"Refusal" - Mark Bromberg

"No, I don't need any help," Jimmie said,
after he sat up a minute later 
on the sidewalk in 98-degree heat.

He drank warm Coke and ate a peanut butter sandwich 
I made from my groceries. 
He'd asked for a cigarette and fainted, a ghost weight

into my arms. When was the last time he ate?
He told me he didn't remember: 
"I just need to get back to Augusta." 

We were waiting for the Number 5 bus
one hundred feet from the door of St. Mary's; 
on his wrist a V.A. hospital band hung loose from the bone.

He refused help when the cops arrived, too.
Very slowly Jimmie pulled out an I.D., 
showed the cops a few dollars from his wallet. 

Some folks go on living
until the sun burns a hole in the sky.
Some refuse the help of a stranger,

without simple luck or the offer of a sandwich
to pull them back from the edge. Some
get hypnotized by drugs, a bottle, life itself, 

and dance right into the fire. 

You learn to ask after each other. A week later,
the bus rider on the Number 7 Hawthorne 
sees the empty seat,

asks the innocent question
of a familiar face. They'll answer carefully,
afraid of saying too much,

afraid what may happen to them too. "Oh, Jimmie,
he just went on ahead a bit," they say,
and the rider is never quite sure

if Jimmie made one refusal too many,
or if he made it back to Augusta in time
to become less of a ghost. 

You can expect to see him again
at the next stop, at the next stop, 
at the next stop,

or maybe never. 

"A Mustard Seed" - Bobbi Johnson

"A Mustard Seed" - Bobbi Johnson

Bless me Father for I have sinned
I gave up all hope of 
Trying to fit in
To what I’ve been defined as, pitting myself against all lies
That are packaged and sold, and swallowed up whole
Old lies that are shined up like new
But no matter how you change the view
Whether it’s inside, outside, front or backside
These lies have a way of dancing around the truth
By using that same ole two step
Side to side
A little truth, a lotta lie, all used side by side.
Am I a hypocrite because I keep on trying,
To realign what my Father wants 
With desires that keep on finding
How do I find the courage to share what I believe in?
When shame and ignorance pen me in? 
Fanatics and fear sharpen the edges of the same spear 
That is driving into the very side of faith
Be my guide, Lord I pray
That I can deliver the truth
With a straight face
And not waver, stammer, or stutter
When it’s my time to witness
Me, and no other
Me, just me – imperfect in so many ways
How can I explain I am here today
Simply because of your saving grace?
But wait! He says, you are just what I need
I can work with every word spoken here
All it takes, is a little seed

(August 2014 photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"O Possum, O Possum" - Charley Seagraves

(Elegy for a possum I ran over--accidentally)

Possum don't stand a chance,
Possum ain't got no luck,
Possum gets no respect,
Possum's life must really suck.

Possum's not much for looks,
Possum's ugly as homemade sin,
No one cares 'bout possum,
Poor ol' possum ain't got a friend.

Possum sleeps all day,
Possum don't have a clue,
I pity poor ol' possum,
You never see a possum in the zoo.

Possum ain't all that fast,
Possum ain't all that smart,
Possum's downright dumb,
Possum barely made it onto Noah's ark.

Possum tries to cross the road,
Waits until past midnight,
Stops halfway, decides to play dead
When he sees my truck headlights.

Possum's life ends with a thud,
Possum never even sees it coming,
Possum dies in the road alone,
Possum smiles before succumbing.

O possum, O possum,
Now look to the heavens above,
O possum, O possum,
Born with a mug only a mother could love.

"Exit" - Michelle Castleberry

"Exit" - Michelle Castleberry

I was a fist made of hay,
you were a Zippo in a fidgety hand.
You were a loose screen door
and I was a door jamb.
It was a windy season

I could only read your name in the rearview, 
like writing on an ambulance hood.
We waltzed to Doppler-bent 
blue siren wail right up to the crash. 
They never even called our next of kin.

You were pine sap. 
I was melted cotton candy.
People saw us and said, “Y’all a mess.”

