"Where did we learn to be unkind, / There in the power of holding each egg / While watching dogs in June / Dust & heat, or when we followed / The hawk's slow, deliberate arc?" - Yusef Komunyakaa, "Sunday Afternoons"
Joe Betz is an Associate Professor of English at Ivy Tech and produces electronic music under the name Knuckled Fruit. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His first chapbook, SOOT, will be published in 2022 with Finishing Line Press.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Joe, what poems have you brought for us today?
I walked into the living room
the way crabs on PBS navigate themselves against rocks
so my father said stop moving and sit down.
Wind pulled the dried hangnails of leaves
from limbs before depositing each
into the thickening river.
I imagined a fan circling above our heads like confused weathervanes
though the trailer had none but the box near the kitchen window
murmuring like a new and crag-pocked heart.
like a promise repeated, breath,
my father’s bright cough through ash
Twitch in the neck
emblem of methamphetamine’s pulse:
cat’s claw hooked in the eye’s soft skin.
When he told me how the weather meant fire
in a coffee can’s cup I saw two cardinals clutched
inside a tailpipe’s vice.
Smoke bloomed against the ceiling as a new dark wound.
By Christmas our skin could be cleaned with a comb.
Perfectly packaged boxes sit in the shadows of the shoe store
while a man pulls down the protective metal grating, giving me a goodnight,
the specials and discounts for men. I want to say something profound
but have my fists deep in coat pockets and can’t make the appropriate gestures.
A woman passes me bundled in scarves. I remember my mother in snow boots
black and waxed with salt and tar from the potholed road that led to our door,
the house squatting into soil dark and rich with worms I’d pull from holes
in the basement walls, frozen, not ready to be pinched by fishing hooks I cleaned
religiously as guns my father kept. She was holding a cat and crying. It thawed
in the sink like a package of pulled pork left over from October.
Who knows where she found it. She would sometimes walk for hours.
On corn tassels, dew. On our jeans, dew.
From his lips a boy wipes sweat thick
as pickling salt. Today no one is resting,
not even the sun high and burning like
a cross in misanthropic minds. On the radio,
love. On our minds, love. In the field
we’re slipping wet hands in corn until we
walk slow as clouds plumping west to the
farmer asleep in his truck, rocks and lunch
boxes behind our burnt backs red as apples
now cooling to peel. No one is resting.
Our plan to bang these rocks, whip these
boxes for wild music, we slink. We are
children; mustard weed on pant legs.
And in fifteen feet, we will later say we knew
an engine’s backfire did not ring but popped
to nothing, and in fifteen feet, we will
later say the sound was not the tractor’s
basket clipping another well. We are children.
We smell him first. And in the early afternoon,
if you watch, a red-winged blackbird will
sit on a phone line for you silent
as waving hands, a plane in the sky.
You've been listening to the poetry of Joe Betz on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.