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.
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