Sunday, November 27, 2011

Primitive Road

Primitive Road

Past the swirl of yellow cemetery dust,
shallow-rooted trees, homemade toys at roadside....

A farmhouse, tiny windows, gently sways
beneath oval-carved clouds.

It is so easy to end up broke with no more
than an end-crust of pocked rye bread.

A farmer sweeps off a black-dust bed,
sets aside his father's blood-wet eagle head cane.

On the westward downslide of a rutted two-track,
a boy in a careening pickup listens to his heart begin to race.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Memory Lift 'n Sweep

Memory Lift 'n Sweep


The tumbling-boozed man's breath in his daughter's hair
as he tucks her into bed... drops a coyote hide over her....
And a wild-haired woman spreads baked apples
across a scarred maple table.


An old heavy-jowled man piles a black chair
on top of a crate of picture albums.
The benediction of a house soon to be burned
for new tenants... corn instead of cattle.
Blue flames, a curling sepia image of a pale calf,
the click of a fingernail on treasured driftwood.


The man is skinning squirrels and his bride
is rubbing flour on the carcasses
to remove most of the hairs.
The daughter asks her father for a goodnight kiss.
This is the distance between two coyote pups
pawing each other in a den.  This is the bump-rattle
of a kicked-out barn door dragged to a clearing
in mulberry woods.  This is fire-crackle.

*  This poem, an earlier version of it, under the title "Mow," appeared in Dacotah Territory: A 10 Year Anthology (published in 1982 by the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies), edited by MarkVinz and Grayce Ray.  This version is much revised.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, Billy the Kid

Happy Birthday, Billy the Kid
(November 23, 1859 - July 14, 1881)

It'll be in the sixties, sunny, later today
near your Fort Sumner grave....
Tourists' salty tears will splat dry ground.
They've seen the movie.  Or all the movies.
There's always someone who believes
he bought one of your boots or a tooth.
So much of the past is crippled memory
blackened from bitterness or for profit.
Postcards a dollar, knock-off Billy sombrero
with a Chinese dog skin vest?  Ninety-nine bucks.
Oh, the turns of reckless, hungry youth,
girls and borders, pistolero nights... cantina songs:
we live with deaf ears for the smell of gunpowder.
All too often the law is a bent-back whorish lie.

This poem for Billy the Kid, and other bio-sketch poems, are included in Ghosts & Birthdays, a book of Red Shuttleworth poems published by Humanitas Media Publishing in 2012... available on Amazon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Cinderella Game

The Cinderella Game

She's sweaty, dizzy on a pink bed
after another day of door-to-door
make-up sales to rumor-defiled women.
It's a Motel 6: stand-up shower
with a fatigue bench, free shampoo.

Put your ear to the hard ground.
In some spots you'll hear the bubbling
Amargosa River running down below.
Pioneer's now a ghost town.
Once it had three newspapers,
three opera houses, seven churches,
twelve brothels.  Pioneer lasted one year.

No clothes, no embarrassment, she opens
the door, no man's brown-eyed blonde
in a white Mustang.  Lonesome Jack,
druggy-thin neck of a rock star,
a quarter mile south of plain drunk,
found a black plastic bag filled
with lukewarm burgers in a dumpster.
Suicide is a daydream embellishment.

*  This poem is included in a 2010 Red Shuttleworth poetry chapbook, Drug Store Vaquero (Phoenix: The Basement).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Barstow

In Barstow

The mother scrubs plates with a tea-brown sponge
as children sword fight with table legs.
The books on the shelves are arranged by color.
In the garage there's a work-scarred saddle
and stacks of string-tied Vogue and Elle magazines.
She toils nights serving cheeseburgers to tourists
living on spinach-green pills they wash
down with watery beer.  Lonely truckers sometimes
say her gold-plated anklet from El Paso is cute,
but Hud is never coming in his pink Cadillac.
Chris Isaak sings You Took My Heart
on the radio from outer space...
and her kids smash another set
of water glasses stolen from work.
The bitter marrow of a dead marriage
is on her tongue, but she has a mind
to buy that hemp mini-dress,
get some of that shank bone soup
education at the junior college.

