The Moss At Wimbledon Station

A Poem by Christian Ward

Spinach-snow if we’re aiming
for precision. A flattened wig
of it on the roof’s corrugated
scalp. It might outlast the cold
bringing everyone’s bones
to the surface. Summer, though,
may force a surrender, make
the stragglers slip into cracks.
Stop by then to watch the birds
fatten themselves on its bitter prayers.

Gone With the Wind

A Poem by Linh To Ngo

To live in this life, one needs a soul
For what, you know? To let go with the wind
Wind swept yours away
But not that sure will bring you another’s

To live in this life, one needs a heart
For what, you know? To stop someday
That very moment one’s life stops
But not that sure it has a beginning moment

To live in this life, one needs a love
For what, you know? To be broken
Leaving a deep wound
But not that sure it would heal someday

To live in this life, one needs so much
There are things those never can be enough
Don’t cry, my dear
I would be living with you in your life, tomorrow.

When We Were Savages

When We Were Savages
a collaborative poem in five parts by the Jeff City Poets:
Michael H. Brownstein
Bob Boldt
Dick Dalton
& Michael E. Strosahl

I—Ota Benga (c.1883-March 20,1916)
Michael H. Brownstein

I was the hunter of elephants—
I fed my village for weeks at a time—
but I made two mistakes:
I welcomed the men with no skin
and I did not die a warrior’s death
when they killed everyone in my clan.
I fought hard and took many of them
before they captured me whole.
Why did they not kill me?
They told about lessons to be learned,
but they underestimated a hunter of elephants.

Strangely,
it was a man without skin
who bought my freedom,
took me to his world
away from forests and glades
to a place of noise and metal.

Yes, I returned home,
but there was no one to return to.
Yes, they put me on exhibit when I came back,
these strange people gawked,
wanting to sit at the same table as me
and, yes, my teeth,
sharpened into canines,
frightened and thrilled them.

It’s just that I missed the forest.
I was an elephant hunter,
a great man of my people,
a provider and warrior—
how sad I could not return when I wanted.
In my soft unnatural bed
I dreamt of going home,
finding a mate,
beginning a new clan—
wasn’t I the hunter of elephants?
The Great War got in the way,
men with no skin fighting men with no skin
and I did not understand.

I could not die a warrior’s death
I with capped teeth
living in a room without trees,
without brush.
This was no way to live—
the glory of teeth hidden from view,
dressed in clothing that chafed
skin and soul,
working in a large building,
making things of no intrinsic value.
So I let myself die—
the gun a weapon of my enemies
and in the battle to death,
I died a warrior,
the hunter of elephants.

There are many myths about me,
many more lies.
Remember me not
as the caged man in St Louis,
not as an exhibit in Washington DC,
nor as a man behind metal in the Bronx,
but as a man.

I was on view,
I was an exhibit,
but I was never a slave.
Yes, I gorged on bananas,
yes, I bragged about my teeth,
yes, I snarled better than the lion nearby
yes, I knew how to put on a show.

I was the first performance artist,
but never a prisoner in a cage for long—
just enough to look into the faces
of men who could never outdo me.

II-Ishi (c.1861-March 25, 1916)
Maik StrosahlI

In your lust for the sparkle,
you slaughtered my people,
in your desire to possess the land,
you scattered the last of us—
Mother, too sick to run,
was hiding in the blankets
as you tore through our camp,
left to the spirits soon after my return.

Those years,
I hid in the trees of the high ground,
foraged the land and
called myself to the holy ones.
When I could no longer live alone
with only the company of spirits,
great Yahi people long gone
but to my memories,
I embraced the death
descending to your camps might bring.

You found me starving,
this hungry old man,
but bound me for fear
of what a “wild man” might do,
even one of my age.

And you wondered why I just grinned.

You put me on display,
gathered crowds
to see “the last wild Indian”,
only then did it occur anyone
to save the words of Yana,
to record the stories of Yahi,
to listen to the ramblings
of this old man you let
clean your school.

You wanted me to learn your ways,
but I am too old,
I preferred my native clothing to your stiff suits,
though I posed for your photographs
and I would tell you anything you wanted—
except my name.

You took that from me when you
took those who would speak for me,
the ones who are just stories now,
unbelievable tales of an old man
who grew weary of the constant sick
that comes from living among
those who killed my people,
those who left me nameless,
coughing anonymously to the nurses,
calling in a fever
to the spirits that would soon gather me—
by name,
free from the consumption.

III-Minik Wallace (c.1890-October 29, 1918)
Bob Boldt

I lie here, one in a sea
of cots and coughing bodies,
heaving our last.
I lie, Minik, the first and last,
Inuit son of a mighty hunter.

