Robert S. King – Four Poems
One Man’s Profit
The rabbit jerks in ache and panic,
her foot captive in the snare.
The trapper is on his rounds
to check for fur and food.
Long ears fill with dry limbs
cracking under boots closing in.
Sometimes the jaws of fate
demand payment in installments.
As time gnaws, so too the rabbit
quickly chews off her foot
and frees herself from all but pain.
She flees into the shadows
to pay for the rest of her life.
The trapper curses his loss
but pins a chain to the foot,
to be forever linked to the one
who didn’t completely get away.
This, he says,
will bring me luck.
I’ll be handsome before your eyes change.
We have our song, the only one we’ll need.
On long walks crickets sing along.
All is in tune. The slippers fit.
Another night, you are scrub-woman
to a different dream. You walk alone
down some raining road
where mud serenades your bare feet.
The frogs hum with you, not a prince among them.
A jack-o-lantern rots around the candle.
I hop along a dusty road where the wind is hot
and sings too loudly in my ears,
and the snakes rattle their tambourines.
My feet burn but go on to deeper fire,
a misremembered kiss that burns
you wrongly at the stake.
Ours are the dreams of shapeshifters.
All around our kingdom, the stars are dimmer,
the moon eclipsed by mountains too high to climb.
But clear days, bejeweled nights come back in time.
You’ll be beautiful before the light changes.
Dixie Tourist Trap
Outside Billy Jo’s diner, three ol’ boys chewing tobacco
and toothpicks lean over the back of an empty pickup.
Each connects his hands as in a prayer for rain.
The only drizzle here is where their tobacco spits
hit the dust.
The empty cargo space is somehow the conduit
to depth of understanding and meaningful discourse.
They stare at the blue metal floor as though it might melt
into heaven or tell them secrets. Or maybe
this is where to mourn the year’s failed crops.
They all know when to talk, when to spit.
The small talk is of pea-size melons in the field,
of Billy Jo’s melons, of neighbor Jack’s old hound,
why he keeps chasing trucks when that damn fleafarm
has a hundred big tire tracks up his back.
“That dog don’t hunt small game no more.”
Between tobacco spits, they all nod their bobbleheads.
When a yankee they just call “The Donald,” out of place
but sure he owns the town, steers his Hummer into the diner lot,
the glare of his dollar-green sunglasses makes them squint.
Sucking in a loud Cuban cigar, the Hummerman blows big wheels
of smoke rings into the pickup bed, offers “Here’s some rain
clouds for you guys.”
Good ol’ boys know they have multiple choices:
Will they slide over silently to make room?
Will they offer to take him snipe hunting?
Will they grin, shake his hand, hand him a chew?
Inside, the diner crowd bets they’ll spit-shine his shoes.
On your farm I was an orphan, the black sheep,
the bookworm who bore into stories and poems
that never grew a single thing to eat, or bought
new winter shoes, or fixed your broken heart.
To you I wasn’t worth a beating. Yet you schooled me
in the motorized mule of tradition handed down
to plow a duty to make me the man I should be,
one not afraid to get his hands dirty.
You’d frown, remind me that my cousins
sure could work: “Them boys love this land,
so the land loves them.” They were making hay
then, while all I did was dream on the puzzle of us all.
I do love the land, love those who work it,
but I treasure most what grows in spite
of my poisonous kind, the 300-year-old
oaks sagging with songbirds, the tall green
grass stalks dancing like soulmates of the wind,
a summer rain swelling the creeks with movement,
but a downpour cursing you with muddy well water.
Perhaps like you I lost the whitest dream clouds.
The soil we shared stained us both, got in our eyes,
but a new dream floats in the fog of me,
more down to earth now like wispy white river ghosts.
We grew from the same soil if not the same spirit.
Your seed is firmly planted here, but mine is in the wind.
I never talked about dreams to you who seemed to have none,
whose hope was saying grace and Sunday School,
which I left for a bigger, perhaps crueler world,
thirsting for the spirit whispered by a river.
I never told you how peace and helping
hands should be chores of our choosing,
how birds of a feather sometimes choke together,
how wings and dreams spread wider if we tend them,
how rivers wind their way if we do not dam them.