July 1: Word of Mouth featured reader Sam McCormick, Cincinnati

Wednesday! Wednesday! Wednesday! This month we've traded with our sister city of Cincinnati. While our own Bob Ambrose and Mark Bromberg rock the house up there, we're truly honored to welcome the uniquely talented Sam McCormick. Sam is the editor of Trigger and directs The Greenhouse Poetry Reading Series in Cincinnati.

"Today I’ve Decided" - Sam McCormick

Instead of poems and pieces of exploding,
I will make paper balls. It’s what the people want,
the people want paper balls. They want them
flooding the streets and burying their cars. They want
paper balls, all crinkled up in frustration, to interrupt
wedding ceremonies and Christmas mornings.
They want them in beds, right under the sheets
against their bodies. The people have spoken.
They demand that no more time be wasted in typing,
in thinking, in words – they just want paper balls.
They want them in trash bins, they like the idea of them
as classic imagery, but they want them to also move
from trash bins into landfills. They want paper balls
for pocket change they want paper balls for lottery tickets.
Paper balls should be the new currency they said,
and I am here to serve the people. The paper ball people.
They want different colored paper balls in air balloons,
paper balls in locker rooms, paper balls to keep
an eye on their daughter as she goes on her first date.
Paper balls should be the main course at fancy restaurants
and also not so fancy restaurants. We should eat paper balls.
The people want to swallow them whole or cut them up
into tiny bite size pieces for easy consumption.
Paper balls will sing the national anthem at all sporting events.
Paper balls will be granted the right to sing. The people will collect
greatest hits albums: Paper Balls of the 80’s, Paper Balls
of the 90’s, Smooth Jazz Paper Balls, and Death Metal Paper Balls.
The people will make babies to the sound of paper balls
for generations to come. You will be able to buy
diamond paper balls and paper balls made of engine parts.
Paper balls will guide people home from holiday breaks
where family relationships will feel less awkward shoved together
around dinner tables because the tables will be overflowing
with paper ball dishes. We will make dinosaur fossils into paper balls
so that we can enjoy visits to museums, they will be framed and sold
as expensive works of art – we will make the art into paper balls.
Paper ball stars will adorn the tops of Christmas trees.
The street signs will be made of paper balls, the paper ball cars
will come with new and exciting safety features –
along with seat warmers and extra large paper ball cup holders.
The children will play in ball pits filled with paper balls
while the parents discuss the educational value
of paper balls. They want the best for their children,
they demand paper ball learning plans.
The demand for paper balls will crush our culture
and the people will start to go mad. We will attend
paper ball therapy sessions in droves, like paper ball zombies,
and take prescription paper ball pills (responsibly at first
and then we will become paper ball addicts). The paper balls
will be melted down and shot up into our veins
and we will drift off into the ether with paper ball sugar plum fairies
in our heads. We will place paper balls on gravestones
and find God in paper balls. I am making paper balls for the people,
for the paper ball future. It is here my friends. We will make paper
ball weapons and continue to kill each other
even though we will all have our fill of the things we need.
Paper balls will consume our lives. We will fuck ourselves
lonely, with paper balls and wish for something – anything-
other than paper balls. The people will curse paper balls
and fall prey to paper ball wants and dreams and I will cry
endlessly while I toil away making paper balls,
wishing that I could make poems instead.

The Lynching - Sam Lane

The Lynching - Sam Lane

The woods stepped aside from the mob, willfully 
live and water oaks and cypress trees ignore 
her cries, beggings for her baby. Regretfully 

her kin had learned to silently mourn. 
Mary couldn’t hear nigger nigger nigger 
any more. Hung upside down, feet swollen 

from the pregnancy, ankles itch like chigger 
bites from the rope. Her cuts burn and boil 
with gnats. Mary could hear nigger nigger 

no more. Her thin dress drenched in lamp oil and spit 
gasoline, sweat and blood she barely lit, 
the cigar took a lifetime to light, to broil 

To flake off, to expose the bump. The blade flicked 
incited laughter—nervous and intentional. 
Her stomach opened like an eye. The boy dropped

a month early, tumbled down the warm hill
of his mother under a boot. The smothered
son was left scattered by a cruel heel

like an emptied pecan shell. Unsatisfied
at the steaming mess, the mob shot
until they were empty and had pulverized.

