Category Archives: SelectedPoems2

The Old and New Letters of William Persons

( Wm. Persons was the brother of my great grandmother. This poem includes excerpts from his letters home during the American Civil War. )

dear pa and ma i take my pen and bid you goodbye
tomorrow i leave this camp and regiment forever
and go aboard a gunboat for the Mississippi river
so don’t feel bad there is not as much danger
on a vessel as in the field
i have a nice new Enfield rifle
it is a great honor to join a Mann. o war
and i am determined to have a brush with the rebbles
the company cast lots to see who would go

dear ma, I cannot write what is on my heart
so I will write you in my head
I am sick with the grip and can barely stand
I don’t know how I will do aboard a gunboat
the regiment drills day and night
we are brave in outward appearance
but all lose weight and gain creases around the eyes
sleep comes dear when it comes
my socks are worn through as am I
I lost a tooth in a soldier’s fight
do you remember the Palmer’s oldest boy Grayson?
he and I are constant companions now, even more
though we must be careful

we left rikers island on the 28th of february
took a steamboat to Amboy and then by rail to Philadelphia
the train running like destruction
with heavy report of cannon when we arrived

the train shook so hard I almost broke my elbow
we quartered in an abandoned mill
with rats running over us all night
I have an open sore on my leg that won’t heal
I sometimes think I can hear you playing the spinnet at night
and hear the frogs out by the lake

we left Philadelphia for Baltimore
most of the inhabitants were nigers and wenches that i saw
we left at dusk and as the cars moved off we were stoned
one man spit on Lt. Van Dyke but took leg
when he drew his sword to smite him
Baltimore is a rotten city all that keeps them from rebellion
is two regiments in their midst and the guns of fort henry

Baltimore is full of scoundrels
a man who said he knew you and pa
said he could arrange a leave for me
if I would sign some papers
I was sore tempted but told him no
Grayson said he was a bounty hunter
with the home guard and was trying to make me run

we arrived in washington and are all laid in one room
thicker than hair on a cat
we lay one night on the ground in the snow
it was a tough time but its all over now

we were poisoned this week by rebble infiltrators
I was sick to perdition but made it through
Grayson and I were beaten
by men from another regiment
after an argument over a package from home
though that wasn’t the real reason
he is my only real friend here
but will stay with the regiment
when I go on the gunboat
I am bound up with fear
but determined not to let everyone down

we have had some splendid victorys this week.
the capture of Fort Henry, which was a snug fight,
the rebbles fought desperately and our men
had the worst of it, but they took it.

the country near the Mississippi is splendid
I watched a hawk catch a snake in a cornfield and I was near back home
our gunboat is the USS Mound City
she is covered with 2 1/2 inches of iron, the boys call her Pook’s turtle
she is a fine affair though she floats low at the stern
and her boiler sits up high and unarmored God knows why
it gets so hot inside and the coal dust is so thick
I cannot think that Hell itself could be much worse
we never stop coughing and there is little sleep
under the deck tarpaulins at night

the reports [from Shiloh] are so various
i know that our army came near being destroyed
and all that saved us was two wooden gunboats
which Providentially were there
our men went down to the river
and then boats opened fire [over them]
and mowed the rebbles down
they winned the day in our favor…

today we fought a rebble boat toe to toe
their vessel only a few boat lengths away
I was on deck as our boat moved terrible slow
trying to get into position against the current
I could see some of their faces as we came about
they looked ragged and near starving
one boy maybe fifteen stared at me for the longest time
and I had a strong feeling that I knew him
I heard last week that cousin Jimmy, uncle David’s oldest
volunteered for a rebble and is serving on a gunboat like mine
I pray to God it wasn’t him. they fired first
I could not move, I just stood there
captain Reynolds had to almost knock me over

our gunboats run the rebel blockade
down to Pope’s army and so transported troops
of his across the river so we had them surrounded.
the enemy ran away at the time for it was at 10 o clock at night
but they were too late as Popes men
were ready to receive them.
they made up a line of battle but then stacked their arms.
their retreat was in such haste
that they left tables set with victuals on but “Alas to Feast”

we fired at the rebble boat for what seemed all eternity and they at us
until their boat lost steering and swung astern of us
we fired for her boiler and she took a direct hit
their boys flew in the air like cotton dolls
the fire was so hot we could not get close
we saved the few who could swim
many were scalded and blinded
when I close my eyes I still see them

as I write this a terrible knowing has come over me
that I will not survive this war and that I have seen my fate today
I cannot burden you or anyone with such thoughts
and will post my regular letter when we pass a northbound boat

now time hastens and i must go
your beloved son wm. Persons

Note: William H. Persons was killed aboard the USS Mound City in the Mississippi river June 19, 1862, along with 94 of his comrades and eight officers. The boat exploded from a direct hit to the boiler.

