Posts for June 11, 2018


While You’re Away

Your cough, 
too small for
a man your size
always annoyed me.

Because I know
that is bitchy
and irrational
I would just
clench my jaw
and sigh and
wait for you to do it
5 more times before
yelling at you
to take allergy medicine 
or asking you
if you were ok?

You’ve been away
for work for four days,
my first time in 8 years
being home this
long without you.

The house is quiet
without those coughs,
the yawns that drive 
me crazy because 
you Chewbacca-scream 
throughout them
(like your Papaw 
used to, you told me,
so I know that will 
never change),
the clicks from 
your video game
controller, loud
enough to hear 
all the way 
from the kitchen.

I adjust to the silence
as though it were
I can make out 
things I couldn’t 
see before, a 
little better all 
the time.

For instance,
did you realize 
how often 
(how beautifully)
you sing? 
How much 
we laugh

I never noticed
till now
how many
times a day
you call me





Dear Mark,  (1950 – 2017)
         Your last couple of years we initiated a “men’s group
and whenever you felt up to it we’d meet near Berea
at Wood Betony on Clear Creek just above Disputana
in Rockcastle County: place of beauty and the sparkling
water of our “famous” words: our talk of art and design
and poetry and music and philosophy and love, of course. 
You were finishing up a ten part series of abstact lanscapes,
I was writing a verse narrative to go with your paintings,
Phillip was composing a song that he’d present at the opening
and Larry was giving us his philosophical encouragement.
So Mark, tonight I’ll share one of the poems I was working on
that didn’t make it into our show that evening at Swinford Place
Community Building. I call it My Seven Story Story. I finished 
it after your death, and as you probably already know 
that’s you on the top story…and the bottom. 
                                                                                 More later,  Jim

My Seven Story Story
What Writing Means To ME

1) All our old stories live within us without hierarchy
            A crow flies west to east across a picture window
            that illuminates the bed of a man on his last day
            My wife kisses his brow in farewell and turns away,
            this act on Celia Street joins the world’s great flow

2) Fiction is autobiography. The same as non-fiction.
     Poetry lives someone else’s life 
            My therapist is a graduate student in psychology,
            as I stumble over affairs that ended my marriage
            she aligns her chair so our knees touch, flips a page
            and says: Shame yourself. it’s the best therapy

3) Capture the accidents
            When I surprise her by moving out into a house
            with a rickety swinging bridge she wades through
            creek water to sing that old blues tune “I Want You”
            but I can tell by the color of the sky it’s no use

4) Time warps are okay. Creating space is even better.
            She’s a rough hewn girl from Angelo Texas
            who wants to sleep with me on Plato’s wheel
            She pulls up the sheets, says her dreams are real
            and her life is like the movie Paris, Texas

5) A single line can make us want to do the story
            We sit sideways on the steps of Lancaster City Hall, 
            she says she’s stuck in the great gray Nothing River
            Her hair falls into her eyes, she sips cold water,
            confesses to the ears of fox-glove and bluebell.

6) Let the story direct itself
             It is the day I found you in flesh and bone-
             like a ball off the sweet spot of a Louisville Slugger
             you fly above the uncut field higher and higher
             All the pasture is upturned, all the grass, all the stone

7) One Question
             There is no philosophy on this death bed, only the wish
             of an old man to sleep with a young woman and relish
             the December light that emboldens the hazel of his Iris  



the attar
of wildflowers today.

Bronson O'Quinn

bullying poem #3: one up

content warning: language, hate speech, sexual references

We’d haul our PCs to one another’s houses
and play games
and pirate movies 
and taunt each other relentlessly.

Butthead, idiot, dumbass.

It’s all in good fun.

shithead, fuckface, f****t

If we were really 
we’d never actually say those things.

When you left your computer unlocked
you’d find your desktop wallpaper
a mosaic
of scatological pornography,
Windows sounds became
sexual moaning
or Hollywood sound bytes
of racial slurs.

But boys will be boys.

If you fell asleep,
you awoke to a Sharpie penis
across your forehead.

