The Nephilim

The two boys squatted at the edge of the pond, sticks in hand, playing in water and mud; splashing it around like it was a cauldron in need of churning.

“Your daddy is wastin’ his time,” said the dark-haired boy.  “Putting that fence up won’t help him save his livestock.  Not when that giant goes walkin’ ‘round again.”

The other boy shook his blonde head and scowled.  “There ain’t no such things as giants, you liar.  Daddy knows what it is.  It’s that disease takin’ his herd, one by one.  He just needs some money for the medicine.”

In the distance the inky lands sloped upward to the crests of the hills beyond the farmhouse and the barn, and the echoes of a man’s hammer.  The sun sank into the ash heap of the world, the embers slowly dying out on another dying Autumn day.

“Sure them giants are real,” the dark-haired boy said.  “They’re in the Bible.  They’re called the Nilfeeum, I think.  All you gotta’ do is read it.  God’s truth given in God’s words.”

“I thought God’s words were supposed to be Jewish,” the other boy said.

“Whatever it is, it’s what it says,” the dark-haired boy said.  “Giants.  You better be watchin’ for ‘em because they’ll shake your barn down and they’ll take your livestock.  They’ll take each head of cattle.  It don’t matter if you’re a Godfearing man, if you got Jesus on your side and in your blood.  That makes him hanker for you all the more.”

The blonde boy paused in his stirring, gazing into the reeds on the other side of the pond.  They swayed and whispered their secrets.  He tossed his head dismissively to one side.

“My daddy can take care of any giant anyway.  He’s got his gun.”

“Guns don’t do nothin’ to giants,” the other boy argued, smacking the water with his stick.  “No more than whinin’ about taxes do to the County.  Them giants are comin’ for you and yours.  Mark my word.  They’re comin’ for everybody.  That’s why my daddy’s movin’ us out soon.  Goin’ somewhere else.  Ain’t nothin’ here but what ‘em giants will swallow whole.  Nothin’ worth stayin’ for here. It’s pointless, daddy says.  You might as well piss on the ground and expect flowers to grow.  Ain’t no good seedin’ anyway.  Whatever grows, well, them giants will be eatin’ it all.”

The blonde boy sighed.  Absently he stirred the stick around the cluster of tadpole eggs, scattering them to drift in the dark brown murk of the pond; unthinking, simply churning with a compulsion that had been given spark by other thoughts a stick could not dissolve or fend off or scatter unto a similarly languid death.

After a while, the two boys sought higher ground from the valley’s shadows.  They hiked the nearest hill, sitting down beneath a large oak.  The sun sank to a flaming ruin among the Kentucky hills.  Down below—drowned in the shadow of those hills, and dwarfed by those hills—was an old tumbledown barn that was so eaten by Time and weather that it was more straw than timber.  The two boys stared at the soundless breast of the horizon as the evening waned.  The sun smouldered and the valley below gave over to cool shadow.  Dusk flared defiantly; hopelessly.

“A bit chilly,” the blonde haired boy said.

“Oh, don’t be such a nancy,” the dark-haired boy said.  “You’re worse than a girl.”

The blonde boy sulked in resentful silence, his knees up to his mouth.  His denim jeans were stained with grass and mud and pig’s blood.  He didn’t wear a shirt and his face and arms had been baked brown by a Summer’s worth of sun.  After a silent minute, he sighed.  Leaves shivered in a cool breeze.

“I should be headin’ home,” he said.  “Gotta’ go to church in the mornin’.”

The dark-haired boy frowned as if he caught a whiff of a rotten egg.  His face and arms were also baked brown.  His dark hair was cropped across his brow, but long in the back.   A white scar split one eyebrow, like the mark of Cain.

“What for?”

“What do you mean, ‘What for?’” the blonde boy said.  “Cuz you’re supposed to.”

The dark-haired boy shrugged.  He sat with his legs laxly split in front of him.  Both boys wore no shoes and their bare feet were riddled with red bug bites.  Above their heads, the oak tree spread its sprawling cover, occasionally dropping an acorn.

“I don’t see how it is you’re ‘supposed to’,” the dark-haired boy said.  “Jesus is everywhere anyhow, so it don’t matter.”

