Poems by 13 Poets for June Mule

1.

Eric A. Weil

Five Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Does being a vegetarian disqualify me from being “southern”?  I have accepted grits, cornbread, okra, and ridiculously sweet iced tea, but I can’t abide collards and barbeque.  I don’t have loquacious uncles spinning yarns at huge family reunions or eccentric aunties that out-butter Paula Deen.  All I have is a developed love of the land as I have lived over half my life now in North Carolina.  I have hiked in the Great Smokies and splashed off the Outer Banks.  I have gardened in the Piedmont’s red clay and in the flat sand of the coastal plain.  Elizabeth City is the fourth NC city for me, trending eastward from High Point.  A remnant of the Great Dismal Swamp is in my back yard along with the Pasquotank River.  They inspired these poems.  

Snow Geese in a Cotton Field

Has the harvested cotton 

flown back with the music 

of a beginners’ brass band?  

Earlier, we saw the overhead vees

and the forming of vees 

and the stragglers honking 

to catch up.  Now the brown field 

is white and crazed with honking

as if there is some debate 

whether south 

is the proper direction 

this year.  

**

Snake Blood

Bird netting draped over and tied around

our blueberry bushes next to the shed

snagged a two-foot blacksnake

whose home lay underneath.

It bites me once before I learn

to hold its head down with a stick

as I slice away the netting

that cut its scales.  Snake blood

red as mine dapples the sandy soil.

**

At the Bird Feeder

One late-winter morning we find

the wrought iron feeder stand 

bent to the ground like a straw,

cracked corn and sunflower seeds

scattered on still-dormant grass.

No raccoon is this powerful.  

We stand on the metal elbow 

without effect, draw sharp breath

to say “black bear,” lean

swamp native, starlight

explorer, our boundaries

tested in his back yard.

**

Bald Eagle Over the River

We paddle up the flat calm river,

early morning, a little mist 

on the water, then a bald eagle 

rises from a dead cypress branch

to glide ahead.  No sound after

our pointing but paddle splashes 

and their eddies as we stay 

near the shady bank.  Around

an elbow we meet again, 

this time it crosses downriver,

faster, higher, our morning 

of peace its annoyance.

**

Evening Heron

We discover an unexpected certainty.  In May 

and early June, between seven and eight, 

a heron passes over the house, maybe 200 feet up,

heading south.  Day after day we make sure 

we’re outside in time as it heads home 

after hunting, legs trailing like a pair of grill forks, 

its bill the point of a fighter jet on patrol.  

The sun, still an hour from setting, shines 

on its belly, and we can almost forget 

we’re watching a graceful killing machine.

**

2

Norvin Dickerson

Four Poems

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.

Black Mountain Rag

                                          

In Memory of Doc Watson

whom I heard on March 15, 2003           

Pack Square, Asheville, NC

1

Doc walks stiffly

on his grandson Richard's arm,

followed by David Holt.

Richard replaced

his father Merle

who backed up

Doc until Merle died

when his tractor overturned.

 

Let it rain, let it pour,

Let it rain a whole lot more,

'Cause I got them deep river blues.

                                                             

Sits like a school boy trying

to behave, boots all shiny.  Cheater

and balm in his pocket

bothering his bony ass,

and he says so.

 

Went to see my Shady Grove

She was standing in the door

Her shoes and stockin's in her hand

And her little bare feet on the floor.

3                                                          

 

If I have to be formal,

will you let me leave?

 

I wish to the Lord that the train would wreck,

Kill that engineer and break the fireman's neck.

Hey, that train done carried my girl from town.

                                                                             

He remembers playing

for his dinner, knows

each song's story,

claims every wrong note

even though his ear is perfect.

 

Footnotes:

 

1.  An old folk instrumental Doc reworked for his guitar.  Like a lot of folk songs its author is unknown.

 2.  Deep River Blues

 3.  Shady Grove

 4.  Train That Carried My Girl from Town

 

**  

 

Unchain My Heart                                                       

First day at the School for the Blind

in Greenville, Florida Ray knocks

over a chair in the lunch room.

“Where are you headed?”

Where they’re laughing.

“Can’t sit with them.  You belong

over here,” as the man twists

Ray’s shoulders.

Why?

“You’re black and they’re white.”

How can they tell the difference?

“It’s the rules.”

Now, if I get to play the piano

after dinner, is it alright to play both

the black and the white keys ’round here?

 

**  

 

Derby Day (2006) 

 

Twenty gates snap open muzzle-loaded

hooves recoil fire withers reach,

biomechanics, psychology

we can't understand.

