Saturday, November 24, 2018

Poems By David Spicer

David Spicer has published poems in Tipton Poetry Journal, Zombie Logic Review, Scab, Cacti Fur, Chiron Review, Alcatraz, Gargoyle, unbroken, Raw, Third Wednesday, PloughsharesThe American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Best of the Net three times and a Pushcart, and is the author of one full-length collection of poems, Everybody Has a Story (St. Luke's Press), and five chapbooks, with the latest, From the Wings of a Pear Tree, available from Flutter Press.


My father thought customers liked him
because he trotted to their Cadillacs,
squeegee-cleaned their windshields
like a panhandler on uppers.

Customers laughed at him.
I didn’t respect the man
because his father broke his spirit
by beating him. He tried

that on me, even with his mouth.
What’s the class of ’66? he asked.
When I graduate, I’ll be in the class
of ’66. If you graduate. I proved

him wrong: college next, Air Force
boot camp, then You’re gonna wind
up in prison like your uncle.
Needing help at the station,

he wrote my commander a letter
for an early separation.
The Air Force discharged me.
Two weeks later, I disappointed

him by not hustling.
Trouble was, he preferred
my brother, who said, No, I don’t
wanna be a grease monkey.

My attitude preceded me.
Have you found Jesus? a dirt biker
asked. I’m a Buddhist. Two days
later, he and his friends stomped

mud on the mopped floor
and the youngest dropped a bottle.
My father passed him the broom.
The kid said, Fuck you, old man.

The next weekend, his older cousin
tracked in mud. You disrespect
him again, dickhead, I’ll knock
your asshole between your eyeballs.

My father trudged away.
I sneered, shook my head.

I remember when he bought
a .38 to protect himself.

A burglar broke in and my father
pointed the gun but didn’t shoot.
He slugged my father,
took his $500 roll of bills.

The next day my father
sold the weapon to a detective
for fifty bucks. Then auditions
for substitute sons who weren’t poets—

except with their hands—
who installed carburetors in an hour:
Jimmy, with the same name as his,
tattled on me. And Daniel,

who married my sister
and lived next door to my father.
They appeared and vanished
like vending machine snacks.

His final blow, after seven years
of broken promises with no raises?
A welsh: he’d give up smoking
if I’d cut my shoulder-length hair.

I caught him smoking a Pall Mall,
tossed a pocket watch gift
at his feet. I’m finished.
He glared, took another pull.

Why did I work so long
for my father? I remained
at the station to earn money
to publish a literary magazine,

write poems about life.
About how respect is earned,
by a father from his son, respect
that’s not innate as an Adam’s apple,

and respect for a child whose original sin
is to be the son of a father who tries
the best he can with what he has,
which isn’t enough. It’s never enough.


My father spelled hippopotamus
and inconsequential as a three-year-old
in a country shack near Paris, Tennessee

in the twenties. His father thrashed his spirit
until it withered and he grew into a man
unaware of his sadness. In the tenth grade

he studied Scott’s The Lady of the Lake,
measured poetry against that poem, and told me
my poems didn’t match that narrative. He quit school,

joined the navy at sixteen, begging my grandmother
to swear he was seventeen so he’d escape his father’s
leather. Stationed in San Diego, my father married

my mother in ’45: snapshots of her stacked in cigar
boxes sported his beautiful handwriting of Baby.
Standing 5’7” in scuffed brown shoes, he pumped gas,

fixed flats, changed oil, replaced windshield wipers,
and complained. He worked twelve hours a day,
and we ate macaroni, pinto beans, thin pork chops.

My father never owned a new car, buying junkers:
a rusty ’40 Ford sedan, a ’49 Nash Rambler,
a brush-painted fern-green ’53 Merc.

My brown eyes clashed with his hazel eyes
bordered by glasses thicker than mirrors.
A grey man, my father, even when young.

The oldest of six, I was a quiet Catholic boy
full of paranoid guilt my mother fed me
like her breakfast pancakes without syrup.

I’d wait in suspense for the belt after I’d hit
my brother when he repeated my father’s names
for me: Slowpoke, chucklehead, fart blossom.

At ten, I saw my father lying on his bed, crying.
He’d lost his third job in a month. He noticed me
staring at him: What the hell you lookin’ at, numbnuts?

But he didn’t drink or cheat on my mother.
He gambled on greyhounds, lost most of the time.
Once he gave me a St. Francis medal for Christmas.

I didn’t resemble my father. At fifteen, I towered
half a foot above him and he didn’t like it. At sixteen
I yelled Fuck you, asshole, returning punches twice:

I walked into German class, and the rosy-cheeked teacher
looked at my blackened eyes and split lip, quipping,
Third man in first row, you pulled a donkey’s tail and lived

to tell the tale. I earned A’s in his class. The second time,
my father choked me a pale blue. My father collected
Hitler books, moved his lips across the pages. He despised

Jews, blacks, himself. I mocked him: I’m not prejudiced—
I hate everybody. He adored yodelling Jimmy Rogers,
played My Blue-Eyed Jane on a guitar, flubbing chords

and throwing it across the bed. After my father tossed
a plate of spaghetti against the kitchen wall, he told me
I had a temper, sliding the belt from khaki slacks to slap

my slim thighs. I wanted his love so much I lingered
until forty in the pain of suspended adolescence.
He won an argument about politics. I refused to speak,

storming from the house. Months later he sent me
a hundred dollars to return. I didn’t, sensing he wanted
to stick his verbal knife into my ears one last time.

