EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

poems

by
 

CHARLES SOUTHERLAND
____________

RIGHT-HAND MUSE

Suppose it’s just a conversation found
Reverberating in a cave or canyon
Or our own bedroom or the silent sound
Of distance between us in the sand on
A deserted island beach where Caruso
Was a castaway once upon a time.
You have cannibalized the words below
And stripped them to the chine bone alive—no pantomime
Could survive alone without an audience
Of one. What could I say to change your mind?
If love is just a hole to fill, my sense is
You’ll walk on by without a look and find
Some satisfaction in your middle finger
Searching a void where it’s left to linger.

CHARMING'S KEEPSAKE EMPORIUM

I found a finger in a black hulk wreck
stored in a tow-yard compound in a town
whose name I can’t pronounce. There I linger
with it in my hand, a pale reminder
how nothing cuts much finer than the tin
I’d slit my own on: Chunky Campbell’s Soup.
Hers had a ring attached to it beneath
the seat—somehow they’d missed it, raw carnage
so complete with blood-wrenched Levi’s, tee shirt,
a single running shoe, divorced, I guess,
to live alone, discarded specks of glass
clear to the toes, a size-nine and a half.
Loose change had vaulted from the ashtray’s keep,
had flown across the seats and overcome
the chasm in between pure gravity
and the rear back-dash ledge, quarters, mostly,
dimes like teardrops scattered, left in the lurch;
a 1959 wheat penny was
wedged just under the accelerator-
pedal tinged with soot, the airbags deployed,
exhausted, the rear-view mirror—cracked,
and hanging by a wire. I pop the trunk.

Prosthetic legs are not as rare as you
might think. I’ve found a couple loose in cars
I’d bought at towing auctions, some guitars,
harmonicas and lots of fishing poles.
Winter clothes and leather coats and helmets
all kinds are always nice for the store.
I’d even kiped a Sport King pistol once,
—sheriff missed it, I guess, or didn’t care.
It’s mostly tools though; it’s the trade-craft tools
I like--like Craftsman wrenches, or Snap-On.
You can’t believe the saws and drills, the planes
and trowels, four-foot levels, brushes, squares-
hammers of every kind and weight and nails
in boxes unopened, loose screws and rope,
babushka’s too, fetching prices I set
and dicker-down to pay the rent each month.
I haul the cars to scrap yards, sell the tires
and rims. There, all the memories are crushed.

Except, the finger in the black hulk wreck,
a finger severed with a ring of gold,
a white-gold ring, a comfort fit, sized nine
is in my hand, the both of us too pale
to understand. It’s winter, and I’m chilled,
the lopped-off finger frozen stiff, the nail
turned blue, the knuckle-creases swelled with smiles
like totems carved on a pole sans faces.
Her suitcase fills the trunk. I flip the latch
and open it, and all the smell of her
comes out and hits me in the chops, slaps me.
All her clothes are large; some are extra-so.
A sweater with Estée Lauder unfolds-
I dig a little deeper, find the shirt,
the twenty-dollar gray tee emblazoned,
a single thin red stripe across the chest,
white letters that read: “Fuck me, cowboy stud.”
I grip her finger harder with my hand
until it thaws, regains its warmth, its color.
I re-latch the suitcase and shut the trunk.
I hobble to the open door and sit
there on the seat; my free hand dials my cell.
A smart phone rings down low between the seats.
I set her finger on my lap and dig
between the crevice—find her phone ringing.
I answer holding a phone to each ear;
distorted, I hear them say: “Hey. It’s me.”

WRETCHED, WE SAIL ON

A shadow of sensation lies therein.
The hungered truth is stumbling on the stairs.
All pleasure which is measured is a sin
And faith misplaced is made of wishful dares.
We end up in the sea like all shipwrecks,
All bounty in our broken holds are drowned,
As memories prolific, fond of sex
And drink and taste, are never to be found
Again. The churning of the sea assures
This, one and all. It washes, purifies
And casts the remnants on the tides. The cures
Belong to God, and who can criticize?
But one is left to hold, this death negate‑
And having found him, nothing is too late.

