Friday 9 June 2023

Three Poems by Richard D. Houff


A Hometown Story


When we reached the edge of town,

there were railroad-barriers with silent boxcars.


This would be a difficulty.


Once we conquered our fears of being

cut in half by the cruel wheels, or falling

into the hands of bulls who patrolled

the area, it became easier.


There was a field of prairie grass to cross

before reaching a small wood consisting

of Norwegian Pine, the trees had a wonderful sent,

and provided cool shade.


On the other side of the trees

stood the mansion, and this was our goal.


The estate and land belonged to the founding family and heirs

of the local slaughterhouse which pretty much employed a good

part of our town, and the youngest son was currently staying there.


The older kids told us that he was married

to a beautiful actress, but neglected to say their marriage

had been over by at least a decade or more.


We were both eight years old and had never seen

a movie star before, so our excitement

was at high pitch.


The wait was a long one and we grew fidgety

when the door suddenly opened, and a beautiful lady

appeared, beckoning us.


We were shy and approached with caution—

right into the arms of two very upset guards.


They roughed us up a bit,

and we were sent on our way

with promises never to return.


Later, when our parents asked about our bruises,

we made up a story about falling in rocks by the river.


We were afraid to mention the security breach

on the family, who were really quite nice, but the adults

used fear tactics to keep us in line by telling us

stories of how they could make or break anyone

within a given moment.


The Paper Route


My friend John delivered our local newspaper

and had a long route


We were both in Jr. H.S. and quite clueless

to the world in general


The only thing that really mattered to us

were cool cars and girls


Having retired our bicycles, we chose

walking and tried desperately to look older


We talked about having money and turning

sixteen: the driver’s license; the outdoor theatre;

the beer, and of course, as always “the girls”


I was relatively shy and had never been kissed

before except for that one time my Aunt Kook

smothered my cheeks in lipstick from a “5 & 10¢”

bargain bin. In those days, she was referred to as

an “old skinflint” and her breath smelled like

rotten cabbage


According to John, he was well-versed

in the mysteries of the opposite sex, and especially

the art of making out


In order to prove his prowess and skills, he invited

me to tag along on “collection night,” which happened

to be Sunday, after the dinner hour


John, true to his word, wasn’t lying, but the girls

weren’t really girls; they were young women

and identical twins that had graduated from H.S.

the previous year


They had us sit down on the couch, and explained

the one and only rule: copping feels was a no-go along with

everything else


The kissing was endless and there was much giggling,

eventually they grew tired of us



I remember as we walked toward the door,

they announced their future plans of moving

to the “big city” —any big city


They were also quick in reminding us

of our future lives: shovelling out cattle barns for the ailing,

and the widows scattered all over the countryside

at three dollars per day


This had a terrible effect on me,

and several years later, I packed my bags

and took to the road


I never really stayed in touch

until recently


The county and town had changed

over time


The faces were less familiar, but some

of my old friends stuck close to the farms

and community


When I asked about the twin girls from long ago,

it was told, they had never left their parent’s home

and became quite eccentric as the years passed


John on the other hand, had become

a “matchbox preacher” who still liked the girls,

and lost his position in Ohio


There was talk of a new congregation somewhere

in Georgia, but nothing definite


In speaking for myself, I’ve been all over the world

and came to the conclusion that “folks are just folks,“

however, they do seem to standout a bit more

in little towns and rural areas



My Disassembled Head

    for John Berryman, 1914 - 1972


Berryman found solace

from this bench


Sitting alone and quiet

as an ancient mausoleum,

he would nurse a bagged bottle

before moving toward the West Bank


I never violated his presence

when passing by


Back then, the fear of adults and suits

held sway over me


I revisited the path recently,

with a fresh notebook in hand


The weather-beaten bench

was in its original place


And I’m not sure what brought

me back to this lonely spot


Perhaps to draw inspiration

from another time


I took a seat with pen in hand,

and the pages remained undecidedly blank:


I couldn’t find the words



Richard D. Houff - is originally from Austin, Minnesota, and currently lives and writes out of St. Paul, Minnesota. He edited Heeltap Magazine and Pariah Press from 1986 to 2010. He has had poetry and prose published in Aldebaran, Brooklyn Review, Chiron Review, Conduit, Lothlorien Poetry Journal,  Louisiana Review, Midwest Quarterly, North American Review, Parnassus, Rattle, and many other fine magazines. His most recent collections are Night Watch and Other Hometown Favorites, from Black Cat Moon Press, The Wonderful Farm and Other Gone Poems, from Flutter Press, and Dancing on Rooftops, from Homage Press (Czech Republic).







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