June 30, 2015

"Mary Phagan" by Wayne Pounds

Grave of Mary Phagan
Mary Phagan

It wasn't no easy life making pencils,
But I’d rather lived it than died like I did.
They found me in the wee hours
The night of Confederate Memorial Day--
It was 1913 and I was 12 years old. 
Worked in the pencil factory with other kids,
Ran a knurling machine that put erasers into metal 
For 55 hours, I got 4 dollars and 11 cents.

They found me, I wasn’t pretty no more,
A 7 foot strip of 3/4 inch wrapping cord around my neck
Buried in the skin 1/8 of an inch deep.
They measured everything. Then they grabbed
A Yankee from New York, Mr. Leo Frank
They called him Jew, whatever that is. It’s in the Bible.

The Governor said No, the trial wasn’t right,
So they took Mr. Frank and hanged him from a tree.
25 armed men, called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan,
They carried him 150 miles to Frey’s Gin
Near where I lived in Marietta.
They took pictures, pieces of his nightshirt,
And bits of rope to sell as souvenirs.

Everyone wanted to be in the picture.
I could tell you the man did it but what would that change?
It was the janitor. I never knew his name.
Anyway, my great niece Mary Phagan Kean already done this.
She named the names, so everyone knows who killed Mr. Frank.
When you walk down the streets of Marietta
Their names are the ones on street signs, 
Shopping centers, and law offices.

Leo Frank (before)

Leo Frank (after)

October 9, 2013

"Delmore Schwartz" by John Gery

After a Poetry Reading, Delmore Schwartz Returns to His Hotel

That moment I walked in I lost my beauty.
And in a bookshop, no less! Everyone --
from grandparents and aunts I’d only glimpsed
above my crib, to that waitress with “Judy”
embossed across her breast who’d made a pun
on just dessert at lunch -- flashed by like hints

from some Talmudic commentary. Barely
composed, and wobbling, I tried to grin
to mask that I could feel my bowels cutting loose.
The boy behind the register then snared me
and asked if I’d be reading “Gunga Din,”
a poem he’d memorized in school. “Obtuse,”

I muttered, “what I write.” Fat books of verse
by poets I could not identify
marshaled the shelves, with me so lost among them
like Sherman at a powwow of Nez Perce,
my first impulse was to shoot. Who knows why.
Had I known any paeans I’d have sung one

to keep the drowsy store manager awake
as I mowed down “Biographies.” Instead,
I fingered through The Secret Life of Snails,
feigning surprise, until my bellyache
devoured my insides. I want to be dead,
forgotten. Everything I think of pales

next to this bourbon bottle by the bed,
browner than Chief Joseph. I had “potential”
once. My ambition ranked me with the giants.
After tonight, my genius scalped and shredded,
disgrace will seem about as consequential
as melting poetry down to a science.

 (Poem first published in Interdisciplinary Humanities)

June 13, 2013

"Billie Grayson" by Wayne Pounds

          Rossville Cemetery

The Lonesome Death of Billie Grayson 
Lincoln County, Oklahoma, 1941
August, we'd been to Chandler, ate cold melon,
Had  meant to go to church that night but it got too late,
And we were tramping home along 66
Near Wellston and the Pioneer Trailer Camp.

Just us two girls, me and Helen,
She was twelve and I eighteen.
A car passed us, then stopped and turned around,
Came back and the man said get in.

Near midnight the heat still held the highway.

Helen sat by the door and me between.

The car was new, the clock and radio cast

A yellow light, as Helen later testified.

The radio was tuned to KVOO--
I think they call it western swing--
Bob somone and the Texas Playboys,
The yellow light too faint to tell his face.

"Call me Corky, he said. "Let's go have some fun."
But it was near midnight, we wanted  home,
So he turned south at the Warwick corner
Across Deep Fork and down that rutted road.

It's black and lonely across that bottom.
He kept asking was there people lived hereabouts. 
We never saw a soul, quiet as death,
And darker than the inside of a heifer.

He came to a big pecan tree, pulled over,
And grabbed me. Helen leaped out, but me,
He got an armlock on my neck, 
And he took off like a bat from hell.

I don't have to tell the rest, these stories all end the same.
They found me next morning, naked,
Propped against a gravestone like a skinned rabbit—
Neck broke, my slip and Oxfords beside me.

He went to prison a long time, though not near enough.
They let him out in '51 and he went back to Georgia,
Died there full of years at 81. I know.
When you're dead you get to see all the records.

200 people viewed my body before they knew me.
I must have looked a sight on that slab.
They buried me in Rossville graveyard
By Aunt Louisa, close as I ever got to home.

Rossville folks take good care of graves.
Mine's kept clean, tho boys stole my headstone.

The complete story of Billie Grayson is available here.

April 27, 2013

"O-Aki" by Katsuko Tokimori

The Poet as a Girl of Thirteen

Genroku Era, 1700 or so,
By the Kiyomizu Kannon Hall,
I watched the revelers and wrote
Syllables seventeen-- 

Perilous indeed 
    for befuddled feet
       these petals on the well curb 

And tied the paper on a dangling branch
Of the well-side guardian sakura tree.

Shown the poem, the Abbot rejoiced.
"The daughter of a sweets-shop keeper,
Her penname is Aki, it seems,  
And her age a fledgling thirteen."

“All Edo” was in love with me,
Though how they all knew isn’t clear,
But Japan has always been a village,
And villagers know everything.

"Her grandfather was a disciple 
Of the deathless Basho," the Abbot said.

