Old Huck Finn (Published in the MIDWEST REVIEW, 2018)
O you lit out for the territory alright. But eight months of being meddlesome and up to no
particular good in Wichita is about as much as anyone can take or put up with. Then there was
Denver of course, the once and still western cliché where an indeterminate number of years of
gold panning, word peddling, saloon sitting, money fetching, whore mongering, and dream
chasing wore as thin and desperate as the fabricated legends of blue hat chivalry at sorry old
Sand Creek. Pillage and plunder is nothing more than fancy words for rape and theft, no matter
the size and color of the canvas or the curl of the waxed and molded moustache on the liar. Then on to Utah and Nevada, each briefly and each too much like the other and smelling of middle age. The problem with going west is one always wants wester. So naturally the denouement, the proverbial unraveling of the buckskin and braids, the saloon brawl—cue the piano music and swinging doors and men smashing bottles of rotgut liquor through the fogged and furious air of San Francisco where automobiles had already arrived ahead of reason. That should have been enough to warn any wannabe in stirrups that the myth was finished, kaput until Jack and his boys resurrected it briefly from the heat of the asphalt on west Colfax Avenue for one great American night. These white-haired boys from Missouri with weak ankles and dimming eyesight won’t live to see that—and wouldn’t want to. The road, the trail, the river, the sea–they all lead home eventually. And those two great civilizers, Age and Time, sit at a table in the corner sipping straight gin, reminiscing about your mean bastard of a father and smiling their worst. Pull up your sagging socks old man. Your aunt was more filled with mercy than you could ever understand, and Huck is just another word that rhymes with luck. Forgiveness is always the furthest territory.
Wyoming deputy rides into sunset after dress code bans cowboy hats (Published by the Good Men Project)
“For chrissake Gene, it’s just a goddamn hat
we’re talkin’ about here,” he crooned and leaned back in his chair and sorta casually
picked his nose with his left thumb as if –
Just the kind of thinkin’, talkin’ and doin’
that’s brought this world so irretrievably
into the latrine it’s in. Hell, I watched Honor
back his truck up to the side ‘a the barn
years ago and load it full of the last
bit a’ hope remainin’ then drive away
with Loyalty and Good Sense sittin’ shotgun.
First off, it ain’t just the hat they want gone,
It’s the boots. A man’s good God gracious boots!
Soles, holes and all the sweet manure they hold!
Shit, I’d take three retirements without
a dime of severance before I’d pull off
my stomps and push my flat dogs into some
city-sized wing-tipped military loafer.
I don’t care if the toes are plated with
gilded titanium from Fort damn Knox.
As for “just a hat” well, there you go now.
Think anyone ever bothered to tell
ol’ Bonaparte that it was just a sword?
Think some moron was ever dim enough
to tell Patton it was just a pistol
or Churchill that it was just a cigar
or Lincoln that it was just a damn beard?
I ain’t sittin’ in that sphere I know, but
I do understand the meaning of a thing.
And I know what aging sounds and feels like
after sixty some odd years of coffee black.
Hell, I pretty much invented so-called
community policing ‘round here long
ago. It’s called knowin’ who belongs here
and who don’t, who’s related to who and
who’s just hangin’ round rustlin’ trouble.
And the hat? Bigger and more respected
than a badge I can tell you that for sure.
A fella’ comes all the way to Cody
to mess with the law, he expects to get
arrested by a man in a cowboy
hat and fear havin’ a boot up his ass.
He deserves as much and he welcomes it.
Still, a relic’s a relic and my hat
and boots and broken body all qualify.
Old men got gray beards n’ wrinkled faces,
eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum,
and usually a plentiful lack of wit,
together with most weak hams and knuckles.
I own the weak hams, eye gum and wrinkles,
and I mean to step aside just before
my whittled wits and knuckles leave me first.
I know which way the sun goes down and know
just how to get there. Hand me my banned hat.
You don’t have to ask me what’s my hurry.
Freed from prison, man robs same N.J. store 14 years later (Published by The Good Men Project)
Memory wears a loadstone heavier
than gravity and our well-worn habits
are weightier still. Bringing us backwards
centrifugally not just to the scenes
of our crimes, but to the crimes themselves
like some nocturnal nostalgic longing
for the smell and touch and sound and the taste
of the moment we tried and did our worst.
Else, what judgement would step from this to this,
leave a fair mountain to feed upon a moor?
Call it the heyday in the blood. Tame it
if you can, but we do have eyes and our eyes
have memories, and what modest hope or glory
can compete with the allure of the familiar?
How far from fear our fleeing feet might go
if we could but forsake the things we know.
Mid-March, mindful of the ides, I am pulled
past the glacial snowbanks that slowly shrink
into the scarred earth, their shape retracting
like the hem of a dance-soiled bridal gown,
letting us see beneath the things we thought
were gone. The dogs rejoice at the retreat.
Veering towards prodigal vestiges
from two seasons ago, they strain at their
leashes to smell the parts of themselves they
placed upon the hardening earth before
the descent of winter’s clean forgiveness.
Same ol’ shit, it’s true, but to them it is
a fragrance fresh on four celestial legs --
the certainty of knowing where they’ve been.
In the same days of mud and longer sun
my neighbor hails hello with a certain
intemperate slur and scent that tell me
he too has returned to where he has been.
The wagon rolls on its way up ahead.
He stands where he has fallen off instead
and speaks a rhapsody of dicer’s words
that blur the grace and blush of modesty,
with tristful visage, as against the doom
that holds us both beneath a waning moon,
where I stand recalling a friend who called
her man “the Dog” though his name was Doug.
She swore he was meaner than Sunday sin
and went back to him again and again.
So, do not ask how any thief intent
on staying free could, on his first day sprung,
steal his way back to the place he last stole
and fail again at what he failed at before.
Just know that he is thought-sick at the act
and doing it again? If he thought he could?
O, such a deed! --he would! He would! He would!
Fire department shuts down Gilford strip club for safety violations (Published by The Good Men Project)
Country matters. That’s what this is. Not
sort of flames that I became a fireman
to extinguish if you get my meaning.
Sure, I can cite those out-of-date
the broke emergency lights in the john,
make ‘em put exit signs by the back door
and proper space around the kitchen
keep ‘em chasing protocols ‘til their as
dizzy as a slippery pole dancer,
but this ain’t the sort of safety folks up
in these parts is worried about. They’d just
as soon the place caught fire with the
bastards in it. Let ‘em burn down here and
in hell for all they care. Now if a man
wants to eat fried jalapeno poppers,
drink bad beer, drool over low talent
tasseled T and A all night and then mount
his snow mobile and drive his revved up
home, it’s no care of mine. Nothing may be
a fair thought to lie between a man’s legs,
but it ain’t fam’ly entertainment and
I ain’t puttin’ me and my aging rigson the wrong side of aldermen this close
to budgeting season. Live free or try,
that’s what I say as I lick my pencil and rush in to the collapsing building
to try ‘n keep this town’s tired marriages
safe from the fires kindled by tapered tush
and rebuilt boobs. Country matters, that’s all.