 

                         ____________________

TOE SACK RAG

I’ve gone and jumped into the sack of age,
lost track of time, thought I could tame the clock,
but saw its hands break me apart, engage,
entangle, foist me on its points, a cock
impaled upon the vane for crowing long
into the wind. And I was blind to it
and where it went and memorized its song,
but never sang it even when it hit
the charts—of course it went to number one
and toppled there—was stricken, struck, but then
it let me see my face, what time had done.
I barely recognized those other men.
Oh give me burlap for my clothes to wear
on roost and make the end to come a hare.


THE BUM AT BUCKROE BEACH

I found a message in a bottle buried
down deep in the sand while making castles
to plunder with the tide. I often carried
things away I’d scored which caused me hassles

quite due to room above the dunes, my bungalow
tight for lying low, much less for friendships.
I was not a seaman nor wanted so
much to be one; I’d broken both hips

when I was young aboard a nimble ketch
which failed escaping from a hurricane.
I limped both ways from time to time, a wretch
is all that’s left of me, sometimes insane

with jealousies when ships passed by my view.
My memories are etched in fog and horn,
directed light to shadows steaming through
the strait, the lighthouse white and ghostly worn.

The bottle, she was old, hand blown and corked
and blue, light blue in hue, sky born, at odds
with whiskey glass. No corkscrew, I had forked
around its neck and mouth, beseeched the gods

of fits and loosening swells to free the phial,
relieve the parchment yellowed by its travails.
An icepick did the trick though, holes by sile
as smooth as I could plunge, like termite trails.

A whiff of perfume stumbled out and struck
me in my nostrils flush and I remembered
some young girls long in my past, how blind luck
fell to love and lust and how some limbered

me as worthy as the next Svengali.
It was a girl who led me to the ship
which broke my hips, such was my own folly.
She loved me wildly but I took the trip,

delayed myself of her embrace, the rest
you know, too long to heal, near half a man
my legs as shaky as a foolish quest
she turned aside, so blame her if you can.

I healed down at the beach in sand as deep
as thought, and in the surf I whaled away,
withstood its presence, found a way to sleep
by counting waves, letting them have their say.

And so I strained to walk until the pain
forgot me, and every day I strolled the beach
combing inches, feet, yards and miles, the strain
of looking closer on my eyes to leech

the smallest treasure to my breast, intense.
But over time I watched the tourists flock
the dunes down to the beach to bathe and rinse
in sand. They made their castles but the clock

of tides would do them in eventually.
When low tide came each morning I began
to build and form the grandest keeps to see
and won awards with some I made. I ran

with cash to squirrel for keeping. They shot
their photos for the Newport News. I dressed
in Levi shorts, straw hat and sandals, not
a shirt to wear, and no one would have guessed

I’d found the bottle while dredging deep for grit
to hold in place the towers I’d begun.
I hid it there in plain sight in a fit
of pride. I took it home with me, the sun

slung low, found west and hung up in the trees,
their fingers made of shadows reaching out
to ease the exit of the crowd and seize
the full moon by its knees to cause the lout

to shine its light out in the shallows leap.
Now in my bungalow I fetched the note
rolled and bound with string—there was nothing cheap
about it, the finest paper, thick—wrote

in the finest hand. As I discerned
this perfect lettering in cursive script,
the sinew string aside, I also learned
the words in ink were black and I was gripped

as if spellbound, as if it spoke to me:

Oh Darling, how I wish you’d found me here.
Instead, we’re lost apart, but I can see
Across the waves and years, I love you dear
And hope this message finds you well and fine
As I can dream for it to be, and though
We might not ever reconcile or mine
The depths of touching hands again, I throw
This bottle in the sea with twenty more
In hopes that one will find you. My perfume
Is all I have to send for now. I wore
it when we met. It was a special bloom
From Nice. You nosed my neck and drew a breath.
I fell for you then and you said to me:
I won’t release it even to my death
Or loss of mind and all lucidity—
Farewell for now and soon to be again
Nearby as touching hands is not enough
Nor winds which blow above the Highlands rain
While watching you regale me in the luff.

