Monday, May 30, 2011

Ted Williams (1972)

Ted Williams  (1972)

Dip the rear shoulder as  you land
your front foot and you won't lunge
on a Wilbur Wood knuckler, goddamnit.
With his best Texas Ranger hitting .250,
manager Teddy Fucking Ballgame is tempted
to activate himself.  He is fifty-four,
beefy, but how hard is it to sit back,
trust hips and hands, and drill Woods' pus?
Williams, 34-inch Louisville Slugger in hand,
swaggers to the water cooler.  On defense,
his boys labor to field routine grounders.
If he was twenty years younger....
Williams shuts his eyes: Korea, 1953, his F-9
fighter is aflame in the closest game he'll win.

This poem was first published in Elysian Fields ( a baseball quarterly edited by Tom Goldstein).  It was subsequently included in a Red Shuttleworth poetry chapbook, Brief Lives... and is now included, along with many other Red Shuttleworth bio-sketch poems, in Ghosts & Birthdays, a book available on Amazon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Billboard on Highway 81

Billboard on Highway 81

Pennies of moonlight
rinse blood
off straw.
The farmhouse
is boarded up...
lips sewn together.
Here's the grey
rope from the photo:
a hanging in Yankton
a darkness ago.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This Was Once Wild Horse Country, Really?

This Was Once Wild Horse Country, Really?

Rusty center pivots and dry wells:
college psych professors
palm the heads of the homeless,
pole dancers lipstick ox blood nipples,
and a Walmart fat woman sits the backseat
of a dead Pontiac angled south on her porch,
yanks at her gasoline-odor sweatpants.

A few miles southwest, in Sparks,
poised homecoming queen candidates
strut a stage in sleek pink dresses
as mangy skateboarders, eye-pop-eager
on momma's pills, leave blood
on the front stairs of a high school.
The girl most favored to be queen giggles
on low rent vodka, swallows tobacco juice.

Little darlin' and me....  We splatter
a motel room with pork 'n' beans
semi-heated on a used hot plate.
laugh and hoist beers to the memory
of Wyatt Earp and his Tonopah saloon.

Out on the desert near Gerlach,
with the Burning Man clean-up crew gone,
autograph seekers with nylon string guitars
pester a Marilyn Monroe impersonator,
swathed in a dusty black satin sheet,
as she chloral-dances for Clark Gable's ghost.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Goodnight, Sunday Night, Goodnight

Goodnight, Sunday Night, Goodnight

The descendants of pioneers and shootists
seasonally coil and uncoil garden hoses,
say they are feeling chirpy or not so honeysuckle.
General Hooker's men named sweeties for him
and Bat Masterson later, in New York,
on whiskey-inspiration, bought an Italian sword.
No matter the wedding, I am the bridegroom.
Doc Holliday was fond of quoting Caligula.

The evening sky is volunteering blue after days
of grey.  Oh, if only to have a bust of Hemingway
in down-slope age,  his eyes laughing at a stone
taken from the Craters of the Moon one sober evening.
The TV is on in the other room and someone is gabbling
like a goony about the price of oil, someone with no trophies
in an epoch when everyone gets a trophy, if only for bowling,
which is not sport, failing to meet even sewage-standards
for grace and character.  The evening sky
appears to be a cathedral's stained glass.

The descendants of pioneers and shootists
always know where their refrigerators are,
though the children are problematic... given, as they are,
to splitting apart from themselves, Twittering-wild,
I'm on a dark bridge... frozen in emptiness.
The evening sky stretches, brightens at horizon,
carries the perfume of rushing spring rivers,
sings a soft song of new planted spring pines.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ghost Town Hotel

"Main Street, Eureka, Nevada  1940"
(an Arthur Rothstein photo)
Library of Congress

Ghost Town Hotel

A raw button-down sky,
your sweet marzipan tongue,
a bonfire as mirror:
whiskey-'n'-love blistered
at Great Basin dawn,
we sleep on mustang bones.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Old Silver... Aged Stars Over Nevada.. The Usual Bluff

Rhyolite, Nevada

Old Silver... Aged Stars Over Nevada...  The Usual Bluff

A little money to amuse yourself, half a continent to drift,
you're a blue, past-peak gunslick of the non-rhyme.
Today you're driving either 35 or 95, nothing average,
seeking badger-silence and the next cinderblock motel.

