by R.T. Castleberry
I slip on twice-worn jeans,
high top Chucks, ironic uniform shirt.
Mingled musk of hibachi barbecue,
wheat beer, Marlboro lights
press balcony and stairs.
Leveling whine of a service dog,
twist of a Piaggio scooter
disturb the courtyard.
Stepping to the sidewalk,
a rushing whistle warns as
downtown rail lights a lane of
oak limb overhang,
painted chains and guard posts.
Open hours, no work for the week,
I take the liquor store sip.
Walking to the car, I weave
across root crack sidewalk,
stretch a weary, shaking hand
to drop spare coins into a beggar’s palm.
Blood shadow darkness carves
a high-rise Southern horizon.
Tension seals the day.
THE SEASON WE KNEW SICKNESS
In the spring, we reap a smaller harvest,
roast pigs on empty playing fields.
We read from the plague Bible,
clean gutters with firebomb and bone.
The ring hangs loose on the lover’s hand,
ribbon twisted tight on a supplicant wrist.
Winter scars seal on sunlit skin.
The plague summons is absent cause or penalty.
The chase continues in rain, a gritted fog.
Mastiffs scatter suspects across the hills.
No harm, little charm in the plague roses.
They grow gruesome along forest battle trails.
We cross the headwaters of the plague river,
drink as anointed, drained of spite.
Take the bridge. Take a ferry.
We’ll scrape the caves of lamentations.
AS SHE TALKS ME OUT OF FALLING IN LOVE
A drink at The Zero mixes strong.
Shots spill the rim,
cocktails served brimful and burning.
Scent of lime slice, mint sweetly crushed
hovers in the smoke.
Matador and picador swing through,
each precise in his fiesta control.
Coastal painters pull them
to sketch pad, to laptop easel.
Poets sip confessional absinthe,
snipe at journal critique.
At the window tables,
the café blooms like winter lilies.
Tea and tangerines accent each seating.
Lake winds caress the elms.
The random raging wife snares
a carafe of vino tinto, settles
sipping beside the tugboat quay.
Tremulous over lover’s lyrics,
a strolling soprano warns, “Goodbye, I’ve lost.”
Garnet ring gracing clenched fist
my third adultery instructs, “Don’t marry.
Adopt a string of dogs,
the kids and cognac mothers that come with.”
She gifts me her greyhound—tethered,
dozing at the ballroom door.
Living privilege to its conclusion,
she repudiates crowns of iris, rose, camellia;
denies family pressure, ominous marriage.
Despite all balcony lies,
the horoscope years that lay between us,
if she were to ask, I’d embrace
her children fighting on the river,
her children dicing in the desert.
MAYBE YOU’LL STAY LONGER THAN THE HOUR
On mountain rail towards the bay,
I saw deer racing a fire.
Leaping a creek,
they scale a stone path upwards,
dodge through a blue oak border.
I spend a lot of time in Mexico.
I take a hard line and the train when I travel.
An ex-wife, an ex-kid live there January to June.
Leveraged in another time zone,
she lives on sand. She takes a tan all year.
The girl runs the waves, resists no temptation,
raids wallets as damage entitlement.
Spring’s mistress arrives in March,
greets each evening in
hostess silks of Persian rose,
A month gone, we screw till noon,
brunch over dark rum mimosas.
Late dinner is Black Jack and Coke,
hash the daughter value shops
from the village smuggler.
Beach winds etch the picture window,
waves ever wilder against the breakers.
I read a lot. Things you need,
whether contrary or contradiction:
kindness if possible, otherwise the boot.
The ex writes lyrics she shares to the air,
randomness of rant, specifying nothing.
We gloss the wreckage of marriage memories.
We share a pipe some sunsets, afternoons
walk a musk of sun-warm bodies,
microbrews taken outdoors.
“You express more. I don’t like it,” the girl says.“
As you ask attention,” I tell her, “you get it–
sneer, advice and all.”
Setting sun is a splash on the boardwalk.
She looks away. I walk away,
long neck bottle loose in my hand.
A personal life calls for me.
I’ll sign some checks before
leaving later in the week.
STOLE MY COAT BLUES
Hands on hips,
I stretch legs to scrape
gutter mud from new ropers.
Feeder and offramp back my house.
The sea-sound rush cascades the backyard.
A wheelchair vet nests at the front
blocking the turn lane,
begging in danger for change.
Storm clouds settle to the south,
thunder’s roll an anxiety I accept.
The clock runs out like
train cars down a bayou track,
brother’s sneak through window and wallet.
Nothing remains past
scraps of spite, a cursing conversation.
I finish a cigarette, step to the patio,
flip it arcing, sparking into the grass.
A Pushcart Prize nominee, R.T. Castleberry is an internationally published poet and critic. He was a co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine Curbside Review, an assistant editor for Lily Poetry Review and Ardent. His work has appeared in The Alembic, Blue Collar Review, Misfit, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, White Wall Review, Silk Road and Trajectory. Internationally, he’s had poetry published in Canada, Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Portugal, the Philippines and Antarctica. He lives and writes in Houston, Texas.