Mary hung tattered like the Spanish moss that haunts
every tree in the Dirty.

"Listen to the Silence" - Eugene C. Bianchi

"Listen to the Silence" - Eugene C. Bianchi

“How then does one speak of God?
Through silence. Then why do you speak
in words? The Master laughed out loud.
When I speak, my dear, listen to the
(One Minute Wisdom,
Anthony de Mello, pg. 124)

Away from the roar of cutting firewood,
partly to tell myself I can still do it and
okayed by my overseer if I stay off the roof,
I settle on the old bench by the Oconee to
watch a silent movie at this
unlikely outdoor nickelodeon,
with light and dark clouds moving fast
against blue sky as the green river
carries its quiet waters across Georgia
into the Altamaha and on to the Atlantic.

It’s one of those between-times when the
heat and stress of effort gives way to
a sudden shifting of gears in the universe.
Now the Buddhist prayer flags dance
in the wind as it whips young cedars
like pompoms at a game or parade.

Then in a flash he appears on the screen,
lovely red-tail hawk swooping all grace,
now slow, now quick riding the currents,
one eye on me – I swear it – the other on
his supper menu, all the while enjoying
this free ride on nature’s carousel. Back
and back he circles down to a few yards,
as I wave to this avian Nureyev
pausing with wings full spread,
flashing his ballet style for unsung
bravos, encores and merited bouquets.
Now no noise in my breathing, just in and out
with a virtual mantra: Buddha, Jesus, Red
Hawk, water, sky, trees, here, now, enough.

"Listen to the Silence" is included in Gene Bianchi's latest collection Chewing Down My Barn: Poems from the Carpenter Bees. He'll be reading and signing copies at Avid Books on Saturday June 20 at 6:30 pm, along with readings by Clela Reed and Bob Ambrose, Jr.(2013 photo by David Noah)

from "On Seeing" -- Chris Mattingly

from "On Seeing" -- Chris Mattingly

...Recently, my partner Laurel and I were walking around Savannah, Georgia. We live in rural Emanuel County about an hour away from that town, which we visit nearly once a week. We were sitting on a wooden bench in Wright Square, enjoying the gnarly shade of giant live oaks whose branches reached out across centuries.  Spanish moss dripped down from branches, iron fences, railings, and Tomo-Chi-Chi’s marble monument in the center of the square. A trumpeter played blues to the clank and scuff of horse drawn carriages. The houses, storefronts and public buildings around the square were like a movie set to the antebellum tour guides speaking in a Southern dialect manufactured even by native Southerners. I was talking about my 17-year old nephew when we noticed the clock on the Old Courthouse tower had stopped. We looked at it until it began to actually turn backwards.

Two weeks earlier, my nephew had gotten into a car accident. His best friend suffered a broken neck and died, suffocating next to him. They had been partying—drinking, getting high, and driving fast—things typical to teenage kids, but with a speed and ferocity, even a sense of competition that is common in my family. They were partying hard. Aware of the miracle of my own survival, I’d become scared for my young nephew’s well being. I was scared—not only for what the immediate anguish, guilt, and sadness that would surely ball into a drug coaxed coping—for what would ultimately happen to this boy. I am scared because I was raised in the same family in the same neighborhood of the same depressed city. I was raised with similar lofty expectations and the same self-hatred that comes from not succeeding, from being “a waste,” according to teachers, coaches, and bosses. 