And those stars overhead with ragged postage stamp edges,
glitter-wishes for the begging.  And the sleek Chinese girl
at Mona's Ranch in Elko refuses to believe you're only there
for the T-shirt, because she wants to camisole-strip real slow.

Legends have their own cares: Doc Holliday coughs
against the underside of his Glenwood Springs gravestone.
And Jesus fondles Mary M.'s breasts, pounds a wine jug
off a kitchen table in heaven to scare off fans and missionaries.

And... when you switch on the motel bathroom light,
it flashes before dying.  With whiskey head-throb,
with strawberry-taste skin-memories of someone,
it's good to sleep with a .45 below a pillow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


(an Edvard Munch painting)


You're too scrawny and the errand's too stout,
the boy was told.  For a week it had been cold enough
to yank teeth pretty pain-free.  The big money
poker rooms of downtown Sacramento were full
of state senators, bankers, gaunt pimps, and lobbyists.
The dandies, who said they were the ferrymen of death,
told the boy to find something to hunt for himself,
because he sure wasn't part of their plan.

Then he was on a quavering train through the Sierras,
deep snow outside, a grey mail sack stashed behind his legs,
the money uncounted.  He had wiped a man's gut-blood
off the knife blade now in his flannel coat pocket...
the blood of the man sent, instead of him, to make a robbery.
The boy saw his leather-brown eyes in the train window
and knew something, something for sure, was coming.

Seven years passed: forest fires, cobbled streets,
work with a shovel, rented rooms in brick hotels,
a few winter months polishing bowling pins,
lithe girls he paid to commit his sweat to,
and the boy never counted his murder-money.
The boy turned twenty-one sharing a cake wedge
with a crippled dog that had followed him
to the rail yards of Helper, Utah.
Three, or Three-Legs with still with him
when the boy took day work hacking weeds
for a stooped fellow who watched from a mansion's
polished oak steps in Leadville, Colorado.

It was the summer Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs.
He was too tall, muscled to be a boy.
The Sacramento hotel, where he had gutted
a man, had burned to the ashes no longer visible.
A tinker girl --that's what she took claim to--
cursed him for bumping into her sideways.
Something about the way she walked,
holding the skirt of her dress tight to her legs,
called him to follow... to tents along the river.
She said, Maybe, so he opened a frayed
mail sack and she counted to seven thousand.
Then he mounted her, one fist to her hair,
caught her musty scent, and, later, she said,
You should come with me where I'm going.

He could not say if his tinker girl was pretty,
but he liked the square of her shoulders,
the set of her breasts, the strength of her legs,
the flat of her belly, and the way her hands slow-
stripped off his clothes every Reno evening until
one night she was gone and never came back.
It had started with her standing at an open
bedroom window, began shrill with speeches
to complicitous ghosts only she could reach.
He shifted down to Tonopah, bought a house
with a solidly carpentered jakes out back.

Drink?  The saloon girl had grey eyes
and brought him a bowl of pickled eggs
he could wash down with stale beer.
She followed him home, Nelly did,
and bought new sheets and blankets.
When asked if she would make count
of all that was in the ancient mail sack,
she confessed, I can't riddle this out...
you're treasuring-up a sack of ashes?


