the museum of americana

a literary review

Four Poems by Steve Davenport

 
Dear Horse I Rode In On

Mine is the curl of rind
the lick of salt the shaved
barkings of all these lines
or limes I cut and squeeze
for bruise songs, my cowboy
brag. Rhyme is everything
in song. You did me wrong.

~

Dear West Main, Dear Decatur, Dear Lynn

At the beginning of the world,
a Sunday, I jumped
from a moving car,
reached high
into a tree for a bird,
and took its wings
because I needed them.
Which comes first,
chicken or egg?
Unless you’re hungry,
who cares?

At the beginning of the world,
a Sunday, I swallowed
those wings and flapped
down I-72 to Decatur,
where I measured words
twice, cut once, made good
my third chance.
Which comes first,
word or thought?
If you’re hungry,
who cares?

At the beginning of the world,
a Sunday, Decatur, Illinois,
in my second-floor nest,
700 West Main Street,
I drank 99 bottles of beer,
ate 27 chickens,
and made pipe bombs
of poems that I calibrated
in 14s and 12s.
My fingers shined
like greasy bones.

At the beginning of the world,
a Sunday, it was April.
I didn’t know April
was Poetry Month.
I didn’t know I was
writing yodel sonnets,
and I don’t know
which comes first,
song or poetry.
I know I was hungry.
I know the world began.

Dear wings, Dear I-72,
at the beginning of the world.
Dear West Main, Dear Decatur,
at the beginning of the world.
Dear Lynn,
at the beginning of the world
all those Poetry Months ago.
I know three things.
History is sticky.
Chicken and beer are good.
This is a love poem.

~

Dear Lover
Last Thursday I realized I could be a writer or rather become one as in the act always of becoming not the waving back of having become if I was willing to do the unspeakable that is I realized or maybe discovered no that’s not the right word suggesting as it does microscopes or armadas no realized is closer to what I’m talking about better even than it-came-to-me that couch-potato fiction of muses who can really move product get it through your front door or back or down your chimney or up your spinal cord and out your mouth or pen which is psychic-plumbing nonsense no realized is better makes me more active as in realizing apprehending grabbing by the elephantine ears the fact that I could be a writer if only I’d commit myself to the unspeakable which is no more writing about writing. Good-bye.

~

Dear Harper Valley, Diminishing

V

Make Harper Valley American Bottom and Overpass Girl a barmaid.   Figure the white note in her daughter’s hand means something. Locate “One Part Gunpowder” tattoo in the daughter’s left palm. Act surprised when “Two Parts Vodka” appears in Mama’s right. Dig how they bump fists and press their palms together. Assume the needle hurt and they’re tougher than you are. Put ten dollars on three-to-one the thirteen-year-old daughter’s occasionally depressed. Depression may not be the right word for a thirteen-year-old. Schloomp dump whacka thump squeeeeeze blatz wonk wonk splink dat. Thirteen is a tube of pimple grease and bad information. Sock it to ‘em sock it to ‘em sock it.

V

You want to hear what my Bottom mama did?  Teacher hands me a note from the school board. It’s been a bad day but I take it. Mrs. Grizzer high priestess of literature said I plagiarized. Who needs quotation marks everyone knows who said it. That’s what I thought the damn note was about. I hate her skaddy wattle bottle knees Grizzer cheese. Turns out it was about Mama’s mini-skirts and stuff. Mama piss squeezed her eyes tight like witch bullets.

V

Before they bit her she crushed those words. Stilettoed those scorpions waiting in a paper crease. Flappity nose high gas to pass rotten bones. They thought she wouldn’t come to their meeting. Smart barmaid Mama she keeps a town book. Smart barmaid knows the snake crossing the tracks. Slither and stiff she says like a stick. They didn’t move once those school board hypocrites.

V

Sock it to ’em sock it sock.  Gliggity glug glug dat gattily dat check. After church Jesus shaker wet spot maker. Sprink sproink sprink sproink sprink sproink check. Thwacka zap zacka rat tat take that. Baby got wrong bun in her oven. Sock it to ’em sock it sock.

V

It really did happen that way. Mama rat tat nailed that board. That doesn’t mean she’s not embarrassing. My life’s one explosion after another. Tits and pimples pimples and tits. Mrs. Grizzer you can plagiarize this.

V

Mama held that mirror high. Sproink sprink sproink glug glug. Smart barmaid keeps a bottle. Pour the lord a drink. Everybody’s going the same way.

V

The Bottom’s a bite. Mama’s spitting it out. I’m learning to chew. I know worm rides.

V

Mama  smack whack.  Pass the book. Rat a tat.

V

I’m thirteen. Sock it.

V

Thwack.

 
 
~  ~  ~

Steve Davenport is the author of the poetry collections Overpass (2012) and Uncontainable Noise (2006). A story in The Southern Review received a 2011 Pushcart Prize Special Mention, and his Murder on Gasoline Lake is listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2007. He’s the Associate Director of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he has served twice as Creative Nonfiction Editor of Ninth Letter (2004-2009, 2014). He keeps a website at http://gasolinelake.com/.

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