I cried, recorked the bottle with its smell,
returned it to the ocean. I was torn
that I was not the one to whom it fell—
and turned around—I’ve lived too long to mourn.



WHEN THINGS GO SIDEWAYS

His first clue should have been, no Fang Fang tryst.
How do you put your tail in such a twist,

In such a voluntary bind, a hole?
When clearly she was quite the Chinese mole.

She’d had two mayors in her clutches, cold.
She’d posed for photos with them all, we’re told.

And there he was, an easy mark, Swalwell.
How much did he divulge with kiss and tell?

He’s on the Intelligence Committee
In the House and it gets rather shitty

From here; mom or dad wouldn’t interrupt.
It took the F.B.I. to break them up…

She’s disappeared now, gone back to China.
What secrets were spilled from her vagina?
 

THE SLIDE RULE

On a scale of one to ten, how often do
you think of me? or should I say how much?

Why do I ask? you ask. If I, like you,
abstain from interaction, are you my crutch?

or is my foot like Byron’s, or, is such
a thing too inconceivable to dare?

I think of it, like you, each day, a touch
of tincture and I’m healed, I think it fair
to say that I’m not getting anywhere.

I think you know it too and purposely.

I’m thicker than I realize and bear
It better than some do, supposedly.

I remain yours truly and so sorely.

I’m sorry, but I was hoping that you’d score me.
 

CUOMOTONY

In Albany the governor cannot hear
the dirge in Queens or Harlem for his fist.
His foot is on their necks. It’s very clear
in Albany the governor cannot hear
the dying for his Emmy, book tour—fear
is rampant, but where is the journalist
in Albany? The governor cannot hear
the dirge in Queens or Harlem for his fist.


________________________

A
RS POETICA

This sidewalk suffers wearing and a crack—
it’s quiet in the night and warming back
to life this morning by the doughnut shop.
The traffic by their feet and crumbs on top
its surface call for birds to be aware
of smaller fare like ants who steal their share
of all that’s free to any soul, the bum
across the street, the busker at his drum.

But back to night, about the planet Mars,
Where wind is motion and the light of stars
Into eternity is all that counts
Of beauty close and far and all who trounce
The sidewalk can ignore the cast of red
Diffused throughout the Milky Way, instead
To shady faces laughing at the sight
Of mannequins who look so erudite.

If left alone, the sidewalk’s face will age
like marble gods and goddesses; this page
will fail as well into the grist of mites,
become the fodder fired by troglodytes.
Some folks will memorize the final words
and spout them like the trill-filled plumaged birds,
like grass seeds sprouting from the sidewalk’s crack,
the lushness of a poem coming back.

 


IN SPLIT

You’re out there on the Adriatic shore,
a selfie of your feet, as bare as cliffs
and Dover white. Instead of albacore
you order sea bass grilled, hieroglyphs
in Croat from the menu where you point
and shake your head and laugh as if you knew
the lingo—always had, in every joint
you traveled to—I wish you’d make your stew.
I hope you find your way back home, our house
in need of spirit, flesh, instead of freeze-
frames frozen on a cellphone text I douse
with tears. I’m getting sloppy and the leaves
are falling over one another late,
and all of them are searching for a mate.

   
             _______________

 

CUL DE SAC
   Spoon River Cemetery

Tell me something new now baby tell me
all about it, make me cry, make me laugh,
tell me true, tell me some great mystery.

Now darling, don’t hold back, ain’t nothing free
for nothing, love, and I don’t know the half,
tell me something new now baby, tell me

where you’re going, why you leaving, sweet pea.
Don’t leave me hanging with a photograph.
Tell me true, tell me some great mystery.

I can take it, don’t you know, honeybee,
I can see you ain’t too happy, riffraff’s
telling me something’s new now baby; me

and you can make it, if you want to flee,
I’ll fix it if you tell me. Telegraph
me. Tell me of your greatest mystery.