Alt-Oz

In Alt-Oz, the Tin Man gives Dorothy the stink eye.
The Scarecrow has no desire to hop down
from his perch and follow her on the road
to the Emerald city and an uncertain destiny.

Things are okay in the forest.
Witches and flying monkeys
will only bother you if you stir things up.

Dorothy, without companions,
is forced into selling real estate
in the poorer neighborhoods on
the north end of Oz.

She dyes the ruby slippers black
to attract less attention
and settles down with one
of the taller munchkins.
She never goes home.

Except at night in her dreams,
when she rides the hurricane
back to Kansas, looks around,
and is stuck in that moment,
the moment of indecision
–go or stay–
for the rest of her life.

She wakes each morning,
puts out the cat, makes coffee
and watches the flying monkeys heading south,
on their way to disembowel
a few unlucky munchkins.
Troublemakers, no doubt.

Refugee Camp

a fence line of blue toes
clanking stomachs
night cutting words

*This poem was first published in DoveTails Literary Journal

The Revenant

An ox makes a place to sleep in the straw.
Winter stretches its ice blanket over the barn.
A killer whale pulls one end northward towards Kigiktaq.

Morning, before sunrise, gulls where there were only blue sticks.
The sea makes a heaving shudder, lifting a rogue wave to look around.

The river ebbs, exposing the bones of an old hunter. Observant. Revenant.
A few stones shine like old moons.

Planxty Edward Snowden

Hand assembling a stadium-sized puzzle
of interlocking data boulders:
these malware bot modules
go over there in the zettabyte
server farm racks.

Looking up from the pens
beneath the Coliseum,
lions and cheetahs
with sharpened fangs
and jeweled collars
lick us affectionately.

Look, a new David,
has thrown open
the outer gates!
Caesar’s grin freezes.

Planxty Wallace Stevens

Dense, viscous,
thicker than reason
(or “libry paste”
as my father used to say.)

Try to dive in
and he’s elusive
going all mystic disputation
in the tumult of integrations on you

until the insurance executive
who won a Pulitzer for poetry
decides to leave you an alleyway
to duck into.

Winding through
his staccato streets
narrowed by lime shuttered houses,

past his glass aswarm with things
backlit just enough
to glimpse his
green fan printed with red willow,

leading to the poolroom
where he sits playing cards
waiting for you to show up
and take him precisely at his word.

After the Motorcycle Accident

back aches
in a torn blue line
of furnaces

Winter Braids

Winter braids
the tree branches

into fronded kelp
the wind washes through

Eminem Under Erasure

(This is an erasure of Eminem’s song Lost Forever)

Look, if you had one shot,
or one opportunity

to seize everything,
the surface goes so loud,

the words run out, up, over,
reality goes gravity.

There goes Rabbit,
back to the lab again.

This whole rhapsody
captures this moment.

The moment comes once–
lose yourself in the music.

The soul’s escaping
only grows harder.

Coast to coast
God’s own daughter

changes what you call rage.
The right type of life

to feed and water,
to formulate a plot

to not grow old in Salem’s lot,
this may be the only opportunity.

The Orchardists

Aaron Copeland and Anton Chekov
were orchardists and winter brothers.
How I love the flavors
in their unique hybrids!

Copeland’s winey apples of sound
burst with the smell of the prairies,
the tang of clean labor with horse and wagon
and the cider-drunk hoedowns
in farming towns along the Mississippi.

And Chekov! Grafting the luckless
and misbegotten with the divine ordinary!
I can see him in his study turning
a pear of an idea in his mind over and over,
examining the imperfections.

Ah, there it is, he says!
Masha shall confess to her sisters
that she is in love with commander Vershinin,
the one with the suicidal wife:

“My sisters … I’ve confessed,
now I shall keep silent … like Gogol’s madman.”

And that new strain gets passed down through the ages,
full of the hope and despair and life’s troubled journey
and yet surrounded by love and greatness of heart.
How can one not be filled with their joy?

