09/22/2021

Brad Richard ~ Five Poems

Green Anole

1.
I kept a lizard’s skeleton
in a six-inch cedar box
I car­ried around the house.

I added a blue jay feather
and a pink nub of quartz
and wrote inside the lid—

I won’t tell you what.
Tattered hide clung
to ribs and backbone.

2.
Crouched in grass,
I watched one perched
on a camel­lia branch,

eyes half-closed, sleek head lifted
toward the sun. Its dewlap swelled,
orange and pink against green.

I stretched out a hand
but already that body
was brown leaf-fall, shadows.

3.
Muted yowl of a housecat,
small prey pant­i­ng in its mouth.
The cat drops the lizard,

bats at it as it tries—
gut punc­tured, a leg
torn free—to pull

itself across the rug, past
its sev­ered, wrig­gling tail.
Its claws snag in pile—

4.
I can’t remember
the last time I saw one.
I click a link that tells me

the bark-brown sub-species
is mak­ing its way from Florida
and eats the green anole’s eggs.

(A flood took my cedar box.
Now I can’t remember
what I wrote in its lid.)

5.
I pull my car to the curb
to pluck a brown anole
from the wind­shield wiper

6.
and set it in the grass.

7.
Walking out to the porch
to get this morning’s mail,
I saw the pale green body

cling­ing to the screen door.
When I walked closer,
my spir­it flexed, unhooked

itself and leapt
three feet with the lizard,
deep into sweet olive.

~

The Path to the TG&Y

opens on the waste woods’ edge, shal­low foot-worn rut
the lit­tle boy steps onto from Stein Street, coins’ jingle

muf­fled in his pock­et. Now he’s halfway there, almost
to the min­now-creek, where he lingers, know­ing nothing

beyond trees and dap­pled shade, mut­ed hum and growl
of traf­fic on MacGregor, where he rode with his mother

the day the radio announc­er broke Doctor King
has been shot. Mom’s face snagged, taut:

what she felt, he couldn’t name, fright­ened him.
Alone in these woods, he feels safe, this boy on his way

to buy a new rub­ber snake or Matchbox dump truck,
dawdling to scry the creek, beer can tabs and bot­tle shards

gleam­ing with­out meaning.

• • •

If he could see years ahead, he’d be stunned
by how eas­i­ly I write Doctor King has been shot,

how the words slip like min­nows through my fingers
while the event stays fixed, stuck deep in time and earth.

He’s lucky, the boy, to live in the past, in Mobile,
not here, in 2020, hear­ing my dear­est friend

from high school tell me about the Watertown cop
who bent her arm so hard and far up her back

to cuff her, cheek pressed against her trunk’s icy lid,
she was glad her mother’s fists had taught her mind

how to leave her body. He’s not read­ing a colleague’s essay
about the cops who sur­round­ed his car one morning

in his own dri­ve­way, his hands posed on the steer­ing wheel,
tie tied, suit fresh, just try­ing to go to work. He’s not lost

online, research­ing, for a poem, details about a black boy
a white man shot, as if the fla­vor of the can­dy when he died

would make his mur­der more real. More lyrical.

• • •

The boy looks up
from the trash in the creek, sees park­ing-lot glare

far ahead through the trees. I wish I could tell you
he’s won­der­ing why he nev­er cross­es paths here

with any of the black boys he’s stood side by side with
at the TG&Y. Last week, there was one in a green-striped tee

in the action fig­ure aisle, and that kid in the creased jeans
by the bin of rub­ber snakes—he knows him from school,

can’t think of his name, though years lat­er he’ll try
to remem­ber or imag­ine. I wish he wrote down

their names, the toys they loved. I wish he wondered
Where do they go? Did I make them disappear?

~

Imagine a World in Which Monumental Lions Are Replaced, Every One of Them, with Monumental Chickens

I was at a birth­day par­ty the oth­er night
in a back­yard with a stage, a wagon,
a cat asleep on a mat­tress in a trail­er bed,
and three chick­ens roost­ing high up in a tree.

Between sips of cham­pagne, we tilt­ed back our heads
for a glimpse of those round, feath­ered darknesses—
OK, chick­ens, just chick­ens, but also
more like angels than the cat or us,

more like denizens of a side­re­al coop,
and equal­ly at ease twen­ty feet above the earth
as the Running Chicken of Lambda Centaurii
in its tur­bu­lent heaven.

