Nine Poems

from Hard Facts (1998)

A Field Near Eden

My neighbor's worried about losing

His cows. Not to the heat

Or to the lack of rain. He has plenty

Of water for them to drink and enough

Salt to lick. But they're still dying.

He's had to haul them off with a wrecker,

3100 pounds of them. Worse,

They were all pregnant, all ten,

Their sweet white faces staring

Into the rank sun as if they could

Lick it with the tips of their luxurious

Pink tongues and make themselves well.

My neighbor thinks they were poisoned;

He wants to have the salt tested.

I mutter a few kind

Well-meaning words and though we know

My words won't bring back his cows,

He thanks me for the intent of my words--

To clothe his loss in some form we can

Recognize if not as yet understand.

Long after my neighbor returns

To his other chores I stare at the outlines

The cows have left in the grass.

The outlines are the shape of my grief--

Ten indiscriminate shapes slowly turning

Into grass in a field heavy with grass,

A field that forgives my insistent yearning.


You may think it's the knock

On the door, the voice saying

Pay up, or we'll fit you

With Sakrete shoes and drop

You in Honey Island Swamp.

It might be cracked

Brake drums as

You're driving the Blue Ridge Parkway,

Near Little Switzerland,

Say, or Blowing Rock.

Or it could be losing

Your mind, going berserk

In a Texas chainsaw debacle

That starts with your wife and ends

With you.

Maybe it's waking up

In a strange room and not knowing

How you got there or who the woman

In the bed is or how you got,

As you look in the TV,

A black eye and your face cut.

I say it's Beirce

Writing to his wife

And riding off with Pancho Villa.

Adios, good-bye, you devils.

from Blue Angels (2001)

The Salvage Diver

In the Marquesas Keys,

He brings up gold coins

From the Arroyo, wrecked in 1620.

He brings up silver bars

That weigh sixty pounds each,

A cross with emeralds large as eyes,

A ruby stickpin that must have been

Meant for the Queen of Spain, a dagger

That must have belonged to a gentleman

Who wore doublet and hose made of silk.

Twenty bronze cannon he brings up

That may have been cast the same time

King James was rewriting the Bible.

When I touch the gold coins,

He hopes I'll see the Aztecs

Who mined the gold in Mexico.

He hopes I'll see

The harbor master who watched the Arroyo

As if left Vera Cruz

Under full sail and a blue sky.

He even hopes I'll see

The Spanish genteleman who cast

His dagger into the hurricane's

Ruby eye and followed the priest

As he gripped the cross

Into the silver bottom of the Gulf,

The blue weight of time.

The Multiplying Man

He must be part rabbit and part angel.

I see him everywhere.

He hovers around the cabbage and lettuce

At Food World, eats ribs at Dreamland,

Listens to Bach at the Bama Theatre.

I see so much of him I wonder

If there's been a population explosion

In heaven and the angels

Have migrated to Tuscaloosa.

When he moves across the street from me,

I consider writing Congress

About changing the immigration laws.

When he eats all the tomatoes,

Squash, cabbage, and lettuce

In my garden, I become desperate.

I put out poison, I set traps,

I get my gun and try

To shoot him in the act of eating

My few remaining broccoli.

While I sleep, he eats my arms and legs.

I grow wings, I take off my body,

I become an angel. I say,

Good-bye, Tuscaloosa,

I'm going to heaven where I'll be safe.

I'll sleep in a rosewood bed

Decorated with pomegranates and figs.

I, not he,

Will be fruitful and multiply.

from Necessary Acts (2004)

In Louisiana, Late December, Thinking of Saint Augustine

Outside the gates the Visigoths clamor

For booty. Augustine, unmoved, works on.

The earthly city has no charm

For him since it distracts him

From the truth. He has finished

His seminal work and he endures

What life presents as penance

For his misspent youth and as a measure

Of his devotion to doing right

In the sight and sound of God.

God is not in the thunder, he'd say,

God is the thunder. I believe him,

For listening to the rain in this low swamp,

In late December, I believe the lake

May rush in or the tide may pull me out,

But the renovation of this house

Will continue. As for me I do my work.

I weigh my options. I consider consequences,

I make my plans. And I shore up,

Like Augustine, whatever I can.

Sherlock Holmes in America

We need someone like you, Holmes,

To help us out of our misery, to find

Our missing children, our absent families.

Before you could help us, though,

You'd have to kick your cocaine habit.

INS won't let you into the country

Until you say no or spend time

In a rehab clinic. As for smoking,

Forget it. Let's hope

You don't have any three-pipe crimes.

Let's hope the actors' guild won't demand

You get an equity card before you use

A disguise. And do you suppose

The courts would require you to issue

A Holmes warning before you took

A case or captured a criminal?

No doubt you'd rather stay

On Baker Street, with slow but reliable

Watson and dependable Mrs. Hudson.

Even blundering Lestrade has,

I suppose, his moments. Our crimes are such

Seedy little things; we have no Moriarty

To mastermind our mayhem. Teach us to enter,

As you do, the mind of the criminal,

To find our missing children,

To recover our lost families, as we enter

The dark, familiar ground of ourselves.

New Poems


This time of year the clouds are fists

That jab with heat,

Driving me to

The shade a mimosa provides.

Under its canopy I am

Protected from

The sun and I take

A welcome break from cutting grass.

I do not rest here long.

The building heat,

The low thunder

Spur me to finish before it rains.

No traveler on the silk road to China,

Hurrying to his

Next stop, his eyes

Fixed on the approaching storm,

His mind focused on each step,

Each turning of

The path,

Moved quicker than I do

To cover distance and find shelter.

Like many

Caught in the open,

I am exposed to rain and prayer:

A blossom at the bone.


I drive west on Highway 80

From Montgomery to Selma.

The branches of the oaks under

Which I pass clap and urge me on.

Marchers on that Sunday years

Ago and their ancestors

Do the same. Indians

Stomp their feet along this trail;

They cheer and raise their voices

In song. The Great Forest sighs

As the river unfolds its

Long frame, stretches, then resumes

Its running to a far shore--

Scrub pine, white sand, blue water.

A History of the Natural World

A deer and two fawns clustered

on the shoulder of I-85. They kept

Outside my headlights' stare.

They were nervous and afraid,

Unsure whether to turn around,

Rush into the dakness behind them,

Or chance the cross hairs

Of light before them.

Their warm breath sent signals

Into the night. I stopped

My car and walked toward them,

Hoping they wouldn't scare.

They bolted--the deer and one fawn

Into the safety of Tuskegee Forest,

The other fawn into a pickup

Whose taillights winked and dipped

Into the distance. I pulled

The warm carcass off the road,

Laid it gently in the wet grass,

Wiped its blood on my forehead.

I did not eat that fawn.

I did not ask for forgiveness.

In a few days I came back,

Planted a cross, drove slowly home.

Peter Huggins is the 2006 recipient of an Alabama State Arts Council fellowship in poetry. His books of poems are Necessary Acts (River City Publishing, 2004), Blue Angels (River City Publishing, 2001), and Hard Facts (Livingston Press, 1998). He is also the author of a forhtcoming novel for middle readers, In the Company of Owls, and his first picture book, Trosclair and the Alligator, is due out in October from Star Bright Books/New York.

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