 

A sea of fabulous retro hats and high

heels, brown and white spectator pumps.

Is there a thoroughbred named

Spike or Stiletto to bet on?

 

Girls stand on chairs, calves taunt.

Horse legs thin, brittle, pound sand

with the impact of a car bomb. 

Men, appendages in golf shirts,

 

with shaved heads and cigars.  Boxed the wrong

horses with the winner Barbaro in an exacta.

Steppenwolfer showed, third place, my bet

for my son.  Barbaro pulled up lame

two weeks later.

 

** 

                                              

Pistol

Phyllis made us feel Swain County

during the Depression,

deep marrow weary, snake spit

from a 13-rattler on your

Sunday lace, mill hours,

wash days long, fresh smell

of lye and windblown linens.

Change or slowly die.  Not allowed

to drive, you still drove your Daddy

home when he was drunk, took

an ax to his jalopy when

he wouldn't let you go

to town for remnants to sew.

You got your car with ax

scars and a ride elsewhere.

 

Tonight your short story won

the contest and you walk out

with a thousand dollars, more

than your Daddy withdrew at pistol

point on the day the banks closed.

**

 

3.

Scott Owens

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I know what happens when you put salted goobers in a bottled coke. I know how to cook real grits.  I know that cheese pie should be reddish-brown on top.  I know the real word for turtle is cooter.  I know you'll never find a snipe in the woods.  I know mountain apples can turn your mouth inside out, and I know better than to eat anything called mountain oysters.

Prayer

 

Let me live

where water flows

white over rock

glistening with sun,

where I rise and descend

each day to the sound

of water carrying away

anything that falls.

 

And in the end

let me lie down

as if swimming,

my mouth open

and water flowing into me

until the river fills me

and I become

nothing but current

**

Midnight at the Good Old Days Café

 

I sd to my friend,

whose name might have been John,

but was probably Tim, or Ted, or Ron,

What is the past?

For I sometimes fear it.

Its shadow surrounds me night and day,

casting a face I cannot see in the mirror.

 

He nodded understandingly.

 

Is it the bud we grow out of,

the limbs we fly or fall from,

spent leaves discarded by trees

kicked up again in passing,

just a stack of yellowed papers,

headlines sure of their own importance,

pre-birth of this moment,

water broken on the floor,

residence of regret,

a shore we’ve swum out from

and can never get back to?

 

He smiled what might have been a smirk.

 

Is it soul, source, wound that never heals,

almost real fiction crafted by those who win,

fossil evidence of what might have been,

storied rings obscured by mere accumulation,

trunkless legs, boastful cities

built one on top of the other,

backward motion of a swing

essential to driving forward?

 

He sighed.

 

Is it a series of broken circles

beneath streetlights, a river

choked with sediment,

perfect for drowning in,

experience once removed for one

who remembers, twice for one

who listens, degrees of separation

multiplying exponentially

with the passage of time,

a window that won’t open,

door that won’t close?

 

He said, Would you pass the goddamn ketchup?

**

Weighing In

 