*  This poem is included in a 2010 Red Shuttleworth poetry chapbook, Drug Store Vaquero (Phoenix: The Basement).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Postcard to Kay Boyle

Kay Boyle
Palo Alto, California, 1978 or 1979

Postcard to Kay Boyle

Dear Kay,  The Revolution never arrived.
Tonight, far off, flames are singing
to a black sky, a Gaelic god's
shameless indifference.  The half-inspired
novelist-revolutionaries you fed
on Frederick Street are now sixty-something,
glum in Tenderloin hotels stacked with tales
no one will publish.  A few have chucked words
to craft strawberry-scented candles
on the Mendocino coast... and their meth-addled
children hate the patchouli stench of them.
I hope you have forgiven me for using
your letter of introduction to Beckett
to light a turf fire in Donegal.  Kate bakes
brownies as if our kids are still at home.
I spend nights walking toward a fire
maybe fifteen miles across high desert.
God love you, Kay.  Never slack-jawed,
never too weary to insist on marzipan
for every living soul, you were beautiful
as soft Irish rain.  Where you are,
I hope you have settled in with your beloveds,
Joyce, McAlmon, Beckett, and Ernest Walsh...
and that Hemingway is not
there to taunt you.  Love, Red

*  This poem is included in Red Shuttleworth's 2010 poetry chapbook, Drug Store Vaquero (Phoenix: The Basement).

Postcard to Jerry L. Crawford

Playwright Jerry L. Crawford

Postcard to Jerry L. Crawford

Dear Jerry,  We're at the radiant-blood precipice,
tumbleweeds snagged by barb wire.  Yesterday,
as daybreak floated across rock and sagebrush,
someone left a blood-dripping, gut-and-lung shot
coyote in a shopping cart in the Moses Lake
Wal-Mart parking lot.  The cart boy, Brent,
was dispatched to have a look.
It didn't fucking starve to death, he told his boss
before phoning me.  This is not, Jerry,
theatre for castratos of The New Yorker variety.
As I rolled up in my cherry-red Mustang,
chewing tobacco, listening to the Cowboy Junkies,
Brent was laying a couple of large black plastic bags
over the bullet-riddled carcass in the cart.
It caught me in its gaze, Brent whined,
like I was the pimplehead who shot it.
I told him to shut up.  A crowd was gathering.
Then the wind lifted the bags and they spun
off the cart and a clownish girl, with orange hair
and a black dog collar, began dancing.
A guy in the crowd snapped, For Christ's sake,
Nina, we came here for groceries and beer!
So Brent pushed the dead coyote cart
around to the back of the store, dumped the coyote
at the edge of the lake where we buried it
with brand new, soon-to-be-on-sale shovels.
It's a bit like baseball, Jerry:
where the head goes, the body follows.
We're almost over the wall, Red

*  This poem is contained in a 2010 Red Shuttleworth poetry chapbook, Drug Store Vaquero (Phoenix: The Basement).

Postcard to Julie Jensen

Playwright Julie Jensen

Postcard to Julie Jensen

Dear Miss Julie,  Gust of arctic wind and I shamble
into an all-night roadside cafe.  My casual seizures
of inappropriate rage or amusement are twenty years
north of Vegas and Red Rock.  In one booth
a couple of kinds are mutually glazed
with denim 'n leather seduction.  Up the aisle
there's a girl with frizzed blonde hair,
blue fingernails, and kippered face,
bred LDS-upright and tamped down,
wickedly perfumed, trembling over coffee...
a character from one of your plays?
The waitress jingles and scuffs toward me
with a dog-eared menu, grins like a rock chuck.
Unshaven for days and not a fraction rich,
I still listen to my lunatic heart.
My waitress has cigarette burns in her voice.
She's stoned, chewing gum.  I order
a night's sleep covered with a buffalo robe.
She serves me charred bacon and a gooey
fried egg, says, as if I've invited her to bed,
I don't trust guys in snap shirts and trophy buckles.
She's ice rain on warped corral boards.
Julie, you know the bump
of this country.  Love, Red

*  This poem is contained in a 2010 Red Shuttleworth chapbook, Drug Store Vaquero (Phoenix: The Basement).

They Say the Lonesome Road

Red Shuttleworth east of Ely,,, 1999

They Say the Lonesome Road

A knife awkwardly dropped to a saloon floor....

Evening... the race for a matching pair of firm breasts....

The pinch-face clerk says, Drive safe....

The bet: the devil's memory is dim.

Just a money job, the wheaten-haired pole dance grimaces.

Heartless... granite-hard goodbye kisses....

A six-foot wooden coat ain't all that cheap.