What’d I do to make you cry, can’t you see
it’s on my headstone as an epitaph?
Tell me something new now baby, tell me,
tell me true, tell me some great mystery…

 

THE COJONES VIRUS PROTECTION ACT

1. Please don’t touch your testicles with your hands.

2. And ladies, please don’t pop him in the nards.

3. Please shelter them in place, no foreign lands
    Where gypsies might be reading tarot cards.

4. Try washing all fromunda cheese* with soap,
    Warm water, pat and dry with cornstarch dust
    Or rinse with apple cider—most can cope
    With, even if they burn or shrink or bust.

5. Take care with prophylactics, lubricate
    Your Johnson as is needed when it spits.

6. Stand six feet back from her and masturbate
    In case she has a fever or harsh fits.

7. If they are swollen from the action, stop.

8. And if you’re older, let her stay on top.

*All the stuff down yonder when you haven't showered in awhile.
  Army term heard frequently in Iraq.

 

                _______________

 

SONNET FOR J. WALTER HAWKES

Now if I told you that the icebox spoke
to me, and then I told you at the end
it hummed a tune, just how could I defend
myself, my sanity, if I awoke
tomorrow with my arms around its doors?
A catsup bottle conducts spiral ham
and cheese in symphonic harmony; jam
and mallows playin' jello with some s'mores.

The icebox said, "At last! You're home! Enjoy
the heat, the stove is stoked, we're all alone,
my friend." "All right," I said, his voice inside
my head.(I know you think this is a ploy
for sympathy, an act you can't let slide);
until you see the smoothie play trombone).

J. Walter Hawkes is a four-time Emmy winning composer from Mississippi who lives in N.Y.
He has played trombone on several albums for such luminaries as Norah Jones and Jack Grace.


 

A PANIC DEMIC

A flock of fainting goats
one day were taking notes
about corona virus
hoping to inspire us
with an anecdote––
It just takes one, they wrote,
a tickle in the throat
is so much more desirous––
than a short misquote
regarding an antidote.

MONTEJÍCAR, ANDALUSIA

The kids run barefoot on the brick-lined street
And part for goats a shepherd leads to sell
At market on the square, the Billy’s bell
In sync, hooves click resounding to repeat
Between the village walls—a certain beat
The children clap to—closing in as well,
The butchers from their shops, a bloody smell
Put forth from red-wrought aprons in the heat.

In summer’s morning on a windless day,
The goats are sold in lots, sometimes in pairs
In case a peasant or a nobleman
Wants breeding stock to fresh an aging herd.
The tenders single out the bought, the pay
Enough to satisfy the shepherd’s cares.

                _______________

 

THEORETICAL ATROPHY IN PRACTICE

If anything I ever imagined
struck you as even slightly odd; sorry.
But my imagination isn’t kept
in some dark keep. It had to leap starry
skies, the undulating heavens. I swept
the universe for you, having scavenged
its farthest reaches, room by room and porch.
I sifted through the dustpan’s nebulas.
Back then, I was a self-consuming torch
each day, and when I found you, Daedalus
rejoiced, returned to digging dirt. What life
we have apart now. I’ve forgotten how
to fly, am prone to drown like lost Leander,
while you, no Hero, diddle and meander.

 

 

AFTER DRINKING WINE FROM AN ANCIENT GREEK URN

If given half the chance, would things be worse?
Things appear much closer in the mirror.
If we could rearrange the universe—

I mean, what if we shift the gears, reverse
the order, take the wheel, then we steer her,
if given half the chance? Would things be worse?

Perhaps there’s some among us who are terse;
white-knuckled rides are always riskier.
If we could rearrange the universe,

I doubt that we could make it more diverse,
but make the farther somewhat the nearer,
if given half the chance. Would things be worse,

or better, writing Greek heroic verse
to constellations scrambled, but clearer,
if we could? Rearrange the universe!

