Three Poems and a Duet

Meteoric Rise: A Consolation

Though reports of fatal meteor showers abound, the Hodges Meteorite is the only known, modern, and authenticated instance of a meteorite striking a human in North America--Mrs. Hewlett Anne Hodges. Sylacauga, Alabama, Nov. 30, 1954.

First, a myth, a misapprehension.
They do not rise.
They fall, like all else,
to the blandishments of gravity.

Second, the issue of where.

Rest easy newlywed lawyers
hot air ballooning above Napa valley
hanging in the sky
like a sure-thing midway dart game,
almost too easy to be much fun,
the winds of the cosmos blow your way.
And never worry linen-jumpered Homewood women
who summer and Starbuck with plans for Prague,
brimstone is not the portion of your cup.
Go live as Lot left Sodom.

No part of you was ever among the Shansi Province poor
peaceably hoeing kohlrabi against the Mongol winter
and then the mortifying miracle—
         the red iron breath of a thousand dragons,
a killing rain of fire and thousands dead
in the furrows of their fields,
clay pigeons for the cosmic shotgun
those who would have lived well enough with nothing
more miraculous than the sun and gentle rains.

Meteors have a libido for the poor.
The eye and its needle straight through their hearts
and homes and cattle and tender hopes.

Never some surgeon’s gleaming Lexus,
but a Wheeling man’s only working Ford
or Teheranian peasant’s rug loom,
now a Romanian gypsy wedding party,
a water tower in Bangladesh,
an East German green house,
an Egyptian child’s dog,

Then there is you,
Mrs. Hewlett Hodges.
Stars do fall on Alabama,
a place famous for its targets,
         and one of them fell on you.

Home and napping on the Herculon sofa,
then out of the afternoon blue,
a hole in your rented roof and ceiling
a crushed bought-on-credit Zenith
and a deep red lipstick blot on the vast expanse
of your tissue-white skin
from your belly to your hip.

And here the newspaper has you—
standing on the porch of your ailing rented house.
You’re all shabby coat and horn rims
and holding the offending star
in your oven-mitted hand
like a failed lead casserole.

And what do the poor ever keep but their poverty?
I know God meant it for me, you pleaded to the judge
After all, it hit me
But the man who owned the house took your star
having some better claim.

Now let’s put your hands about the skull of the Earth
and feel as a phrenologist might,
free of both need and belief.
Feel the fatal pits and tell-tale depressions
There in Europe, Winslow, and the Yucatan.

Don’t your fingertips recognize
the bite of that nuclear winter,
the acid rains, the dust and ash heaven,
and the innocent dinosaurs dead?
Ten thousand foot waves pound over
trailer parks and castle walls alike.

Tonight the trees keep the sound of that water
an echo, an adumbration.

So answer again, Mrs. Hodges,
magnet-boned sky queen,
Sylacuaga’s living Leda,
did you put on some knowledge with that power
or just some ice and bandages?

The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go


You too might step into a puddle of fire,
or splash through a stream of glowing lava
where only moments before you were barefoot
in your kitchen after a late night of too much wine
and, nearly naked, frying bacon at the stove.

A burn like this is a different thing the doctor said
and I can believe it. I was a different thing.

I was a man with an unquenchable oil well fire on his feet
that would blaze up as the medicine ebbed.
And the skin curled over, brown-red,
too much like the meat I was cooking in the pan that I dropped
—an irony not lost on even the youngest of nurses
drinking and bacon don't mix
she kidded as I healed.

Yet had my wounds burned like Vulcan's forge
they'd be a distant fire in light of the child
behind the glass in the opposite bed.


Where were you saints when the fire first licked his hands?
Hadn't he in living prayed to you?

I want the saint of ice cream trucks
to turn off the carnival, climb down, and explain it all,
account for all the betrayers.
The saints of reachable branches and bank envelope lollipops,
the saints of his mother's cool arms, of new basketball shoes, and professional wrestling.
The saints of tree forts, pocket knives, and stadium food.
The saints of waffles and eyebrows and box turtles.
The saint of jam.
The saint of his own bed.
Where were you saints of wheelies and rodeo clowns and rockets?


I was at home when the sepsis took him
and they wheeled him to that all-light room
and when they covered his face.

Yet I had seen his grafts and debridements,
the twice daily baths and dressings,
and the shock at that last turn of gauze
— how the fire bit at his summer legs and arms—
black skin, blacker still, and red.

I was there to see the lost mother
who would live in fire for the child she had known.
There to see all who entered shake their heads
as if wondering as I wondered
how so small a thing can carry such pain
— pain that pushed through the morphine push —
— pain that conquered even those numbing Nordic gods —
Vicodin, Ativan, and Tylox.

It is not my place.
He was not my child,
and I could never speak to him,
but hold him out of the fire.
I would not have him burned again.

Give him back to rocking water,
to pendulum down through the fingers of the sun.
Let the ocean run his veins and heart,
full, then empty, then full again.

Or return him to the folding ground,
face up to the sky.
A boon for dreamlessness,
this petty thief of time.

Closer to Texas


Any day but Sunday,
they got the one-day bag of food —
              Cheerios, cans of fruit cocktail or amniotic peaches,
              field or navy beans,
              a tall white can with black letters that said,
              Beef or sometimes Pork,
              sometimes roll-on deodorant,
              maybe conditioner, sometimes condoms.
Always a three-day bag of food if there were visible children.
Then a change of clothes from the thrift store,
which, after scanning through, they’d usually refuse.

But what they wanted was the ten-dollar check for gasoline
to get them east to Birmingham
west to Meridian.

Sundays we’re closed,
but I’m ass-deep in the donation bin
sorting out the yard sale overflow—
              King Solomon of bric-a-brac
              deciding at a glance between
              what is of value and might be sold
              and what should be hauled to the dump.

