First Loss of the Season

Prospect of robins
wedged into April,
a circle of celebration,
of spring & sun-stained
Johnson County peaches,
star of summers,
somewhere in the eastern sky.

While Mother is lowered
into loose black dirt,
Brother &  I, 4 & 3,
forlorn wildflowers,
stare off toward
a distant ridge
where the Rock Island
is emerging from
a tunnel of pine.


Mr Rescue

When I forgot the words
to a song I could always
count on Bob for help.
It was like breaking down
on a musical highway
and calling Mr Rescue.
He would mouth the next line
and I wouldn’t miss a beat.
For 20 years we railed in
harmony against the ruling class.
The joints we played weren’t
the minor leagues of the music industry;
they were the sandlots.
What sparse crowds we did attract were
usually too drunk to appreciate
3-chord missiles fired at their masters.
Once in Dallas we asked
a club owner how much longer
he wanted us to play
and he actually said Until
the SWAT team arrives.
You should have died on a tiny stage,
Bob, not in a tiny apartment,
a reminder to call Affordable Dentures,
for a good reason to smile, tacked on
the wall you were found leaning against.
You should have died on a stage
behind the chicken wire that
protected us from our adoring fans
and which you rightly pointed out
also protected them from us.

She Wanted

That voiceless boy
In the back
Of the classroom
The boy with
The battered past

She wanted
To make it all better
But he kept
Walking away
Before she could tell him
He kept walking away
Without a word

She wanted
To follow him
Step inside
His boarding house door
Establish her credentials
With these words:

The world says
The quiet ones
Are dangerous
I would remind the world
Of those who quietly
Give us poetry
Of those who quietly
Give us conscience

She liked speeches
Desperately wanted
To deliver this one

But she was a healer
Not a follower

And he kept
Walking away
Before she could tell him

He kept walking away
Without a word

Another Boy

I’m the neighborhood prowler
My feet aren’t sore
But I’m taking a short vacation
Because of the unsporting way
I’ve been treated lately
Oh, I can tell by the giggling
and gossiping
Some of you like discovering
Footprints outside your windows
But you’re gonna have to
turn off the flashlights
and call off the dogs
Or find yourselves another boy

Lines Written by a Desk Clerk Dressed in Black

She meets them
on the Internet
and they arrive
at odd hours.

One says he thumbed
from Salina to Joplin
and then walked
the last eighty miles.

When I ask
if he knows
she doesn’t
have legs,
he steps outside
and lights up
an unlucky.

Which one’s Melvin?
she barks from
her wheelchair
as she enters the lobby.

And when he races in
and raises his
trembling hand
she commands him
to follow her
into an elevator.

A burning desire
to meet
the Internet legend
they all say
when I ask
why they are here.

And when I ask
if they know
the Internet legend
has a poor
and neither arms
nor legs,

they step outside
and light up
or change the subject,
or turn sullen
and slander
the coffee I’ve made

from the finest beans
grown by Juan Valdez
on his plantation
in the most fertile
mountain valley
in all of the jittery
northern Andes.

Another Cigarette

When I was twelve
pedaling home from
the post office
I passed a naked lady
sitting on a porch
smoking a cigarette.

She was 40ish, pretty,
and I recognized her
almost immediately as
the lady who worked
part-time behind
the soda fountain at
Stewart’s Drug Store.

Of course, I circled
the block. But when I
came back around she
wasn’t there. And she
wasn’t there the next
500 times I circled
that block over the years.

And she was never again
behind the soda fountain
at Stewart’s Drug Store, either.

Just Earth

The last time I saw Lonnie
he was shouting from an Ozark mountaintop:
This place is heaven on earth
to some people; it’s just earth to me.

His rabbits had not multiplied;
a landslide had buried his marijuana patch.

The bitter laundry in his head
needed to be washed and hung out
to dry. But there was no washing machine
in his head and no clothesline.

Soon he would be moving on
deeper into these remote hills
trading his shack for a
sleeping bag under the sheltering pines
on the government land grab
that he still called home.