Oh Carolina, sing, oh
He sits atop his post, warbling for his madame.
She answers in the woods, behind the old well spring,
Oh here I am, I am, watching the farmer's ram–
he rakes the berry bush, his horns are spoilt with jam,
fresh jam and here I am, I hear a little thing–
seeds raining down like sleet, falling amongst the leaves
without protest or fame, scattered, scattered and torn,
and riven red, their flesh, we set upon as thieves
to take our fill, our fill, until the day is shorn
by shadow's loom and wheel, filling horizon's eaves.
And with this telltale sign, the night owl bobs and weaves.
Come morn again, I say, hello, hello—hello
my love what branch above, must you be on, what limb?
What limb, how high are you? What perch, I wish to know.
Sing out and let me hear, I'm sitting on the rim
of Earth, the sun has come. Oh come and see the show,
the bob white and the tern, killdeer, the nut hatch, crow–
I've built five nests for you; the wood, the field, the stream,
the barn, the hollow tree, the view from all of them
is east and west so sun, so sun can shine and gleam
its best for family, of wool and down and stem.
No wind will throw them off, no snake will sate his whim,
and you will lay your clutch, and I will save the dream.
Now answer me, and I, and I will fly to you
before the sun sets twice. I've called all day, then some,
and frantically at times, to hear your voice, I do
I think, I think I do, but are you keeping mum
so close to mating time? Oh if I only knew.
I'll keep on calling you, until my tongue is dumb.
~ Come, Helen, come, give me my soul
here I will dwell, for heaven
is in these lips~
(Faustus, Act V, scene 1 )
It all comes down to this: how does her mind
reveal itself and come to terms with cost?
She's lost in mid-life themes, not cheap embossed
post-nesting grandchild memes— the absent grind
of menstrual cycles, mortgage payments, rose
and hyacinth gardens. Trending toward disease,
both knees are chronic; wrinkles claim to seize
her face. The mirror surely comes to blows
with vanity. She makes allegiances,
subscribes to far-off friends in Phrygian lands.
She stays in touch but out of reach. Her lips
are fleet—between her hips, smart grievances
sustained by manly lack, my sweat sweet hands,
my mast, my grip, and oh—those sailing ships…
–and in a single day and night of misfortune….
Upon securing my inheritance,
I sailed to Spain in search of my Raquél.
We'd met in Lanzarote quite by chance
and I was struck by plunging moons and fell
at Café del Carmen over cocktails.
Come dawn, she caught the sun and disappeared
like dew when wind comes calling. No details
were left behind, no letters volunteered.
From port to port, from north to south, and down
around Gibraltar to Valéncia, back
and forth I roamed until I found a town
in Andalusia, where she owned a shack.
Raquél's mama and papa were elderly.
She had a son of ten who favored me.
The scent of her still
lingers. On the wall-
hooks, clothes from many months ago hang limp
against my wishes. Every day they slip
a little further from my memory, frail
as eggshells cracked. So how do I replace
perfume when it has lost its ribald stench?
Her zippered sweatshirt reeks of faux panache.
(Old Doctor Scholls worn soles were left in haste.)
I crawl across the bed and hold a sleeve
of hers against my face. A moth flies out
and flutters through the dark beyond my reach.
He passes by my empty bank account,
the note she wrote those months ago, the cheese
a mouse ignored, and never made a sound.
From the stones of any
particular stream, I haul
Them in a tow sack to the heights where I will build
My house. It is there before Sackham Falls
Violence and serenity lay, where thoughts are killed.
I think of my foundation, of pillars and sand—
What oddities to mix for strength, a structure squared;
Cement and water, the fines I’ve troweled and fanned
To blackness, a burning sheen, my blisters bared.
The finish is slick. I take my pick of smooth,
Begin to lay and stack the corners and make
Them tight then overnight let them soothe
From the heat of day. I hear their whispers and aches.
They tell me from eternity past the dead
Are never really, but everlasting fed.
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Don't think I'm mushy just
to get a rush.
Some milestones have come and gone like smoke.
I've rubbed two nickels together and I've been flush.
i'll never be the guy who wakes up woke.
But Lord, I've changed in
fifty years, my mates
as well. It's true. Some of us are bald,
and most are gray, I think some gay and dates
are foggy now. And some of us were called
by different names. Then
some drove hotrod cars.