The school marms, both genders, look exactly
like they'll look in thirty years... bowel constricted.

Reasons for barreling-out include backyards with clotheslines.

Eventually, it's true: diamond lights, no gold rings...
only back-bent old men with rough-carved canes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Leopold Staff

Happy Birthday, Leopold Staff
(November 14, 1878 - May 31, 1957)

All that glitter-love, when times were best,
was best ignored... just the shit-soiled
pajamas of the Ubermensch. 

Silver cigarette case, wooden Franciscan crucifix,
half-starved children selling bathroom tile
lifted from bombed-out buildings.

An undulating purple dusk over Poland....
The cozy Marxist surfaces tarping brick rubble...
At least you sang on a chill evening.

A Running Break to Try to Get Away

A Running Break to Try and Get Away

The faces of wolves flicker in a pewter-black storm sky.
Orange slices, cube of cheddar, whiskey for dinner.

Someone told me, but I lost track of the number
of out-of-gas pickups abandoned in Death Valley.
Missing blow-dried people.  Errant statistics.
Or... the yawp of Vegas showgirls receiving intermission roses.

I daydream in the face of emails.
Disposable cameras and broken cowboy heartbreak-bones
nursed with whiskey on the highway bypassing a sour
burn barrel of a motel with a huge plastic buffalo out front.

The party-hard girl in a tissue-thin white lace dress
tosses a crooked grin, You ain't an altar boy type, are you?
Graveyard gates as ash piles, drought-thirsty cattle on loading day,
transient scented-candle girls: decades of jerked beef and biscuits.

It's the quiet of a thin old man selling heads of lettuce
in the cracked parking lot of a farm supply store,
crescent moon bruises on his face and scrawny arms.
If paradise is forty miles of grassy barb wire fence line,
a can of Copenhagen, a horse familiar with Hoyt Axton lyrics....

It's the way Beaver, Utah, looks like heaven at summer dusk,
clean motel room and a dusty Main Street pawn shop,
if you've driven alone from Ely through a thunderstorm,
crystal blue-ghosts at lonesome Frisco Peak.

The word Today arrives road-bitten bloody.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Leafless Shadows

Red Shuttleworth and Wolfie

Leafless Shadows

Moon-bright silent grass:
George Washington, dreary night,
curls in the arms of his neighbor's wife,
sobs for less weight on his chest.

Soul of iron filings:
Andrew Jackson rips and burns
newspapers, They carry no warmth.

Bundles of stars on the backs of cattle:
his skin new-suit-itchy, Tom Mix
pulls the make-up girl close,
Who the hell says I'm wooden?

Baby oil lightly spread on baby-smooth skin:
Marilyn Monroe stands breakfast-naked
at a sixth floor Reno hotel window,
performs fifty perfect jumping jacks.

Scraped-from-the-hide meat in a fry pan:
Herbert Hoover, tired of Dust Bowl photographs,
yowls and bangs a Kodak gift camera
off his desk until called to tea.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Appendix Operation

Appendix Operation

Masks conceal motives.
A doctor said it would be
like piloting my own fighter jet.
Over my nose the forced
a turtle's hump of ether.

My stepfather floated
past the table of leather straps.
Holding my baseball card collection,
he slid open the fireplace screen.
Dusty Rhodes, Mickey Mantle,
Jerry Coleman, and dozens
of outfielders were flame-licked.

I returned home to find
the ashes of the Chicago Cubs
saved in the freezer
in a plastic box
next to a broccoli carton.

*  This poem, recently uncovered, was written in 1973. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Albert Camus

Happy Birthday, Albert Camus
(November 7, 1913 - January 4, 1960)

Tonight stars glitter on a two-lane blacktop,
a moment with no headlights... to remember your words.
Car window down, my eyes watering, this high desert
night blows a pack's worth of Gauloises smoke at me.
Yes, it is best to live for the new and the superficial,
their divisions and the cobwebs that marry them.
Yes... no truths, only objects for love:
that bottle of tequila, that girl with ice-silver eyes
this rattling squirrel-dead road, that betrayed heart.
Caligula returns and returns and Caligula returns.
Long forgotten: the pair of Corinthian temples,
cheek to jowl, for Violence and for Necessity.
The stars are pearl earrings.  The stars are
tiny onions. The stars are blood diamonds.
Yes, kicked doors, baffled priests,
lonesome hotels with freckled banana walls,
and executioners. Yes, extreme experience in solitude.