We were the couple voted 
most likely to secede.
My friends wore black to the wedding.
You were a missionary, I was pagan.
We remain so to this day.

I was a pane of glass at a peep show.
You were a regular. 
I kept thinking you were looking
at me, not through. 
I wore your fingerprints like evidence.
They threw the case out in court.

You were a thunderhead, 
swollen with hail and rain.
I was a pilot in a cropduster 
loaded full of silver iodide.
Everyone but us took cover.

Don’t get me wrong,
I was no picnic, but accounts vary,
from feast to famine.

It takes a village to tango
in a ring of family trees
full of ancestors, hunkered
like buzzards that rustle
and cough as they watch 
the dance.

This is not an apology.
nor a levy of charges.
Now I know I am water-soaked pine bough
at the edge of a burning field.
Alive in purpose, I raise
and ode in resin and smoke.

Love can read my signal now.
I can laugh a barnyard and
he can laugh a carousel.
I don’t fight anymore, but I have
punched wrist-deep into
a bucket of honey. 
From that I learned that,
contrary to prior belief
that sweetness can last, 
maybe even forever.
We go easy from buzz to blood sugar 
to bones knit like woolen stone.
Both comfort and foundation.

The back then is gone
but I remember.
This is not a pain inventory.
This is a thank you note
from an exorcist to all the ghosts
from the friendly to feral
as they cakewalk out 
of the house of my heart.

Be well, good luck, and don’t forget your things.

(Featured reader Michelle Castleberry brings "the world's slowest poetry tour" back home to Athens at September's Word of Mouth open mic, this Wednesday night upstairs at the Globe.)

"Cash Value" - Alex Johns

"Cash Value" - Alex Johns

I accidentally dropped a nickel in the trash,
paused, thought, then opted not

to put in my hand.  You might have done the same.   Hell,
it's five cents slightly defined by President Lincoln's profile,

my dad with his bald head and prominent nose
watching the evening news
silhouetted in the window
was identical to that of 
George Washington on our quarter,

the amount an elderly neighbor paid me at ten 
for mowing his yard.

History's face made monetary,
denominations of five forever associated with
the Great Emancipator's
voiceless words over a print of Gettysburg.

By this point, an attentive spender would have remembered
that Lincoln is in fact on the empty penny, that thick nickel
belongs to Jefferson, the slave owning lecher,
wealthy expert in political theory,
etched in the pantheon
of rich dead white men.

My fellow Americans,

I was living in the Balkans
during what some called a civil war.
What it was was genocide

for nothing more than
creeds and bloodlines,

Beelzebub's ugly mug out in the open.
Saw a priest pour holy water 
on prepped artillery shells.

A boy on the street handed me a handful of bank notes,
thick as a deck of cards,
hissed in perfect English,
“Here, Yankee, wipe your ass with these.”

(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Always Pretending" - Jay Morris

"Always Pretending" - Jay Morris 

I think about writing a poem 
To bridge the gap between your pain
And my own
I burn the bridge as soon as I begin building it
Immediately aware of the futility of the task
I could never hurt badly enough to arouse your compassion
So I put my pen down
I click "yes" when Netflix asked if I'm still watching the movie
I forgot I was watching because I was too busy trying to write a poem
To get an emotional response from anyone
Preferably you, or someone like you
I think about how stupid it is to include Netflix in a poem
As a Technological Age literary device
I agree with myself that I shouldn't worry about it
And should save my energy for things that should be worried about 

When is the money going to run out?
Will I ever get married?
Should I eat today, or have I had too much?
I have had too much.
I am high on the enthusiasm of getting to pretend to be 
Someone I'm not.
A bitch with an unassuming physical presence
But a sassy social media presence
To off set my real world social anxiety

There's a point when you become so self-critical with yourself
That your life starts to straddle the fine line 
between perspective and parody
And you realize you're just parroting the perspectives 
Of people who died long before you thought 
it was edgy to have a suicidal thought

And yet, the generation I come from
Has developed a morbid curiosity
For visceral authenticity
But somehow still reflexively covering our selves
With layers and layers of psychic fabrics
To protect our fabricated sense of selves
Be real with me
Show me where your stitches are
So I can pull them at the seams and
Make you spill your guts to me 
Tell me how they simplified your identity
Made you eat even though you didn't want to
Talk me through the moment when you realized
That making love doesn't mean letting someone
Fuck you as hard as you hate yourself

Don't pretend in front of me
We are always pretending
Aren't you tired?