Reverse the curse, and we can ditch the hearse
in Charon’s Styx, Death’s paid interferer,
if given half the chance. Would things be worse
if we could rearrange the universe?

        ____________________

 

 

PULP FICTION

The dossier of Steele’s was falsely pled
Before the FISA court four times. In fact,
It was a Clinton dirty trick instead.

You might not like the Trumpster or the bed
Whores might have pissed on or the folks he backed—
The dossier of Comey’s falsely pled

That Papadopoulos and Page had said
Those things as truth, what’s more, that Russia hacked.
It was the DNC’s bad faith instead

Which led us to this fateful loggerhead
Where lies become the trope. The deck was stacked
By Clapper, Brennan’s dossier who pled

On CNN, NBC the widespread
Disinformation-led campaign jam-packed
With bad-mouth actors spouting off instead—

What happened to the fake news bull and Zed
When Barr and Durham’s sawed-off shotguns racked
Their shells and shot the dossier? They said
As they sped off, “Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead”…

 

THE LOVESICK GENDARME
   Going to the 1934 movie: “The Scarlet Empress”
 

He grasped the meter, falling to his knees,
too drunk, disorderly, to stand his ground,
but rose again, and as he came around
he fed it pennies, nickels, dimes; the fees
for space kept adding up and time became
a factor as he waited for the girl
to show, a fox for sure, or a squirrel
bucktoothed, he couldn’t say, enough with blame—
how bourbon has its way, and with regret,
a great amount of both caused him to slide
again against the meter for the ride
down to the curb where it was soaking wet
along the gutter from the rain or piss
from other patrons of the street-life guild
who’d never acquiesce to being billed
for their relief—it must have been the bliss
of bladders hissing on the fiery street-
lit barrels where they warmed their hands and sang
the bawdy songs of sailors and au lang
laments of bankers in their shoeless feet.
But near the Bijou where he waited long
into the night, he sobered some, and found
a twenty-dollar gold-piece on the ground
wedged in a sidewalk crack; there’s nothing wrong
with finders-keepers as he looked both ways,
his eyes as shifty as a black cat clock’s
twin peepers on a pawn shop wall three blocks
from where he stood, and suddenly; she sashays
into the parking place he held for her,
her Model A, no entourage, but style
exuded up and down her neck, a pile
of auburn hair, chinchilla hat-wrapped fur
clung to her sequined skirt tight to her thighs
like strands of rope down to her shackled heels
spiked like medieval pikes, electric eels
click-sparking every step, and all the guys
and dolls made way for her, save him, who took
her arm in his, and how he straightened out,
demeanor proper, she a red-lipped pout;
a star-struck Copper tipped his hat, she shook
her ass, he tilted backwards on his beat.
They make their stroll into the movie-house,
Move past concessions on the rug to grouse
About the prices, find a double seat
And settle in with contraband in hand:
A sack of buttered popcorn, two Cokes,
A flask of bourbon in his pocket—folks
Would never know the indiscretion, grand
Enough, but simple tastes are always that.
They watch, enraptured by the drama’s scenes
Of treachery, the way that Dietrich leans
Into the role of Catherine, her spat
With Peter, coup d’état, the golden age
Of Russia, peccadillos, appetites
Un-cloistered by a reckoning of lights.
He kisses her, she kisses him, the stage
Grows brighter and the sound regains its zeal.
The end returns them to the meter where
Her car is parked. He kisses her in air
As cold as fusion—some would say surreal.

 

        ____________________

 

 

TEARING UP THE CLOUD COVERED GROUND

In times to come, the rest of you will know
The secret lives of men who barely are—
And others scattered through its strands where woe
Is commonplace and misery not far
Removed from losers and their memories
For death to bury deep enough, to quiet
A single solitary ghost or ease
A conscience tortured by a scythe in riot.
I am a ghoul, if nothing else, these days.
I’m not afraid of death or life or pain
That I have caused or will; I know the ways
To torment those who live for their own gain.
And in this knowledge, some will rue the sun
That came upon their corpses. I am the one
.

