Lee Coursey CC
Almost pretty - the sun glinting off broken
glass. Almost a place where a child should
play. It’s almost August. What is August?
A trash bag filled with clinking bottles.
What is this place if it isn’t drunk by noon?
Children will gather anywhere. Around
anybody with a story to tell of another
place, of how to go. Almost pretty
enough, this place. Almost cool enough
to breathe. The women pushing strollers
Are almost to term again. The sweat stains
through their shirt backs. One has a toddler
who lives in the corner of her vision, who
she only moves toward as if he is a threat.
Gathering tiny bits of glass in his fat fists.
It’s almost pretty. The deft dance of her hands.
Stay with me, the mother says, and he knows
he will, in the same way he knows her name
is Mama. Her name might as well be Mama.
What is August but some heavy thing
to be carried in the heat? This place
but the poor fit of a wrong name?
A mother. A long pull on a cold beer.
If this place was ever part of a picture,
it must have been almost beautiful. It must
have been the frame that broke. Little hands
burying in glass in glass all the secret things
they know they know.
House Down in the Holler
Where a thin woman wields a straw broom
against a siege of river mud. Shade
of her mother prowling her blood: just because
you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t be clean.
The latest baby hollering in the back bedroom.
If a man comes home
like a storm making landfall against a shore,
his children thin trees bent before his wind,
a mother must be the sun.
In a room with three walls
and a visquined hole, a mother is home
for a child’s fear. Mama, broom in hand,
humping away through black mud, chasing
the fattest river rat you ever saw.
Chewing a bite of that latest baby’s sole.
The Promise of War
In the same way that an old man without a home
is more likely to be bearded, war shuffles
first into small towns. Picks up cans ‘longside
the rurr-route. War knocks first on the faded
doors of the poor. He’s a carnival barker, this
one, his eyes full of young men with bodies
that want to eat the world. War leads a boy
to the highest point, says all this can be yours
if you will only bow down and worship me.
War stands in a lineup with the regular suspects
and do his eyes shine. Do his face look pretty
next to them old boys. War sits in the gas station,
drinks bad coffee with old friends. War sees
the harvester chewing down the field like a man
kiss his way up a girl’ leg. Pastor invites him
to church to say a piece. You wouldn’t believe
how funny war can be, and how he knows
the best stories. Leans in to the needs a boy
could never speak. That lifelong smoker’s voice.
Says: listen, boy, I can take you somewhere real,
make you somebody new. Same old women
ain’t for you. You ain’t for here and nothing else.
War look all day long like a poor farm boy, with
eyes like he went somewhere. But see his hair?
That cut a city style, a rich man cut. War tell you:
boy, the places you’ll see. Boy never hears what
war say through his smile, never hear a word
after war say but.
Rachel Custer is a 2019 NEA fellow and the author of God’s Country (Terrapin Books, forthcoming). The Temple She Became (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Rattle, OSU: The Journal, B O D Y, The American Journal of Poetry, The Antigonish Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (OJAL), among others. She currently resides online at rachelcuster.wordpress.com.
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