Steve McQueen (1960)

Steve McQueen  (1960)

He fixes on the actress who is watching
sweat drip off her chin onto a handheld mirror.
Acting, man, beats having your brain vibrate
into Jello-O in a factory.  But it's all a box,
six feet long, maybe with blue linen lining.
He takes off a cowboy boot, rubs his foot.
Look, I don't mind cloth napkins with a meal,
maybe a steamy kiss between sucks on weed.
McQueen whispers something to the actress,
squints, pulls the boot back on by its mule ears.
Let's figure I live to sixty.  Can you see me
some November day, like an old cow skull,
lying on a chaise longue by a Hollywood pool,
pooched belly, mouth a graveyard of teeth?

This poem first appeared in Chariton Review (edited by Jim Barnes).

Steve McQueen (1960) is featured in Red Shuttleworth's forthcoming poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press: We Drove All Night ( the chapbook can be pre-ordered from Finishing Line Press at the web site under "New and Forthcoming Books).

WE DROVE ALL NIGHT, a poetry collection from RED SHUTTLEWORTH

Wolfie and Red Shuttleworth


can be ordered from


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Death Merits a Better Place

"Cow Skull"
(an Arthur Rothstein photo)
Library of Congress

Death Merits a Better Place

You're in Vegas at some dollar machine,
Anybody know what day it is?
You think you can pay the fare.
This sweet machine's gonna respond
because it likes, loves the girl on my arm.
And who is holding the reins at this moment?


Mother Earth refuses you.
Silence of boots.  Vultures dive.
The pale head light of a far off freight train.
Stolid machines at the shore of a dry lake.
Threatful dark on a moonless night.
You no longer recognize your own impulses.
No one can say, for certain, they have gathered
their best half-ideas in the proper order.
You place one boot in front of the other.
Yes... a far gone Easter and ladies
in ridiculous wide-brimmed yellow hats.
Yes... a best friend who loaned you his sister.
Oh... Mr. Death gropes along the desert
beside you, fakes sympathy like an uncle.


The casino's air ducts are blasting cold
oxygen at you.  A tarted-up half-lovely
hands you a free shot of Jim Beam.
Very soon: you are standing beside someone's
totaled Corolla, which you liberated back in Vegas.
Imprecision of impulse.  You can't just stand around
on the road to Kingman where you know people.
Very soon: you're pissing in front of a mirror
in a bathroom in a well-upholstered Vegas suite.
Your tired friends ask where you've been.
A buddy is nearly a grand ahead on games of chance.
A little later: from a dead clump of trees at a failed
subdivision south of Boulder, you watch cops
point vaguely at the wrecked Corolla.
Your heart feels as if it will bust loose of your chest.
Thirsty, arms dangling, you bellow at the cops,
stumble-jog in their direction... and they drive away.


Mr. Death says you can get by just fine,
It's a performance.  You borrow his shirt
to drape over your head like a drug store Arab.
It's time to sing-up a Hoyt Axton song.
Some fool on the desert was saved by seven
women out for unbuttoned solidarity embraces.
Some family was saved by a shitheel TV traffic
reporter on an off-hour helicopter joy flight.
Some fools look into their barren souls
to find further life in laughter at self.
Or... every so often some guy survives
the desert on the thought of where
his girl ran off to when he started
a losing streak at the dollar machines.


I'm tired, not angry, you say.
She's trying on wigs to see
if she can resemble Marilyn Monroe.
The suite you are in looks unfamiliar,
but there's your athletic bag and her luggage.
She says, This waitin' 'round is killin' me.
There's a room service tray over in a corner
with a plate of black bacon and orange rinds.
She says, I crossed over into crazy
when I married you, careless bastard.
You squint like Roy Rogers and she does not
resemble any woman you want to know.


In the photograph of you in the Review-Journal,
you are holding tight to a bleached cow skull.
The nurse at the side of your bed
is smiling sweet as pancake syrup.
Idiot-beaming next to you is a guy
with a sleeves-torn denim jacket,
skull patches all over the front.
The caption says he was looking
for arrowheads when you
sang some song real bad
from a dry wash.