I chose not to raise children, fearing I’d
make mistakes molding a son who’d break
my heart like I shattered my father’s.

I wasn’t a bad kid. I wasn’t a good kid.
My father? He once said, Son, I love you.
I think I loved my father.


The first time the blond boy
told a lie, a bee flew into each ear
as he slept, his brain a flower
in bloom. Every day he told
another lie, more bees flew
through body passages
to pollinate the flower
that welcomed their honey,
spoiled nectar. One day,
as the boy with bees in his head
became a man, a honeycomb
of dead bees swallowed his flower.
New bees flew to his flower.
They congregated, and the honeycomb
grew larger and larger until his head
wanted to explode from too many bees,
too much spoiled nectar. He gained
worldwide fame for his bees,
was dubbed King of the Bees.
He told his followers that bees,
beautiful saviors, could fly.
They laughed, said they didn’t care
he lied every time he spoke.   
They loved him and his lies:
they tasted of honey. The King of Bees
believed his bees concocted the honey
that would save his followers.
One day, he told another lie, his head
burst, the nectar spewed in all directions,
and drenched those who tasted it.
He dropped dead, beheaded, nectar
spreading on the asphalt around him,
shaped like a honeycomb
that glowed the color of sin.  


Cora, Cora, we adora Cora.
Cora, Cora, she’s a fat whore-a,
my sister and I sang outside
the Sioux City cracker-box house.

Cora grunted from her lawn chair,
Pabst in her hammy fingers, wobbled
toward us, slapped my sister sillier
than Howdy Doody, grabbing

the inch-thick stack of baseball cards
from my ten-year old hands:
Guess what I’m gonna do,
ya little mother-fucker, I’m gonna

burn the best ones. Let me see:
Ernie Banks, uh-huh! Willie Mays,
yes! Hank Aaron, hell yes!
I’ll letchya keep Mantle and Maris.

I cried, my heroes in flames.
and told my mother, who laughed.
That’ll teachya to respect
your elders when they’re drinkin’.

After our car broke down on the way to Tennessee
from Rapid City, the four of us spent evenings
watching Perry Mason in the back room of my uncle
and his wife Cora’s diaper-strewn house. One night

Billy, the youngest of six kids, squealed like Cora’s
pet pig eating rat poison. Sonofabitch! my father
yelled as we hurried into the kitchen. Cora leered
at him with arson eyes through a Kool’s smoke:

Just fuck with me, pipsqueak! she yelled,
holding Billy’s hand in the stove’s flame. My father
muttered under his coward’s breath, Do something,
to my mother, who yelled, You fuckin’ bitch,

that’s the last time you touch any kid,
and slugged her in the jaw, knocking her
on the floor littered with cat and dog turds.
Cora yelled Get the fuck out with your pissant

and two little bastards. Eat me,
you whore, my mother screamed, yanking
the remaining baseball cards from Cora’s apron
pocket. We’re goin’ to Memphis, she told us.

Decades later, my mother and sister—
always nosy—curious about Phil
and Cora’s brood, found their twins,
Jackie and Jack, on the internet.

They befriended the pair, learning Cora had deserted
Phil—dying of cirrhosis—along with the twins
and four brothers. She eloped to Vegas
with a bartender, the kids landing in an orphanage.

At my mother’s funeral, Jackie, who had Cora’s
fiery eyes, said, I didn’t burn your baseball
cards. Damn, I thought, my mother told her
I said she, and not Cora, destroyed them.

I didn’t know why my mother spread
that lie, but I forgave her. She acted
when she needed to, and I loved
her using words and fists to protect us.

And Cora? Jackie said, That ole hag?
She wound up lookin’ like Phyllis Diller
after spittin’ out six more little brats.
Then she died swiggin’ a bottle of booze!


I thought of her as the brightest child among us.
I’m the milkman’s kid, she joked as a teenager.
Blue-eyed and blonde-haired among a brood
of five siblings with olive complexions,
at six years old she was cook, seamstress,
and caretaker for her charges because our mother
slept all day after a hospital graveyard shift.

Older than Dorothy, I didn’t allow her to boss
me like a third parent. The others listened
to her screams, lest our mother yell
from the bedroom in a voice colder than hers,
Turn that tv off! Dorothy led them outside,
spread a blanket by a tree and read
aloud her tattered copy of The Wizard of Oz.

Years later, she lived with my sisters,
still ironing their clothes, braiding their hair.
She loaned them money, smiled when they
couldn’t pay her on time. But one day she
went too far: Dierdre, abort your kid,
or you’re outta here. Dierdre refused,
moved, never seeing Dorothy again.

Our mother stole my childhood,
Dorothy complained in phone calls
across ten states. And he was no better.
The stumpy runt called me a whore
one too many times. Talking non-stop,
she worried about karma: Maybe I
was the witch who helped kill Lincoln.

I wish a tornado had funneled me
up to the Emerald City. But no sisters.
I could almost see her wistful smile.
She didn’t call unless she wanted advice
or asked for what she described as my
wizardly wisdom. But she’d shriek
so much about the daughter she deemed

worthless I once moved the phone
a foot from my ear. That psychopath!
Dorothy said, demanding I cut ties
with my niece. You’re repeating
the cycle of our mother and you, I said.
You’re turning into her. Dorothy slammed
down the phone, as if it were a hatchet

on a stump, as if I were a tin man with no heart.

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