Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Sheriff And Other Unfinished Business

Esteban Villa and his art at the final
Beatnik Studios event, November, 2011
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Dewell H. Byrd, Central Point, OR

Everyone hushed about the house;
family, friends, neighbors

as if speaking above a whisper
might awaken him.

Cold wind whined under watery skies,
whispered through clapboard cracks.

Small children sought safety
in the corner behind the Franklin stove.

Preacher brought a wooden box, black book.
Everybody wore clean clothes, shiny shoes.

Folks brought Sunday food, hugs, tears,
muffled voices, songs soft and low.

Years have softened the images,
soothed the hurt in my heart.

David became seven forever
that gray November day.

(regarding the death of my brother;
first pub. in Living With Loss Magazine
& Prairie Schooner)


—Michael Cluff, Highland, CA

They haunt Hubert
in ways he wishes
silence would swallow up
before another moment gallops by
in his stilted, slammed-down life.

Aunt Erica who locked
him in the punishment closet
with the scurrying, nosy rats
and occasional small snake,
running on a rampage with abandon.

Cousin Tony
who beat him down,
after the adults went to bed drunk
every New Year's or Arbor Day,
much in the now-popular
waterboarding style.

Step-sister Lurlene
who tried to slip
into his twelve-year-old bed
with copulation only on her mind.

Grandpa Phillips
who spat his snuff-stained false teeth
into Hubert's always-chipped drinking glass
at any opportune time
with fervent intent and malice.

And Uncle Karl
who taught Hubert
the proper way
to knot a tie
repress a normal desire
shine his ever-too-tight wingtips
straighten his braced back
accept the responsibilities
of a grown-up breadwinner
at a month just short of
fifteen years of age.


—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

these days a young white child wanders Harlem streets
a neighbor leaning out her window
six floors up from Broadway
sees him step off the train
after it barrels out of the tunnel from 116th Street
driving out of the past…
the train elevates to 125th Street
child pale as a ghost descends from the station
steps carefully down the iron steps
hangs onto the railing
plods across Broadway through traffic

next time sighted at the dead place
where the orphanage stood now torn down
no more Furniss Cottage or Reverend Peters,
Miss Richmond and Miss Minturn
The Sheltering Arms of Jesus…no more
standing in its place are a bodega, launderette
shut tight by night
no one goes near the iron bars and cracked cement
cries of Mama and Ma and Mütter are heard still
on the lost streets

and on this child’s lips Muvver…
his parents split up
asked him who he wanted to stay with—
Mother? Father? he said Muvver
Muvver put him in The Sheltering Arms of Jesus
he always called it “the home”
a child still searching…


Benny Barrios, Beatnick studios, explaining his artwork 
about the "short hoe" that the UFW lobbied to be banned 
from field work by 1975 in CA because it caused 
debilitating back injuries
—Photo by Michelle Kunert


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

No need to worry about color overmuch
in spring-summer: calling all flowers,
is the summons, and these burgeons
and burgeonesses do respond, coming out
bud, blossom, and wither. Even poverty-
stricken little violets exert all their little
violet hearts, ajump one hop ahead
of the bay leaf.

Ah, alack, all that’s gone now; and yet
color still. Invert the tilt of the sweet season
into the bitter, upside-down as Dante’s
devil, in ice down to the kicking part.
Yet these evilly chill weeks wreak
cinnabar and molten copper aloft in every
croft, the “multitudinous leaves do
incarnadine, making the green one
dead, yet red.” Just when you think you’ve
crucified your heart and gut on a cross of loss,

the day gowns it in a somber pearl-encrusted
farthingale all satiny blue gray, and, her brightest,
high-steppingest silk-clad feet in petals
of rust, her head in the trees, out steps
Queen Bess. Gloriana, it’s fall! When we’re
surest you’re gone, it’s never all over with Thou...


—Caschwa, Sacramento

Parking fee, maitre d’, oh the glee
To dine at five-star restaurants
Lobster tail, upscale for sale
The pièce de résistance
Oh what a high to
Tell the waiter
There’s a fly
In my



Such a long, drawn arduous journey
Sore feet surmounting the summit
Where the view was beclouded
By rain bearing hoodlums
Stealing our thunder
And leaving us
One escape:


(with sincere apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

He sprang to his sleigh, gave a whistle,
Away they all flew like the down
Of a thistle. But I heard
Him exclaim, ere he drove
Out of sight, Happy
Christmas to all
And to all
A good



Have you finished with that nonet yet?
We have to stay one step ahead
So the sheriff can’t catch us
By the pond in moonlight
Casting, reeling like
True fishermen
Even though
It’s dried



Have you checked the pond lately?
There are no more fish to be seen
From the rustic bridge crossing
The north sector

The sheriff’s boot prints
That used to fill like
Little ponds themselves
Remain dry and empty

The feral cats that prowled
Under midnight skies
Have taken their business

Mother Nature’s delicate balance
Was manipulated to serve one species
Who found there is no instant renewal
Like changing a light bulb

Things will eventually get
Back to normal
Maybe millions and millions
Of years from now.


—Kevin Jones, Fair Oaks

There were a dozen other Kevin
Joneses living in Normal, Illinois,
Time I was there. They all lived
Much more interesting lives
Than I did, and made it
Odd at DMV, impossible
To reserve a table,
Difficult to cash a check.
Then there were these late night
Collect calls from the county jail:
“Can you come get me? Again?”
Once the sheriff himself called,
And he really did sound like
Sam Elliott: “Kevin, ya’ve
Gone and done it this time. Stay
Where ya are. I’m comin’
For ya myself.” “But Sheriff,
I’m Kevin Jones the English
Teacher.” I won’t repeat
What the sheriff said just
Before the line went dead,
But I decided to move
Shortly after.


Today's LittleNip: 


This is my thirteen-minute poem
Before I commute to my job
For which I get little pay
Good benefits, no net
Living within means
That get smaller
And smaller
Each pay


—Medusa, with thanks for the patience of all those poets (including D.R. Wagner's students) who sent in nonets, Tom Goff's "quodlibet", and other wonderful fare while she was moving house. We will, indeed, get them all posted!

 Benny Barios with artwork at Beatnik Studios 
about factory laborers 
forbidden to take time to go the bathroom
—Photo by Michelle Kunert