Monday, June 27, 2011

James H. Duncan - Four Poems

Dust Motes of the Universe

desperate cog
of the great transmission
let your teeth slip free
let them grind and break
pearly white or steel
they are not yours
and another set may yet
grow through
silent rebellion
against the hurling riptide
a single drop of water turning
against the maw
is all it takes to catch
the gulls unaware
feeding in a frenzy of fire

and a beak will snap on stone
and a stain will mar the sun

and a volcano will forgive
and a clock will pause
gripping its face with both hands
and screaming out a dream
to end time as we
dust motes of the universe
know it

gears will slip
waves will end
a snowflake
in the desert sand

wake from the failure
and another life
may yet
grow through

Kentucky Gentleman

Cruz and I used to have this competition
where we would fill half a bucket with
hot soapy water and add some pine-scented
floor cleaner, and fill half another bucket
with hot soapy water and add Kentucky
Gentleman whiskey, and we couldn’t
tell the god damn difference once the kitchen
floor was mopped, so we did the bathroom
that way too, then killed the bottle and half
another while sitting in the living room
without any air conditioning and all the windows
open, and one of the other roommates had a dog
that pissed at the sight of air, much less anything
that moved, and that fucker flinched and whimpered
and pissed all over our clean Kentucky Gentleman
floor, so we sent it outside and slammed the door,
but when the other roommate got home, she made us
go find the beast, her beloved, and we walked
down the trailer-home streets until we got to the
Silver Fox roadhouse, a cement cockroach box with
honky tonk on the juke and a slanted pool table
and we’d drink until the cowboys kicked us out
and thanks to Christ that little dog was sitting
on the porch when we got home, though we were
fresh out of Kentucky Gentleman, so the house smelled
of fresh pine for a week until we got paid again


men, upon being
thrust together and bound
by day-to-day work
will inevitably form circles
to tell their tales and bark laughter
at one another, spin their web
of protective joviality
to save them from the pitfall
of a day of honest labor
a heroic defense against the hands
that batter them from the clock:
the hour, the minute, the glare of
the passing dock manager
or senior editor
or maintenance supervisor
or lieutenant
or president of the united states

all men do this, fight the good fight
against the manacles of the time-card
all men, save for the dead
and those who don’t are already gone
up the ladder or six feet below
where the time card punches itself
and the smoke breaks last all night long

Sleep Tight

can you scream like that?
can you break the night apart like a
hell scar tearing open motorcycle
insomniac ravening through
your street and down your stunned
silent eyes staring out from your bed?
does it make you remember?
do images of what you were flash
before your eyes when you dream, and do
you see how much like steel your eyes held when
it all poured out onto the floor
as you gutted yourself in the rain?
hear the dog barking out there?
hear the cats fighting for blood?
if you take away the moon, will you
recognize your soul a little easier
when you look out the screen door
into everything that dies when the sun
sinks someplace you’d rather be?
can you slap a bandage over your wounds
fast enough to stop the terror you feel
when you look in the mirror
just a little too long?
do you feel surrounded when you
are alone? do ghosts follow you as
you pace the wooden floors?
did you hear that? downstairs?
the back door? the front?
or maybe on the roof?
will you recognize your soul
when it comes knocking?
or better yet, will it recognize

James H Duncan is a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. The editor of Hobo Camp Review, James considers himself a student of the road, where you’ll find him in late-night diners, local dive bars, and wandering train station platforms minding his own business. Apt, Red Fez, Reed Magazine, Underground Voices, Poetry Salzburg Review, and The Battered Suitcase, among many others, have welcomed his work. More at

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