The Rosy Dark

photo by David J. Spear

Mornin’ Glory

your cheery poem

forced me to

polish my rose

colored lenses and

watch some football

maybe sip a glass

of beer consider

the whiskey

anything but the fear

pressing my lungs

and heart flat

as the lack of empathy

and compassion

absent in my neighbors

my fellow citizens

sitting next to me

glassy-eyed trapped

by the habitual shiny

consumptive dream

that new/old

religion cheering

our home team

on to greatness


another victory

for Michael Dickel

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The doctors gave him six months

six years ago. They called it

a fiendishly aggressive melanoma,


eating away at his face and jaw.

Each morning he packs the wound

with cotton, applies the flesh


toned bandage — Phantom of the Opera

mask. Malignant forces tug

at the corners of his eye, his mouth, his ear.


Morphine dulls the pain. He drinks

his meals, smokes the occasional

cigarette. An ex-Mormon,


he read the Bible for the first time

last year, found his namesake, the shepherd

boy, stone and sling, heir king to eternity.


No pestilence, Goliath of the modern

age, can abate the warmth, brilliance of sunlight;

the aroma of steeping coffee; or her night shirt


folded on the pillow. This is how it feels

to be alive. He is sorry for living dead

for so long; doesn’t regret the brute who reels


from the blows, staggers on, refusing to go down.

David knows the sad isolation of a bully.

He wrote the book, Despair of Materialism —


autobiography of a car salesman.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, one by one.

Confession was good for Saul. Heaven


exists inside us all if we are willing

to walk through Hell. Would you thank

Cancer for knocking at your door?


Irony is not dead. Christ descended from David.

Consider the lilies, the ravens your soul, and ask,

Of how much more value are you than the birds?

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Go Lightly

Sometimes the weight of the pen is too much

to pick up, a rusted rail embedded in the ground,


so you keep going, walking, looking and listening

for words to lift those bodies buried in your chest


as if language can work like a pick and shovel,

make sense of the hole and hard-pan in your throat,


somehow levitate and turn this husk of existence

under light like a jeweler examines stones


before transforming them into glittering beauty—

you want that untold story we’ll never hear.


As you fold your hands, don’t bow your head,

look up, out, through, into . . . the only rules


you follow you break . . . sadly we make no

mistakes, we all learn what we need to know, so


when that bullet flash ends your sky light and

beating heart, all guitars return to their cases,


no weeping tomorrows will be heard, merely

the phantom hum of your amp left on and no


forgetting of the questions, the whys—those who

had no idea knew for certain your destination.


Like all who labor to ignore the night, go lightly

across this cemetery—look to the sun burning bright.


—for Craig and Melissa

Mark Gibbons, October 2018

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When I go traveling

in my mind to get away

from shit, I climb the mountain

above Alberton, scramble up to

it—the meadow that sits atop those sheer cliffs

overlooking the Clark Fork River.

Only game trails lead there—each approach

a steep trek. My senior year I scaled

those rocks—stone teeth of the Ice Age—

wanted to run away from myself.

Wedged halfway up a crevice, I knew

it was a mistake, another macho risk,

some dumb-ass “prove-it” invincibility

test. My only choice: keep going—don’t

look back, don’t turn around

or admit vertigo—inch forward,

breathe, know what you can do—focus, move

ahead. I decided there were no mistakes that day—

paradise waits for heroes & fools.


Years ago someone started building

a small cabin up there: square, four walls,

three logs high—a doorway facing south.

Summer hikes, I’d pause at the edge

of the meadow to catch my breath & watch—

imagine a young woman waving

for me to follow her inside

that unfinished house, unbutton her

dress & blouse under the ceiling of blue sky.

Like beasts we’d lie naked on the cabin floor,

flattening the tall bunch grass. I’d smell

sun in her hair, pine needles

warm against our skin, then lick

salt from her neck & breasts, feel a sweat

bead trickle down my back as her fingertips

brushed my flanks—before nails caught & scratched.

I’d sip, drink long from her swollen mouth,

listen to the rhythm of our quickening breaths.

We’d tear up roots, cry out, push

hard into earth & empty ourselves—

what it was we couldn’t hold

in that idyllic meadow—

the echoing explosions of summer.

