him
or the tractor tire then the train pulls away

from the station and pyramids of overhead lights
recede we click-clack into the darkness on our
way to Benares where Hindu holy men go to die
I suppose around this time Jerry is getting

married in Chicago I was invited but how could
I go I’m taking my holy love to die and now
on the stereo Ravi Shankar plays Raga Ahir Lalit
the music starts slowly but gets hectic at the end

SOUTHERN CROSS: NICELY MAKING WAY

gravel on Field Club Trail grinds beneath my feet
I stop and rest below the tabby shadow of an oak
the red and rust of fall begins to seep into its leaves
with a counterpoint of marigolds in shadows below

sometimes a grief early in life becomes a blessing
if lived through loss opens a door to an empty room
a room with wide windows and the endless sky
don’t kid yourself there’s nothing more to know

one who lives beyond that nothing is like a stone or
maybe like outstretched oaks that have a patients
set upon them by nature to imagine forgiveness
even when they stand in overgrown yards alone

here is still a slow fall of autumn leaves into light
one after another tend to letting go and why not
it is in turning one after another that we come and
go until the last one falls upon a shawl of snow

THE CRUX OF THE MATTER

after we knocked out the streetlamp playing
nighttime frisbee we looked into the Argentinian
darkness and saw for the first time the Southern
Cross I realized then I was on the other side
of the world and even when I was called back
home the other side of the world would haunt
my desire upside down but never falling off

now in an Omaha October when leaves begin
their auspicious route and graves slip into twilight
even now the great mystery that draws us all
reminds me by our mortal nature we are so small

they say there is starlight from numberless galaxies
that takes billions of lightyears to reach the earth
but are we not fools to believe that NOW there
is something out there still it may take another

billion years to know the truth that all there was
when we looked at the Southern Cross was a void
that traveled a billion years to reach our eyes and
yet I still recall how when I looked into his soul
covered by flesh like a hand covered by a glove
I thought I saw a light that poets say is love