Thursday, January 09, 2014

Riceland Rejects

Here are some poems that didn't make the cut to be included in my new book Riceland. Check out the real book:

Wrestling (or Billy Collins Couldn't Survive a Texas Cage Match)

Lanny Boffo was the greatest poet I never met.
It was a Tuesday night. Eric and I were eight
at the Mid-South Coliseum, Eric’s dad drove us
but we lost him in the crowd. It was like having sex
with Lady Jane from G. I. Joe, it was like our first
cigarette, it was Christmas. We were ringside, and out
he came. The Poet Laureate of Mid South Wrestling.
He had them written on Frisbees, and he’d read one
then throw it out in the crowd. They rhymed and everything.
We wanted one of those Frisbees more than Maximus Prime.

Later, Eric had to go to the bathroom, and on the way out,
he says Bill “Superstar” Dundee shook his hand.

* * *

My father spent his days trudging a rice field,
wading through lukewarm water, a shovel
on his back, rolled up with a bundle of

orange tarps to regulate the flow of water,
when the ends were buried properly in mud, otherwise,
the water would rip them right out. As was he, buried good,

with the lukewarm taste of beer in his throat,
and water at his ankles,
looking for breaks in the levees, shoveling mud
into rushing water, which is all any of us can do within ourselves,

build a makeshift wall and hope it holds, shovel
whatever there is into the breach, but
what usually happens is it just ends up pushed right back at us

by water too fast to tame. This man was stronger
than water, which wears mountains into sands,
stronger than heat, which turns sand to glass, stronger
than all things but time.

* * *
Family Come to Visit

They were early. I was lying still
in bed, smelling, I’m sure, of something liquid
other than sleep. And oh, the pounding on my door,
and the pounding in my head.
I must smile and be pleasant,
it’s family come to visit.

A mouth can do so much-
narrow the eyes in a smile and move
attention from red eyes to red lips.

I was quick to hug and quicker to pull away;
either my sister has been sitting in silage or I need a shower.

But they drove for five hours
to share the noise of a five year old boy
I must not slap.
And they navigated the mountain roads and cold
to drag the subtle gray warmth of a soil
I have not had spread about my floor
in far too many days.

* * *
Kentucky Tavern

“He’s been carrying the same glass
around for days. It’s red and it smells strong,”
was all my brother knew.
Then I talked to Dad on the phone,
and he talked back.

When I got there, he set the glass to the side
and pretended to ignore it, but his hand played with it
like change in a pocket. It had been ten years
of grandkids greeted with a smile
full of nothing but teeth.
And he was still smiling;
he’d traded those teeth white as racial slurs for the real things.
My brother sat on the couch nodding with a practiced ease
while Dad spewed opinions about women, minorities, the weather.

I remembered him telling me how he’d lain on the couch for two days
sweating it out, his belt the only thing
that kept him from shitting his pants.
I remembered the loathing he’d preached of drinkers,
and the fear, every Christmas he’d been sober,
that stood him in the corner and kept him clumsy
with all but the youngest of the grandkids.
* * *
Maybe there was something

of an animal in her eyes, maybe I
was wanting to be the hunter, wanting to feel the still moving
life on my hands (this is one way to get your fingers
around warmth, to hold its purest self: blood).
Maybe it was nourishment I saw in her calm smile
like a doe leaning ever so perfectly its neck down
to drink, and I had to shoot, like when I was ten
with my father hovering over my shoulder,
I had to shoot.
* * *
Your Cousin is Lying

I never went cow-tipping, though once, Steven
wasn't looking and backed into a sleeping one,
which got up, moved away, and sat back down—
because cows sleep bellies to the ground,
that's horses you're thinking of that sleep standing.

I never made moonshine, though I admit,
my father did, but that was at least a decade
before I was born. We smoked meth. Or pot
or drank stuff we filched from our parents' liquor
cabinets or coolers. We made things from eye drops
and allergy meds. We huffed glue. We sucked
aerosol cans. Why grow it, process it, hide
it when you can buy it? We're not farmers
anymore. We work at Wal Mart. We get a discount.

I never lynched anybody, but we shot each other
same as you do over the color of our
clothes and the contents of our
wallets. I dated black girls—well, I would've
if they'd have had me.

I'm just as educated as you: I've seen the same TV shows, sat
through the same droning lectures
based on the Prussian model.
If you were from here. you'd know;
it's just like there. Only not the same.

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