Poem: The Band Plays On

Following a crescendo of violence,
an allegro jubilee of relief and release
brings us all a moment of respite
before resuming the rhythm of the rigour
and ardor of unflinching struggle.

And a young woman tells us we can
be the light if we dare, and her innocence
gives us new hope and a new cadence
for resolute strides to an unknown
future of heat, yes, but also illumination.

Still, this isn’t a cadenza, but a restrictive
repair, a scaffolding of democratic skills,
a dampening of fear and a regrouping
of willing collaborators marching forward
on the promise of hope and camaraderie.

And the band plays on, because the music
of justice has no coda, only refrains.

A Moment of Sunlight

Everywhere he went,
he confronted peace and
rumours of peace.

Each dawn, he would follow
the light on rising roads
and find fellowship with companion
travellers and comfort with locals
sharing a spirit of cooperation.

As the sun passed over,
he and new neighbours he met
would break bread, drink
and laugh with abandon.

With evil vanquished and animosity
dimmed, the world awaited eternity
with clear eyes, dry cheeks
and a pacific breast.

Finally actualised, he sees a reality no
longer tenuous, but one girded on the
impervious foundation of
enlightened belief.

The Other Side of Love

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It all starts in an oxytocin bath,
drowning in aphrodisiac dreams.
Best friends sweating through
amorous bouts of battering lust.

You begin purposeful procreation
and embrace coparenting with zest.
In a blink, you go from saying “they’re
so cute and tiny” to “they grow up so fast”!

Bliss you’ve had and content you’ve been,
but somehow merriment becomes misery.
You begin to hoard a stockpile of secrets
as comrades become combatants.

You’ve identified the Achilles heel. Indeed,
you know every weakness of your enemy.
In a flash, though, you realised the best
hope is mutually assured destruction.

Simultaneously, you begin a charm
offensive and a sinking shame spiral.
You visualise yourself on an open bier
naked before all and licked by eager flames.

Silence Never Ends

I never thought John Cage was
trying to tell us anything about silence.
He told us music never stops,
only listening does,
and what if we never stop
listening? What if we become
so accustomed to focusing
on sounds that we forget to
tune out and block and cocoon?

What if we love sounds
“as they are,” as he says?
Will we ever get anything done?
Or will we be swept away,
dancing to the garbage trucks,
crushing today’s refuse to bits?

Will we sway softly to our own
heartbeats or hum in tune to tinnitus?
We won’t distinguish between the
sounds of skates on the sidewalk
and the instructions of the arresting officer.

As our loved ones tell us we’re the
only one, we’ll be listening to the
dripping of a loveless faucet
or the groaning of a protesting
gate hinge forced to give way.

We will live in a constant stream
of unconnected moments,
drowning in the music God
sent to save our souls.

Billy Takes On The Feds

Now, ol’ Billy liked to talk a good talk. He’d get all puffed up and talk about how he was gonna storm the capitol and take the country back and things of that nature. Well, ol’ Billy had all the courage of a bunny in a dog kennel and all the strength of a tallow tree in a hurricane, but he thought he might just be able to take on the Feds if a few of his friends went along for fortification. And he figured he had about 10 million friends, according to what he’d been reading, so he was feeling pumped up and just a little cocksure.
So Billy went down to the Army surplus store and got a flak jacket and some combat fatigues, the ones with the pockets here, there and everywhere, you know. He had already ordered this cool black shirt declaring Civil War to take the country back from the people who took it away. Things didn’t used to be like this. It used to be that a man like Billy got some respect, but not anymore. No sir, no one gets less respect these days than a white, Christian man who loves women and wants a family. That’s the way Billy saw it.
Billy really wanted to save the world, because he’d been doing some research on how things were going, and he put together all these things on his own. Once you get to looking at things, it starts to come clear. You won’t find out about this stuff on the Communist News Network, because they’re all in on it. They’re all working together in this global secret society that controls everything, and they’re horrible people, he says. He says they’ve been selling children for sex and practicing mind control on everybody.
And all those sheeple go along with it because they haven’t done the research. They haven’t looked into things like Billy and his millions of online friends did. With God as his witness, Billy knew something had to be done before it was too late. Before the last chance slipped by, he had to stake a stand, by God. He might have to lose his life, but at least he would lose it doing the right thing for his country and for his God. He had an AR-15, of course, everybody did, but he got a couple of smaller sidearms, too. They’d be more portable and easier to conceal. He also got himself a Taser just in case he got into close combat.
Now, when Billy got to the capital, it was just like they said it was gonna be. Everyone was excited and having a good time, and they were all glad he came. Even the president came out and thanked everybody and told them to stand strong against the deep state. They had to support the patriots, and Billy was fired up. They were chanting and laughing and having a real good time. They even got inside the Capitol, and Billy couldn’t believe it.
He was going around saying, “This is our house here! They cain’t make us leave.” He had so much fun taking selfies and dancing around knocking things off the walls. Finally they did all have to leave, and he was amazed by how great it was. Man, oh man, they really showed ‘em whose country it is.
A couple days later the thin blue line came after Billy, and he was shocked. He was on the side of the president for Christ’s sake. How could they be stopping him? He didn’t know about any violence, he said. He thought it was just a peaceful rally. He didn’t think it was a civil war or anything like that.

Looking Forward to Further Foreboding

All the seers say the same.
The Tarot Tower looms tenaciously
as will o’ wisps hover wistfully
outside windows closed to hope.

A broken timepiece holds dread
in a cedar closet as days to come
fall silent and the pulse thunders
in unbearable auditory recruitment.

