"Honky-Tonk Milk" - Rupert Fike

"Honky-Tonk Milk" - Rupert Fike

    - Run get your father. His dinner’s going cold.

I am maybe eight, dispatched to “the joint”
up at the corner, a job I know well,
one of his buzzed buddies, as usual, hoisting
me to a stool, the shiny red seat where
I can see the barman’s long stained apron.
A drink for me is proposed, seconded,
milk produced from somewhere, quite suspect,
already warming in its just-washed mug.
The milk sits becalmed, contaminated
by the glass whose life’s work is to hold beer,
and there is so much of it, topped off
by the barman who surely has no kids.
The talking goes on. I stare at the milk,
now mine, an unwanted social fate.
His friends keep the strong-breath questions coming -
do I have girlfriends and how many?
Any answer I give is well received.
The pin-ball machine makes modern noises
over in the corner, begging for quarters.
I want to play but too shy to ask.
My mother is waiting. The milk is waiting.
My father is talking to somebody else,
and now my own food is going cold
in the quiet light of home at the table
where I am fed, where I want to be.
I put my lips to the glass for one sip.
It’s awful. I manage a Mmmmmm. They cheer.

Atlanta in the 1950s was like a collection of small towns, each with its own little grocer, drug store and sometimes a bar. I like to refer to this as my “Dickensian” chore, running to tell my father that dinner was ready. The bar is still there, barely changed - Moe’s and Joe’s. Now though it’s mostly home to Emory students and hipsters basking in some imagined retro-land. I never go there. This poem too grew from positive reactions to my stories of having to “have a drink” with my father’s buddies when I really did not want to. It’s kind of an end to our childhood when we first do something just to make another person feel good. - Rupert Fike

"Among the Furies" - Rupert Fike

    - They who take vengeance on men
       whosoever hath sworn a false oath - The Illiad

If you’re early for your pizza pick-up,
and there’s only one seat at the bar
you might find yourself sitting next to

three got-up women trashing their exs
like they don’t care who hears.
Like they don’t care period.

And since you can't make yourself invisible
you stare at the TV as though you've got strong
money on the Czech at Wimbledon

while the women keep listing failings
you know you share with the whole of men.
You. The man at a bar. Now with a beer.

Fury One saying, "He's find any excuse to go out."
Fury Two: "Yeah, Trey would just sit at bars,
watching sports." The three turn to you as one,

but you just keep watching sports, drinking beer.
"And Sid," Fury Three says, "always had to flirt,
He always had to talk up the waitress."

This reminds you to talk up the waitress, check on
your pizza because you would now like to leave.
"Almost done, sweetheart,” she says. Sweetheart.

The women's eyes rolling so hard they almost click,
before Fury One is asking Fury Three that most
ancient question, the poser that's bedeviled us

since infidelity first plagued Olympus.
"Sid? Fury Three answers in a too-loud voice.
"My Sid? God. He’d fuck anything that moved.”

And this you hear with a sip of beer halfway 
through esophagus-land which results in a noise
that perhaps sounds like the start of a comment,

an observation by you re the ways of men,
the furies turning as one, eager for your thoughts,
but oh, The Gods are supplying a blessed intervention,

 the Fates are intervening on your behalf -
your pizza box is being presented, opened.
And even though there's a missing topping

you say, "Perfect," you leave a big-tip twenty,
not so much for the "Sweetheart" but just
so you can just slip off the stool and leave,

so you can escape out into that inverted bowl.
the same ancient-world, wine-dark sky
under which so little ever seems to change.

Join Athens Word of Mouth in welcoming Atlanta poet Rupert Fike to September's open mic!

Rupert Fike's second collection of poems, "Hello the House," has been named one of "Ten Books Each Georgian Should Read, 2018" by The Georgia Center for the Book. It also won the Haas Poetry Prize from Snake Nation Press. He was runner-up as Georgia Author of the Year after the publication of his first collection, "Lotus Buffet" (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2011). His stories and poems have appeared in The Southern Poetry Review, Scalawag Magazine, The Georgetown Review, A&U America's AIDS Magazine and many other journals. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza.

Sign-up for open mic reading will be tonight at the Globe, 7 pm, and readings begin upstairs at 8 pm.

"Pilot Episode Clip" - Rupert Fike

Pilot Episode Clip      

     You must never forget me.
     Even though I fear you shall,
     my hope is that you please don't.

This is the speech I give to my more
talented lover on our last night together,
the night she departs to a better city
where acclaim and new romance await.
I like the way my words have a slightly
archaic syntax derived from re-reading
Hardy and George Eliot all last summer,
yet the whole scene is delusional
because there is no lover,
and there is no better city or scene.
There is only me in the shower,
rogue energy posting sticky notes
for a production meeting in my head.  

Early humans were such good Buddhists,
always in the moment from constantly
having to kill or skin something.
But once they started preserving meat,
winter's supply sun-dried and stacked up
there was leisure to draw on walls,
point to the stars, say, that's me up there,
I'm Orion chasing Ursa across night skies.
Their dream worlds somehow innocent,
while ours, well, mine in particular,
is just indulgent, out there. I must do better.