 

 

 

THE REVIVALIST
      For Pastor Bob Lamb (long retired)

      He was a Lamb before the wolves
      Madisonville, KY circa 1973

That Bob was just a country preacher, riled
Some folks throughout the charismatic realm.
He didn’t speak in tongues, nor had he piled
His pulpit with the prayer cloths at the helm
Of his right doctrine: faith in Christ alone—
No works or water, handling snakes or vials
Of deadly poison to regale, no Joan-
Of Arc or other saintly figures, trials
By fire or deprivation, some trite vow
Or healing ceremony, spirit-slain
And falling backwards, always backwards, now.
Amen’s were fine, and hallelujahs reign!
His sovereign God would choose the flock to save.
The rest of them could go to hell and rave.

 

THE RUBE

He brings a certain rustic savoir faire
To town. He’s learned the ways of dilettantes
By watching online videos. His hair
Is parted properly. He uses fonts
Like: Mistral, Leelawadee, Moolboran
For writing poetry on napkins while
He’s having dinner at the Kazakhstan
*All you can eat* buffet house—crocodile,
The Special, Friday night until they’re out,
With chocolate mousse dessert the featured sweet.
He gives a lecture reaching men about
The raccoon hunter’s U.K.C. elite,
On how to tell the difference when a dog
Lies on the tree, and getting lost in fog.

 

 

 

 

Godzilla And The Loose Damsel
       
Get It On In Viola, Arkansas

I watch two lizards mating on a stack
Of hawthorn sticks with both their tails askew,
Entwined, & he is mounted on her back
Unmoved; he’s early though and whoops, the screw
Goes wryly wrong. He’s not monogamous;
Another’s caught his eye. He’s just a guy
With syndrome issues much like all of us
Without, and so he sticks it to the fly.
And after lunch, he chases down the one
Who’s dressed in pretty stripes, in gaudy garb
In hopes that this erection is more fun
And lasts a little longer with his barb.
It’s getting dark and Venus’ rising light
Gives way to Mars who finally gets it right.

 

 

Losing It

I’ve tried to rid myself of all the stuff,
some nearly worthless things, some others not.
The values change, keep changing, and it’s tough
deciding what to keep or throw, the pot
enameled, chipped, a hole down low inside
—a planter, maybe, filled with dirt, posies
sprouting, or a target; I can’t decide,
though shooting at it soothes my neuroses.
The house has paths that you might just avoid.
From room to room and from floor to ceiling
are stacks of things that you and I enjoyed-
Pink Floyd, and others; That Lovin’ Feeling…
Don’t judge me for living in a hovel.
When I die you’re gonna’ need my shovel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BODY LANGUAGE

 

Your shoulders sag and stumble when she falls
down sick, unlike a manufactured shrug
indifferent to diffidence and calls
from relatives removed from cancer’s lug.
Reflexively, your taste goes dry. You chug
an overpriced unsweetened drink and wait
for diagnosis and the stage the bug
has taken in her—they can’t operate.
You don’t believe in God, but even fate
can’t keep you from the chapel or your knees
when you go bargaining—where you equate
your jargon with a prayer while begging, please.
Your odds are much like hers, and in the red,
your eyes reveal your soul and where it’s led. 

 

 

 

 

GRIMM'S TWISTED BLIZZARD

 

When you professed your love there in the road
to me, I found it was the strangest place.
Too late, I saw the sign that I’d been snowed

and when the plow came through to spread its load
of salt, it flattened me without a trace
when you professed your love there in the road.

Well, I’d been trucked before. I had the mode
down pat, and yeah, I’d melted down, my face
too late to see the sign that I’d been snowed,

but when it hit me, I was ready, owed
myself the pain of being flung through space
when you professed your love there in the road.

How did it miss you?, love, I mean—unload
itself of savor? I don’t get it, Lace.
Too late I saw the sign. That I’d been snowed

was not in question, knowing that a toad
cannot with kisses make a prince’s case.
When you professed your love there in the road,
too late I saw the sign that I’d been snowed.

 

 

               

 

 

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