An ominous prophecy has planted
seeds of anxiety germinating till
terror blooms in full flower
in a fecund garden of trepidation.

But the hardy defy the odds,
for what else can be done?
They don their hats, step into
open air and wish you well.

Make Hay and Haul It Away

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You need at least three people: one to drive the truck, one to throw the bales up on the trailer, and one to stack the bales on the trailer. That was me. I mean, that was I. I was the one who stacked the bales.
You had to stack them so that the bales on the edge of the trailer were raised on the outer edge and sloping toward the centre. Once you had a good stack of hay going, it shouldn’t be tilting out in peril of falling back to the pasture. If you stacked them right, you could rest pretty easy, and it made a pretty pattern, too, if you like that sort of thing.
So that’s what we did. It was a pretty small load, I guess, as we only had a pickup truck and a double-axle trailer, not even a gooseneck. I think it was about 32 bales or something in that ballpark. Everything seemed okay, so we settled up and pulled out on Farm Road 942 to take the hay up to the lease further west on 942. To go east to west on 942, you have to cross Highway 59, which is five lanes: two northbound, two southbound, and a chicken lane in the centre. To follow 942 from east to west, you had to turn north on 59 at the caution light into the chicken lane, go a little ways, and then take another left to continue west on the farm road.
As you might have guessed, as we turned right on 59 and started to pull into the chicken lane, the load shifted somehow. I don’t know if the springs sagged a little or we hit a pothole, or what, but I don’t think I stacked the load the wrong way, so I really don’t feel like taking the blame for it. Still, the load shifted and about half of it fell on the highway, and we had to get out there and pick it up.
I wasn’t any too excited about doing that. A couple of years earlier, I was crossing at that very place, by that very caution light on my dirt bike when a car hit me, a 12-year-old boy riding a dirt bike illegally across Highway 59 at dusk. I survived that crash all right, as you can tell, but I still have little flashbacks every time I turn onto 942 right up to this day.
Still, you do what you have to do, and we cleaned up the mess pretty good, and I think we added a couple of ropes to the sides to help hold the bales a little closer to home and then made our way to the cow lease, which was only a couple of miles up the road. All’s well that ends well, I guess, but I always keep a couple of extra straps on hand when carrying any kind of load on a truck or trailer. Every time you see a load dropped on the road, I can guarantee you that the last words someone said before setting off was, “Let’s go. That ain’t going nowhere.”

Poem: A Day for Gratitude (and Greed)

In a hushed and reverent tone
he asked us to bow our heads
in gratitude for those who sacrificed
so much for our prosperity.

We took a moment to remember
those who lost their lives and
their land to the invaders
euphemistically known as settlers.

We whispered muted prayers
of thanks to those who lost
their lives and liberty to traders
paradoxically called masters.

We mumbled appreciation
for those who acquired
resources from abroad while
posing as freedom fighters.

We thanked Providence for all
the blood shed on our behalf.
We raised our heads with ravenous
relief and set tooth to bone.

Broken Dreams on the Moscow, Camden and San Augustine Railroad

One interesting fact about the Moscow, Camden and San Augustine Railroad short line in East Texas is that it never did go to San Augustine. For whatever reason, it never went further than Moscow (pronounced moss-COW), which was only seven miles from Camden. That line was built specifically for carrying timber from the Camden sawmill, but it also carried passengers all the way up to 1973, which was about when I last rode it. By then, it only took passengers on excursion runs from Camden to Moscow and back.

The last time I rode it, I was about 12, and there was a young mother sitting across from me with children who must have been four or five. I remember her saying, “Come on, kids, if we keep a look out, we might see a cow.” That was funny to me at the time, but I now see how smart it was. Those kids were certainly going to see some cows and not much else, unless a horse came into view, because there was nothing else out there but trees and cow pastures.

This clever mother guaranteed that her children would not be disappointed all while keeping expectations fairly low, and I can report that we did see plenty of cows that day. Hereford and Angus, I think they were. I think we also had the bonus pleasure of seeing a farmer on a tractor, so those kids had a great day out.

Other than cows, I think we only saw abandoned houses. Camden was a company town, but the W.T. Carter & Bro. lumber company moved all the workers to Corrigan a few years earlier. In its heyday, the population of Camden was only a few hundred people. We made definite plans to return to those old houses to see what treasures or secrets the previous owners had left behind, expensive jewels, perhaps, or (more interesting to a child) diaries and letters confessing to crimes and misdemeanours. For whatever reason, we never thought much of ghosts in a metaphysical sense, but the idea of past lives lingering in these empty buildings was palpable.

All we ever found in any of those houses was broken bottles and forgotten dreams.

Poem: Champagne and Sunflowers

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In Galveston, Texas, you can’t always tell
the millionaires from the homeless, so
savvy businesses don’t assume the
slovenly won’t spend.

All the same,
The Sunflower Cafe is for
the relatively well-heeled,
serving a quiet Sunday brunch
for the sophisticated,
the students and professors,
the artists and seafarers.

So, see, the hostess was
always going to be polite
to the disheveled and slightly
drunk man who stooped up to
the doorstep on a Sunday morning
to ask If they were serving alcohol.

“Yes, sir,” she smiled,
“We have mimosas today.”

“Mimosa? What’s that?”

“It’s champagne with orange juice.”

“Champagne and orange juice! What the Hell?”

And with that, he shuffled off shaking his head
with more than a tinge of judgment for
the poor fools who knew what to do with
neither champagne nor orange juice.