One more thing though before I reform -
why did I cast myself as such a nebbish?
And how can interest ever be sustained
(in my ten-part auteur cable series)
if I'm clearly not on the hero's journey?
I will need a personal assistant
(Yale drama school, but LA savvy)
both for the casting and to help decide
if my lover forgets me or not.
I can see it going both ways.

(published by Blue Fifth Review, 7/18)

"Seeing My Father After 11 Years" - Joe Milford

He had made a batch
Of sunflower seed cookies
And I talked and talked and talked.

I noticed that he, in his sixties
And me, in my late forties
Had the same silver goatee.

He hugged me so hard.
I couldn’t cry
Because he squeezed my tears in.

We talked about DeSoto Caverns
And how it stretched tens of miles
Underground to Taladega.

He used to drive me over
West Point Dam in his Volkswagen
Smoking KOOLS and drinking PBR.

What struck me was his voice—
It was the same as when I was
A kid—when I would look up to him--

When he talked to me today
He sounded the same as back then
And he did not sound tired. 

And he did not sound as if
He was surprised at the reunion.
It was like we were meeting

In those ancient Alabama caves
After both of us having had
So many journeys and adventures.

Both of us, looking for arrowheads
So that we would have proof when we arrived
Home that this had really happened.

"University of Georgia Dorm - 1967" - Rupert Fike

We wanted to be brave, prove ourselves,
     yet we studied deep into each night
to keep out of the war that was our
     one big chance to prove we were brave, 
the chance Phil from Cordele got after
     failing Chemistry, losing his deferment,
Phil who was clumsy, not good at sports.
     We shook our heads at the thought of him -
fuzz-cheeked, helmet too big, search and destroy.
     We looked for faces on the nightly news,
friends pushing their way through chest-high grass.
     Two hundred Phils a week were getting killed.
We dreamed of pulling hurt kids from car wrecks
      to prove we were brave, but there were no wrecks,
there was only the war where cousins flew
      Hueys outside of  Pleiku, and we did not.
"Hiding out in college isn't fair," we said.
      Ramrod uncles said, "All right then, enlist."
 We didn't want to go that far.

Krishna told Arjuna he had to go fight.
     Hector's body was defiled at Troy.
God told Abraham, "Kill me a son,"
     the line Bob Dylan used in a song
we sometimes played in our metal-desk rooms
     where we studied while not being brave.
No one wanted to be the son who might
     not be spared, the son who'd go like Phil did,
 like Trey from Macon did after he gave up
     passing Statistics. We helped him pack,
 told him he might end up in Germany,
     but nobody really believed it.

        (published by Scalawag Magazine, 10/17)

"FIGHT NIGHT AT MILLER'S TAP" - Robert Lee Kendrick

"FIGHT NIGHT AT MILLER'S TAP"  - Robert Lee Kendrick

A man, a woman, & a chair walk out of a bar.
Two of them are drunk. One's about to split.
She digs her nails in. The chair between them like a ref
can't stop the shots below the belt. Slap. Lean. Scratch.
Switch. Asshole. Bitch. Only the chair keeps its feet.
Their hands know where to find tender flesh, where to jab
old sores & freshen the burn. Her right slogs an uppercut,
his right pulls her hair. Thigh to thigh, into the alley & out
of sight. From the roof of our building we shake our heads.
We laugh. We kiss. We'll go our first fifteen soon enough.
We sit on chairs from our kitchen. In a year we'll divide
the pieces. You'll curdle your lip to the compromise. For now,
nothing but smoke between us. I take the hit you blow
in my mouth, taste the burnt stream trickle over my tongue.

"FIGHT NIGHT AT MILLER'S TAP" by Robert Lee Kendrick appeared in his 2016 chapbook Winter Skin. He is the featured reader at August Word of Mouth open mic tomorrow, August 1, at the Globe. Sign-up for open mic is at 7 pm and readings begin at 8 pm upstairs.

from "The Kudzu Chronicles" - Beth Ann Fennelly

from "The Kudzu Chronicles" - Beth Ann Fennelly


When I die here,
for I sense this, I'll die in Mississippi,
state with the sing-songiest name
I remember, at five, learning to spell --
when I die here,
my singular stone will stand alone

among the Falkners and the Faulkners
the Isoms and the Nielsens, those headstones
which fin down hills like schools of fish.
I'll be a letter of a foreign font,
what the typesetter used to call a bastard.

And even when my husband and daughter 
are dragged down beside me,
their shared name
won't seem to claim my own,
not to any horseman passing by.

Listen, kin and stranger,
when I go to the field and lie down,
let my stone be a native stone.
Let the deer come at dusk 
from the woods behind the church

and let them nibble acorns off my grave.
Then let the kudzu blanket me,
for I always loved the heat,
and let its hands rub out my name
for I always loved affection.

"The Kudzu Chronicles" by Beth Ann Fennelly originally appeared in Unmentionables (2008), her third book of poetry. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi.