"Watching After August Rains" - Bob Ambrose

"Watching After August Rains" - Bob Ambrose

Athens, Georgia
August 28, 2014

Come the season of crow and cicada
in the stasis of late summer
when old dogs and aging men
laze about their porches, waiting

perhaps to watch a raucous squad
maneuver through the understory
working the wide angles
ever closer, closing in

to stage a raid on take home tins
containing bits of doggie kibble
left from last night’s feeding.
Let them have it all, I whisper

staring down long moments
on a languid frame of fur and bones
to spot a shallow tell-tale breath.
Sleep, not death, not yet not yet.

Good ‘ole Bowser, last of litter
just another Georgia black dog
brought in from the woods.
Seen fifteen summers, asks so little –

tummy rubs and idle scritches,
snuffle walks around the back,
some kitchen scraps atop his kibble.
Let black birds have what he won’t eat.

We grow complacent waiting, waiting.
Far away the world lurches,
the young return to learning,
the busy go their scripted way.

You who strive and chase the wind
bursting with certain conviction,
would you pause and sit a while
to watch an August day with me?

For I have seen sixty five summers
that once seemed centuries
in a lifetime of forever
but from the distance of back decks

the days may drag
but years by God
are short. They lead
to spent seasons

tired dogs, and yearnings
which have no name
borne on a fresh westerly 
clearing out the August rain.

(Photo of "good ole Bowser" by Bob Ambrose. His website is Reflections in Poetry.)

"Rockets on Bibles" - Nick Barrows

"Rockets on Bibles" - Nick Barrows

As if it skipped for a second
the ‘wow’ of lost, distorted tones.
Maybe it was in shadow,
or film cut to an edit
that makes you paranoid, 
nervous, shy
or wary.
Could’ve been half way 
to the moon by now,
but instead she is almost
in Colorado.
Now, the violins have taken you from the stage 
and they are suiting your picture for the advert.
Dumb. Mad.
The dancing girls need a minute or two,
before all the glittered stockings and toys 
swoon them to blush.
She could be minutes from being your Rocketeer,
and the smell of her on your arm gives you the songs
but slowly-
               (in the back of the mind)
                         -her gone 
would make you a second class citizen again.
As it glides to feet that jump
the unsettled ease to fall back to bed
and play out like millionaires on vacation.
It shimmers as you confess and her
kisses, so softly makes the swims.
You can almost taste it
like sea salt from the ocean;
a slick breeze that hums out silly tunes 
creeping out widows and old German statues,
silk skin and stares that mean everything.
Glowing faces on a winters field,
She remembers your middle name
To Fall. To Fall.
To Fall
To Fall

Nick Barrows is the featured reader this Wednesday at Athens Word of Mouth's monthly open mic, beginning 8 p.m. upstairs at The Globe. "Rockets on Bibles" was the title poem of his 2007 spoken-word chapbookVersus [available from Aurore Press, 2012] is a joint collection including Barrows' The Rabbit Punch Defense and Journeyman's Lament by Mark Flanigan. Cincinnati's City Paper writes that Barrows presents "a dark, scathing, humorous and insightful form of poetic storytelling that becomes even more expressive via live performances." Photo: Word of Mouth Cincinnati

"I Live Here" - John Wares

"I Live Here" - John Wares

If you watched the news today you know
being human got more complicated
being complicated got more human
But I live now, I live here.
Places, things, every wondrous being
is a repeated encounter.

I sit and wonder the cost of my spot, 
an oak, an autumn poplar, 
a wooden deck, a cushion.
Sometimes old barred owl,
sometimes north wind
So much yet to do between
now and then

I sit on a simple bag of seeds
If one were placed
no corporate tag or creed
in a random design of
motel rooms
how the stars would multiply:
this I hypothesize.

(photo by Michelle Castleberry, July 2014)

"Parsing the blood" - Sharon D. McCoy

"Parsing the blood" - Sharon D. McCoy

It runs through our veins
through our history
rivers channeled
never still
longing for immortality

we try to stop it
damn it

blood sacrifice
in the name of god, spain, and gold
the taĆ­no, third day rising
empire and encomienda
sangre de dios, god’s blood, god’s will be done
bad blood bad faith golden idol

mercantile free blood, dutch, english, portuguese
triangle trade, colonial companies, st. augustine’s
tenacity – but also the lost colonies
death’s maddening whining mosquito’s hum
blood-borne parasites or feverish betrayal
repaid in blood lust, blood lost

powhatan iroquois algonquin, more
saints, puritans, the blood of christ
the blood, oh christ, of slaves,
of conquest, of sacrifice
history written in blood and prayer

woman’s constitution, spilling monthly blood –
no matter, except as a money matter
if enslaved, by partus sequitur ventrem
the fruit of her womb, blood of her blood
never more than 3/5 constituted
parsed by the u.s. constitution

biology running here in veins fueled by
history and law, parsing rights
and wrongs – but bluebloods lacking oxygen anyway
surgeon general rush’s bloodletting fever
nationalist fever for letting blood spill
so long as it can be parsed not-ours

half-bloods, blood money, blood trophies
bloodbath, bloodlines, blood quantum
bloody kansas bloody hell reservations
citizenship of blood, passing, parsing
the red and shifting line between
white and not-white

state by state – blood quantum fiercely parsed
court legislature marriage bed
red blood that makes one white
or black or indian or foreign marking a “disability
of color” –  as though there were antibodies
for privilege

drawing lines drawing blood parsing privilege held tight
one-half: massachusetts ohio; parsing more
one-quarter: mississippi missouri michigan kentucky illinois 
one-eighth: louisiana georgia – bloody inadequate laws
south carolina alone parsing reputation reception society
admixture – testing blood’s social surface tension

later – more surface-level parsing –
claiming blood will tell, blood will out
legal lines of “any visible admixture”
overwritten by the almighty one-drop rule,
drawing black blood in social corpus antibodies
for privilege embodied but never in law

hearts pumping blood and bloody irony
uniquely american irony – dr daniel hale williams
that first successful open heart surgeon – his triumph –
sanitation protocols saving lives while his own heart
pumps his legally dirty blood white walls white hospital
white betrayal poetic justice and just plain hell – both

karl landsteiner – system of blood typing
parsing not by color or race
but a, b, ab, o
rH positive or not
but not black or white or foreign
antibodies and clumping coagulants of death and privilege

or garrett morgan’s genius –
so ironically American
for a black man to invent the gas mask
protection from the air-borne toxins
that poison the blood – yet
his own blood parsed as second-class citizen

blood cancers – wartime chemical weapons turned inward – krumbhaar 
goodman gilman farber – mustard-gas scorched marrow, anti-folates blocking
pinkel – raging rampaging waging all-out internal war parsing blood’s
ground-zero while radiation burned lifeblood of henrietta lacks – HeLa
first immortal cell line, billions bought and sold, bloodlines sold out cold
billions bought and sold, immortality’s untamed longing – HeLa

new triangle trade blood spilling world wars fighting
blood and spirit privilege and riot red summers running
rivers of blood and privilege running
running in new channels taking to the streets
civil disobedience blood high and colored
black and white and red

and yet – written in the blood, too
written in genes of disease susceptibility and resistance
race’s bloody social history parsed – found wanting
not superficial features skin or hair
but deep in bones, continental ancestry
antibody-memory-altered genes

protecting from then-more-imminent threats
malaria, sleeping sickness, typhoid, acute anemia
biology’s joke on the human pretense of
making race skin deep – parsing blood and missing the point
hemochromatosis sickle cells cystic fibrosis alzheimer’s
thalessaemia prostate cancer tay sachs burkitt’s lymphoma

one drop – the actual almighty drop – not superficial
but antibody memory bone deep in marrow, channeled through
veins, long-mutated genes, new mutations.  absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence – a positive result is positive, but a negative
cannot be trusted:  for what cancer lingers
in the blood left behind, untested?

(Photo by Michelle Castleberry)

"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.)