Two Poems

Running the Tables

The sharky excuse parading as my old man thinks he’s bad
racking and rolling pool balls, wielding a skinny stick. 
He imagines sly-skilled setups that earn him respect—sneers 
at my lack-of, obtained in the long hauls of book-learning.  
Likes to instruct and brag on how he runs the table, taking 
easy money from losers and suckers. I’ve asked: do they have 
children? He isn’t interested in their story, sneers at my
weak education thus far, laughs at how he pilfers
and profits, waving off minor consequences. 

I have my own ideas. At 7th grade lunch most of us boys 
have a sense of our new power: bodies finding mass, even as 
our voices crack, as muscle evidence and a couple of sprouts
around the groinage drive dirty mouths to boast of conquest, 
envisioning real women in our futures, female classmates 
who’ve possessed straight facts about their blossoming ever since 
a private and instructive “girls-only” conversation in 5th grade. 

A couple of hot-lunch boys with pencil-smudge mustaches 
try to impress the developing ladies by chucking small change 
at Little Sammy. I was there when our post-gym showers–
taken after a muddy soccer game–publicly shamed that kid: 
the hammerheads caught glimpses of his tiny jewels, 
a childish penis, zero pubic hair; somebody must have taught them 
to spot softness and disadvantage, built them into aggrandizers 
of their own towers, exploiting what the torment of others might do 
for manly self-esteem. My father runs the tables, disabling silly, 
inadequate men–and gloats. I vow: no triumphant smirking from me. 
I hear bullies taunting Sammy, crowing and throwing four tables down. 

I’m up and running. I sprint, knocking over trays of 
chicken nuggets, I’m slopping brown pudding, bruising
small and spotted government apples, I spill milk while 
crying-out girls manage to flash-find their phones. I leap the aisles
from long rectangle to long rectangle. Arriving, I geometrically 
calculate, banking and booting the noses of penny-awful boys 
square into their faces. Sammy laughs and claps. I’m hauled down 
to the office—where I tell dreadful truth, no excuses. Those little boys 
attacked something they wished to escape. Me too. But, it’s like—
I’m a middle schooler. The big folk’s rulebook is out to teach me 
how things work—a few isolated days, a slap on the wrist.

Bare Knuckles in a Hayfield

Midnight dances in with fancy dark footwork,
watches brawlers stumble into bones hiding beneath
the thin scars and cicatrices of skin. Good old boys and their canines
emerging from shadows to bark and place the wagers
roiling though the map-less backroads of their veins—betting

against you, the newcomer. But after being backhanded 
and backhanded daily—unable to find enough rubbish, enough 
alcohol-kissed aluminum waste jabbed and dribbled 
into the sways of roadside ditches–when you can’t even cash in 
enough scrap to buy a cheap beer and Vienna sausages–
then it’s time to swing into the open relentless cuts
of blood sport. Time to fight for midnight pay.

Don’t need all that red iron. Don’t need
that 20/20 eyeball. The dogs are howling
at the quarter moon. You and a somebody
they throw in will grab and grapple into
punch ugly and you will make a dirty dollar.
Entertaining. The place stinks of
dust-worn blue jeans, motor oil and manure.

Someone has erected four forgiving walls 
of fresh hay bales. Snakes hiding there from heat,
cockfights between rounds. Menfolk have hungrily left 
the womenfolk sleeping, coming out to a mowed edge, built
into coliseum seats out of timothy and alfalfa. 
You worked this once-rocky field as a young rooster
and gave it your cropped sweat. Made the soil rich.
Plucking out potato-sized rock after potato rock, trying to create 
a place of sweet grass, flinging granite spud-eyes
to the edges. In your battered mind  

it’s only a few nights later, the raw hour
of stone-hard bare knuckles. It is the time for flaring
your buried spurs, once more feeding what’s deeply beneath 
all of you–for no good reason other than going on. 

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