I was hoping for 208,

maybe 207, anything under

200 given up as fantasy

long ago unless I take up

running again, something I haven’t done

in 5 years and am not very likely

to start again anytime soon

with the baby and classes

and my wife heading off

to work at 6 each morning

and needing the hour before that

to get herself ready to go

and make the money we need

that lets me stay home

and raise kids and write poems

and only work a little on the side,

two classes a day at the local

college, sometimes a little tutoring,

standardized test scoring, or essay

reviewing for students in need,

never making much on the poetry,

of course, but when I stepped on the scale

and saw 209 for the third time

this week and it was only Tuesday

and just last night it said

210 and I hadn’t eaten anything

since and had had a good

night’s sleep and a better bowel

movement, and a morning walk

with the baby in the backpack, I thought,

What the hell? I mean,

it’s not like I’m expecting

a miracle or anything. After all,

it was 213 just last week,

and I lost those pounds without

liposuction or Jenny Craig

or going Vegan, and don’t

tell me it was all water weight because

I don’t drink that much water,

and besides, I’ve given up

cookies and brownies and ice cream

and booze, well, mostly given up

booze, except when I’m tired and tense

and feel Norman creeping up inside

me and need to push him back

down with scotch or bourbon or

red wine, which I don’t like much

but that’s what everyone tells me

is good for my heart, because

the sonofabitch won’t respond

to any gentler coaxing, Norman, I mean,

Norman the obsessive, Norman who loves

to yell, type-A Norman who angers

easily, Norman, the out-of-control,

and then to see my skinny 17-year-old

son without his shirt looking like some

bust of Michelangelo, my son who eats

nachos and cheese, and pizza, and Dairy Queen,

and drinks Cheerwine and Starbucks all hours

of the night and day without gaining a pound

or losing sleep and usually leaving his trash

behind for me to find and throw away

or maybe just as his way of gloating

like the girls in Fried Green Tomatoes

who say with that condescending grin

and flip of the hair to Kathy Bates

after stealing her spot, Sorry,

but we’re younger and faster,

it was just too much, and Norman

became for just a moment the tipper

of scales, the hurler of scales, the

smasher of scales, only to find,

when I read the brochure on my new

ultra-modern, ultra-accurate, ultra-

expensive personal health monitoring

device, that all scales, which made me wonder

why I paid for the expensive one, are subject

to a margin of error of up to 4 percent,

which might not seem like much,

but imagine if they raised taxes or cut

your salary by 4 percent, or shaved

4 percent of your days, about 3 years,

off your life, although if you could choose

which 3 that might not be

so bad, and on roughly 200 pounds,

as any 9th grade algebra student

can tell you, that’s 8 pounds, the difference

between fat and healthy, between

a good day and an 8-pound chip

of Norman sitting on your shoulder.

**

The Exterminator at Home

 

His wife tells him she’s seen the mouse

run across the floor and under the dishwasher.

She wants it gone. He knows he can’t use

poison, what with the cats and the baby,

and he hates the ones that snap you awake

in the middle of the dream of Cabo San Lucas. 

He thinks if only the mouse would come out

he’d catch it. His hands are big and could easily

cradle the mouse to the outside world,

but it won’t come out, and his wife wants it dead.

He gives in, sets his smallest trap,

baited with peanut butter and honey.

 

In the morning, something has gone wrong. 

The mouse is there, bar across his back,

immobile but clearly not dead. His wife says,

Throw it in the trash. He says he has to finish the job.

Stomp on it, she says. Drop it down the disposal.

He cringes, takes it out to the shed,

lays it on the bench, picks up a hammer,

catches his eye, sees his hesitation.

He goes to his truck with the 4-foot bug

on top, takes the gun from behind the seat,

holds it in front of him. Now he’s certain

the mouse looks him square in the eye.

He pulls his hand back, sits and waits.

He takes the gun back to the truck,

and that’s when the answer hits him.

Out of sight, out of mind,

the mouse on the ground,

the truck in reverse,

then drive just to be sure.

**

Brute

 

I’ve always believed in brains

over brawn, nice and easy,

might doesn’t make right.

I’ve lived long enough to know

the power of the gentle touch,

the unhurrying of time,

unforcing of motion and emotion,

but then, I am a man, and sometimes

the tendencies inherent in such

are stronger than the influence

of anything learned in childhood,

and so, one cold morning

when the van’s sliding door

was frozen shut, I gripped and does nothing. He thinks the mouse

the handle hard and pulled

harder, expecting mere virility

to prove itself superior to anything

nature could muster against me.

Instead, I stood there moments later,

dumb as any beast,

beyond words, lacking direction,

the door still closed,

the handle broken off in my hand.

**

Exposing the Myth of Invincibility

 

Everyone I loved at the time was there,

Kendall and Ricky, my three brothers,

Darryl, with his cane and braces,

and Dorian, the biggest of all, state

arm-wrestling champion three years running,

the closest thing to a hero any of us knew.

We stripped down to briefs or boxers

to swim across the tiny pond,

barely 30 feet across.  We could

have walked around, but in July

in the sandhills of North Carolina

no one 15 or younger would

pass up a chance to dive into water

with no grown-ups around.

Some kept on shorts and shirts.

The rest, Tony, my youngest brother,

was forced to carry around,

slogging through swampy mess.

All was well until Dorian went under,

pulling two of us with him, then another.

He never told us he couldn’t swim.

All his strength meant nothing

in water, just more unbearable

weight, more force levied against

those trying to tame his thrashing about.

None of us made headway.  All swallowed

great gulps of water, took our turns

trying to bear him up, until at last,

Tony extended a limb and held out

against Dorian’s desperate pulling.

Afterwards, amid the gasping for breath,

the suddenly-shamed scurry to re-dress,

beneath the pride in Tony’s eyes,

there was something else,

the same unspoken fear

the rest of us felt, the knowledge now

that even the greatest could fall.

4.

