Juba, Shot Wren, Reveille by R.T. Smith

 

Shot on his vine rocker giddy with gin

sang, Hambone Hambone where you been?

smacking his thighs, chest and belly:

Hambone Hambone, have you heard?

palms like pistol pops against his old body.

Heís sporting a red vest and goldfinch gloves.

Mommaís gonna buy you a mockingbird.

The porch pineís rosin aches sweet in the sun.

 

Showboating his jivey slackdaddy grin,

he spied me then: Young lady, my papís

mammy down to Macon was a slave,

but she cooed like the mourning dove,

said Godís chillen gotta all be brave.

What she left me was a shiny skin, a love

for the music rising in my only body.

And, yesím, I do admire a sip of whiskey

with ruddy hens back under the chinaberry.

 

Shoulders to knees to thighs and back,

his frail arms were a hummingbird blur.

Mae says he still carries a bullet in his hip,

but his fingers can flip and hands pat

till I hear a whole jubilee shadow band Ė

chop-pop, tom-tom, clattery clap.

 

What he has to hide and what to prove

I canít solve, but he just wonít stop

thumping the self-drum, slapping cheeks

and wheezy chest, fingers far too fast

for a sleepy womanís eyes to catch.

 

Quick as a whip: on his feet, a limber-jack

who might be trampling diamondbacks,

but I know this sound tells of a secret pain

under the hide, muscle and noggin bone.

Leaning on crutches, in mocs and Levi pants

Iím nearly twenty years past any dance.

 

His shod feet scuff and tramp Ė Swat Fly,

Shuck-the-Shackle, The French Lick,

Blow that Candle Out!  The porch timbers

shake with sassy tapping and smolder,

no need for harp or tambourine.  A yellow

bird rips the yard like a bullet.  Still early

morning, and King Rhythmís in his groove.

Eyes spark, struts shake, boards buckle

and begin to seep a rank and rusty sorrow,

as he shuffles to the borders of a dream.

 

As usual, a peacock fans and screams,

and I try not to picture Uncle Sumpy Wren

kicking as the scaffoldís trapdoor dropped.

Shot was there, too, knee-high, a warm stream

down his twitching leg doubling the shame.

His eyes and heart suffered a change

he never uttered.  It shocked and shocked.

 

Smack and clatter, he capered and waved

on that morning of bees and honeysuckle,

till the blood in the porchwood started to move.

Whoís never had the pleasure of watching Shotís

hambone dance along the razor rim of the abyss

is bereft and donít know diddley squat.

Bloodshot eyes wide, tongue stuck on yes.

Thereís pain in there no preacher has guessed.

In the spirit of Shotís grief Iíll say it again:

the blood in the porchwood starts to move.

In Jesusí blessed name, now, amen, amen.

 

 

 

 

Blaze by R.T. Smith

 

Early Mass for mid-Advent, then nine to noon

the usual peck and cackle at the Royal, lunch

at the tea room and half the blustery afternoon

with literary ladies, all abuzz with discovery.

Theyíve read Pascalís Pensťes, which has them

thinking about the devout life and solitude,

how a body concentrates on work or the Lord

and develops vast dignity and inner depths,

despite the demand for perkiness and charm.

We had fruitcake and debate: Was it a shame

Pascal converted so late? that it took misfortune

by the bushel to bring him over like Josine

Stevens just down the road? that he suffered

so much pain and died at thirty-nine?  I tried

to stifle myself with the raisins and candied

cherries, a bucket of tea.  They are agreeable Ė

Mrs. Cat, the Widow Oh-My, the Reverend

Professor Fi-Foe-Fum from yon side of Macon

and the three Harpy Sisters with their routine

salver of pecan divinity and matching frocks

from Sears Roebuck.  A lovely coven, actually.

Mama, as always, contributed her statistics,

ciphering how much faith is required for each

obstacle and trial, but I was content to watch

the mantle clock shaving off seconds as sugar

like the sands of time dissolved in oolong tea.

Wisteria and crepe myrtle out the window

were just ropes and bones, the field sere,

Tobler Creek a mere trickle, all of nature

and its provident denizens ready for winter,

primed for Christmas and the angel chorus.

Above, a hawk-colored sky, our lively gaggle

a din, a drone.  He wrote Ė Pascal Ė we miss

joy because we donít know how to be alone

with Thought in our room.  Thatís only half

the battle.  The comforts of genial company

in the home, stitching back the words cut live

and bleeding from the tapestry after Babel:

Thatís got to be at least equal to geometry,

Pascalís Wager, solitude.  Was it triangles

or loss of his sister that lured him to the Holy

Trinity?  In tonightís quiet I can remember

the Frenchmanís words, the gap between

knowing God and loving Him, the chasm

between piety and good.  Again Iíll study

our gas heaterís flames hissing from the jets

to writhe in gold martyr-scarlet and blue

before the chancel-cut ceramics.  Like chapel

windows they help a chaos of jagged bits

find important form, jig-sawing toward story

and truth.  But thatís now.  As we finished

the treats, I pitched in to tell the sated ladies

with nets on their hats and more bracelets

than a sheriff how I doubt itís heresy to claim

manís up to no good and has, without prayer,

no hope of grace.  Used bicycles for the poor

nor missionaries on Bible safari wonít get us

to heaven, not reading classics by the mystics.

What brought Pascal weeping to his knees

was the healing of his nieceís eye by a relic,

a holy thorn from the True Crown.  Before,

heíd tended no more than an ember of faith,

but he heated up and wrote how the miracle

shocked him to the most discrete ecstasy.

That was enough.  The seminar dispersed,

and with the moon small in the misty east

I wonder now in my room what Iíll find

saying Christís name before the flickering

heater as it sputters and rivets my gaze.

I trust he found answers between the smoke

and fire, the dreams and hopes and pensťes.

Heís a guide against the Darkness of Days.

His Christian name, after all, was Blaise. 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

 
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R.T. Smith

Poetry