I just ate a bowl of chick­en stew
with turnips, car­rots, rice, and col­lard greens.
I have no desire to eat a lion.
I could more eas­i­ly befriend a chick­en than a lion.

I do not want friends who are brave and strong
by dint of mas­sive haunch­es and crush­ing jaws.
My friends don’t lounge in the sun, lick­ing blood-stained paws,
while I watch, pre­tend­ing my fear is admiration.

My friends are busy. They spend all day
look­ing for what they need in the dirt around them.
They squab­ble. Have dust-ups. Stare, startle.
Their nobil­i­ty con­sists in their persistence,

like chick­ens’ ordi­nary omnipresence
as civic and domes­tic decoration—
this pair of Russian Orloffs, for instance,
giant frost-crust­ed pinecones on the library steps.

This mod­est flock of Transylvania Naked Necks
posed on the four cor­ners of Trafalgar Square
ease the mind of impe­r­i­al nostalgia
and offer no hope of empire’s return.

Here is Richard, Couer de Poulet.
Here is Christ, Chicken of Judah.
Here, in the desert, a man-head­ed chicken
crum­bles away, nev­er scratch­es toward Bethlehem.

And here is my moth­er, in her chickens
of green glass and of blue on my shelves,
and in her chick­en and roost­er of cast iron
in the rain right now in my garden.

~

The Map

Last night I dreamed I grabbed a student—
nice kid who nev­er shuts up—by his belt loops
and the col­lar of his jean jack­et and hurled him
down the stairs and woke in a sweat; today

I’m think­ing it’s time to move on. I have called
the sec­re­tary and she hopes I’ll get well, and soon.
I have allowed myself, with my toast and coffee,
a shot of rye. The mind clears. A garbage truck

groans down the block and I brood on the days
I’ve missed its song, pent with twen­ty-six teens
in a cin­derblock, flu­o­res­cent-lit classroom
adorned with scotch-taped quotes like I was born lost

and take no plea­sure in being found. My neighbor
starts his yard work, push­ing his push-mower
soothingly—hush, chuck­le-chuck­le, hush—
until his cranked-up leaf-blow­er kills this pastoral.

I real­ly need to use those days piled up
like leaves or mail by the door, high time
I get far away. Farther: not Vegas, maybe Spain,
or I could blend in on a Holy Land tour. I’d need

can­dles, bug spray, cured flesh to chew. And cash
for the toll at the Martyrs’ Bridge, the ticket
to the Martyrs’ House, the tip for the docent—
no truth’s revealed at a dis­count, friend,

least of all when I need it most … I need a map
but I’m a child who couldn’t name the river
that nev­er meant to drown him. And who’s left
to imag­ine the riv­er but the river’s ghost?

~

Craft Talk

for Carolyn Hembree

It must have rained last night:
my swamp mal­low is blooming.

Pale yel­low eye wide at sunrise,
it receives my image as I pass
on my way to pick parsley.

My swamp mallow’s flower
looks like an okra flower,
and okra, too, is a mallow,
but not my mallow.

It doesn’t mind
if you pre­fer the salvia’s red tongues
or calendula’s but­tery suns.

Carpenter bees dip and suck
all day in blown oregano plumes,
in basil, wood sage, and guara.

Slow mal­low, it takes days
to make a green pod
sil­vered with whiskers.

Our point of view
is a hard­ened pod’s brown husk,
muf­fled rat­tle of seeds inside.

Every morn­ing,
one bee pays one visit
to this holy corolla.

My what?”
asks my swamp mallow.

You should leave the garden,”
it tells me. “Go to a museum.
Have lunch with a friend.
Hasn’t it been long enough?”

~

Brad Richard is the author of four col­lec­tions of poet­ry (most recent­ly Parasite Kingdom, win­ner of the 2018 Tenth Gate Prize) and four chap­books (includ­ing In Place, select­ed for the 2021 Robin Becker Series from Seven Kitchens Press). His work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in many jour­nals, includ­ing Hypertext, The Cortland Review, Tahoma Literary Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Okey-Panky, and The Nervous Breakdown. After teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing to tal­ent­ed mid­dle and high school stu­dents for many years, he got very tired and decid­ed to stay home and write. He serves on the board of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and on the edi­to­r­i­al board of The Word Works.