Wednesday 11 January 2023

Five Poems by Royal Rhodes



You could never find yourself
   down these roads, unless
somebody local brought you.

But a hiker cutting across
   the dangerous bog, dark
and earthy patch, made this find.

A bit of grim colour marked
   a boy's face, almost erased
by sun and rain, a second disappearing.

This once beautiful land
   had wildflowers pulled up
and vagrant like the Travellers.

Amidst the sucking mud steps
   was the smell of ancient dampness
and odours like a fatal birth.

Now synthetic dyes in place
   of rooted long weeds stood
out around un-salvaged metal

in black clots of fibrous earth,
   as if a giant's vomit
held nettles and blackthorn.

He disappeared in the Troubles,
   unlike the boy Jesus the English
claimed walked on their green hills.

Here, bound as a naked sacrifice,
   was only an ordinary boy,
taken from bed, murdered, and buried.



"I'm the boy.../
waiting for the world to end."
--Stanley Kunitz, "Halley's Comet"

It did end, a hundred
years waiting for you,
a blink of the cosmic eye
that shed a galactic tear.
Halley's Comet was used
by teachers and preachers to scare
the children in first grade,
like you, and with this disaster
"...there'd be no school tomorrow."
They should have known the sight
of the earth-ending missile
with a flared-tail of gases
leaving the fixed stars
would propel you into the night,
and up the stairwell and ladder
to the granular-stone roofing
to flatten yourself, from head
to toe, straight as an arrow
towards the expected arc.
The conspiratorial angels
would never reveal to you
that lying each night in the cold
your shivering boy's body
repelled the hurtling comet,
boomeranged out into space
in a wide, oval track
to return to some other boy.



Hungry children

who fled a ravenous famine

crossed the border

fences made of tree limbs

and the desert-dry stretches,

waterless, with only crumbs

to keep alive longer

towards the sweet land

shining in the distance

and then corralled

by a looming figure

they thought mothering

to protect them

from the wild things

that devoured others

leaving only bone

relics and broken shoes

when questioned about

their identity cards

each one together cried:

"...the wind only --

the heavenly child"

They believed the promise:

"no harm will come to you"

as they were swept up

and locked out of sight

The youngsters joined 

other gingerbread bodies

hued deep brown

wrapped in the smell

of humans afraid

screaming like rabbits

hung by tight wire

and clubbed into silence

but for their own good

On the walls of a room

over peeling wallpaper

photos were pinned

in groups documenting

their faces over a basket

of their soiled clothes

stripped before they

went to the open oven

of noonday heat outside

Maybe when the jailers

in air-cooled trucks

fall into that furnace

we will see at last

the children spring

like birds from this cage.


My boyhood was full of dire warnings
from parents who never wandered
more than seven miles from home,
bordered on the East by the ocean.

"Beware the kindness of strangers, first
and last. Run from the offer of sweets.
Never ride a carousel. A little boy
got bit by a snake on one and died."

How did they guess the secrets of dark hearts?
The urge some had to kill a bird, or break
a turtle's soft shell? The precise taunts
that haunted every playground around us?

Riding the gold and white-enamelled horse, up
and down on a brass pole in dizzying circuits,
I remember slapping the smooth, stained neck
of the proud stallion, and the bells sounding,

until out of the cracked, wooden mouth
a viper, as black as an oily eel, poked
its head in view and drew blood by a sharp,
sticking incision, before I could pull away.

Someone held a dripping scoop of ice cream
in a sugar cone to my mouth, stopping
my crying, and took me away to live
in a far playland without any warnings.


The graveyard at First
Parish ,Truro,
was all about claiming,
the later limestone
melting the names
of infants dead early.
A smoothed millstone
on the one rise
bore the identities
of landowners and artists
over its central aperture
through which was
a glimpse of nothingness.


They set the jawbone
of an ancient sea creature
near a stump of red oak
to mark the boundary
between these parts
of the lower Cape,
near where the Pilgrims
unearthed a cache of corn
that allowed them
to survive a winter
and then claim the land.


On the private road
to Longnook
a boy in a blue
jacket, imprinted STAFF,
did not even stand
from the beach chair
at his guard post
as he waved us on,
ignoring the absence
of stickers and permits
to grant us access
to the ocean beach.
We stood on a tumulus
of drifting dunes --
marked with warnings --
looking far below at
the ruckled swatch
of ankle-deep sand
set off by the strip
of pebbles bordering
the natural tide-line
and the sea,
adjusting and readjusting.


"No one's, once."
As if one could own
the sun or moon
or the darkness.
Just as I belonged
to no one, once,
until I defied
the fated stars.

Royal Rhodes taught global religions for forty years before retirement. His poems have appeared in a variety of journals, online and in print, including: Snakeskin Poetry, Better Than Starbucks, The Lyric, Poetry Pacific, Cholla Needles, The Montreal Review, and a number of others. He has also published several art/poetry collaborations with The Catbird-on-the-Yadkin Press in North Carolina.


1 comment:

  1. Magical poems that carry me to comforting places, like a place with no parental warnings and and Hansel and Gretel encountering a freezer truck I look forward to more homes by emeritus professor, Royal Rhodes


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