Danny Collier

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I grew up in Memphis. I am a direct descendant of the Georgia Tann scandal. Once, I rode through Weakley County in the passenger seat of a decrepit MG roadster, unaware that the passenger seat was not bolted to the car. My grandfather hunted deer from his mid-century modern breakfast table, stepping to the porch when it was time to take the shot. I know the location of the capital city of the kingdom of Skullbonia. I have almost finished a book-length manuscript of poems related to chickens.

Flexing

We work on the eggs of our arms.

What you call pre-teen ritual,

like huffing or autoerotic

asphyxiation. On the subject 

of which, Rederick dangles from his belt

while his brother laughs, as Steve bleeds into

his sheets, the boy taking a few rubles and 

a cassette while Tyrone taunts the men who beat 

him silent in his own house, not far from

his wife and his children, and when we bother

to tell the stories, they go egg-shaped.

They fill our sleeves as we prefer, and

define us in a hormonal,

biologically determined

accumulation of meat.

It's a hilarious joke 

until you have to live.

**

Sticking

A sharp mind brings life to a sharp

blade. Bite your tongue and focus on 

the back of the throat. Practice one-

quarter twists. Focus on the groove

on the roof. Like stabbing cardboard.

Don't worry about blood. Focus on

the hole beneath the eyes. Focus

past your predator hands. Focus

on the damned dead plastic throat.

Bring it back to life. Make it squawk.

**

Father Son Breakfast

I thank high school physics 

for Brownian motion

and for clarity when 

I think about coffee. 

There's this conversation we have

at a McDonald's in Memphis.

Not a real McDonald's just

a McDonald's of the mind.

Not a real Memphis just

a Memphis of the mind.

We go there to drink hot coffee.

We go to eat Egg McMuffins.

Sometimes I think I understand

you. The lit candle in your throat.

I should have studied the laws that

govern gases under pressure.

One theory says your head

mimes a bushel basket.

Now you know why I 

always hum that tune.

You will never earn a living. 

You never ask the right question.

We would talk like that, ping 

pong, if we were talking.

But you are talking. You talk on.

You spit a bit of egg. That's life.

That's potential life, if the contraction

is past-tense. Grammar's tricky. Present tense.

You should have been a lawyer, dad.

You wanted to be a lawyer.

Except by analogy,

I know nothing in this life.

Global warming, don't snort, involves 

complex contents under pressure.

Real pressure. An Egg McMuffin

heavier than all of Memphis,

hotter than Memphis,

actual Memphis.

**

From Livorno

The hick from Livorno utters aphorisms for ums.

Troubled by the dog, he takes up a stick to beat his palm.

The hick from Livorno cures boredom with violence.

Ever scheming, he wishes to winter with the widow.

The hick from Livorno inspires an albino.

The hick from Livorno keeps a spare skin.

He is neither drunk nor useful.

He is too large to serve as your prey.

The hick from Livorno sings the disgraced traditional song.

Subject to abuse by the egg-head, he bids his plans farewell.

Who first is the pest then the one who is pestered?

Who comes to us later, after the war?

Who knows with precision the length of bad road?

Who survives by combining the shiftless and pale?

The hick from Livorno packs homes with explosives.

Peckish, he feels you should not want the worm.

He claims no intention of axing our heads in.

Whatever we talk of we're talking of him.

5

Frank Ard

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I am from Mobile, Alabama.  When I travel outside the South, what I miss most is sweet tea.  As a child, I climbed a magnolia tree and picked the soft white flowers.  Humidity is a good friend of mine.  I don't know how to cook without butter.

Saving the Whales on Montego Bay

she got no shine sand
slaps her back so much
don't belong
wave crash saltwater flipflop
stinging sun to bleached backside oceanic drip
and honey, these restaurants serve
only the best
she got no shoestring
singing with a poptop
iridescent babyblue skyline
barnacled
that bikini no one would touch
she ain't no prisoner
no man's en punto
sand like gritpaper in the balls of her back
so-so leaves her parched and waterlogged
so, so much to drown in
beached in that dip she stuck
finflipping, pouring part-crushed styrofoam
cups of emerald over them broad hips, shoulders
she sure
that current won't ever see her out

**

A Fruit is a Fruit

a fruit
is a fruit
but only when it sings
as it plummets
from the vine
the very first hymn
for the ten-thousandth time
and darkness is a seed
born of light
when it plucks us from our lives
and plants us in our homes
warm and
tight

**

Alligator Poem

Goes warm, throated
quite near the inner ear and
lumps just as
bulbous as canned spinal fluid
from an aluminum snake.

