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.


By R.T. Castleberry

American Mercy

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.

Drinking poor, 
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.