American Education (Cantos, 2019)

a pantoum

To teach is to imagine
a classroom scattered with bodies—
mouths twisted, chests full of holes—
and go on rambling about poetry.

A classroom scattered with bodies
too young to enter a warzone
goes on rambling about poetry
and fights death with flowers.

Though too young, they enter a warzone,
wrestling with meter and metaphor,
fighting our deaths with flowers,
and planting beauty in neat rows.

Children wrestle with meter and metaphor,
smiles twisting, their chests full of holes
for planting beauty in neat rows.
To teach is to be able to imagine.

Eupora High School Gym, 2002 (POMPA, 2017)

Off the bus, we find the usual heavy air of 

stale popcorn,

the faint notes of mildew from Jordans 

left in gym bags,

each doorknob, threshold, bench 

streaked with rust.

In our locker room, teammates—lank-legged 

black and white boys—

tape ankles, slip on jerseys that should 

label us the enemy.

But the bigger battle, a cold

culture war,

heats the stands naively marked 

“Visitor” and “Home.”

On one side, black fans back their all 

black team,

punctuate dunks, and echo

every swish.

Across the floor, white parents ignore 

court action,

flip through magazines, braid 

hair until

their all white dance squad takes

 the halftime stage.

At intermission’s end, waves of camo 

and blond hair

pour through exits as our dribbles and 

sneaker squeaks

reverberate through a 

half-drained gym.

We visitors can’t explain the tableau 

we’re performing

between the baselines, but it feels 

like Mississippi.

When the buzzer sounds, teams shake hands

and we bus back home. 

Eupora tidies up, shuts off the lights, and readies 

for another game tomorrow.

And All God’s People Said “Amen” (Intégrité, 2019)

When my grandmother died, 

the preacher eulogized her coconut cake. 

Somewhere between “Psalm 23” and “Blessed Assurance,” 

he gave those packed in the pews at 

Manly Presbyterian Church 

a revival in confectioner’s sugar and full-fat milk. 

While the Hammond warbled behind him, 

the Reverend Doctor picked up speed, 

wiped his brow as he reminded every mourner 

that the only grace there was 

was the grace they could taste, 

the kind that paints a sheen on the lips,

and in Etta’s kitchen, there was a slice for every 

widow, orphan, outcast, and addict. 

Into your hands we commend your sweet servant, Lord. 

What is love but four sticks of butter, hand whipped 

and spread smooth behind an unlatched screen door?

A Child Wrestles With Theodicy in Mississippi Springs (Intégrité, 2019)

When tornadoes came, Sis and I moved 

with lightning speed to grab transistors, 

wedge on batting helmets, and anchor ourselves 

under pillows and blankets in the claw-foot tub. 

Our mother read Psalm 91 by flashlight 

as the overheads strobed, popped, and failed. 

You will not fear the terror of the night, 

or the arrow that flies by day

We could always hear the train—not a 

dissonant horn, but the violent rumble-chug 

of twisted air laying its own tracks—closer 

or in some other family’s yard. 

A thousand may fall at your side, 

ten thousand at your right hand, 

but it will not come near you. 

When the silence won, every time, 

we unfixed our knees and elbows from 

cold porcelain and set out to 

check on neighbors, report downed lines. 

We’d find chimney bricks in drainage gutters, 

pine needles pierced through trunks, 

but everyone we knew whole and thanking God.

Next to my Cheerios, the sprawled morning 

paper ran death tolls, 

photos of oaks dissecting Camrys, 

someone’s grandmother 

missing near the county line. 

The Lord has his way in the whirlwind and the storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Self-Portrait as Sacrifice on the Diamond (Deep South Magazine, 2016)

Batter baptized in pine tar strides toward plate
while shoe-polished eyes find brother stranded.
This batter knows how his brief appearance must end,
yet he hoists ash bat over shoulder and
scratches cleated toe through red Georgia clay—
dig and tap, scrape and spit.

He squares, a giveaway, and corners rush in
to seize the ten-foot offering our batter has
deadened down the line, his stirruped legs churning
toward a destination he is not allowed to reach.
He smiles at ump’s rejection; brother is safe.

Metrics scorn the bunt, tell us it’s a fool’s errand—
a waste of quick-twitch skill to lay one down for
only a chance at later reward. But the numbers
cannot feel the dirt-diamond hope that moves
in all of us, begs us to trust that the one who
comes behind will be the one to move us forward.

Praise God for the bunt, and for every sacrifice
and squeeze that pushes us toward home.

To My Wife, My Love, Who Brought Home Lite Mayo (Cantos, 2019)

It’s the little things, you say,
and you draw me to you,
touch our once-straight edges,
You press your ear to my heart,
which has had its episodes.
You lead me to the nursery, where
our son snores under soft crochet.
And you tell me you love me,
that we vowed old age.

But when I slice the cap off a ripe heirloom
and leave a tender trail of red with
each gushing stroke on worn butcher block,
I cannot help but think we deserve
everything in its fullest.
Let this be my apology, then,
for the thick layers I will paint on
this bread and on the walls of our hearts.

The ER Staff Listens to My Heart and Me (Cantos, 2019)

I tell them it’s a flutter
(because that’s what I hear on TV),
but it’s less Monarch, more bee
that swarms before death—then leaves.

Or maybe my chest is an elevator shaft
with a car packed full of children who
press each button to see the lights, hear the dings
until the cable snaps and they plummet.

My fear pushes the first beads of sweat out
and I’ve stepped out of the shower onto
an electric bathmat, where I feel the surge
in each hair in my pits and around my nipples.

I explain that I get how the astronauts feel
when they drift, weightless, and look down at
home, knowing some bad math here, the pull
of the wrong lever there pushes them
into eternal orbit.

But mostly, I say, I know what it’s like to be lonely—
that when the end comes, we search our
hearts only to find each chamber empty.

Seismology (Cantos, 2019)

I want to build a poem 

from an earthquake. 

I would start with the 

tremors under toes and 

the spastic ripples in a teacup. 

Then maybe my speaker would 

shout to his wife that 

this is the big one 

as they ran for cover 

under their antique dinette. 

I’d have to fill the middle section 

with the requisite sounds—

some rumbles and rattles, 

crashes and screams—

as the bookshelves unfastened 

themselves from their studs. 

As they waited out the furious 

convulsions, my couple would 

conjure the conceit—some 

philosophy on fixedness or 

the fault lines of the heart. 

Peace would come and they 

could sweep up the rubble 

and patch their fragmented selves. 

But I’ve never been in an earthquake. 

I don’t know the subconscious routines, 

the preventive feng shui 

born from a house set jelly-legged 

by the whims of rocks. 

I have been able to trust my steps, 

and walk in straight lines, 

barefoot on calm soil. 

For that I sit blank-paged, 

praying to the floor until it 

opens up and swallows me whole.