And brittle, the creature's sad lisp—
it bites, melts
but slowly, yes slowly
seeping, sheeting away,
blown on down the tin roof
of the very human torso.

Scales are a nonpoint,
they weigh nothing—
the taste, precisely,
it slips so fast,
like a thread—
tender, feather-red,
unraveled on the kitchen floor.

**

Star

Rain's slow footfalls
and diametrically opposed, you
want to go, yet you fade
stay, steep
like wildflower tea,
the window
cool as river water,
the pillow, soft
feathers, and you
drown, a pool
of sleep forming a piecrust
around your lips.

In a future
of Northern hemispheres
and Northern Lights,
you will be a star,
your will like a paddle
pushing you on and on,
and Reno's spotlights,
Vegas's toddler,
will be your sandbox,
and you will play.

6.

Jesse Breite

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Though I was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, I sometimes think that my mom and dad took my fetal body to Little Rock, Arkansas, and buried me in the dirt. Little Rock is and always will be where I came into being and where I grew into my britches. My literary career has been sustained by my ever-complicating understanding of this fact. Since I left Little Rock, I have lived in Chicago and Baltimore, and I currently reside in Atlanta, Georgia. But I return to see my folks, my sister, my enemies, and my blood-brothers at least twice a year.  

Arkansas Cotillion

 

Five-points, shiny as a first tooth—

clink of the boot. Spur wheel.

 

Wooden chairs rumble back.

Tilted hat. Undiscovered eyes,

 

nervous shimmy. Six-shooter

at hip, shotgun in tow.

 

Glass slide, whiskey splash.

Who outlaws the outlaw?

 

Tobacco burn, gunsmoke.

What the dogs won’t have,

 

the buzzards will.  

**

In Forest City, Alabama,

 

the tornado-struck houses sit crooked

on the hills. Some choose to rebuild,

but most leave their homes looking blown

apart by smokeless explosives.

 

The sides of houses open in mouths

of wooden teeth, broken from

their bone-full form, as worthlessly

beautiful as piano ruins.

 

I think of the wind’s decisions—

to toss this rocking horse two hundred

yards from its proper nursery, or to drop

this bed’s metal frame four blocks over.

 

Pushed by whispers, the clouds must

regret the sloppy thunder,

the drunken swirl. Grief comes as mist,

breathing on pansies, soft and dumb.

**

Church-Goer

 

An old man with bony skin

and petrified muscle stands

in church. His spine creaks

like the mast of an old ship.

 

The pipes of the organ blow

hymns gently against his sails.

His heart directs him heaven-ward

toward his dead wife.

 

He paddles pew-by-pew

to the communion rail, prays as soft

as a light wind, allows the wine

down his wooden throat as a sea-mist.

 

When the service ends,

he is tossed back to the unknown,

floating through another week

of forgotten things.

**

Fly Wheel

 

Late at night, I see a furry hurdling

outside the window under cold branches.

Closer, light ignites on graphic skin-flit.

 

A bat dives madly for winged muck.

Pig-nosed, air-born rodent, he wheels

oddly for thorax-kiss, hungered chew.

 

Forward he flaps and back; he’s hung—

an eerie puppet of gravity’s invitations,

the erratic signature of midnight.

 

With a belly-full of fly-scratch, he tucks,

pockets his webby limbs on brick.

His quiet body flanges off a quiet wall. 

7.

Harding Stedler

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Life in the fast lane goes well for yours truly.  I was named State Critic by the Executive Board of the Poets' Roundtable of Arkansas.  In between activities, I work to make time for writing some poems of my own.

Chosen By the Pirates

I did not invite
the cancer which came
unannounced
and picked my body
as its place of refuge.

Part of me is dying now.
The cancer pirates
fire salvo after salvo
which my body
combats chemically.
Diseased and damaged cells
are slowly shed
to make room
for their replacements.

Almost nightly,
I wake from sleep
to sounds of gunfire.

Month after month,
chemo and radiation
follow in my footsteps.
I am their prisoner
as they wage war
against aggressive villains.

**

Twenty-Two Acres of Haying

In haying season,
I pitched the twine-wrapped bales
up onto the wagon
as my uncle stacked them
eight layers high.
We sweat our way through June
until the lofts were full.

Once the wagon was loaded,
we rode atop the layered bales
and bounced our way
through the ruts of drainage ditches,
absorbing summer's breeze.
We lived in fear the bales,
like dominoes,
would start tumbling
and we'd have to restock
the wagon.

