Robert and I finally met when he came to read during our local monthly reading and open mic. When I saw the cover of his book, Winter Skin, I had a feeling I’d like his poetry. The cover shot is a rural snow-covered road – a wintry scene I grew up with in Ohio. And I was right about his poetry.
Robert sees both the brokenness and the beauty of humanity, from the depths of drug abuse to the sweet rhythms of street music. In the Midwest’s practical, matter-of-fact language, each word holds weight and adds punch. He takes you from abandoned factories to ball fields, where pick-up games last until the crack of the bat fades into twilight.
From Winter Skin, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.
out of season
down sassafras mountain
a blind turn opens
to a deer’s rib cage on the yellow line
waiting under the moon like two skinned hands
cupped in offering & warm with august heat
someone has the meat & the pointed rack
some ground is strewn with the offal & lungs
& this has been dumped for coyotes & dogs
or to send surprised faces through windshields
someone wants the baring of teeth
kneeling in the bent
humid glare of my headlights
breathing sour metal
of blood & sweat
I hook my fingers around rank
pink flesh & drag this ark
of an unholy covenant
into the ditch off the shoulder
the poacher’s altar boy
taking care of the elements
when I rub my hands with a rag
they ripple like troubled water
& traces of blood musk
breathe my part in this kill
they will be my companions
for the dark miles home
& the scavenger mouths
that know nothing out of season
will gnaw rough graces from bone
We chucked a Louisville Slugger over the fence,
barrel & handle turning end over end
to cut the sunlight in uneven lops
before it tumbled to ground.
Four feet of chain link hopped. Cooler
& boom box handed over, Olde English 800
& black leather angels on homemade cassettes.
Late evening haze hung over
the outfield & pitcher’s mound
shimmered with heat crawling dirt.
We could sneak an hour
before sunset. Over at the plate
& four in the field, heads still spinning
from basement Black Sabbath,
we played with our lengthening shadows.
No helmets. No umpire. Malt liquor
tilted Lincoln High field to our slant,
a can per man to put more bite
on cutters & curves, to blur hops
& liners & hang oracle pop ups
close to the moon, red stitched Sputniks
leaving town for longer than we could.
Three years gone from black pinstripes
& Ls on our caps. Racetrak & Kroger shirts
all day, pizza delivery Highway Stars
at night. Twilight baseball between.
Two strikes down, we’d call long shots
& swing from the heels & foul them straight
back. No keeping score, no way to win,
nothing to lose but a few stolen balls,
just hang in & hack while you can.
When buzzed luck met muscle memory,
northern ash launched white leather
high through the darkening deep blue
& rose, a long hyperbola into the trees.
summer stars left our names
off the marquee moon
as renuka’s congas & matt the cat’s bass
opened the locks for a river of groove
fat tino’s trumpet
skipped ricochet cuts
& leapt to the sky
as ‘toine’s tenor sax hugged
the muddy bank’s funk
pulling the brass back to earth
I threw swamp flowers down
comping chords on my guitar’s rosewood neck
& john firefly rapped from the sidewalk
calling all down to our river
baptizing with baraka & MOVE
& mad dog 20 20 was his meat
the town of normal gave us wide berth
so we played for june heat & streetlights
let the water rise over our heads
small sidewalk trees did their slow juke
& we swung with the shadows of leaves on our skin
out of season was previously published in Stonecoast Review. Shadow Ball was previously published in San Pedro River Review. street music was previously published in The Main Street Rag.
Robert answers my questions ~
I wrote my first poem when I was 41 from a prompt I found on the web, 2008. The prompt was to write a poem about a mythological character. I chose Icarus. Illuminations picked it up. Sheer blind beginners luck
I’d like to have a cup of coffee with Richard Hugo. Coffee to keep him from the alcohol 😉