"Always Pretending" by Jay Morris is the title poem of his blog.(photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"Mary Enters the Clinic" - Emily Katherine

"Mary Enters the Clinic" - Emily Katherine 

Mary enters the clinic like it’s a cathedral and she is has been away from god for too long
she has the slow repentant walk and the surrendered gaze of the returning sinner
praying that salvation is still being offered
she has no face
just wild hair, just dark eye liner, just scars covering faintly bruised arms and knees covered in dirt
her confession is to the front desk clerk
“I think it’s time I came back
I’ve been a needle looking for a haystack to lose myself in,
well I’m gone now.”
She gets a packet of paperwork to fill out – intake forms – financial application –
proof of insurance
When the clerk asks for proof of identity, she hands her a faded polaroid of a girl smiling, squinting into the sun
says “I used to be her.”
The clerk asks for a drivers license
says ma’am, we don’t process dreams here, just the data
Mary sighs
says I haven’t slept in four days and that’s a fact
I stay up each night trying to track down a map that will take me back to a time before the trauma existed, back when I still believed in the resistance
I take my mothers Xanax from her medicine cabinet because I want to forget
when it rains the voices get louder and I cut because I never learned how to ignore an itch
I can’t feel my face anymore, I can’t force my lips to curve in the direction of a smile,
I can’t decipher my affliction but I know I haven’t been here in a while”
The clerk schedules her with a counselor,
advises her to take a seat and wait.

it’s not the best way to process a person who walks in crying crisis in a common language
but it’s the only way we know how to help
Name, age, social security card.
If you have insurance you will have a copay
If you have a god, now will be the time to pray
if you have a loved one, ask them to hold on and stay

In the counselor’s office, she asks for holy water to drink
when asked if she is taking anything she says yes, I take anything
but nothing seems to quench this angry burn around my heart, I am on fire from the inside, hell is behind gate of my ribs and I’ve been trying to crack each one to get out.
The counselor continues with questions
Do you drink?
Do you feel depressed or blue more days than not?
Do you ever feel like you would be better off dead?
She says only on the days I can’t get out of bed
Do you have a plan for killing yourself?
she says does living count

She waits for the police escort to the hospital like they are the sons of god
they seem just as rational and twice as kind
Days have gone by that god has been the only man that will answer her
he has thrown shadows against her bedroom wall and had her guess which ones were indications of her impending doom and which ones were just reflections of the trees outside
she has found signs in her cereal – measured her life by the number of cheerios she poured
she knows the news anchor on the tv is talking to her
she knows she shouldn’t have stopped taking her medicine again
– but there was a blank spot between her eyes where her wit used to live
her hands refused to fly, became fallen birds in her lap
her eyes were vaguely smiling, her heart was kind of trying
she thought she could handle it this time

The police say shackles are not a reflection of their regard for her but a matter of policy
she accepts them willingly
they wonder why she is smiling
she wonders why they are not acknowledging Jesus, since he is standing so close behind them
beckoning her with one hand
she goes willingly

When the clinic doors close behind her, the sanitized hum resumes in the waiting room
the tv is set to Andy Griffith reruns,
the clerk files paperwork grown large with numbers – 1013, 911
295.90 schizophrenia with at least two of the following – delusions, hallucinations, grossly disorganized speech, an inability to interact with daily life without being wounded by the incongruent affect and behavior of so-called normal people
the counselor finds the razor blades in the back pack she left behind
the manager stores them in the safe beneath her desk
The clerk looks up as the next client approaches the front desk

Emily Katherine's website is Gut Punch Poetry. (photo by Michelle Castleberry)