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Summer Solstice

The hedge pods, lime green, hang

in clusters like beans six

to twelve feet above ground. Spindly

shoots swoop-up off gnarled,

woody stocks thick as my forearms.

Insects, unseen, buzz-ring

in my ears unperturbed by the lonely

hound barking nonstop, fenced

a block away. The sun warms


my hands, this page, and the shadow

of my dancing pen knows

it will find no solace

on this longest of days.

I don’t believe there’s any significance

to this moment, this necessary

elegy finding its voice in a turning

point of mine, this calibration of

space and time climbing beyond our reach,

but since we are painfully aware

that we are mostly in the dark,

it doesn’t seem fair to bury or bemoan

anyone or anything

on a blue-sky, wispy-cloud day,

cool-breezy, leaf-rattling,

and brimmed-full of birdsong,

the cat squinting then napping

on the lawn as spring passes

the baton to summer. I don’t wonder


why the nervous animal paces

in my gut, and I understand the date’s

obvious foreshadowing of what’s ahead,

having nodded off in mid-poem.

I assume it will be alright,

take care of itself in the winter

of our goodnight, that we’ll slip away

easy as sleep, but still, today

is no time to let go of those

we’ve escorted down this spinning

road for as long as we can remember.

At least in December the mood,

the light and temperature are right

for leave taking. This time of year


there’s too much to lose. Summer

elegies belong to the ants

carting dried carcasses of honey

bees underground, hauling sticks

or corn chips, whatever they find,

busily catering to the queen,

working and dying in droves to increase

the size of the pile, support

the colony, the empire:

go forth and multiply,

make it pay every trip, every load,

every minute, every day.

Isn’t that the way we do it

under the sun, keep running,

keep going until we’re gone?

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connie & butch

I walk this rutted alley from The Club to Skeet’s Cafe

with my son, dogging my grandpa’s hill-climbing heel,

my old man’s voice in my head talking about my long

dead punch-happy uncle whose clothes I still wear.


I imagine nighttime excursions of raucous Irish brothers

chasing moonlight blood and lust. Now silent to my son

in sunlit afternoon, heard faintly as barroom whispers,

echoes choked by the scuffing gravel beneath my feet.


Feeling nameless now as drunks who crawled here blind

with hope, searching money, a misplaced pint or reason

not to lay back down. They realized their blood in broken

Highlander bottles, found the strength to make last call.


The ice man told secrets of these sagging back porches,

the angry early-morning brogues of immigrant women

laid on suits and hay hands dancing lightly downstairs

from Dirty Jean’s whorehouse. She always tipped in trade.


I come searching for my family, Gaelic ghosts, fast fighters,

sure friends, who sip whiskey on a wood box in the lunch-

break shade, lilt Celtic ditties, bring tears to your eyes

telling heroic lies in the resonant voice of St. Patrick, himself.


This back door playground of hard working men, dirt and stone

more honest than the clean swept curbs out front, knows

the pleasures and pains of the flesh, the soul – the grunts

and bruises, lost faith and aches of spent life and hunger.


Where after years in these thrown-away shadows, toothless

grins and vacant eyes broadcast the degree of hangover

acquired on a fixed tab. These guys who financed Phillip

Morris’s Early Times, Old Crow’s who made Jim Beam.


A stark, gray world of weeds and dust; chinkless bricks

and weather-faded wood; torn, yellow blinds and cardboard

window panes; all exposed to the raised leg of a mongrel

Blue Heeler marking the stoops of dead and unsung kings.


I came to discover Eros in the mirror of the back bar,

betraying reflections of buzzing neon coded riddles to be

ciphered on the journey always out the back door. But ghosts

tell less than dead men know, and more than I want to hear.


Don’t we all suffer ironic deaths from exposure? A sad

heritage of no regrets? These ghosts of sheepherders

and miners, ranch hands and railroaders embrace me.

They claimed this wasteland mirage, an oasis of spirit.


I smile at coughing laughs from open doors, smell booze

breath sweet as dying lilacs, feel a rough hand squeeze

the back of my neck, and taste the warm vanilla froth

of unrefrigerated ice cream politely offered in a dirty bowl.


