A Pushcart Prize nominee, R.T. Castleberry is an internationally published poet and critic. He lives in Houston, Texas, where he is at work on various prose and poetry manuscripts.
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By R.T. Castleberry
I sit on the edge of war, thirsty for release.
Wearing the white of mourning surrender,
I stack my rifle outside the harbor chapel,
march in queue for a meal.
The vagabond legions merit all respect
as they disappear into the city,
busk on streetlight corners,
take their turn as teacher’s aide, Kwik Copy clerk.
Co-conspirators at large, their ringtones sing:
“Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima.”
In visits overnight, I find friends
dead by protest beatings,
deaf with bleatings of family scorn.
Shattered, ill, they are ranking
clinics, hospice care, the mercy in
morphine over prayer miracles.
I sit with their dying, wince
at my needs, my loss in their leaving.
I wish them recovered.
I wish them no more pain.
Some mornings I’m called to waking
by a wicked piper, black dog at his feet.
He disturbs, discerns nothing save
grievance blare, ways of discontent.
I haul myself through a failure
that is cursing weariness,
a beggar’s snarl at bitter news,
Red Wing boots broken through to mud.
Eyes down, I revise my wolf pack memoir,
strike off another day in this sordid country.
Windows on the gray,
the room is a shell of information sleep,
honor debts, the graves of Funeral Summer.
Early on a Sunday, I imagine trouble,
wake to the apartment kids scramble,
sirens after motorcycles shriveling the air.
Making a life alone, I secure
my credentials from five lies,
a dread veering these martial streets.
Voice closed off,
I sacrificed my words last week,
defying sunset curfew, seeking a risky dawn.
Eyeing old acres,
I lift a phone, take a photo,
capturing beauty with the bitter, the oblique:
flare of lights across oily water,
hobo’s stroll from tent to liquor store,
sagging, sadder houses spread along the river.
Marchers at mid-day message their intent,
take a street beating Security contends is justice.
Four preachers witness to a later crowd
on Jesus’ Method and the police baton,
the Record feature under stress.
All I’m capable of is a memoir of collapse.
I ration the wine, amuse the guests with
work stories from a beachtown fair,
pleasures and secrets of an icehouse childhood.
Poster paints, gun oil stain the table cloth.
Sky-wide vistas shrink with rallies rising voices,
refractions of bonfires, profile arrest.
As I enter the Nickel District,
I see an anxious expression in
every display window I pass.
I shake the day, like water from a coat,
double-bolt my door locks.
The Body Acting Upon the Mind
Across 4 narrow lanes, a jukebox kicks up
a barmaid’s call to morning drinkers:
Seventh Son, then King of the Road.
Summer sweating, standing in stone-scuffed boots,
I’m choking on gravel dust at the edge of a ditch
Deeper is darker is damaged—
donation clothes, foster home years,
county clinic Gold Cards.
The dream where my father
rages in the next room
replays six times a month.
First loyalty is seeing myself protected.
I go silent, grow anxious when given a gift.
I quit praying after three years without response.
Roadwork trenches empty the stores.
I squirm on a broken bus stop bench,
juggling tokens and library books,
the hazards of a parent’s promise,
long rides to retrieve VA meds.
Deeper is darker is damaged—
Saturday fight, Sunday chill,
apartment moves at the first of the month.
Bitter is a child shoplifting for his lunch.
If I avert my eyes,
it’s to hide suspicion.
In the car, I keep a copy
of Time Out of Mind, of Late For The Sky
as language sharing the limits of survival.