Poem For Joel

“In the east fame is won.
In the west deeds are done.”
–Henry David Thoreau

All fathers and sons
feud at times

If not aloud
then in silence

It’s Nature’s way
of passing the torch

Like King David in the bible
You are a wrestler with life

He partied like a rock star too
and became one of God’s favorites

Do your deeds in the east
If that is where Fate has taken you

The west, and I
aren’t going anywhere

Poem For Jenna

Inherit my smile, my thundering joy
a tone ring of banjo, a remnant of sin
that you may sing like a blues woman

We are not what we imagined
penny whistle marks
on southering gales

You with almond eyes
who listens like the biblical Mary
to what leans in from far Cassiopeia

taking a pounding in the waves
you are meant for greatness of heart
like the lion-hearted woman who gave you to us

Tell Me

(First published by Dead Snakes.)

Tell me I’m late.
Tell me the house isn’t burning down.
Tell me again how selfish I am.

Clouds carry rivers across the sky.
Marines carry their dead home. Always.
Do you carry more than a hat and gloves?

Whitman Meets Bukowski

Where Whitman
called you lover

Bukowski called
you fucker

They both meant
the same thing

The Daily News

A beach house
with new shingles
around two windows
keeps watch with brindled eyes
at what the sea brings
each day.

Some days it’s just wave on wave,
like a furrowed brow.
Some days birds skim the rollers
like penitents walking the breadth
of a watery country.

The sea and the house
tell each other their moods in colors.
Weathered silver on brown means contentment.

A scrim of white rags tearing off
of slate grey mounded water
means I’m out of sorts right now.

New white on clapboard means
I’m trying to impress the neighbors.

A boiling blue black mountain of water
rolling up the beach means
I told you so.

The Wandering Mind

Tender is
the fleet of electric birds
bluing the trees
in their sockets,
wiring the
world with
song–
and how strange
it is that
we hear their words
with the ears
of invalids,
unsteady in
drunken ships
with keels of
calcium and
ribs of sorrow.

TV Highway at the End of Life

My dying mother
loves watching television
with the sound off

The TV becomes a train window–
compressing life into fast snippets
bite sized kibbles
infusing the moment
like lavender in old black tea

She laughs at it
points out things I can’t see
reads the news crawler proudly
the way she used to read signs
on the highway out loud
driving everyone else
in the car crazy

The TV highway goes
wherever she wants it to go
past president Obama’s son
and the car with bright feathers,
the endless river of bright words
never fails to amuse her

Ode to Bob Dylan

Corrugated like words
in the strangely mounded night,
catching us in your rough headlights,
your scorn like lead bullets,
you bought us all time.

Maybe if I had dengue fever
or was a hardshell unbeliever
I wouldn’t have given you a second thought–
with your hungry gypsy women
and your pointed shoes and your bells,
never pointing where true north is,
I would have let you pass by.

But out here in the desert
where the land is softly folded
your words from your new album suddenly cover the hills
like the illuminated manuscript of some mad saint
giving it a patina more refined
than the afternoon could manage on it’s own.

Bowling with Nixon

I always thought it would be fun
to bowl with President Nixon
in the basement of the White House.

You know, spot the old boy
a few frames,
watch that goofy grin
slide sideways
as I hook one into the pocket
on the last frame,
beat him by seven,
or even let him win
if I was feeling generous that day.

Maybe Pat would watch us,
clap, bring us a cold one,
laugh at his jokes.

Me and Tricky Dick–
basement bowling buddies.

I miss Mr. High Waisted Pants
with the pancake TV makeup
that could never cover
his sweaty upper lip,
telling us he wasn’t a crook.

Cheap thug, hack,
back stabbing, race baiting,
Jew hating,
whining narcissist politician,
sure.

But ol’ Dicky boy, my friend,
you were a fucking liberal choir boy
compared to the venal mafia dons
who run your party now.

Rest easy, Quaker Dick.
You were the last US President
who spent more on social programs
than on defense.

The “Abraham Lincoln of the American Indian,”
father of the EPA,
the Clean Air Act and Earth Day.

Lower your backswing
and keep your hand and wrist
at nine o’clock, old timer.
The Dude would be proud.

–Burl Whitman

Motorcycle Accident at Rush Hour

A woman panhandles on a traffic island
standing behind a cardboard sign
I bring my motorcycle alongside her
Something about her strikes me as odd

A green van in front of me
heads under the bridge
As I pass the woman, I notice
she is a double amputee
remounted now on aluminum
and rubber, maybe a vet

The green van stops suddenly
–metal on pavement
like a trash can full of gravel
thrown from a truck

The road stands up
and skids sideways
against my helmet
bees buzzing in my ears

A blond woman from the UK
with white glasses leans over me
her mouth moving kindly
but nothing coming out