The proms and games and teachers, bumps and bruises
and some wild years of growing up--no stars
to oogle in our class. We take our cruises.
It's more survival than
anyone might dare
to say. You'll never know how much I care.
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When you departed, it
probably was for the best—
It wasn’t like you’d actually passed, but it felt
That way. It ripped at me; no eternal rest
There. Lost about eighty pounds and the belt
Gained seven notches in the
ten years hence.
Sold the cows, lost another dog to lead.
Then pride followed them, jumped the fence
And didn’t even catch its nut-sack on the Red-
Brand barbs it jumped over.
But then things
Changed. “It’s when you’re not looking”, people say.
Not true. I was always looking, which brings
To mind, I was looking when I found you one day.
Like you, I’m not in love
with you anymore.
But I found Cinderella, her slipper, her feet, the lore.
This is about you. I don’t
to say. No, I’m not confused nor confounded.
It’s not some sappy love story I’ve got
to get out of my system or some kind of rebounded
thing about exe’s in the past or age
God knows I’m getting old, hell, I am old,
and yet, here you are, a go go in a cage
a twirling and dancing—you are so shy—so bold .
You know I love women but only you
satisfy me. There is a turn coming
Your way. You can feel it and the clue
Is your breath, taken by the sky, I hear it humming…
You are caught up in the sails of a ship
And the wind is full of lungs pacing at quite the clip.
He stops the Caterpillar,
steps on a track,
Hops to the ground, says, it is finished,
Dad. He’s dusty, dirty, grimy, and ash
From the fires overcoat him in pale white.
He looks dead-dog tired and
we find a rock
Big enough for both of us to sit on.
I place a hand around his shoulder, the other
Hand cradles his head, and his spirit melts
Right there and I pull a
Coke from the cooler
Twist the top and touch his face with it.
He takes a long pull, drains it, says,
I’m really thirsty, Dad, do you have another one?
Wild you violets lavender
grow, come summer’s
ending throes. Your dainty permission’s wishes:
Misty mornings kiltering, slows for lovers
cruising the hind roads.
Reach for paper birch limbs
and swing the creek banks,
shout out epitaphs and in lieu of echoes,
go! Engrave your names in the sycamore’s page-
arrow-rived hearts drawn.
Swim along beneath the
ever turning leaves in this rarified air.
Roam, and cherish nudity’s charm and laughter,
privy, so gorgeous.
Violets, you, and blushing
in season, bluest
bunches yielded, come to his field and watch us.
Come, un-shield your petals and tiny eye lumes,
lavender cheeks flushed.
The image of you going
down, the depths
To which you’d sink, the way you break in-two,
The way you drift apart to settle debts
And scores with dying at the bottom—you
Must know, yeah, you must know the bitter silt
Of lying on your side, unsinkable,
Unsinkable, and if you had been built
With some humility less the fable
You’d still be able, lass, to sail with me.
How steamy we’d have been between the sheets
And swells and lovely gusts and calms so free,
To romance anarchy with starboard seats,
Instead of drowning both of us when down
You went, when you went down, when you left town.
The farmhouse screen-door
swings in open wind
and slams against the clapboard wall and back
against the splintered jamb again—again.
The front door's grungy panes of glass are cracked,
and distort my view of all the empty rooms
inside. But I see me in lithographs.
I star in them a maudlin lad, cartoon's
bravado cloaked in cape and mask who laughs
at revenants, impervious to fear,
and slays those things he cannot see or save.
I've come back here to talk with him, his dear,
dear ghosts, if they will speak to me or rave—
The porch swing swings in concert with the door.
I dance with all of them across the floor.
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I've been working on my
I can't tell you why
they're so hard and awkward
except to say by rote
and repetition some facts
elude me now, and note
this— I can't relax
or sleep at night because
of go and so and if.
So if you go, the flaws
of us— of me, this riff,
will be for naught, stow-
aways in winter's no.
He bawls, it seems, some two long miles away.
The track he scents is quick with taken breath
and I am trekking, pacing night with day-
light far from breaking. I am chasing Death,
a coon too old to tree, with Blue. He's fast
as blazes, my best dog, and I can hear
his mouth throughout the wood hammering past
these hills and hollows headed toward my fear:
Cane Creek, so clear and deep, the current swift
enough for time to lag behind its wake.