The blonde boy just shrugged.  “All the same, daddy and momma will want me to go.  And if they want me to do it, I oughta’ do it.  You’re supposed to honor your parents.”

“Boy, you really don’t know nothin’,” the dark-haired boy remarked, shaking his head.  His hand searched the yellowing grass unmindfully, fondling an acorn.  The dirty fingers clutched it loosely.  Squinting his eye against the squinting glare of the sun, he threw the acorn down the hill—as if aiming for the collapsible barn.  “Yeah, I don’t see how goin’ to church honors anybody.  I mean, you oughtta’ be workin’ on the farm.  Or your family’ll lose it.”

“Prayer helps, too,” the blonde boy said.  “Momma says so.  And daddy agrees.”

“Christ,” the dark-haired boy said.  “Your folks don’t know nothin’.”

“They do so,” the blonde boy growled.  “He teaches me stuff all the time.  He knows things.”

“Your daddy don’t teach you nothin’ cuz he don’t know nothin’,” the dark-haired boy said, rallying.  “That’s why ya’ll are losin’ the farm.”

The blonde boy opened his mouth, but the words died in the cold breeze.  His angrily knitted eyebrows broke for a moment, and he seemed ready to cry, drawing his knees farther up to his nose.  His blue eyes sought the old barn—it was small and slanted in among the ocean of shadows between the yellowing hills.  The fields sprawling around it were black with shadows and blight.

“We’ve been prayin’,” the blonde boy said.

“Banks don’t give a damn about prayers,” the dark-haired boy said, snorting.  “You can’t pay a note with prayers.  Hell, lies would get you further.”

“It’s not even a big note, really,” the blonde boy said, his voice tremulous.  “They might forgive it.”

“Forgive it?” the dark-haired boy exclaimed, throwing another acorn.  “They ain’t in the business of forgivin’.  They ain’t priests.  They don’t care if it’s a hundred dollars or a single penny.  If it’s owed to them, it’s owed to them, and they collect.  Don’t matter how big or small, they will get it out of you, even if it has to be bled out.  They want ‘em numbers to match.”

“But it’s so little to them,” the blonde boy said quietly, hopelessly.  “Daddy says so.”  He bowed his forehead against his knees.  His fluffy straw-colored hair was full of debris from the day: twigs and leaves and mud and pig’s blood.  “Why can’t they just leave us alone?  We make food for ‘em.  We feed ‘em.  Ain’t that more important than numbers on a note?”

The dark-haired boy snorted again.  “They’d take those pants off of you if they could,” he said.  “And not even because they’d need ‘em.  Just so they could.  They’d filch the skin off your back, too.  Use it for a wallet for all that money they’ve got and you don’t.”

“It ain’t fair,” the blonde boy said.  “It ain’t our fault it was a dry Summer.”

“They don’t care about that, neither,” the dark-haired boy said.  “They grow their own crops, fed on blood.”

The boys fell silent for a while, watching the sun sink deeper, burying itself in the horizon.  Shadows rose like floodwaters until the hills floated in the chilly murk of twilight.  A fog came creeping in.  The echoes of the hammer had died long ago.

The dark-haired boy groaned as he stood, stretching.  “It is a bit chilly now,” he said.  “Guess I’ll be headin’ home.”

He started walking away.  He called back over his shoulder.

“Don’t stay out after dark too long or the giants will take you!”

The blonde boy remained sitting, staring into the ashes of the day as they darkened to night.  The distant hills were completely black, becoming nothing more than an outline of featureless mounds beneath the dreaming fog and the wheeling stars.  He stared unblinking for a moment, and fancied he saw the hill tremble.  He stood up.

“Ain’t no such thing as giants,” he said.

Down the hill the boy walked alone.  He looked back once, seeing how high the hill was that he had sat upon, wondering if it might rumble to life, there emerging from its slope a primordial being beyond measure or mercy.  The hills dwarfed the small house that he approached, and yet the house dwarfed the boy.  His foot scattered an ant hill as he passed it, and if the ants bit him he did not notice.  He was lost in those shadows that lay all around.

