Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Nine Martinsville Screens

All three are true of here: the state’s poorest city in the state’s poorest county, which also has the highest percentage of millionaires in the state.

Eastern tiger swallowtail among vincas—

Splintering swing
in a line of walnut trees,
my daughter’s wild hair.

The toddler names the action
as it is done, the just-past
rendered in the present tense:
I eat the grapes. I spray
the hose. I fall down.


The twice-two-timed wife
two-timing two men,
one from before she met
her twice-two-timing husband.

My father to his
sister about their
mother: Why was I
never told these stories?

Tomatoes ripen on the windowsill—

That dead oak’s
like a giant cactus.


She came home once to find her three grandsons having filled the crepe myrtle with action figures, clothespins, scarves. Story was, it looked like a band of gypsies had moved in. As the years unfolded, this turned out to have some truth.

Crepe myrtle’s way:
almost as soon
as surfacing,
the trunk divides.

After high school, the oldest one moved with his girlfriend from Germany to Colorado, and it didn’t take long for things to dwindle and verge. Walking home after a graveyard shift at 7-Eleven, he got jumped, mistaken for someone else.

Crepe myrtle bark—
easy to peel,
quick to stab.

The middle one was so quiet you wouldn’t even know he’s here. Once he drank a pint of whiskey and stopped by her house before heading downtown to meet his father and friends at a hockey game.

Fill, fret, flee—
a dozen blackbirds
in a scrubby myrtle
little bigger than you,
its limbs like bone
the color of lime.

The youngest one spent a nomadic summer with two girls, backpacking, hitching, often hungry. One morning in a village on the Mediterranean, someone bought them a baguette. On the way down to the sea, they picked strawberries from someone’s bushes. He floated naked on his back, glimpsed the girls doing the same. Later, on the empty beach, they ate the berries, and they ate the bread.


I sucked at subtraction in second grade, so after awhile, Mrs. Morris sent a note home. In my parents’ bedroom, my father addressed it with me, while I lay on their bed and cried, staring into the ceiling light. Well, tears are good for your eyes.

Another porch beer—
waiting for night
to fall into place.


Buzzards loop far above
the carcass, and memory,
likewise, I’m sure.
They twirl like searchlights,
beckoned and strung.

Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass is worth more than the world.

From trough to crest,
from topsoil to dust cloud,
the arcs and coils confound.

Is this the same person who—

Love baby, love baby,
that’s where it’s at. That’s
the faded red spray paint
on the yellowed cinder block
of the B&R Appliance store.


Downstream of the Fieldale Bridge,
Canadian geese
loiter the jutting rocks.

The arm that guided my own
now guides my son’s. How to draw out
the thick green glowing line, the growing

back-and-forth arc, the same length ahead
as behind. How to track the fly
in its flight, dip, and swirl, to know

what is stream, to know what is strike.
The arm that guided my own now guides
my son’s. I never really learned.

One thing it’s about is patience with what looks like nothing, the tug you feel but are yet to see, the presence in what is fluid, and what is present in the stream.

The swollen leather of my father’s hands,
the minnow’s lithe and silver gleam.

Let me know what to preserve
and what to discard,
what to hang and what to sing:

The river
where you set
your foot just now
is gone—
those waters
giving way to this,
now this.


To break the power of the past,
boil nine black walnuts
still in their husks
and bathe in the brown tea.

They say in Franklin County, you can walk down any creek and find an old moonshine still. Heat, cool, condense. Vapor that peoples, vapor that swoons, here’s to the spirits that make the head spin.

On the west side of 220 North
to Roanoke, ambassador
of peace and fertility,
a doe squats to piss.


Against white azaleas, an eastern comma’s black flash,
at the center of its wings, a tiny orange throb.

The black wooden ball of a rotten
walnut, unfetched, ruined by webworms
in the first place, O wayfaring purpose.

If damaged by sunburn, drought, or husk fly—

So many branches
of so many trees,
bound by the mist

of fall webworms’ nests—
and they’re all over
the tent we pitch

as we pitch, as we talk
into a fire, as
we sleep and wake.


As tears brim—“You are
a good man”—
meteors shower

How much can you lose at once? One October, when a plane crashed into Bull Mountain, killing all ten aboard, Rick Hendrick lost his only son, his brother and his twin daughters, three close friends and business partners, another friend, and the two pilots.

Massive stream of debris
in the Perseids’ 133 year orbit—
my father’s halfway there.

No Business Mountain is reputed to have been home to an inordinate number of moonshiners and rattlesnakes. Which one sprung the name depends on who you’re talking to, but either way, the line is the same: Boy, you got no business on that mountain.

Midnight piss—one meteor’s
green murk, long and thick,
slashing up the sky
beyond the roof of the barn.

Two cousins talk family in the 4 a.m. driveway, while directly overhead,
Perseids. One’s flash, almost painfully white, longer than its streak,
like a tear with no trail.  

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