Three Poems by Tiff Holland

BB King in a Field Unmarked by Desecration

We must dig up the bones to prevent desecration,
Uncle Joe whispers in vapors, shovel in hand.
He is the ranking officer, this barracks of bricks.
B.B. King spinning on the turntable downstairs.

Uncle Joe whispers in vapors, shovel in hand:
Cousin Ace in the Hollar with a shotgun, like Clue.
B.B. spinning on the turntable downstairs.
Mere cadet, I salute and take orders.

Cousin Ace in the Hollar with a shotgun, like Clue.
I take the beer handed through darkness.
Mere cadet, I salute and take orders,
Take the wheel, take directions, take note.

I take the beer handed through darkness.
Navigate my uncle’s story through his sobs,
take direction, take note,
perform complex genealogical computations.

Navigate my uncle’s story though his sobs.
Some sort of lover’s triangle, a body at the Home Place.
Complex genealogical computations.
The stones in the Phelp’s graveyard tilting like dominoes.

A body at the home place.
The grave fresh, the earth soft.
The stones tilt like dominoes.
Uncle too drunk to dig.

The grave fresh, the earth soft.
I never knew cousin Ace, nor his lover, nor this place.
Uncle too drunk to dig.
We lift the box, leave the hole open.

I never knew Cousin Ace, nor his lover, nor this place.
All dirt roads and sulfur, the box in the trunk.
The hole left open.
My uncle dogs it out the window, sniffing spring air.

The box in the trunk, rattles the jack.
I know the songs Uncle sings through repetition.
He sniffs spring air.
And I consider desecration.

I know the songs Uncle sings.
He’s sobered up now, digs beside me.
I consider desecration
in a field of Johnson Grass.

My uncle stands sobered up beside me.
We lower the box, cover it
with dirt and Johnson grass,
sing the only songs we both know.

B.B. King in a field, unmarked by desecration



Still in rollers, cigarette clenched between dentures,
Mom sat at the kitchen table
hands like spades darting back and forth
adjusting the wig.
There, she’d say, and release my wriggling brother,
only to  change her mind, bring him back
for another spit pincurl or to even out his rouge.

Bob was six or seven those summer mornings.
She’d work on him like a mannequin,
fix him up the way she wanted to do with me.
She’d buckle his feet into my abandoned patent leathers,
roll down the tops of bobby sox,
pouf out the party dress,
spin him away and laugh as he twirled.
Last the lipstick  and then,
needing a witness to their mischief,
Mom would send Bob to the neighbor’s
and he’d go, for tea and cookies
or maybe just because.

I wouldn’t go with him, but I’d watch from the apple tree.
Like Miss America he walked slowly, elegantly,
his head straight, purse clutched to his side.
Sometimes, Mom would dig up an old pair of elbow gloves
that went all the way up Bob’s arm and I’d imagine him
slipping them off to take a cookie
revealing the dirt under his little boy nails.

The other kids picked on him, called him names,
shoved him in the aisle of the school bus,
and I’d pound them in the street after the bus pulled away.
He was my brother.
But I wouldn’t escort him to the neighbor’s,
wouldn’t nod and agree with my mother:
Isn’t Vanilla pretty, isn’t your sister pretty?
He was nobody’s sister.


If I Hadn’t Had a Stroke

After Frank O’Hara

If I were a painter
I’d paint an underwater
Suitcase full of golden fish,
fins flipping and
the walker in the middle
of this open mouth
for breath.

If I were a sculptor
I’d create a paper- mache facsimile
of the walker in a bathtub,
on a skateboard,
in the middle of a marathon,
with a number taped to the front.

If I were a performance artist
I’d take a baseball bat to the walker.
I’d run over it with a truck.
I’d soap it up in the shower.
I’d pack it with explosives
it up.

If I were a photographer
I’d take pictures of the walker
black and white
in the crosswalk
in front of my daughter’s school
in color at the mall
to show off its electric blue.
I’d take close-ups of the handbrakes,
the basket, the rubber wheels.

But I’m a poet.
I write about the walker,
leave it beside the bed,
the place I will most likely need it,
and I pretend it’s not there
when I go to sleep
and dream
it has been wired to the highest
branches of the buzzard tree
the ones above the crook
where the  biggest birds huddle.

More poetry at Used Furniture.

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