ll winter the statue stood handless—
her arms clubbed off by three men
the surveillance tape could not identify.
Marble robes still spilled around her
like water. She still bent her head,
eyes cast down, the way my mother,
when the school nurse sent news
of the outbreak, bent to her task:
snapped latex on her hands,
lifted a comb to search my hair,
coated the strands in chemicals
to suffocate the egg sacs, to kill
the mother-lice—their thoraxes
fat chalices swollen with wine—
drunk on the chance for their children
to live. Later, she would warn me about
the lacrosse boy I liked: he will use you
and leave you, and I would resent her
and ignore her. In the Scripture I love best,
the Canaanite woman won’t leave Christ
alone until he drives out her daughter’s
demons. After my scalp was clean,
my mother braided my hair.
That spring, we wove a wreath, crowned
the woman, still handless, in hawthorn.
— This week’s poem is Jennifer Luebbers’ “Ave”.
— Q Lindsey Barrett, “Writing Beyond Good: Crafting Memorable Characters”
— Michael Nye, “Then We Came To The End of Another Semester”
After it was over and done
the dust settled and nobody killed
nobody arrested and thrown in jail
people from every corner of town
said it was the best thing
that man ever did in his life
but why the hell did he quit so soon?
Ralph Ragsdale played snooker alone
because nobody wanted to shoot with him
being so inept he’d take an hour
to play and lose against himself
and also because on his best day
he was deemed a useless dullard and anybody
playing with him would be tainted by association
but on that moment he whirled and hit Odus Millard
his veritable mal-equal who every day sat by himself
on the raised wall bench hateful and miserable
contemplating conversion to Republican
with his pool cue and when he squealed
like a shoat being castrated hit him again
until he ceased squealing and then he stopped
not one person in Billy’s Pool Parlour raised a hand
to break it off or hollered Y’all quit it now
or called Sheriff Red Floyd
to come see if Odus was alive
or Victor Hudman at the mortuary to collect the remains
all glorying in Odus Millard’s misfortune
which was universally adjudicated appropriate
after he lay whimpering
under the snooker table a sufficient time
to realize he would unfortunately survive
Bus Pennel called his wife
at the Waybourne Pig Cafe to tell her
she ought to come down and get him
if she managed a break working coffee counter
by the time she came Odus
was back sitting on the raised wall bench
wiping his face and hair
with a chalkboard erasing towel
she said Who did it?
he said That goddam Ralph Ragsdale
he hurt me real good this time
and here where they were both who swilled
at the trough of the Goddess of Second Chances
she went over to Ralph playing snooker
by himself again said Did you hit Odus
with a pool cue? And when he said Yes I did
she said How come you to stop so quick?
and he said Guess I got tored
she said You want to tell me why for?
he said Your goddammed Odus he said
the only reason Buena Vista had legs was so she
wouldn’t leave a trail like a slug when she walked
she said Odus said that? About Miss Buena?
he said Yes the sonofabitch did you’gn axe him
but Odus guilty would not look up from the floor
she said Then I don’t blame you and Ralph said
I don’t either I heard that story before
it’s about nuns, Buena Vista she wasn’t
no goddam Catholic we was Baptists
and I won’t have Odus Millard slurrying
her memory by the connection in this town
somebody is got to stand up for Christian womern
and she said Yes I see
and she pulled Odus off the raised wall bench
and she spitwiped the dryblood and snot tears from his face
and she got both of them in her Chevrolet pickup and she drove
Odus Millard across town to their house, walked him in and shut the door
and Ralph Ragsdale a hero now in the place he called home
played out his snooker game in Bill’s Pool Parlour all alone
— Our poem of the week is David Lee’s “An Elegiac Point of Honor”
— Brad Babendir, “How to Succeed at Reading Poems Without Really Trying”
“Prince Jesus, crush those bastards …”
—François Villon, Grand Testament
It is the unremarkable that will last,
As in Brueghel’s camouflage, where the wren’s withheld,
While elsewhere on a hill, small hawks (or are they other birds?)
Are busily unraveling eyelashes & pupils
From sunburned thieves outstretched on scaffolds,
Their last vision obscured by wings, then broken, entered.
I cannot tell whether their blood spurts, or just spills,
Their faces are wings, & their bodies are uncovered.
The twittering they hear is the final trespass.