Within that deep, deluge of shadow an image betook the boy: an image of long, loping legs and great swaying fists like the pendulums of a giant clock that struck him again and again, incessantly, like his father sometimes did when in his drink.  One, two, three.  Strike, strike, strike.  The barn flying sideways, splintering, cracking, showering the earth.  House exploding.  Mother and sister broken among the debris like little frogs skewered on toothpicks for the easy appetite of the giant overhead.

He felt so small beneath the giants of the world.

And yet, he was a giant also.

True Love

Whenever Earl’s hapless love life
suffered a dry spell,
he found himself a willing wife
in a bourbon cocktail,
and if she ever gave him lip
he would give it in turn,
kissing her cool glass for a sip
to taste true love’s sweet burn.

Earl thought they were a perfect match,
at least for his own taste.
When sad he tossed her down the hatch,
fingers tight on her waist
while he wobbled a wayward dance
that filled him with drunk glee
as he spilled her down his good pants
and fell down, all dizzy.

It was a Mint Julep, his drink,
and some made fun of it,
but he never cared what drunks think—
he never cared a spit.
While other men drank Black Label
and the women drank beer,
Earl drank Mint Juleps, when able,
meanwhile having to hear
people mock him in the tavern
for his “lily liver”
each patron eager at a turn
to sing him downriver.

Their many nights out together
were always rough-and-tumble,
whether in fair or foul weather
he would often stumble,
and often he would come home late
with a black eye in pairs
from when his ice-and-sugar date
had thrown him down some stairs.

Still, no matter how rough and wild
each party and its fight
they were nonetheless reconciled,
sharing a bed at night—
a wet bed at night, all soaked through
as he cuddled her close,
sipping at her minty green dew
for a lullaby dose.

Throughout the years Earl’s love affair
with Mint Juleps was strong;
though he was mocked, he did not care
and drank it all day long.
You see, it was a favorite
of Francine, his late wife,
so he wanted to savor it
now and always in life,
for it reminded him of her,
of the first girl he kissed—
first kiss, first and only lover,
the girl he loved and missed.

Moonshine And Spirit Chasers

MOONSHINEA

Haiku Shots

Amber sunrise, smooth
as a hot toddy down the
wide, welcoming throat.

Ice crystals clinking
like piano keys played in
a bourbon’s cadence.

The wind slurred wetly
like the town drunk shouting for
one more whiskey shot.

This camaraderie,
warm in both belly and heart
like a smooth bourbon.

An alchemy of
corn, rye, malt, and the seasons—
Kentucky distilled.

Moonshine aged into
bourbon, a clear sky aging
into flaring dusk.

Biblical bad times
and proverbial good times—
whiskey always flows.

Joyful frogs hopping
from one bar to another
in a wet county.

Crossing over the
amphibious county line,
a tongue dry then wet.

Whiskey in her Coke,
Louisville lights like umber
mixing into night.

(Currently writing a collection of poems centered on Bourbon and Bardstown and ghosts and such.  The image above is the working cover for the collection.  Seemed like something they might be willing to sell in the local gift stores.  Guess I’ll see soon enough.)

Honky-Tonk Heartbreak

She croons over the Karaoke boom,
voice as smoky as fresh-charred barrels of oak,
white lightning across the busy barroom,
both hot and sugary—whiskey cut with coke.

She is a rough woman weathered with age
and the seasons of dragging a heart on sleeves—
hollow-eyed, denim-thighed, veiled on the stage
with her auburn hair the shade of Autumn leaves.

She sings her Loretta Lynn like a dirge
for the Man in Black, lost deep in his cup,
her soul rising, fermented, in a surge,
dividing the hot whiskey from the syrup.

Bardstown Spirits

The two tourists had booked a room
in the historic Talbott Tavern,
drinking bourbon until the gloom
of night had become a cavern.

“Let’s go to bed,” the husband slurred,
stumbling clumsily up the stairs.
His wife recalled how they had heard
of the ghosts people saw, and the nightmares.

“We should have stayed at a hotel,” she whined
as he opened the door to their room
and fumbled his hand, trying to find
the light switch within that tomb.