The ride provided respite
from the eighty-five pound squares,
nearly one hundred bales
per wagonload.
From sun-up to sundown,
the ritual was unbroken,
with timothy housed for winter cows.

**

Dragonfly Wings 

I do not want you
to break my heart again
and abandon me
like a dead dragonfly
in August heat.

I have hurt
to where numbness
will allow no more.

Can we erase the past
and start anew
and walk a winding wooded path
that leads to a clearing
atop the mountain?
And can we begin today?

May our wings bleed no more.

**

Gusts of Winter

Hitchhiking along an arctic front,
the fiercest wind of winter
vents its wrath on those
in shirtsleeves,
those who harvest oranges
for their livelihood.

The wind of winter
slips through cracks
of every window
facing north
and keeps furnaces
constantly running.

Folks who can
take refuge under ground,
in storm cellars
built for tornado season.
Their quilted flannels
shield them
from the invisible wickedness
of demons on the loose
and set them to dreaming
of Honduran winds.

8.

Pris Campbell

Four Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I was born and raised in South Carolina and still consider it my home. I salivate over the thought of fried okra and collard greens. My great grandfather fought in the Civil War and owned a mule. That mule is now dead.

**

Poetry Editor’s Statement:

Here at the Dead Mule we love it when folks mention a “dead mule” like Pris just did.   Right, Val?

Timeless

I occasionally imagine
he'll stop by in dress whites,
the scent of Hawaii upon him.
He'll love me the way he did
in his letters from Vietnam.
And before.

I straighten the spread,
throw open the curtains,
but of course he never comes.

A funeral is being held
at the church down the street.
Is it the burial of any remaining
post-marital connections, I wonder?

My face is wet.
Tears were shed and dried earlier.
What well do they flow from now?

**

Yellow Moon Nights

I roll a frosty orange crush
over my forehead this steamy Topeka evening.

The other roomers in this old
boarding house puddle to sweat, too,
here on the front porch leaning against
steps or a faded wooden swing.

We still hold hope for a slight breeze
before bed, or that predicted rain in these
too-hot-to-breathe pre-A/C days.

The sky changes from purple to black,
and the hope for rain diminishes.
The air sucks my lungs flat
when I finally go inside at midnight.

I think of you by my side on another
hot yellow moon night.

With one soft touch, the heat, the sweat,
didn't matter at all.


Reinvention

My dream is overpopulated
by houses with no walls,
stale candy from angry men
and dead dogs, come back to life.

You take my hand, walk with me
until we see grass re-seeding,
fields of wildflowers and dancing clouds.

Light from your face whites out
past desolation until my ex drives up,
still traveling through these
long years to reclaim me.

I hope you'll put on a crown,
wake me from him with your kiss.
You reach, but your crown tumbles.

It's too late this night to restart
the dream, to reinvent old memories,
so I climb into the car, dog at my side.

We roar into tomorrow, tires screeching.
                       
**                         

The Pact

inspired by a Alice Hoffman novel


Each Spring, when the leaves first attempt
to wriggle their way through stiff stubborn
branches, the lost girls float high beneath
the ice of Lake Okawalla.

Their eyes track the skaters--
those pirouetting birdlike figures
in thick woolen mufflers, the daring
ones skirting the thinning spots that gleam
like opals throughout the warming lake.

Rabbits and deer shy from lake's rim.
They've seen the gray, unblinking eyes, heard
moans in the night, listened to stories
of suicide pacts, stockpiled pills, told and retold.

They lift their heads instead, watch
the stars and moon shiver across the sky
until a dawn sleet crowns the trees white
and old tears melt rivulets into the crackling ice.

9.

Blaine P. Ely

Three Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Born and raised in the hills of Kentucky, I know all too well the legacy of our culture. I do wear shoes, despite the assumptions and I'm also quite literate. However, my truck is still rusting apart, I hope to have a mailbox one day, beer runs are 32 mile round-trips and my town of 150 has more dogs than people--but that's all pretty irrelevant.

Blossom

I remember you crying under April’s bleached blossoms

with some of them in your hair,

your tears fell like rocks into my hands

and burned to the touch,

you screamed but I couldn’t hear

over the numbness of the wind

and the unquiet hum of nothing,

you faded and melted with tall grass,

I didn’t know if you were praying or dying

or singing the songs you used to,

the ones with quiet melodies

like a bird breathing wind and ranging,

you softened and were gone

but left nothing to remember

if your dress was even white or black.

**

Summer

You closed your eyes

but it must have been to smell the trees.