Behind Skeet’s, gone now, his strawberry pie not forgotten,

my son is ready to move on. The Cabbage Patch and cemetery

will have to wait. He’ll exhume those ghosts soon enough. We’ll

gas up, buy Coke and Bud, and drive to Wisdom tomorrow.


for Connie

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Down and Out

Chris LaTray photo

at the crossroads again

begging the bosses for work,

some way to make it, easily,


a monthly grub-steak, a few

bucks in exchange for me,

my aging-marketable abilities,


whatever they may be, since

I need money, shelter, time,

that tick-clocking and increasing


chill-risk factor, whatever

jobs-to-be-got, whatever shit

needs shoveling, cold palms


to be squeezed—I’m your man,

I know I can get it done, keep

my songs buried, be a good


employee till this hollow shell,

my chest cavity, retires to pretend

the black hole is really this blue


heart aching, circling the dying

fire (and our silly, repetitive games)

oh-so briefly before the light fades.

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this is it,

that sweet (enough)

amerikan dream

of disability,

social security,


or the lottery,

some desperate

way to stop

punching a clock,

give you a chance

to stand outside

under the stars,

collect your thoughts,


come to grips

with the obvious,

your profound


and embrace

the wonder

and chaos

of this wild-ass

dream trip,

the mother-fucking

sideshow of

crazy shit—you,

yes, you—

that miracle—


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The Red Line

He begged, pleaded to the packed

“L” train for anything anyone

could give to help him buy

the antibiotics he needed

for an infected leg he pulled

up his pants to reveal, but no one

looked at him or the wound

save me. All seemed steeled,

numbed by his humble confession

and grotesquely swollen limb,

like it was just another ruse or

plea they couldn’t afford or decode.

Twenty-two bucks was all he needed.

His posture, the exhausted expression

in his voice and eyes apologized

for having to ask this way,

play the beggar to others barely

paying their fares, but he didn’t know

where else to turn or what to do.


He dropped his head and said

he understood why they couldn’t,

wouldn’t help or acknowledge him.

He knew they were conned for cash

every day, but still he had to ask

because he had nothing to lose

but his leg—his pride gone

miles ago. The commuters

were used to this scene

I hadn’t witnessed before,

a street theater performance surely

worthy of a fifty dollar seat

in some balcony of fine art uptown.

A country bumpkin, I was sold—

but warned off by my sons

and the silence of those around me.


The beggar finally moved on

to the next car, left us suffering

another crisis of conscience,

a daily practice navigating this sea

of humanity, adrift in one’s own

devices, bodies floating by

face down. We keep on moving,

working, scrolling along @


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Pissed at Potter’s Funeral

That frosty November day,
Tom stood at the edge of the grave
we’d dug the night before.
The preacher, stern, Bible in hand,
prayed God have mercy on Potter’s soul.
Guilty as Potter of too much fun, the rest of us
bowed our heads, bit our tongues,
but Tom never played by the rules.

He whistled, barked out a staccato laugh,
then poured Budweiser on the casket.
His cackle yanked and lashed
every sorry neck erect.
B.W. and Rastus both sprung for him,
grabbed his arms and shook him hard,
hissed he’d better knock it off
or they were going to kick his ass,
but Tom was drunk, beyond, and crazy-strong.
He threatened to piss in the grave.

Only Potter could handle him well,
speaking those low, gentle tones
he’d used to calm horses and dogs.
I watched the pine box in the bottom
of the hole, knew easy was over
for good. Tom struggled to open his zipper.
The three of them almost went down.
Potter’s mother let go of the minister’s
arm, crossed to Tom and sheltered
his hands with her hands.

She smiled. Her thumbs rubbed
the ridges of his knuckles,
and he melted, bent forward and cried.
She whispered in his ear, slipped her arm
through his arm. The two of them
shuffled away. The wind swayed tall pines
that banked the plot. I looked west,
and two ravens hovered motionless
in currents above the river, then peeled off
and disappeared downstream. There was snow
up Whiskey Gulch. I didn’t know what to do,

so I scooped the first shovel of dirt in the grave.
It covered the inlaid cross on the coffin lid
and interred the gifts Tom left
for Potter’s journey: a pipe
and beaded medicine pouch —
beside the empty beer can.

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