We didn’t drink alcohol
or take drugs
just cases of Mountain Dew,
and $5 Hot-n-Ready’s,
so our parents didn’t worry.

One time, the whitest boy,
went on a streak of racial slurs,
not out of anger, nor against anyone,
but a reflex,
a series of “filler” words,
an improv nursery rhyme
where the songwriter is only half paying attention,
and a newbie looked around, asked,
”Did anyone hear that?”
And we looked at him,
heads aslant,
confused by the question.

I’ve heard from other people
that their LAN parties
weren’t like that.

I’ve heard from others
that their’s were exactly like that
and still are.

Ive followed some of those boys.
Some found drug problems.
Other still work low-paying jobs, but get by.
Some came out of the closet
But most live “boring, normal” lives.

One of them,
my best friend,
cut all ties.
Last I heard he drives a Little Debbie truck
in rural Virginia,
lives with his parents still,
and spends half his free time
playing video games
and the other half 
on 4Chan.

We pretended to be bad
because we thought we were good
and everyone could see the joke.

Another friend,
always seemed to shake off the racist bullshit
and last I saw him, I asked,
”Back then,
did you think we’d have
a white supremacist
in the White House?”

And he said, “Yeah
we’ve had plenty.”

”We” can mean a lot of things.

I don’t remember what part I played in all this.
I’d like to say I never said anything
racist, sexist, homophobic,
but I don’t remember.
And to be honest,
which is worse:
remembering you said terrible things?
Or caring so little about how terrible they were
and who they could’ve hurt
that you easily could have said them
and not know the difference?

And if you’re wondering about F___,
who went on that streak of racial slurs,
he’s fine.
He works for a large computer company
in Silicon Valley
and blogs about ramen.



Billionaires, you aren’t really worried about World War III, are you?
You have these elaborate bunkers well-stocked with food and supplies
When the missiles hit, you’ll be safely in your bomb shelters breathing fallout-free air.

But, wait
What if hackers have already planted viruses in your security systems,
programmed to cut off your air and electrical power and communications  when the explosions start?
It will be like “The Masque of the Red Death,” won’t it?
Sleep tight.



“Lichens are mostly lime green”
“Wrens tend to be loudmouths”
Indifferent minds miss
symphony of hues on north side of trees
            fungal treats for deer
            hideaways for mice
palette of tones in three-note call
            fretting pert-tailed birds
            tending nests till empty


Just Once

Just once, he said, I would like to get my way
Every vacation
Every holiday
Every dessert
Every meal
Every conversation
Every damn day
Three generations tethered
Just once, I thought, I would like you to acknowledge your selfishness


Whatever Kind

There used to be a richness to things.
Those round orange balls
lining the power cables once you hit Bullitt County, I remember,
used to seem so mysterious, so detailed
and left me full of wonderment. 
I could stare at them and stare, always disappointed
when we were finally past. I barely notice them now,
except to remember
how they fascinated me a child.

Most things are like that now — flat and
omnipresent. Is it age?
Will each year simply bring it’s new share of
diminishing returns? I’m told that it’s just that
my brain makes less of certain chemicals
due to the chronic stress and trauma of adulthood
under late capitalism; 
oh g—d, even the reason for the
fading of all magic
is completely banal!

I wait for catastrophe
(and it is coming, have no doubt).
Perhaps there will be some magic,
whatever kind, to find
in all of that.



beauty is not for the faint of heart,
the wandering eye
because beauty is crumbs on the floor
it’s a tiny white moth on your fingertip
a lemon mint leaf on Sunday morning
it’s a mess that’s never completely clean
beauty is our catch-alls and junk drawers
our bookshelves, our blemishes
beauty is green pond scum and steady raindrops
a sky half blue and half grey 
beauty is ash and embers
and warm Wild Turkey in a flask 
it’s singing along to songs we half know
beauty is so big that it must be small
visible in fragments, in the unexpected
or the often ignored
beauty is both bold and humble
beheld and deeply hidden
a secret we can all come to know

Susan M. Stephens

In case of broken haiku

whose name do I write
on my emergency form
now that we is me