If You Want to Write

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If You Want to Write

No writing is a waste of time….With every sentence you write,
you have learned something. It has done you good.
― Brenda Ueland

Some days the dog will go
unfed, most surely un-washed
and -combed. Your wife

or lover will languish
in bed upstairs, driven finally
to watch foreign films

with English subtitles
until he or she gives up,
adjusts the covers,

and turns out the light. Your
kids will hone survival
skills like baking

fries or frozen pizzas, maybe
even learning to spot the least
dirty school uniform

in a large, abandoned pile. But
you will feel every comma
like a stroke

of good luck, fall in love
with random words—
weevil, genus, rugosa,

and burred—sit in silence
and ambient smoke
till the last line appears,

and you have done some good.

My Brown Daughter

Dad Holds Flannery 2
My Brown Daughter

Even before the adoption
we shared the same
last name. Call it Fate,

the gods, or pure color
blind chance—
I like to think it means

something. In the first
photo of me
and her, I cradle this

infant like a holy visitant
from across
what lines and tracks

I already know, already
sense will
compel second looks

in Home Depot, questions
and answers,
approval, or not, love

of skin, hair, and eyes
my whiteness
makes foreign, till

I am drowned in the beauty
of brown, swept
up and away cross sweet

Jordans by a chariot
that swung
low for me and her,

coming with a band
of angels
to carry us home.

Cracker

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Cracker

A Cracker is as a Cracker does. The son of a country mailman the son of a failed farmer the son of a lost clod who died from yellow fever and disappeared, not even a note to note the place they stuck his grave in the ground. And the Cracker’s mama? Orphaned by a stroke of bad luck and alcohol, the daughter of sharecroppers the daughter of cotton the daughter of cornmeal, dirt, and squirrels for dinner. Sleeping with a gun between her legs. Cause better a gun than a father or brother’s dank, bowed cock. And Cracker is as Cracker does in Southwest Georgia. SoWeGa. Soo WEEEEE GA! A man can call some hogs with that. To the slop, to the trough, to the blow-down, bow, crook, cup, and twist of a barn. Can you even imagine the barn? Or the mud? Imagine. And the corn scooped from the feedsack makes a beautiful yellow arc in the air, gleams—and it does—every day in the thunder-building air, before it pellets the same hoof-trodden ground. But hogs will root it out. Cause a hog is a hog is a hog and a hog does as a hog is. And a Cracker’s son in the ’70s drives his daddy’s blue F-100 at the speed of sound. Down dirt roads and paved roads and ditches and cross the wooden bridges. And Freebird IS his speed and sound. With a Salem Light between his fingers and a beer can between his legs, he tugs his Dekalb hat into place—such winged Mercury of seed—and punches stations into the radio’s face, singing he’ll be leaving here tomorrow, girl, cause he’s got too many places to go and so much more to know. Swearing he don’t need nobody to remember him or his name, thank you just the same. That, or he’ll be good and damned.

The Stump Burners

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The Stump Burners

We were disciples of fire, my young brother and I,
the Stump Burners. Behind the barn, two
hollowed-out mulberry trunks stood head-high.
So, we chocked them full of busted boards,

doused with gasoline, struck our matches in sync,
called down fire, and watched the trunks
grow holy and blazing with heat. From wooden
chimneys, fire-tongues flicked

into the sky, declaring: I AM who I AM,
who I AM, who I AM. All afternoon, we tended
fire in fire-walled stumps—fed fire
through knot-holes in a transfiguration

of stumps till dark fell on the day of fire. Furnaces
crumbled, coals shimmered in three-
personed life–red, black, and white. Showers
of cinders ascended the night,

then christened our faces, a fire-fall of ash
raining like visitation in the fire-
stormed night. From the other side of glowing, I hear
my cow-licked and fire-happy brother say,

Make the fire come down! Make the fire
come down! And I think how we knew each other
in cinder-lit dark, our human faces
refined in the fulgent forge and fellowship of fire—

the baby brother I could not keep,
the beauty of ash on a child’s skin, the last coal
pulsing in testimony against
the wide, deep, and dark of night. To a day of burning,

to furnace-fire in hollowed stumps, I trace
the true knowing of my brother:
his best voice calling down fire—his pure, sweet, and
most lasting face shining in a circle of fire.

Scarlet Tongues of Flame

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Scarlet Tongues of Flame

At middle-age, my father planted roses—
the man who never painted or patched, satisfied
with the leaky roof and white siding grown green

with time. He broke ground in early spring,
not long after mom found his truck grafted
to the weedy shadows of a woman’s house in town.

I remember the day the mail-order roses
arrived. My father sifted the thick-caned,
dormant plants from the damp wood shavings

in which they were packed—Double Delight,
Pilgrim or Prince, Wandering Star, Eden’s
Peace, and Scarlet Tongues of Flame.

On planting day, dad plowed the sunny
plot with a new tiller—muscling the straining
machine like a wild horse he could not quite

control. By summer, the leafed-out, stubby
stems rendered their first true buds—small, tight
fists of color. Yellow, white, pink, cream,

and red ellipses hovering in the stifling heat.
Some summer nights, he walked the blooming
rows, wrapped in the aloof company of roses

while we ate or slept, every cupped and knotted
bud rising like secret love or thorny questions
whose answers slowly unfurl. I wish

I could see him now—standing in the tilled plot,
staring down passionately perfumed rows, searching
for hidden flowers in the moon-softened dark,

but finding, I hope, what comforts beauty bestows
in the place of the rose, what deep-seated truths
crown in the petal-cloaked heart of the rose.