Poem Published in Slippery Elm

 

Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty

Dear Stephanie: Some distances, some lives, can’t be quantified.
Knowing that two-thousand miles separates us offers slim
hope for a quick cup of java at a local cafe, but the gape-mawed
dragons lurking below those map edges are at least discernable,
and their fires have no doubt been doused by the confused oceans
corkscrewing over the rim; I detect steam, but no smoke.
The ruler measures in inches, never minutes, and certainly not in
emotion. Saying I miss you is easy and true, but how do those
words evoke the rocks under the surface? I turn sixty in six
days, and what I wouldn’t give to crumple some of those ancient,
wasted hours and toss them into the burn pile, to watch them rise,
transformed into winged smiles and realized dreams of what never
happened to both of us. We could hold hands and observe the odd
little phoenixes fluttering into the past, where they’d patch damages,
circumvent losses and scour clean those close corners in the lost
rooms where memories go to die. I miss you is shorthand for
the atmosphere is too transparent to conceal my longing, and naps
are a poor substitute for the real thing
. How do we hide what
is evident even to those who don’t know us? I admit failures and
improprieties, and, facing, open-mouthed, what I desire most, hope
to mitigate misbehaving parts and even some misunderstandings.
I am both the man I thought I was and one whose scars remind me
of someone I might have become, if only. The magic eight ball
spins out signs point to yes, no matter the question, so I’ve mastered
the art of cautious phrasing and willful optimism. Two nights ago
we lost ourselves in a dream in Nowhere, Texas, which seems
apt and is hardly a metaphor if past experience indicates anything.
Even GPS couldn’t help us, but frankly I don’t want guidance.
Being lost with you beats the hell out of any other reality, and might
offer us more time together, and I’m already teetering on the losing
side of that equation. I love being your old man, and want nothing
more than to be just that, at noon, on that rickety bench in Nowhere’s
square, guitar in hand, crooning “Wild Thing” and swigging cognac
while ignoring the perplexed onlookers awaiting their court dates.
I’m contemplating these colliding strands of time and cartography,
wishing for a past that never was to ease the burden of this
present. And there’s the future, which bends to no one’s whim and
seems fraught with scaled fire-breathers and sharp-toothed crags.
But we knew that going in, and stepped forward because there is
no other direction. More brave than stupid, ya think? You are
my true north, my everywhen, my night smile and contented belly.
Let’s keep sculpting our day, a piece at a time, chipped here, rounded
there. It’s taking shape, Babe. Love, Bob.

 

 

“Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty” was a finalist for Slippery Elm’s 2020 Poetry Prize, and was recently published in the 2020 issue, alongside “Answer” by Stephanie L. Harper, also a finalist. Many thanks to the Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s editorial team, and especially EIC Dave Essinger, whose professionalism and personal kindness place SELJ at the top of the ladder in the world of literary journals. If you have a chance, take a look at SLEJ‘s offerings – they’re a print journal – or consider entering their Deanna Tulley Multimedia Prize, now open for submissions.

 

Flood Gauge in the Morning

 

 

Flood Gauge in the Morning

It reclines on its side, submerged.
So far, so good, it seems
to say. Still here, still intact.
And the bridge looks so clean
from this angle
underwater.

I toss
a fist-size stone
onto the upstream
side of the road,
and watch it wash away.
Maybe we’ll cross tomorrow.

 

 

“Flood Gauge in the Morning” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available for order via Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press.

 

 

Texas Flood

 

 

 

Texas Flood

Sunlight sneaks through a crack, feathering
the overgrown lawn, electric blues in the air.
I have forgotten everything I once was.
An uprooted tree, the abandoned
steeple, a lone dog chained to a pole.
The uncertain puddle in a memory of howls.
Last night’s midnight ochre, in spades.
It lives behind me, like the wind.

 

“Texas Flood” was published in the print journal North Dakota Quarterly in February 2019.

 

And hey, here’s a video of SRV playing his version of “Texas Flood” with brother Jimmie.

 

Bandera

image

 

Bandera

I offer nothing in return, and in offering, receive.
My mouth is a river

whose current bears no words,
but the silence is not of my making.

Notice the streets and their grey
hunger, the rain and the sun

passing by much
as one passes an unopened door.

That question, unvoiced.
That shiver preceding the icy touch.

You may deny my motives.
You may deny my existence and

the very notion of shape unto form.
I offer nothing, and in offering, receive.

 

 

image

 

“Bandera” first appeared here in May 2015, and was subsequently published in The Basil O’Flaherty in November 2016.