Icebergs float past my bed
in this municipal gymnasium,
now a field hospital.
Sometimes the icebergs
become starched nurses
making rounds,
followed by pallbearers.
All around, the smell of antiseptic
and the breath of death
no delirium can staunch.

Yesterday, I smelled fresh seal blubber
hung in the cold air to dry.
Why did I come back here if not to die
in the bad air of this new world?
Now I will ride the smoke to see
this Jesus or my mighty hunter father,
whichever can get to me first across
the icy wastes of Paradise.
I still remember
when Robert Peary took us off
to where the giant icicles
pierce the grey sky.
Manhattan they called it
and they called me Wallace,
Minik Wallace.

Why did they carry me to this cursed land
of fouled air and fish in cans?
This land I cannot understand
and cannot leave;
this land of the psychopaths.
In my childhood,
I only met one of these kunlangetese.
On my island these issues were resolved:
thirteen went hunting that day,
twelve returned.
I thank Mr. Peary and the Museum for my education,
and I understand perjury.
I would give all the Bibles in the world
for a good kayak and a whalebone harpoon.

IV-I Transform…
Dick Dalton

Black
as moonless nights
without stars
I glisten
with diamonds of sweat.
Caged
in the land of the free
I transform…
coming soon
to the home of the hypocrite.

Dad
was an outspoken Garveyite.
Our house was burned.
They said
“He fell
under a streetcar.”
Dead
in the land of the liars.
I transform…
freed with knowledge
taught by
caged
Black
elders.

Black absorbs
centuries of subjugation.
White repels
the heat of truth
his soul enslaved
his culture his cage.
I transform…
“By any means necessary”
striking fear in their hearts.

Justice demands,
“People of color take
power!”
The Hajj
erases color
for the few who see the soul.
I am Malcolm X
an outspoken messenger of Allah.
Our house is bombed.
I transform…

Stop.
Look inside.
Listen
for the bell of the streetcar.

V-Who Really Were the Savages?
Michael E. Strosahl

At Circus World in Baraboo,
we played the freaks,
we were the baboons,
the ferocious feline
stalking the bars of a cart,
back and forth,
while mom laughed,
snapping pictures
of her captured monsters.

At Niabi and
even Lincoln Park in Chicago,
we wandered between enclosures,
amazed by beasts on display,
making faces at the animals until
smacked on the back of the head,
herded on to the next display.

I was still riding in grocery carts
when I asked my mom
why that man by the carrots
did not take a bath.
I remember her turning red,
embarrassed as he looked up
and we quietly moved away
while she explained
we come in many shades

and that was all it took for me.
Yet I can claim no innocence
to other differences:
pointing at the woman with no legs,
laughing at the man in his dress,
whispering about those girls
dolled up and standing on street corners.

I read somewhere
that once a zoo in the Bronx
put a man on display—
a distant savage out of place
for visitors to watch
as he paced his enclosure,
watching us
watch him,
making faces as we
twisted ours,
holding back a snarl
as we roared

and I stopped to think,
remembering the circus,
the zoos,
gawking at those on display
as if they were ours to judge.
Were they so strange
in those distant days,
in those recent yesters,
when we would stare
and they would shrink in fear?
Though they were our captives,
the thought occurs now that
we were the savages.

When insomnia has taken complete control of your restless legs and racing thoughts…

A Poem by Chris Butler

you know it’s far too late
when after constant commercials
for bootleg erectile dysfunction pills
and cures for balding heads,
all of which feature the incentives of
female models frolicking on sandy beaches,
and you reach the end of the broadcasting day,
watching a 4th of July fireworks spectacular
in tandem with the national anthem.

  

Kaos and the Rat Pack

Flash Fiction by Michael H. Brownstein

The two legged animal—at least I only see two feet (not four like my pals and me)—has divided us into a two rooms. He is one side and we are on the other. It’s not because we’re too loud though we do like to bark and howl when we hear sounds that interest us. It’s not because we play hard and rough and sometimes squeal. It may be because we always beg for food or to be petted. I can’t tell you why he divides the room. He just does.

But that’s not here nor there. What is here is my plan to break out of the room and then figure a way to get outside. I tell the rat pack watch and learn.When he opens the sliding door to get on our side, I make a run for him and he closes his legs so I can’t get by, but then he turns sideways at the last second and I’m in the other room. I bark a few barks and the rat pack barks a few barks and then we giggle back and forth and I bark again because he is opening the door and coming to my side and he’s heading to the door to the outside.

When he opens it, I make my move, and he almost catches me, but I slip past him and I’m outside. I can hear the adoring barks from the rat pack caught on their side of the room. I can also hear the large booming voice of our friend who feeds us and gives us water. He’s calling my name, but I’m outside and I’m not on a leash and I’m almost to the corner and now I’m at the corner and I’m turning so quickly, there is no way he can keep up and then–

Across the street from where I live is a giant graveyard. A spooky place. I never go day or night. Nor do the rat pack. And here is why:

THE GRAVEYARD DOGS!