And all later luxuries—the half-dressed neighbor couple
Shouting insults at each other just beyond
Her bra on a cluttered windowsill, then ceasing it when
A door was slammed to emphasize, like trouble,
The quiet flowing into things then, spreading its wake
From the child’s toy left out on a lawn
To the broken treatise of jet-trails drifting above—seem
Keel scrapes on the shores of some enlarging mistake,
A wrong so wide no one can speak of it now in the town
That once had seemed, like its supporting factories
That manufactured poems & weaponry,
Like such a good idea. And wasn’t it everyone’s?
Wasn’t the sad pleasure of assembly lines a replica
Of the wren’s perfect, camouflaged self-sufficiency,
And of its refusal even to be pretty,
Surviving in a plumage dull enough to blend in with
A hemline of smoke, sky, & a serene indifference?
The dead wren I found on a gravel drive
One morning, all beige above and off-white
Underneath, the body lighter, no more than a vacant tent
Of oily feathers stretched, blent, & lacquered shut
Against the world—was a world I couldn’t touch.
And in its skull a snow of lice had set up such
An altar, the congregation spreading from the tongue
To round, bare sills that had been its eyes, I let
It drop, my hand changed for a moment
By a thing so common it was never once distracted from
The nothing all wrens meant, the one feather on the road.
No feeding in the wake of cavalry or kings changed it.
Even in the end it swerved away, & made the abrupt
Riddle all things come to seem … irrelevant:
The tucked claws clutched emptiness like a stick.
And if Death whispered as always in the language of curling
Leaves, or a later one that makes us stranger,
“Don’t you come near me motherfucker”;
If the tang of metal in slang made the New World fertile,
Still … as they resumed their quarrel in the quiet air,
I could hear the species cheep in what they said …
Until their voices rose. Until the sound of a slap erased
A world, & the woman, in a music stripped of all prayer,
Began sobbing, & the man become bystander cried O Jesus.
In the sky, the first stars were already faint
And timeless, but what could they matter to that boy, blent
To no choir, who saw at last the clean wings of indifferent
Hunger, & despair? Around him the other petty thieves
With arms outstretched, & eyes pecked out by birds, reclined,
Fastened forever to scaffolds which gradually would cover
An Empire’s hills & line its roads as far
As anyone escaping in a cart could see, his swerving mind
On the dark brimming up in everything, the reins
Going slack in his hand as the cart slows, & stops,
And the horse sees its own breath go out
Onto the cold air, & gazes after the off-white plume,
And seems amazed by it, by its breath, by everything.
But the man slumped behind it, dangling a lost nail
Between his lips, only stares at the swishing tail,
At each white breath going out, thinning, & then vanishing,
For he has grown tired of amazing things.
— Last week’s poem of the week was Larry Levis’ “To A Wren on Calvary”
Recommended Viewing: Year in Reading alumna Rachel Fershleiser’s TED talk “Why I heart the Bookternet" on building reading communities through the internet. "The more tools that we get for communication and collaboration, the more we’re taking reading and writing — these really solitary pursuits — and building communities around them for connection and conversation."
We’re proud to be part of Bookternet.
— Vanessa Blakeslee, “Apologia for Being a Colony Addict”
"EXT. – DAY Judd Nelson puts a cheerleader’s diamond stud in his ear, walks across a football field, and has his fingerless-leather-gloved fist freeze framed defiantly in the air. Thus ends The Breakfast Club…but not before Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) swells on the soundtrack, capping one of the most important films of the 80s with an iconic musical moment that’s still putting smiles on people’s faces to this day. Unfortunately, that’s the only tune by Simple Minds that very many people not from Scotland are aware of, which is a shame…because they did some great work. Among that is is this energetic/futuristic instrumental track, included here as a nod to the resilience and vitality of Hiroshima.”
— Tim Boland, “Literature on Lockdown: Eighty Square Feet”
Remember those blue irises I’d left for years?
You dug them out with Sean’s big fork,
then left them on the grass for me to split.
After you’d gone I wrenched and tore.
Got nowhere, gave up struggling, fetched the spade.
That mat of yellow roots, the slicing blade,
the last despairing heave, the rain of soil—
the shock still live and scorching through my flesh.
— Last week’s poem of the week was Kerry Hardie’s “Watching the Fire Take Your Body”