 

Prescribed

 

Prescribed 

Some seeds are buried, others scattered.

April’s wildflower reflects October’s rain.
Bluebonnet, fragrant gaillardia. Texas paintbrush.

Cause and effect is seldom so clear with people.

Left hand offers money, right strikes a match
and the voice sings praise without conviction.

Perhaps we are guileless,
and true motive lies in the completed deed,
underground or above,

blossoming or charred after the burn.

 

* * *

My poem “Prescribed” was featured in December 2017 at The Clearing, a British online magazine focusing on landscape.

Thanks to editor Michael Malay for taking this one.

 

Purifying Wind (a vulture anthology) Now Available as an Ebook

 

I have four poems included in Purifying Wind (now available as an Ebook for $4.99,  and in print for $12.00), an anthology of pieces about or mentioning vultures. I’m proud to have these poems published alongside those of fellow poets Sudhanshu Chopra, Stephanie L. Harper and Jim LaVilla-Havelin, among others. Thank you, d. ellis phelps, for taking these poems.

 

Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway

brick

 

Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway

Take velocity into account, figure height and distance,
add trajectory plus time, then let her rip. Billy likes solid
paving stones, while I prefer hollow cinder blocks. Karen
chooses traditional red bricks, as she lacks the upper body
strength to throw anything heavier. What she’s missing in
muscle, she makes up with accuracy – one bull’s-eye last
month, with three kills to her credit. Imagine driving down
the highway, singing along with Toby Keith when wham,
a brick spiderwebs your windshield and without thinking you
mash down the brakes and the idiot tailgating you crunches
your rear end, launching you off the road and into the muddy
ditch, while another obliviot crashes into him – Karen’s work.
The only time I’ve seen her smile. Billy says she’s meaner
than me and the old man put together, which is quite the
compliment. We don’t see each other often, but Daddy’s
up for parole in a few months, and if his lying has improved,
well, who knows. Billy’s aim ain’t much – he’s managed
to dent a few roofs and truck beds, and caused a Ford
F-150 to swerve, but that’s about it. Me, I’m hunting the big
game, the 18-wheelers. I got a good feeling about tonight.

 

“Waiting for the Windshield on the Freeway” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, and ten days later was featured on Algebra of Owls. Thanks to Leigh Smith for sponsoring the poem and providing the title, and editor Paul Vaughan for choosing this piece. 

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo

 

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo

The difficulty lies in denying the rest,
pretending the denouement remains unknotted
like that length of rope looped over the branch,
unable to serve its purpose. I regret nothing,
but often wish that I had dangled my feet
in the stream more often and felt the trout
wriggle by in their fluency of motion. Last year
my daughter claimed that as a half-mortal
what pulsed through her heart was not blood
but ichor, the life-force of gods, and when I
stated that her mother was from Muleshoe and
not Olympus, and that I may have been the
product of divine intervention, but was neither
god nor blessed creature, she spat wine in my
face, laughed, grabbed my keys and chugged off
in the cherry-red Karmann Ghia I’d dubbed
La Gloria Roja. I’ve not seen that car again, but
I swear I’ve heard its custom klaxon ah-woo-gah
in strange small towns between train stops
and the lonely fields stretching out into the
blackness like memories losing traction. But
mostly I find myself in this house of books
and empty bottles, maintaining space and time,
herding shadows into their oblong boxes,
contemplating nooses and love, courage and
mortality, and the inability to step up, to swallow
what I most crave and do what must be done.

 

* * *

“The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was published in Main Street Rag in October 2017. I was fortunate to have two sponsors for the poem – Clyde Long, who provided three words (denouement, ichor and claxon) and Paul Vaughan, who offered the title. One never knows what will come of these sponsored pieces…

 

Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

 

Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

The man you knew is fading,
withdrawing into memory’s
specimen jar. A fatal flower. One
dried scorpion. Another late glass
of pinot. He carries nothing with him
but words. Living in lines on the page,
he listens to the sotol stalks rasping
sad farewells at night, their peace
interrupted by cicadas droning in
the trees. He wants to be seen
before he dies. Thinking hurts, he says.
I depend on pain that won’t vanish
or forget its purpose. I do not want.

 

 

 

“Living in Lines He Carries Nothing” was published in fall 2019 in the print anthology Through Layered Limestone: A Texas Hill Country Anthology of Place. I am grateful to editors d. ellis phelps, Lucy Griffith, Darlene Logan, Donna Peacock and Mobi Warren for taking this and three other pieces.