The honeysuckled landscape used you

for something more than you could have imagined.

You may have been crying,

or singing the same verses from the Hymnal you always liked.

I was there too,

but only in the dream.

I was behind you,

whispering words I should have said long ago

before the Autumn trampled us like its fallen leaves.

That’s when I wake up,

when the first leave shatters the forest floor like a feather on a rock,

right before I reach out to touch

to see if it’s real.

Only then is it summer.

 

 **

Dead Tree

It rooted up from the earth like a beast from within

the greying stones of a castle.

Arms stretched toward blue but never could touch,

instead they withered and pointed back down to hell.

The death it saw was mangled in its limbs,

crawling and climbing with splintering intent.

It groped the old fence and peered over it

like a watchmaker over a clock.

Shovels sounded and tirelessly working,

the men from town sweated blood and no tears.

It was buried but not proper

and left under the gnarly epitaph.

Like the tree, it never could touch blue

but instead sank deeper and deeper

into the earth, moaning and melting.

The tree still watches over the fence

with sightless eyes under greying skies.

Holes have appeared for years around his feet,

scratching and itching and poisoning,

but he still watches the fence.

10.

Dave Wright

Three Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I'm Dave Wright. My poems and short fiction have appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature more than once. When someone asks me how it is that one becomes a Legitimate Southerner, I tell them they ought to start by trying to get published in The Dead Mule. If they don't write, I tell them they ought to start by reading a few issues of The Dead Mule. If they don't read, I tell them they ought to start looking for The Dead Mule and pray to the Lord that some kind soul comes by and teaches them how to read. If they can't see, I tell them they ought to start by listening to an old farmer cry over the memory of the death of his best friend, the dead mule buried in his back pasture. If they can't hear and they can't see, I'll do like they do at The Dead Mule. I'll lend a kind hand and show that brother or sister the way.


Poetry Editor’s Statement:

See.  Here’s another “dead mule”!  They seem to be “popping out / all about” this June.

Looking for Minnow Pools

 

the hollow where he stood riveted

brush fires knee deep

into the land   I’ve waded frantic

through dying cherry trees

 

wild poison of the forest

to the sick-inns where daddy rest

unashamed for a soldier wilting,

he gripped for higher ground

 

to rip molecules of gravity

from this galaxy, flat all earth

& still like silence fall

off hands of a grandfather clock

 

across the hollow down

around the narrow above

the delta; anywhere

between bend and mouth

 

he could have been found,

when the river was down

he’d look for pools to save

the minnows,

 

now he scratches his name

in the mud—

a pair of crow feet

**

 

Mother the River

 

Mother

the river

narrows pump like slender arteries,

against bank pangs of katydids 

covering hot gravel roads,

may we holler for the molting land,

call up through the hands, summon

our kin&blood to the far banks.

 

I want to wring old rivers from my hair

& skin wrap my bones

to make my skin shake dry

& dream my body

never wakes again

without touching the river.

 

I want to be in dripping skin

like brothers and sisters,

not blood squeezed from the shadow

of a homesick father

at rest in a bed not his own.

 

so I toss two stones to the river

and watch them fade into the blue.

 

Mother are you certain

both will reach the bottom…

**

 

Momma&Daddy

 

Somewhere a farmer 

Is treading wet boots

Up the hill to see

Momma&Daddy

 

I say a farmer is drowning

His boots in the water

His brothers and sisters

Baptizing their bones

Just to see them rinsed clean

 

Her sundresses and his jeans

Her bonnets on the line in the water now,

Some old man’s dream

Drowning beside the farmer’s boots,

 

Their his, she sees them,

She’s with him in the water…

 

And again I ask,

What’s the difference between

Dying and a bluebird,

Since now she can walk with him

In the river again   (…?)


11.

Laura M Kaminski

Two Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I've asked for fried catfish, grits, and red-eye gravy for breakfast—when it wasn't on the menu— and had a chef at a Holiday Inn-attached restaurant oblige.  It's one of the rewards of being from the South—I just KNOW when being bashful isn't in my best interest.

The Low-Carb Blessing

The day the nuns came
fishing at the trout farm
on “C” Highway,
trout swam so thick
upon the surface
of the pond
you could have walked
across the water
like the Christ. 

Fish rose to feed
the convent and the orphanage,
to fill the creel, the live-well
coolers, plastic pails,
steel buckets.

The nuns were splashed
with pond water,
algae spattered on their hems,
their flushed and smiling
faces shimmered
rainbow scales. 

