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New Poetry


by R.T. Castleberry

In the coffeehouse,
the Vietnamese lovers delineate their histories
with the French they learned in childhood.
They kiss and hold their laughter
at the intersection of invasion and exile.
I review my life every 3rd Wednesday—
the sequence of shaky, solemn reparations,
the dreamy, brutal arc.
I don’t chase my family’s name,
don’t speak of my children in public.

A keeper of confessions,
I look for theft in every private situation—
the banquet slur, the bitter correspondent,
a family member’s memoir prose of tasteful misery.
Fueled by corrupting cash or Crown Royal,
my brother mesmerizes with a burglar’s handwriting,
a pageant of fey, distancing monologues.
“Why not lie?” he explains. “I like the easy taboos.
Let your thieving words shimmer
like elm tree avenues before dawn.”
His letters home are envelopes
filled with bits of maps and juggler’s puzzles.
I waited years for news he was in the tomb.

Healed back to the cut line,
I walk in an air of impatient wit, a patriot’s scorn.
Too old to be this poor,
I take a mealy apple, ice-cracked water
and settle to wait for the summer civil war.
I spent two years
studying Jimmy Reed and George Sanders—
parables of the hobo and the dandy’s mirror,
the lame tiger and a mule kicking in his stall.
I’m re-reading Godot’s letters to Casey Jones,
trying to find clues in a crash.
All answers lie in the public domain.


It was part of his love to believe in the absolute treachery of his adored one.—Stephen Crane

                                                                                          for LB

Silence imagines itself as flatlands
disgraced by power lines, double diamond wire.
Silence dries waterholes to muck, streams to stone beds.
It blocks the planting moon, the gliding hunt of hawks.

In seared tones of greasy red, Persian green,
a stolen photo conjures you—
knife-cut hair,
a rawhide tie of owl feathers and emeralds,
stolen boots, a broken arm.
Ever ambivalent, drained of remorse,
I will hold you in my thoughts
for one month more.

I took you for an hour. I saved you for the day
a gallows rope rang the vesper bells.
Composing a script toward revolution,
the second act requires a vendetta:
landscapes changing rain-blue sky
to ants crawling carrion,
hooded defendants, a dog squatting as he pants.
The final turn is forgetting your last name.

Braying in the mud, a riverside priest
guides you to the constable’s door.
A history of the crow and the Christ tattoo
claim your left arm, knuckle to neck.
The color link of vest and scarf
signals what bedroom you’ll acquire.
As the muezzin calls the mid-morning prayer,
children trail their veiled mothers through the market.
Silence is stenciled and spray-painted,
pale clots from bullet strike, shrapnel blast.

Each Evensong, a falcon turns
diving wings to weaponry.
Silence is distance calculated
by meridian, mile or minute.
Beside maps of Thermopylae, maps of Masada,
a Colt Dragoon weights my writing table.
Shadows of wind-shaken limbs distress
a bookmarked history of Hemingway’s wives.
I have no talent for mercy.
It drains, alien as honor.

There is no true silence, you said.
Only mysteries in communication,
the courier dying at his trade,
bleeding out behind the wheel.
Teasing a future lie, you page
for safe definitions in the Looter’s Dictionary.
Morning celebration becomes a rustler’s pitch by noon.
The campaign badge on your blouse reads “Belle Starr/2016.”
A gunbelt and press pass lanyard
hang from a bayonet embedded in the wall.

Silence takes beauty for a prize.
It tutors the stateless, the wary,
every live witness at the scene.
Revising an origin story, I exchange
caste for cabal, revolver for automatic,
the premise of union for a hillside surrender.
I’ll exit the war with you as winner,
buy my way to an exiles fleet
under fire in the harbor.
To calm an injury, calm intrigue
I take a cynic’s grin to a sniper’s perch.
My voice drops out. I read Sherman’s memoirs
as you abuse every messenger.
Silence is a term of worship,
worthless and writhing on the stadium sand.


In the Western narrative that is shelter, space and silence
we take freeways, elevators,
hours in planning to see each other.
We make what we can from
the cleverness of nights stretched past dawn.
Before I leave my car
I study a list of seven questions
that can’t be asked.
I am allowed what I can gather from proximity,
my cock, your climax.
Rain glistens on the sidewalk.
You stand in the doorway, backlit and lean.
Sly, smiling, you extend an umbrella
while your arm curls mine in lazy caress.
I know these rooms, this greeting.

            No day uncorrupted, none without fear
            I have no childhood memories beyond these:
            Drunks, dirty clothes, a sleepwalker
            hovering at the head of the stairs.
            The heaviness of hunger is a tactic, a lesson learned.
            I remember dreams in threes:
            Years abandoned, evictions, shots fired.

In your keeping
pages in a book, travel absence,
the breath of a kiss
signify what we share.
As you rise, slipping from me,
the inevitability of Tucson asserts itself.
Flight is habit, like unhappiness and appetite.
We have a language for it:
terse terms of email and instant message,
pet phrases for our fucking.
Like Bertolucci’s lovers in a loft,
we trade the task of naming ourselves
for alarm and ambiguity,
the luminous motion of bodies coiling, side by side.

R.T. Castleberry’s work has appeared in Comstock Review, Green Mountains Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Alembic, Pacific Review, RiverSedge and Caveat Lector, among other journals. He is co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine Curbside Review, and an assistant editor for Lily Poetry Review and Ardent. His work has been featured in the anthologies Travois-An Anthology of Texas Poetry, TimeSlice and The Weight of Addition. His chapbook, Arriving At The Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2010. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite, was published by Right Hand Pointing in May, 2011.

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