And there are Blue and Death, two souls adrift
and fighting, thrashing… I lie here awake
remembering my dog, my life, the fight,
my inability to set things right.
If you’re fully formed how do you grow apart?
Is it a finger or a thigh or two fine breasts
which keeps you from becoming? How’s an early start
for starters now, baby? The renaissance fests
are beginning soon; when the weather clears—
let’s watch the jousts, medieval swords and shields.
Let’s play pretend like we were children, fears
aside— I want to chase you down in the fields
where you are yielding to me, your liege, at your leisure.
Or at your pleasure with permission, tell me queen;
tell me what to do with you, lay siege a Caesar
cipher. How do we make some sense? I’ve seen
the future in a storybook I picked up at a sale.
It never said a word about how we’d fail.
I’ve long thought about my time spent in the woods;
of chasing game, the feel of leaves beneath my feet,
the mysteries behind each tree; the woulda,’ coulda’, shoulds
of hunting with the wind in my face, of stalking, the wingbeat
of a hawk on my mind, to see what he saw from the sky
to keep me alert and wise; to have me follow my ears
for sound, the slightest noise of a tortoise slumming by.
But I am hunting deer in a hollow, near a creek, the jeers
of the crows leading me upwards, to a knoll where I’ve seen
the buck I’ve wanted to kill for years, his antlers tall
and wide. He’s there again, but things are thick between
us: the limbs of oaks and brush, those vines, the smell of fall—
and still, I raise my rifle; the crosshairs mark his neck—
the only shot I have; out loud I say, “What the heck.”
I sat, one night, alone, deep in the woods,
my wheat light broken, having beat a coon
to death with it. Seems he had ripped the goods
from underneath my dog whilst fighting, strewn
his entrails round a locust tree afore
I got there and the hound went off to die.
…could hear him far out in the dark and swore.
I swore revenge and shot until my dry-
fired empty rifle clicked. I climbed the tree,
it full of clustered thorns. I don't know how
I lived. Me and the coon went at it free-
for-all. I heard him fall, fulfilled my vow.
—slid down the blood-soaked tree and heaving bile,
I knew that Daddy'd whip me after while.
These shattered slivers of light reflect, refract
us, topping the pile of refuse strewn along
the makeshift pit, years in the making, exact
frames, only partially buried with the strong
stench of a recent dead or dying meal
a coyote dragged across the slouching biers:
love seat, cook-stove, a rowing machine, fly reel,
Cal King size rotting bedsheets and the Sears
reciprocating saw, its cord exposed,
pale-green-tinted copper oxidizing.
On looking closer, you will see he nosed
a jar of gravy out, fantasizing…
Someone near here says you have bought the land—
beware the garbage; it gets out of hand.
I planted a poem deep in the loamy dirt.
The scarecrow smiled his crooked smile; his prose
as awkward as his limbs, akimbo. The tulip’s skirt
was flirtatiously raised against the fence. She knows.
She knows the chances of it sprouting, of its survival—
survival sand and blackish. What did you think?, the scarecrow
opined. What were you thinking of, revival?
I whipped my Barlow out and slit—Oh no!,
he quipped, rags fell off his back, exposed
the oak staves which I had nailed crisscross
some years ago. The tulip blushed and closed
her eyes to his straight grain, the sappy sauce
welling in her stem. I told them I was a Scot,
a Highlander heir. I’d brook no disrespect.
The scarecrow, naked as a loch, a knot
for heart, began to bake, his spindles wrecked,
which I ignored. But she shriveled, tearing
all the while. I watered my planting in hopes
my bonnie lass would come. How the searing
days alone go melding into one. One copes
with busy hands and hoes and snips and pruning.
I sprinkled the tulip and she unraveled blue
from violet, took a breath and sang, the crooning
like an offering to heaven, from my knees the view
of a cross at the end of a corn row bare and worn.
How I’d forgotten; when it was sawn and new,
the shiny nails I’d used, the shirt when he was born,
the pipes I’d played for dedication and the few
last moments of our lives, hers and mine adrift.
I took my flannel off and met the scarecrow,
dressed his arms and buttoned his shirt, the rift.
I hope she comes to the harvest moon, aglow.
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CHARLES SOUTHERLAND EPO Poems Published Prior To 2023