The Horned Toads Confront Their Young Human Captors

How dare you take the horrors of our life from us,
How dare you display us in this cardboard mockery
Where nothing struggles,
Where all is provided,
Where no enemies hide in ambush.
Look closely: blood shoots out of our eyes,
Touch us, and warts grow out of your hands,
We feed on dust and the rays of the sun.
When you try to pry our secrets
We will become sharp stones.

(First published in slightly different form in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Summer 2022 – thanks to Editor Valerie MacEwan.)

Cobbler

Daddy always knew where to find them,
Deep in the murmuring summer park –
My legs sticking to our car’s vinyl seats,
Still trees bristling with slurring cicadas.

Nestled under stiff leaves and nettles,
Like clusters of tiny dark eggs –
The youngest ones hard and green,
Reddening, deepening into bursting black,
Juice tattooing my fingers
As I plunked them into my pail.

The ditches teemed with them,
Their untamed abundance made me greedy –
My grabbing hands ignored the briars,
Blood mixing with the berry stains,
Cuts on fingers and wrists stinging in sweat –
Feeling them burn on the way home,
Staring at the bucket of bruised wild in my lap.

He insisted on making it himself:
We could only watch our work transform,
His wrinkles of old worry unfold in pride
As he pulled it bubbling from the oven,
Veins of popping purple juice running
Through peaks of browned sugared dough,
Served thick with melting vanilla ice cream,
Summer filling our scalded mouths.

When his ruined lungs blistered beyond breath
I could still feel his sweet burden singe my tongue,
See his haggard face soften in the oven’s steam,
The plunging of our hands into dark bramble
Over and over, scratching for swollen treasure,
Scarring ourselves to fill his latest search
For a happier evening, his recipe for something good.

(First published in Loch Raven Review 18.2, 2022 – thanks to the editors.)

Dead Trees in the Woods

One falls into a Pieta in its neighbor’s embrace,
Another sinks into the earth by years,
Broken fingers clutching grass.
Some are the lichened wombs of termites,
Folded limbs pointlessly praying.

But it is life and death that are dying here
Among their countless ways of continuing:
Green bursting from the broken bark,
Bugs ravaging that rotting skin
To feed their shiny young.

(First published in slightly different form in Last Leaves Magazine, Issue #5 Fall 2022, “Growth” – thanks to the editors.)

Ol’ Angry River

Suck me down, ol’ Angry River,
Grind my weary bones to goo,
Flay my nightmares from the marrow,
This life fleets like a fleeting arrow.

Burnin’ store-bought firewood
In the middle of the store,
Angry River, I can’t make a good man see the bad
In a woman who won’t make a sad man understand.

Your fish are biting, Angry River,
I can feel them at my throat.
O werewolf moon shining out of season
By your bonfired shores, beyond all reason.

If you can’t tell the truth about a lie
Then never mind what I just said.
Angry River gurgles rent-free in my head,
Its trail leads to every horse, makes them drink.

Float your poisoned garbage out to sea,
Cleanse yourself with thunder rain.
Lift up your flood disaster karma,
Teach us your drowning devil dharma.

(First published, in slightly different form, in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, June 25, 2022 – thanks to Editor Strider Marcus Jones.)