“This is a hell of a place,” he said,
flipping the switch at long last.
He squinted, then, and scratched his head,
his eyes adjusting none too fast.

It was a small room to be paying
so much, and she gave him one of her frowns
and put her hands on her hips, saying
“We should have went to Churchill Downs.”

Her husband waddled in, most eager
with a childish smile on his face,
and though the amenities were meager
he thought it quite a cozy place.

“This was good enough for Jesse,”
the husband said, plopping down on the bed,
and, reaching for her dress he
grinned up at her, lolling his head.

“I ain’t in the mood for foolin’,” she snapped,
leaving him for the small bathroom
where she cleaned herself up and slapped
her cream on, and some perfume.

“Why are you getting gussied up?” he asked,
shuffling in like a zombie.
She just shook her head, her face masked
while she brushed her teeth calmly.

“You’re mad,” he said. “Aincha’?”
When she didn’t answer, he snorted
and said, “I don’t care how you paincha’
face, you stuck-up whore.” She retorted,

“A whore gets some satisfaction,
but I ain’t had any in a long year.”
She shouldered past him, the action
causing him to fall down on his rear.

While her husband nursed his bruised bum,
she returned downstairs to the bar,
nursing her bruised heart with some rum
and watching the street— each passing car

that hissed and slurred along the wet road,
throwing rainwater up from the rains
that made the sound of a commode
as they flowed into the storm drains.

The bar empty, but for the tender,
she felt each raindrop against the panes
as if the droplets struck to render
a song of sorrow in her brains.

Roundabout three, the witching hour,
a stranger all at once sat next to her
with a rogue’s forthright charm and power
and he smiled openly, as to woo her.

“Hello, Miss,” the stranger drawled.
Beneath his mustache was a grin
and taking one look, her skin crawled—
not with fear, but with the thrill of sin.

“Oh my,” she said, “a handsome gent.”
She looked him up and down, down and up,
and saw a man who seemed heavensent
with eyes that melted her like syrup.

He replied, “For you, my sweet little thing,
I would rob a thousand and one banks.”
He kissed her hand, next to her ring,
and she could only reply, “Thanks.”

They were about to kiss, but then
her husband stumbled downstairs,
all rolly-polly and sprawled when
he hit the bottom, all unawares.

The drunken man rose to his feet,
eyeballs still rolling in his head
till they saw the stranger in his seat
and his eyes focused—seeing red.

“Who’s this guy here now?” he roared,
storming toward the illicit flirts.
“By God almighty, and Jesus, our Lord,
I’ll beat him till his momma hurts!”

The stranger rose to meet the husband,
hand to the holster beneath his vest,
and, in a flash, his hand was gunned
with a Colt leveled to the chest

of the man whose pride was in doubt,
warning him, “I’ve shot bigger men dead.
Now kindly see your sorry self out
while this lady and I retire to bed.”

The jilted man blinked at the gun
and then at his wife, a sour sneer
twisting his brief trepidation
into a drunken pugilist’s leer.

Swinging with all his apish strength,
the husband struck the man’s squarish chin
and went through it, falling at length
to the floor with an unwinding spin.

Now looking up from down below,
the husband saw the man so dim
that the light above shone through, its glow
radiant and clear right through him!

Yet, there was something else frightening
about the stranger standing there,
for he could see, at the strike of lightning,
a bullet hole just below his hair.

Both husband and wife gasped, then paled,
running into each other’s embrace
while the faded ghost laughed and held
his gun aloft, a grin on his face.

“No doubt you’ve heard of me,” he said.
“All through life I’ve many names,
Robin Hood, Dingus, Johnny Reb,
but you, sir, can just call me Jesse James.”

This proclaimed, and thus so named,
Jesse James winked at the man’s wife,
then grinned at the man, and aimed—
with a puff of smoke he took his life…

The husband woke in a cold sweat
that soaked the dirty clothes he had on,
and burned his eyes, each salty wet;
a haze through the pane hinted at dawn.

He laid in bed awhile, in pain,
waiting until he could see clearer,
and saw his wife, the old ball and chain,
primping in front of the bathroom mirror.