My nephew, like me, was raised to know the self-medicating purposes of drugs and alcohol. His mother, my sister, has been using crank and meth since before her son was born, and that drug and its problems has been one of the only constants in his life. More than a handful of times, she has abandoned her son for days, left him to care for his two younger brothers. But on a more regular basis, he has been casually neglected for weeks and months at a time, living at his dad’s crowded house, while his mom just wasn’t around. I don’t know what the better situation is. Already twice in his young life, he has had to stand between my sister and a grown man, both high and trying to kill each other. I wonder how many times he heard the thuds on the floor overhead, the bottles broken, the doors slammed, the bodies smacked and thrown before he found it in himself to climb those stairs and momentarily quiet the violence.   

When my sister and I were 14 and 15, our mom began to rekindle a relationship with us. I remember hearing from her on Thanksgiving when I was a sophomore in high school. About a month before, I had been kicked out of the Catholic school that my dad and grandpa had attended. I wasn’t expecting to hear from her that Thanksgiving, but when she said she was at a tavern partying with the family, I figured I’d walk over. The tavern, The Old Kentucky, was only a few blocks away, and I knew there would be family I hadn’t seen in years. But really I think the lure was the drinking and pool playing. I knew that if I showed up in the tavern, it wouldn’t matter how young I was, no one would stop me from taking shots and drinking cans of Sterling Beer. As it turned out, the lure of alcohol and drugs would be the glue for our new relationship with Mom. We went from not seeing her—not even knowing where she was (I thought she lived with our family in Louisiana)—to hanging out with her almost everyday. Soon, she was calling the secretary at school to say we were sick or had a family emergency, and we’d spend the day drinking with her and Curtis. 

This was one of the most exciting periods in my life. They were also a volatile, violent, and awakening few years. In the morning we’d smoke weed, listen to music, and make breakfast. While my friends were sitting in English and Math classes, I was sitting at a small table smoking Camels and listening to my mom tell stories. She told me about her daddy getting killed down in Louisiana when she was 8. She told me about finally going back there after being gone for thirty years—after she and my dad split—and how the family welcomed her as causal as if she was getting home from work. How she had tried to see us all those years, but I’d stand up, pull her from the sink where she was talking and doing dishes, hold her close in a clumsy dance to the Pink Floyd or Zeppelin song that was playing on the little alarm clock radio.

One morning, about four years later, I’m lying in bed. It’s after 11 o’clock on a school day, but I’d already decided to quit anyway. So I prop myself up on an elbow and light a cigarette. My mattress is on one of those concrete floors that are in basement. There’s gone-through cardboard boxes full of photographs, dishes, and winter clothes. Some of the boxes are soggy and collapsing from water that dripped in from someplace. One of the boxes has fallen completely open but the clothes have remained standing in a tangled cube. There’s random bike tires, hubcaps, filthy gallon jugs half full of some oily stuff I can’t figure out. Newspapers, a moldy shower curtain, unbreakable plastic whiskey bottles and cigarette butts. I’m piled up in the corner looking at all this when I see it: myself in 10 years.              

I’m so lucky it’s not even funny. A college professor? I could’ve stayed at that house and croaked from a heroin overdose like my mom’s boyfriend Curtis. Or been like George who sat on the toilet, put a shotgun to his chest, and blasted his heart out. I could’ve been like Dave and swallowed enough Oxycontin to sink into that concrete floor. I could’ve been Gary borrowing money from a broke 20-year old for something to keep him from shivering.  I could’ve gotten in my car—my eyes aflame with liquor and bewilderment—and rammed my green ‘69 Chevelle 110-mph into a tree. I could’ve been my nephew. 

Lying in bed with the lights out, I could be him. He could be me. 

featured reader at Athens Word
 in June 2015. "On Seeing" appeared online at the website Some Call It Ballin' in 2014. Mattingly played an estimated 2000 games at shortstop and during the 1980’s, his dad would drive him to St. Louis to watch Ozzie Smith field ground balls during batting practice. But today, no one astonishes him like outfielder Yasiel Puig. He admits that he still prefers his Yankee cap, that Dodger blue just doesn’t look as natural on him. Mattingly teaches at a small college in Georgia. His book of poems is Scuffletown from Typecast Publishing. He keeps a ball and glove in the trunk of his car.