when all hope is gone
and hatred has dominion
like black asphalt covering
a crooked highway,
a single flower pushes
through and raises her head
toward the sunlight.
visiting New Orleans
I sit with my Grandfather
at a small square table
in a neighborhood
Formica table tops
Aluminum napkin dispensers
in the noontime sun
I am happy for smallness of the table,
a good size for me.
My feet don’t touch the ground
But I like that I can swing my legs
gripping both sides of the chair
round and round the room
like a rotating fan
My Grandfather is quiet
watching me with a slight grin
My Dad excitedly approaches the table
with a huge smile looking like a movie star
carrying three big bundles wrapped in white paper
They almost fill the whole table
being placed down as though
they are Holy relics to be praised
My Dad lowers his head and zooms in close
so that I am sure to hear him announce:
“Here they are!!!
The best Oyster Po-Boys in New Orleans!!!”
Quickly he turns and runs back
to get something else
but there we are at the table
my Grandfather and I sitting still
looking at the mysterious bounty
wondering what to do next
My Grandfather is now smiling
But we are on freeze frame
time stops moving briefly
And for a moment the picture of all of this
for an 8 year old turns curious
I remember wondering:
Why are the Best Oyster Po-Boys in New Orleans
in such an out of the way place?
Why aren’t there more people here?
Why is the food wrapped in white paper
coming to the table and not on a plate?
My Dad soon returns and removes the paper shrouds
And we all have our Po-Boys at that little table
All I could finally think was that
they wanted to keep this place a secret.
Suspicions were confirmed after tasting the
Best Oyster Po-Boys that very day!
Like it was yesterday.
Steve Gulley’s Acoustic Music Camp, 2018
Lincoln Memorial University
Seven in Steffey’s class: six teenagers born strumming
mandolins and me decades older, clutching
a mandolin I bought on time.
Adam changes our strings, old cheap to fine new, and straps
his handmade leather on my mandolin to free my hands
from struggle to play.
Still, I’m lost by the third note of Soldier’s Joy. Pick it slow,
Pam, Adam says, work it a lick at a time. It’s a marathon
not a sprint.
Summer-hot sun slides down Kentucky-side mountain allows
for dusk-breathing cool on Tennessee side. Teases
an invite to LP concrete porch. Folks circle up and tune.
From my open window, I eavesdrop
on a guitar and a 5-string banjo in heated conversation.
Three times I start to the door with mandolin in hand
and three times I stop. A sorrow-filled
fiddle tune draws me lonely from my room to porch
right into Trey, a just-turned-eighteen old soul.
Where’s your mandolin?
In my room. I can’t change chords as fast as y’all.
Ain’t no shame in learning. Go get it.
And I did.
Trey waves me to a seat tucked close to him. In the shadow
of youthful boldness, I sit quiet and hope no one notices me.
Folks pour in from Harlan and swell the seams of LP’s porch
with 5-string banjos, guitars, fiddles, and two upright basses,
one plucked by a five-foot tenor of a woman, the other, a foot
taller man, bristly-white beard trailing over blue bibbed overalls.
Only one other mandolin—Trey’s daddy. Trey calls a tune
and a key. And then a glorious rush, like when a race track
starting gate springs open, pure pulsing electricity breaks.
It’s fast. Too fast for chords but not strumming. I dampen
my strings and listen to the heartbeat of the tune and strum
off-beat and on, and a rhythm I made up that just felt right.
Trey leans close, Nice chops.
His dad fist-bumps me.
And later in the dark of my room, I look up the word chops and smile.
Stood out among the stars
In the quiet night
The rush and the frenzy
Far away in distant lights
Feeling my true size
A grain of sand
Humble cell in the cosmos
Ask for guidance
We can choose to serve, be good
Be honest, supportive to one another
Seek betterment, justice, healing
Universal laws of righteousness!
Spinning with the stars
Touched by wisdom
Filled with grace
Black & White sniper
shoots a lone woman
coursing a desolate cobblestone street
wearing a self-restraining order
walking off a belligerent memory
hung over when she promised herself she wouldn’t do it again
this time too close for comfort
she faces off a blurred image smeared in her rear view mirror
taking a deep breath she dives
bottom looks like top
attempts to hide in her strength what’s left of it
she turns on determined
tells herself there’s nothing left to be intimidated
just wants to ditch all the losses
inject strong broad’s conviction into her veins
she turns her back on oppressive submissive vaginal holds
nows the time to fee-fi-for-ward
deeply pounding pockmarked stories in aged stones
fueled by a spinning mind
no one witnesses her high-heeled power play
no one sees the crying little girl hiding inside her cell phone