My friend is calling me and I’m not looking and then I do look and I put on my speedy four paws skids because directly in front of me are THE GRAVEYARD DOGS! I turn as fast as I can and the race is on. They are right behind me.

I’m running as fast as I can, but it’s not good enough. I need my friend to have the door open so I can get inside before I become food for THE GRAVEYARD DOGS and here is why I like my friend so much. He knows exactly what to do. He reaches the door before me, opens and then slams it shut. I run to the window and watch them run to the door, pause, and then run back to the graveyard where they belong.

Can’t wait to tell the rat pack about the time I beat THE GRAVEYARD DOGS.

Fingernails

A Poem by Michael Estabrook

She’s sad I know but I don’t know what
to tell her to ease her anxiety we’re all in the same boat
just noticed my fingernails are dirty how
did that happen all I do with my hands is type in here
and work the remote so weird where did the damn dirt come from
there have been plagues in the past I tell her
all over the world and they have fizzled out eventually
this one will fizzle too just needs
a little more time.

The Set of Her Body

A Prose Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

I look at the set of her body, the style of range, the linoleum on the patio, the robin’s nest in the eave of the front porch, the wino sipping whiskey out of a glass bottle in a paper bag on the front stoop. She is afraid to go outside until he leaves. I go outside and sit next to him.
Inside the windows mirror self-satisfaction and overcast skies. Outside the sky is true blue and the sun bright white. He offers me the bottle and I decline. He pulls a broken pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and puts them on. “I feel cooler now,” he says and takes another drink.
When I go back inside, she has put on her pretty dress and is standing in the room she has named MY FANCY ROOM. The room is empty space with the exception of a rich thick handmade rug on one wall and another on the hardwood floor. I look at the set of her body. I reach for her waist. “You are in need of a tune-up,” I whisper, and she nods, yes, handing me her arm. I begin to tighten her strings.
Wouldn’t you know it is at that exact moment a car backfires down the street, a man shoots a stranger with a shotgun two blocks over, and suddenly there is the symphonic opera eclipse of sirens rushing to the just now explosion in the industrial part of town.
I sit against the wall and look at the set of her body. This is too much to carry in my head. The set of her body…the design of her dress…the broken strings in my hand…

Hilton

A Poem by Michael Estabrook

Suddenly a rat a thick gray thing darted
from the corner of the gutter up to the peak of the roof
disappearing beneath a shingle
into the attic space above the bedroom.
“Did you see that” she squealed.
“Damn there’s a second one” he exclaimed.
“I’ll set out the traps tomorrow.”
And I’m thinking that plan would not satisfy my wife.
She’d sleep out in the car
or more likely in the Hilton across town
rather than in that bedroom.

Ragdoll

A Poem by Michael Estabrook

Suddenly a hawk drops out of the sky onto
the baby rabbit nibbling grass in our backyard
its talons digging in as it tosses
the baby about like a proverbial ragdoll.

I run downstairs and out the back door yelling
scaring the startled hawk back up
into the trees leaving his limp prey behind.

I hold the little creature in my hands
so helpless, so soft and warm, but no blood
nothing broken that I can tell
and he’s breathing but barely.

I place him carefully beneath some vines
and weeds when suddenly
he bursts into the underbrush – gone in a flash!

Must’ve been in shock or playing dead
but now back where he belongs.
Hope he learned his lesson and stays out of sight
from the demon beast spying from the treetops.

Muse

A Poem Letter by Michael Estabrook

But seriously, do I have to write a poem every time

there’s a space in my day: at the doctor’s office, the airport, the DMV,

during the kids’ basketball practice, soccer and softball.

Pull out my notebook, push on my glasses, click my pen into action.

(I’m old-fashioned, no fancy-schmancy electronic recording gadgetry for me.)

No doubt the literary world will be fine

if I simply sit and do nothing other than stare into the space around me.

But the Muse, it’s her fault I tell you, she’s always crowding around me

sticking her nose in my business, nudging me hissing in my ear:

“Come on man move it I got things to say.”

For My Four Year Old Daughter

A Poem by Seymour Brownstein

Little lady climbing all over me,
One would believe I’m a ramp,
Grand hugger would be more appropriate, maybe,
I love her the little scamp.

Reaching heights of delight I never could reach,
Her kiss on my cheek like morning dew wine,
all made possible with one little screech,
Little Pami, at four years old, mine.

Giving

When a white reporter asked Sitting Bull why his people admired him so much, Sitting Bull asked the reporter if a man in his culture was respected for having a lot of things—a big home, for example. The reporter answered by telling him that in his culture, yes, having many things made you more respected.

Sitting Bull then answered, “My people respect me because I keep nothing for myself.”