IN THE BACK YARD, MY FATHER DIGS
a patch of damp earth. Spreads manure with a rusty pitchfork,
its handle a forest of splinters. Breaks the crust of another harsh
Pennsylvania winter until the promise of fall harvest peers
through clumps of sod like nosy cherubs. He spreads the seed
with mechanical precision; a row each for carrots, green onions,
tomatoes to hang from their wire frames. Everything in its proper place.
The stalks of corn never grow as high as desired, but he plants them
anyway. Lettuce leaves twist & dance between the peppers, drawing
rabbits from the field, waving their leafy hosanna’s in the summer wind.
They are hungry, the rabbits, nibbling ruthless on every exposed frond.
Their feast proves fatal, so much of my father’s labor will wither,
abandoned to dry in the scorch of August. When September comes,
my mother will wash the dirt from their meager bounty, encase
the colorful bits of produce in glass jars like crown jewels. She will
stack them in glittering rows, banish them to the basement pantry,
while my father glares at his calloused hands, seeing nothing of worth.
listen – do you hear that? something’s coming.
sounds just like a storm. no, wait, that’s not right.
it’s too clean. too sterile. too much like instruments
unwrapped for amputation. this here is more like
rust scraping off iron spike. more like steam
pipe. boiler room. furnace. more like
tear the fucking sky in half,
pull god to earth by the throat.
more like inferno. blast radius. engine grinding
hard against stuck gear & the fuel is dripping
near open flame. every drop of blood in your veins
screaming to be spilled. it’s three a.m. &
everything is closed except the parking lots.
everything is washed in flame. or is it fog?
every light in the sky is a town crier’s torch.
three a.m. & all is not well!
I have been spitting out all of my teeth one by one,
spitting to make mud, & Jesus Christ is screaming
at me in my sleep, so I don’t sleep much anymore.
the voice on the radio speaks to me through crackle,
he tells me about the black helicopters. clandestine
operations, the secret drug trials experimentation
under cover of night. coffee helps to keep me awake
in the darkest moments but as of late it’s been
swishing around my mouth like tin. like something
warm & rotten, so i spit it back into my wallet where
blood should be. give me new skin to crawl back
to where it’s dry. listen. do you hear that?
something’s coming. sounds just like a storm.
BILLY PILGRIM HAS COME UNSTUCK IN TIME
Someone has tampered with the clocks in this house. A hand sweeps and ticks, marks the passage of a single monotone second, then an era passes before next motion. We’re told time travels on a linear path, some great creeping thing moving steadily from one point to next, but the transition is not smooth. This morning is a stuck gear, a slow turning of screw to thumb. The same moments ad infinitum, the exact same day lived and relived with agonizing slowness. For an entire lifetime, the clock is stiff as starched sheets; for an entire lifetime the hands do not move. Then nothing happens and the wheels begin to spin again. Someone is tampering with the machinery here. Someone is fucking with time. All we are is slaves to sunset, the metronome, the mercury switch. Faster and faster we run, striving for escape velocity. Stuck in low earth orbit, our timers count down, reach zero, reset like pins on a polished lane. Nothing is novel in today. It is as we are, the same smoke oil and gunpowder’d rust. In the beginning, as it is in the middle, as it never reaches the end. We are copies of copies, degrading in quality with generational decay. Smears of black ink chipped off acetate and plate glass.
STILL LIFE WITH SPRAY-PAINT
You’re born in the county hospital, given a strong-sounding Christian name.
Exactly one lifetime later, in the same county hospital, you die. Buried in the
family plot lying adjacent to the church where you went for a month of Sundays
when you were young, given the pink-or-blue testament appropriate for your place
in the lockstep. Across the street is the high school where you played four years
of varsity ball. Won Homecoming King. Brought home a trophy, took the prettiest girl
to the prom. Had your 8×10 glossy framed with the medals that hung around your neck.
Now that moment is suspended on the walls of the town barbershop, where old men grow
older, remember their former glory and its extinguished flame, remind you that
you’ll never be half as fast, half as strong, half as skilled, never be half the man your father was.
When you have a son of your own – and you will have a son of your own – your friends will sit,
aging on those same chairs smelling of Barbicide and leather, point at your photo now cracked
and folded on the wall. They will tell him the same nothings that are now being said to you.
You will teach him to throw a spiral so perfect that his worth will never be questioned.
Raise him up to drink beer in the woods on Saturday to celebrate the victory over cross-town rivals
on Friday, then go to church on Sunday and erase all stains of wickedness for another week.
Nothing this familiar could ever be unsafe. You will vote Republican because your father
voted Republican, because hisfather voted Republican, and his father’s generation won the war.
Beneath your eyes, growing dull and lifeless by the year, a smear of dust and grime –
soot from the factories or shit from the farms – covers words written in fine print.
Both town charter and family crest read Contents under pressure.
Do not puncture or incinerate container.
William James writes poems & listens to punk rock, though not always in that order. He’s a two-time Pushcart nominee whose poems have been welcomed home in places like Radar Poetry, Potluck Magazine, Word Riot, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Freeze Ray Poetry, and Radius. He currently lives in Manchester, NH where he pretends to be older & grumpier than he really is.