The well by the tree's kept covered now
To keep off careless death, 
But still the stone is where it stood,
As the watchful cherry's leaves drip sleep.

January 3, 2013

"Joe Smith" by Emma Hale

I, Joe

When the buckboard stopped in 
     Palmyra Town
I was without schooling or 
A wild ass’s colt, like my father 
     before me. 
I’d had problems back in Bainbridge,

But in Palmyra I was buoyed up with the flotsam of God.
That much I recall. How much time’s passed since then I couldn’t 
I speak to you from the grave without a calendar. 
The passage of time is mostly sand and gravel.

Cumorah Hill

Daddy told me the best time for digging up money
Was in the summer, when the heat caused the buried chests to rise.
I had a peep stone I found digging a well for Mason Chase
Twenty-four feet deep in the ground. Dark it was

But in it I could see worlds, my mind as untrammeled as the West.
I told farmers where the gold was in their fields
By putting my shew stone in my hat and my face inside the hat
To keep out all light but what came from out the stone. 

The Moundbuilders then was all the rage. We all knew 
No savages could have built them mounds, left such works.
It had to be the lost tribe of Ephraim or other of Israel’s sons,
That was my first notion, to write a history of the Moundbuilders

A book to answer the questions of every farmer with a hummock 
     in his pasture.
A history of the Indians was found in Canada at the base of a 
     hollow tree,
Workers on the Erie Canal dug up brass plates along with 
It was in the air, a spirit moving among the mounds.

One day on the creek I found some beautiful fine white sand.
I tied it up in my frock and taken it home.
When they asked what I had in my tote, it came to me
To say it was the Golden Bible, and they all believed.

What they really wanted first was to believe in me,
And I looked inside myself and found that it was true. I had a gift.
In time I’d make a history of the Red Sons of Israel who built the 
In due season I would tell them where the Nephites hid their 

I got in trouble though through Emma cause she was the first
Woman I loved, but I couldn’t fool Josiah Hale.
After I took her and married her I had to bring her back.
He told me I was a fraud and couldn’t support a wife. 

Joseph wept.
I admitted I couldn’t see in a stone now, nor never could,
And he let me keep her. 
For Emma, I paid that price.

Later the way I told it was that the spirit came to me,
Or sometimes I said an angel named Moroni,
Dressed me in black clothes, put me on a black horse with a switch 
And told me I'd find the book on Cumorah Hill

I was to call out a secret name.
It would be in a stone  box, unsealed
And so near the top of the ground
I could see one end sticking up.
I heaved it up and took out the golden book,

But when I turned round, to my surprise, up rose a great toad
And struck me on the head with a rock.
We wrestled something prodigious. He turned into a devil,
But I wouldn’t let him go.

The plates was writ in reformed Egyptian, I said, so only I could 
     read it
But since I couldn’t write, I set Emma to take down my words.
My word-smithing was slow, since nothing could be revised.
It came to me that the mission of America 

Was to gather the remnants of the house of Israel and bring them 
     to God, 
Thereby hastening the millennium day.
The parts fell together in my mind as I spoke
I’m an unlearned man, but I felt pure intelligence flow.

When the stream ran dry, as at times it would,
I had my Nephite prophets quote the Bible.
Carpers later counted 25,000 words in my book
Consisting of bits from Isaiah used by Ethan Smith.

The writing on the plates, I said, were “Reformed Egyptian”--
Looking back now I see I timed that just right.
Not till 1837 would this Champollion guy read the Rosetta Stone,
Whereas I was already reading my plates. 

Caractors in ancient Egyptian shorthand 
Was what I called them when forced to show a sample.

Indian inscriptions, I'd say, paintings and hieroglyphs 
On the rocks of this continent that only I could read.

To the Nephite record I added the story of the Jaredites.
It told how they had fled the tower of Babel about 2500 B.C.
And so it was Hebrews first came to North America.
I made some bloopers too. I had John baptizing in Bethbara

And Jesus born in Jerusalem
But I turned all that to good account, telling my people
God preferred the weak things of the world, the unlearned and the 
As an iron flail to thrash the nations.

January 1, 2013

"No Name" by Samuel Beckett

I don’t know when I died. It always seemed to me that I died old, about ninety years old, and what years, and that my body bore it out, from head to foot. But this evening, alone in my icy bed, I have the feeling I’ll be older than the day, the night, when the sky with all its lights fell upon me, the same I had so often gazed on since my first stumblings on the distant earth. For I’m too frightened this evening to listen to myself rot, waiting for the great red lapses of the heart, the tearings at the caecal walls, and for the slow killings to finish in my skull, the assaults on unshakable pillars, the fornications with corpses. So I’ll tell myself a story, I’ll try and tell myself another story, to try and calm myself, and it’s there. I feel I’ll be old, old, even older than the day I fell calling for help and it came. Or is it possible that in this story I have come back to life, after my death? No, it’s not like me to come back to life, after my death.

From Samuel Beckett, “The Calmative”

November 13, 2012

"Julius Scaliger" by Columbus "Lummie" Williams

Scaliger insignia on Sirmione Castle

In sleepless fits of the gout
I wrote two hundred verses in a night

but not for me to commend myself
or to be judged by a distich

lest I make a botch of it 

as Dante and Petrarch did.

For fear my tomb might outlast my works
just five words I had incised

Julii Caesaris Scaligeri quod fuit:
Julius Scaliger that was.

(Julius Scaliger: Italian scholar and physician, 1484 – 1558)