Ladderback Jack

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Ladderback Jack was as tall as a lamppost,
his spine reticulated, sharp, and longer than most,
his arms apish, hanging lax with lank hands
and fingers overlong from overactive glands,
his legs slender and knotted with knobby knees
while his greasy hair lay limp in any breeze.
He had a pale complexion, Jack did, like boiled tallow,
the whites of his eyes dull, waxen and sallow,
and he walked with his back hunched, bent double over
as if always looking for a rare four-leaf clover—
and Jack needed all of the luck he could get,
being an ungainly, gangly, graceless half-wit;
so much so that people said he was of the fairy folk,
born of a dimwit mother, herself a town-wide joke.
No one knew who Jack’s father could have been,
though they joked that it was Oberon, or some such kin.
As for his nickname, that was easily explained,
and once explained, that nickname remained:
when Jack sat down to relax in a ladderback chair
and then stood up, the chair would hang there,
hooked on his protruding vertebral pegs
as he pulled himself up onto his long legs,
and, so, crook-backed, overstretched, slack-jawed,
he was thought an entertainment as he shambled and hawed,
muttering to himself about finding his father in the sky
where the cloud castles, Fata Morgana, resided nearby.
“Jack, your father’s just a will o’ the wisp,” they’d laugh,
“so go look for him in the black bogs of a Kilt Gaff.”
Yet, though townsfolk laughed at him most days
they grew ever uneasy as he became set in his ways.
And then, one day, Jack asked to take for himself a bride—
the mayor’s daughter, Saoirse, her father’s pride.
Jack asked during the town’s Midsummer Fair
and thus everyone in and out of town was there.
The town laughed and laughed, whereas the mayor meanwhile
took umbrage at Jack’s presumption, commanding exile,
but even as Jack left amidst mean-spirited laughter
he vowed, in his quiet way, to have the last laugh hereafter.
“My father is both the Gate and the Key,” Jack said,
“and he will see that his line is hereby finely bred.”
The town returned to normal after the exile of Jack
and everyone forgot about Jack’s promise to come back
until one night when lights were seen in the midnight sky—
lights above the hills, each swirling like a firefly.
Jack came into town the next day, grinning ear to ear,
and walking, bold as brass, without any fear
up to Saoirse, holding a ring of strange onyx metal
and asking her to give to him, in return, her maiden petal.

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Saoirse was ready to call him an imbecilic cur,
but was suddenly transfixed by the ring held out to her.
Her father interceded, as did many of the local men,
and they beat Jack black, then blue, then black again.
“Go back to the hills, among the inbred Fae,”
the Mayor said. “Or you will hang from the gallows today!”
But Ladderback Jack was not of the fairy race,
nor was his father, that thing beyond Time and Space.
“My father,” Jack muttered, “is the Gate and the Key.
He is beyond the outer darkness, the stars, of all forms that be.”
And so the sky blackened in the middle of the day,
the villagers trembling to see the noonlight fray
as their town was pulled into a pocket of void, a world
unknown to Man, a place where madness unfurled.
Waiting for them there was a nebulous cloud of spheres
to which Jack pointed and declared, in worshipful tears,
“Behold! My father! The Lurker at the Threshold!
Behold what was, what is, and what will be! As foretold!”
The primordial sludge of luminous orbs and oculi
looked upon the people of that town, letting them see
in the fullness of its depths the endless cosmic chasms,
bathing their brains in luminous gulfs, the neural spasms
softening the meat of their minds unto a viscous pudding
and releasing them only after revelation could bring
them to confront the meaninglessness of their being
of which, ever thereafter, there was no unseeing…

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To this day that village still remains, quiet and quaint,
all of the villagers vacant-eyed, imbecilic with its taint—
all serving silently, reverently, the bloodline spawned
from Ladderback Jack, that avatar-son of the Beyond.

 

Media Stream

The river can be
diverted
with watersheds and dams and
media floodgates,
but we, the people,
are the ones dumping our
outhouse ideologies
into the eddies,
contaminating the flow,
thickening the sludge, feeding into that river
that divides us, and, so,
when everything flows
downstream
we should not be surprised
that when scooping out water for our
hearty family stew
we find ourselves eating someone else’s
shit
from farther upstream,
nor are we blameless
of flavoring someone else’s
cloying broth.

Paradise Among the Ruins

A young boy and girl
in humble shepherd frocks
dance together, all aswirl
among mossy stones, the crumbling rocks
of an ancient castle fallen long ago
to a mysterious cataclysm
when beloved ally became hated foe,
either side destroyed by a fateful schism.
The boy and the girl dance, hand in hand,
where the king once held his court,
his word the law of the land—
fair and prudent and without retort.
But the echoes of his baritone voice
no longer vibrate in wisdom here,
nor the instruments of his choice—
neither bugle or lyre or rattling spear.
The songs that sound so softly now
are giggles and childish sighs,
nor does cold gold weigh upon a brow
or sparkling jewel ensorcell eyes.
Dancing lightsome, pure, and free,
the girl and boy know no shame
in the shadows of toppled history—
they know not that dead king’s name.

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.

Bland Bones

An unapologetic rebuttal to the praise of Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” and, generally speaking, the poetry publishing world at large.

Life is too short for
flavorless poems
a dime a thousand, ill-advised
and to be kept from children
lest they prematurely age into
cynics, or worse,
instagram poets.
The published poetry world is at least
fifty percent terrible,
and that is not a
culture-vulture’s estimate.
For every such Aryan-Carrion bird
there is a
hundred bones to be picked at
by the more modern among us.
For every adored confessional poem, I confess
another mediocre poem
too many, sunken into its own
bland language, collapsing as it is
eaten up with terminal
osteoporosis. Life is short and
the poetic world is at least half
blandness, and for every trite poem
deified
in the collective consciousness,
there is a thousand that would
benefit from
humbling sobriety and
iconoclastic terrorists.
A kind stranger might do well to
break you
from your banal habit of beautification.
Nor can subversion save unremarkable
imagery or diction. It is not that
decay
is not beautiful,
such as any fragrant flower
wilting and dissolving into
perfume,
but that your perfume is nothing more than
vanilla extract
being celebrated by Lotus Eaters
who have forgotten, in this time of
accessibility excess,
the stress-test standards of
yesteryears,
and so deprive their children
of a world not sold to
cookie-cutter
suburban planning and
the lowest common denominator.
The poetic world is a real
shithole
and nothing about its
bland bones
could ever redeem the
dead pledge of its
mortgage rates,
even as pretentious publishing elites
lounge arrogantly alongside
Motel 6 swimming pools.
Just like in the realty market,
anyone can be a poet,
but that does not mean that
any of them know what they are
blathering about
while touring the downtown neighborhood,
nor does it prevent the next
market bubble
when all such propped-up poems
collapse under their own
oversold listing price.
Even if you can talk up
good bones
it does not mean that you
have a good foundation to start with.
It is, at best,
affordable housing
with a vista into your neighbor’s
backyard, which happens to be
identical to your own.
You could make this poem beautiful,
right?
No,
you would only make it
bland.