John and his brother
and my brother
baited hooks.

**

Disability and Dog

She is impatient
while I try to smell
the wild news
the savory stew of air
in that top inch
above the ground
when the soil is damp
the leaves are last
year’s leftovers
the grass decayed—-

me with such a tiny
nose so poorly
placed high off
the ground I have no
real hope of pulling out
just one thread from
this tangle, just one
odor to yelp about
and wag and follow
just one piece of history
written in the olfactory—

I cannot follow the trail. 

She pities me
sorry to leave me
behind and ignorant
while molecules slip
easily, urgently
into her nose—
sorry to leave me
behind but she
has got to go—

she’s onto something.

12.

Tobi Cogswell

Two Poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I began kindergarten in Dallas.  Even though it was many years ago, I still remember my first dog was a "Heinz 57"  named Sam Finkelstein the Third Rifkin.  I remember a family outing to the zoo where a lion peed on my best friend Betsy who lived down the street, and eating chicken fried steak at the Surrey, in a shopping center where a Wil Wrights was freestanding in a corner of the parking lot.  Today I have  good friends in Texas and was pleased to see one of them published in an earlier issue of The Dead Mule.

The Corner of Desolation and Waste

 

Rundown like the toothless gums

of an apple doll left under a tree

last Christmas and missed until

Easter, the Veteran’s Hall stands,

a gray bunker of square brick, some

of the windows blocked off, no sign

of life and no cars outside…the men

who come here to ruminate and

reminisce are the old ones; only

their baseball caps or the odd patch

on a jacket gives you an idea of

what they would talk about –

 

if the words that populated their

nightmares would come forth to

the living in daylight and heal them.

 

The only time I saw my grandfather

without his walker was when he

hobbled his way to the counter

to get coffee, probably made during

the very same war he was in, with

powdered creamer that stayed stuck

to the stick like unbrushed teeth.

He’d smile and chat on the way,

methodically turn the black to

skin-colored beige with the focus

of a neurosurgeon, then chat

on the way back, to fall into

his favorite chair, sip and think,

until I helped him home for supper.

 

I came most days for a while to visit.  My

grandfather was always in the same

chair.  I never had to scan the sadness

or smell that peculiar smell of old

for very long.  And when we’d go home

until tomorrow, we’d think without words

that we both hoped the same men

would be there, because to think

any other way would be so horrible,

you might as well be back in the war.

**

Hitching a Ride on the Bunsen Burner Train

 

Fat girls here have taken the best chairs.

She’s left to look up the baggy shorts of a guy

who has nothing to say for himself

or his habits.  Welcome to second period

Science, where pray God something

gets blown up and gives them smoke

and flames to cheer about.  To talk

about seated ‘round family tables for years.

 

Her mother burned up some girl’s

dress when she was in school.  Begging

to get in this class, she will probably get

a fail notice at the quarter end.  She’s

heading the wrong way to Reno

and science has nothing to do with it,

unless you calculate the probability

that blonde hair and blue eyeshadow

 

equals chaps and a bikini top at the Lazy

Eight bar, where any cowboy who isn’t

too drunk to look up can look right down

those tops in the mirrored ceiling, decide

who has hidden jewelry he’d like to explore

further, with fingers of the hand not juggling

keys to make a fast getaway when the kid

in the other room starts hollering for morning.

 

It’s just six degrees of separation between

then and now, between Bunsen burners

and Flaming Green Lizards, between baggy

shorts on the creep with acne and drunken

outlaws with wandering eyes.   Maybe

those fat girls had the right formula after all,

sit and stay, fetch the longnecks from

the washtub and don’t pierce nothing!

13

J. W. Parr

A Haiku

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Growing up in southeast Georgia has been quite a pleasure. Around these parts, there is never a lack of friends, family, home-cooked meals, and most importantly, sweet tea. There is a church on nearly every street, or so it seems. Waking up to the smell of grits, eggs, and bacon every weekend is something that I simply couldn’t live without. However, I wouldn’t mind having less flies, gnats, and especially mosquitos. Never has a Thanksgiving gone by without a grandma’s pecan pie, and never has a football game passed without tailgating nearby. Every spring brings colorful new flowers to the fields, and every fall sees the littering of pine straw and pine cones. Ironically enough, the temperature doesn’t change much between these times. Though I love to travel and see new places, my life just wouldn’t be the same without a home down south.

Poetry Editor’s Statement:

‘Tis a pit haiku don’t have titles.

Crickets play their sound

Orchestrating ceaselessly

The South’s symphony