“I’m alive?” he asked, so fearful
he was a ghost and she would not hear.
She scowled, then gave him an earful—
“You should just stick to cheap-ass beer!”

“But the spirit of Jesse James!”
he tried to say, but she spoke faster.
“I am so sick of your head games!
You should see a shrink, or a pastor!”

“But I saw his spirit last night!” he said.
“He shot me to death with his gun!”
“The only spirits you should fear,” she said,
“are the shots you drank of bourbon!”

He tried to object, but she spoke
with authority, giving him pause:
“Sometimes I think your head’s half-broke
cuz you don’t think when jackin’ your jaws!”

Her husband became quiet and still
and thought of the ghost with the pistol—
the ghost of a man who could kill,
his eyes icy blue like crystal.

She said, “You didn’t pay the tab
so I had to pay for your bender,
but then you came down, thick as a slab,
and tried to cold-cock the bartender!”

“But I saw Jesse James!” he muttered—
she shook her head slowly, a frown
on her face as her eyelashes fluttered.
She said, “He didn’t even die in this town!”

***This is only a first draft (and first half) of a long narrative poem I am writing about Bardstown from the perspective of two people and their drunken misadventures at the various locales.  I still need to refine the meter format in the poem, and the diction and syntax, but I am too tired right now to finish it, and I wanted to post something for Halloween, so here it is.

Gaunt Haunt

The winds moan among the fallen trees
and the black-faced knobs all collapse beneath
the Eastern night sky while Bluegrass banshees
wail like wan women in endless grief.

Twenty-odd men have been buried
underneath the weight of other men’s greed
whose hankering for wealth’s harvest harried
them into a cult’s incautious creed.

Crawling on hands out of their dark lair,
the gawping ghouls of graveyards are thus gaunt
with want of food and water and sweet air—
they rise, they rise from their ashen haunt.

Those not smothered in their darksome holes
die topside with every labored breath,
the coal never leaving their sooty souls
even after they have escaped Death.

Burning away their fear and sorrow
with rotgut whiskey each night before bed,
they do not want to think of tomorrow—
once more descending, the living-dead.

Therapy over telephone lines
fails widows whose thoughts are ever so veiled
with the shadows of the catacomb mines
wherein their loved ones are thus withheld.

A wendigo howls among scalped hills,
the countryside a galled, ghastly giant
whose quarry are those its livelihood kills
and feeds, each the other reliant.

Misplaced Beauty

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See the weeping cherry willow tree
standing at this rural road’s bend?
Its mournful pink petals bloom free,
yet tremble in an alien April wind.

The bough darkens with distiller’s mold
and an overcast Kentucky sky—
does the tree dream beside this road,
its roots longing for the soil of Sendai?

It dreams as a lost lover whose reminiscences
amidst dandelions and bluegrass
remind that it is a foreigner born by cedar fences
while restless race horses snort and pass.

Kentucky Gothic

Darkly webbed withered vines
strung out along the telephone lines;
deep-holler, river, mud-bank valley,
stained sidewalk, cobbled, and colonial alley;
white siding, cracked, and black-eyed shutters,
gully-gushing bent-tin gutters;
funeral procession through the murk,
tinted windows, veils, shadows lurk;
cedar, birch, ash, and oak,
brick and mortar, glass and smoke;
clouds and grays and mists and rains,
decaying leaves and shattered panes;
she walked here, each day, along this road
from nowhere to nowhere—twelve years old;
mortician smiling behind a cadaver
as if he is glad, at last, to have her;
buried in her flashy fuchsia dress
with a woman’s blush, a little girl’s tress;
soft satin inlay within the coffin
and the bow in her hair that she wore often;
sonorous sermons to come to terms
and hard mahogany to hold off the worms.

Moonshine Melody

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The whiskey barrels are
shouldering shadows,
their hot, sour-sweet savor
breathing up into crisply chill
starlit air
and pressing warmly
like a cellist’s
fine fingertips
as she softly saws a
falling-leaf lullaby
with moonwash gentleness;
and where the faint fluorescence
blooms from lightbulbs above,
portals open with pallid light between
stacks of distilled
spirits
and their nostalgic
nocturnes.