Sundays were dead as four o’clock,
but I liked the work. It brought my right mind.
And often in the trash bags of largess
there was unintentional treasure—
             washed bills in watch pockets
             a sterling earring mixed in among the others.

Then I heard their footsteps behind me.
He was a skinny man and young,
cigarette, Western hat and boots, NASCAR tee-shirt.
She might have been his daughter or his wife,
               small and ginger cake brown.
His eyes looked for mine but I kept them from him.

               We’re needing money for gas to get her back to Texas,
               he said, I’m told this place has money for that—
               beer and smoke on his breath.

Not much and not today, I said.
Anyway, it’s a check that’s only good for one tank
and can’t get you where you need to go.
He listened, impassive, like not listening,
but what I said seemed like rain to her
and made me wish I hadn’t said it.

I spoke to their backs,
You can help for pay.

Together we dragged out
stained mattresses, carpets,
and the leaking corpse of a waterbed.

I gave them cash and took their thanks
and saw them later, as I drove home,
my pilgrims,
leaving Texaco on foot,
a six pack in each of their hands
moving closer to Texas,
however they please.


Goodbye Tuscaloosa

a duet with Paul Guest


Goodbye flying cockroaches you, too, were my ontology.
Goodbye Judas tree and dogwood.
Goodbye tulips. I touch your broken teeth.
Goodbye City Park pretty boys. My reading of Thoreau is changed forever
           and I am forever changed.
Goodbye shitte Baptists. Look to the ninety-nine sheep still safe in your fold.
Goodbye I reckon, goodbye fixin to, goodbye might could and all other forms
           of the Southern vague conditional.
Goodbye Wallace, a wall of my heart falling in when I put you in the ground.

Goodbye fraternity brothers, polyp brained, preppy rats, deaf and unweaned.
Goodbye yellowhammer and maypop.
Goodbye to every street that turned me back.
Goodbye to the last of my sweetness.
Goodbye late thunder of a summer night. 
Goodbye magnolias.  I will keep the memory of your shade like a secret.

Goodbye gardenia, soft as the sweet ears of an old woman.
Goodbye braless chain smoking attendant at the Cleansing Tide Laundrymat.
Your teeth are as yellow as crime scene tape, but your heart is clean as a hound’s tooth.
Goodbye Mexican roofers, burning in the sun or falling to your deaths. When I asked you
            what day it was. I meant what century.
Goodbye Tuscaloosa News—how I lived your oxymoron.
Goodbye Professor Richard Rand. You were my Charleton Heston.

Goodbye electric chair in the Atmore Holman Correctional facility
           and the tacky sadist who painted you spring sun-yellow.
Goodbye stumbly-wumblies.
Goodbye Denny Chimes, brick phallus, yours is the true hymn.
Goodbye Monster truck and the monthly gun and knife shows.
Goodbye helicopter, tank, and jet frozen in the moment of their suicidal attack on the mall.

Goodbye co-cola, goodbye sweet tea, you are as advertised.
Goodbye wacked zealots sandwich boarding for Jesus.  Yes, God is angry at everyone but you. May a celestial wind fill your mainsail of vitriol and lift you to heaven
            or some really high place.
Goodbye sorostitutes. I crunch your cell phones with my SUV, burn your black pants in effigy. “An effigy is an image or representation of a particular person."

Goodbye girls in galvanic sundresses. Yours was the true devotion.
Goodbye honeysuckle.
Goodbye darlin, suga, goodbye bless his hart.
Goodbye to the dye-haired ladies who are someone else’s doting grandmother.
Goodbye un-definable Capstone.  So many times I asked and no one knew.

Goodbye balloon man, and bicycle Sam
Goodbye wisteria, perfumed Victorian, my spine is new-woven with your valentine.
Goodbye Ferguson Center Burger King employee. Meat maker. How like a god
            in your near deafness and sudden anger and the way I’ve never seen your hands. 
Goodbye Christian Rock and your fervent sucking.
Goodbye Jesus Christ Super Store. I’ve completed my collection of bobble-head apostles.

Goodbye to a whole state’s worth of bad road.
Goodbye Mcfarland Boulevard. I sing the body franchised and commercial.
Goodbye to fried corn, fried steak, fried okra, fried water.
Goodbye Montgomery Court House—you were a scene from Beckett.
Goodbye happiness, brief as the Tuscaloosa fall.

Goodbye teenage girls in NASCAR T-shirts. You can keep my lighter.
Goodbye Greene county and the hooked-wormed children of greyhound physiques.             Remember, on a wet track, to bet on a heavy dog.
Goodbye Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant—and however one says joie de vivre in Mexican
Goodbye  Stabler, goodbye Nameth.
Goodbye all discussion of football as a very thinly veiled homoerotic substitute for war.
Goodbye those five hours to New Orleans. You were my salvation.
Goodbye Shelton State Community College, students. Yours is the true devotion. 
           For you I am a poolside father, reluctantly away and mindful.
Goodbye the right Rev. Horton Heat and bapticisms in the courtyard of the Chukker.
Let me lie down between the bonfire and the library.
Let me lie down with Fob James and the Dubba Twins one last time.
Goodbye Y’all

Goodbye pedestrian faith healers who touched me without asking like I was pregnant.
Goodbye student health center doctors. Thanks for the barrels of codeine.
Goodbye to my reputation for bureautic disregard.  It served me like a summons.
Goodbye cedar waxwings in the Foster’s holly, you good lieutenants of the sky.
Goodbye Paul Bear Bryant—drop kick me through the goal posts of life.
Goodbye Tuscaloosa. Your red clay roads do not run out.
I’ll speak to you, and you to me, together, in praise.

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