Charles (Charlie) Southerland lives peaceably on his critter-filled 240 acre
farm in North-Central Arkansas where he makes walking and hiking sticks to sell
and writes poems when he has the time. He has poems published or forthcoming in
a few good journals: Measure, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Trinacria, The
Pennsylvania Review, First Things, Blue Unicorn, The Rotary Dial, and
others. Charlie likes to write sonnets, sapphics and villanelles. He enjoys
trying other forms, except ghazals.
If I stood naked here, you’d see my scars—
see the pencil lead where Billy Rippee
stabbed me in the arm, see where broken Mason jars
from the cellar fall flayed my thigh, see the lippy
track from Mama’s slap I hide with my mustache,
the Case knife gouge from playing mumblety-peg
between my big toe and the next, see the lash
from Charlie Pullum over Beth; the leg
is gone now, we’ll get to that. Let me turn
so you can see my back. A scaffold broke.
I fell. A good six-incher. Conveyor burn,
right hand. The wreck I missed and then the joke—
She hit me on the side, a Subaru.
I’m not a normal man. I’m a super rube.
When the Chaff is Stirred & the Wind Settles Dusk
~a chance of rain
I pray his nights are not as widowed as mine.
I pray he’s reconciled to her in glory.
I pray his sleep is deep, that he doesn’t pine
Or weep out in the fields alone, a story
I’m cloud-acquainted with, as if the fault
Lay on the hay that’s being baled and tied.
I fancy the rake that sings a song, no halt
To prongs that pick, rotate, and throw aside
What’s newly cut one way, without a thought.
A sickle mower chews its cud and rests—
So clearly, lessons can be found or taught
To leathered necks that yearn for lilied breasts.
I know it’s backward thinking in these lines.
Let’s stack the hay on trailers, watch for signs.
I retire to the soft underbelly
of my bed and pull the shell of covers
up over me right up to my neckly
length, retract my feet and wallow. Lovers
mate, somehow, like this in a muddy way.
They stay awhile in stasis, soften, harden,
soften, parting company in the clay,
the slick, slick clay of their Eden’s garden.
I listen to the music in the night, each night
until I fall into a dream or two
or three, alone, and when the light is right
outside my window, when the moon shines through,
I peel the shell, expose my heart to land
and wander off to search for your good hand.
The Rube Reviews His Own Book
If I refuse to buy your book, or read
that boring thing, what will you think of mine
when likened to the mighty mustard seed?
It grows on you, all over, and its spine
is lost on metaphor at first—like wine
it has to age and breathe uncorked; do sniff
it first, and eat with brie, perhaps combine
it with pate, blue cheese and lox—a whiff
or two won’t do. Get to the middle quick,
where most books go to die; it’s where the verse
is worse than first, then lastly makes one sick
except for mine, immune to such a curse.
It’s really good, but I haven’t got a theme.
It’s really long, but shorter than a ream.
Bradby Learns How to Fly
When Roy’s boy, Brad B. Lichtenstein, lit out
that day, he, like all of us had no idea
how he would intersect so consequentially—
Kapow! into our lives, just to impress
a girl who’d snookered him into a felony.
Let there be no doubt, she fancied him,
his pimply face, his horn-rimmed spectacles,
but most of all, his erudite mannerisms,
the things he whispered into her ear
when no one else was looking, which made her blush—
she felt the rush: Zap! Zoom! to her toes;
she would never share, how dare he say
such things that melted her Hun demeanor
so much so, she left the keys to a brand new Caddy,
(a 1968 Sedan de Ville),
in its ignition sitting on her father’s
car lot: Gino Olivetti’s Chevrolet/
Cadillac of Black River, Missouri.
Like a trite Delilah, she passed a note to Brad
B., tasking him to kipe the car to show
his strength and love, Aargh! for her, something
her father clearly lacked, she’d said. So charged,
Brad B. Lichtenstein obliged the ride—
he stole the steely Caddy, painted blue,
dark blue; it’s true nobody saw his face,
and out of town he flew as fast as he
could fly; the cop cars leapt in all directions
but wouldn’t catch him when he turned hard-left
onto an unimproved, un-graveled road
as one of them passed on by, unknowingly.
He varoomed, varoomed along the hogback ridge
where townsfolk never went, (and wisely) known
among the few of us who lived there, holler-bound.
Dead-ends sometimes can lead to T’s but in
this case dead-end is true to its cliché—
to lend some levity at seventy, yet grace
is born of fences and a farmers pond,
thank God for launch, Wham!, landing, sinking,
filled with muddy water—while we fished
the bank’s far levee, glub, glub, submerged,
its wipers wiping full-speed in the deep
as we dove in to save Bradby Lichtenstein,
me and Dickie, Billy, Butch & Raif.
We dragged him out, and Butch, R.O.T.C.,
of late, gave him mouth-to-mouth and sloshed
the water spouting from his lungs; Bradby
hacked; we got him up and left the pond,
our poles and stringered catch behind, looked back
but no one there had seen a thing; in fact,
the evidence was hidden by the act.
He told us later of his quest and how
the girl; Fauna Olivetti confessed
her love for him, how she was German on
her mother’s side and how he couldn’t hide
his near-death affection for her hand.
But things go wrong with chance exposure, like
the story of the Country Mouse and the City
Mouse, how Bradby ended up with Dickie’s
sister, Rose, and how we found our way
to Black River City on a sunny day.
Aloft they swim in unison, the fluid
machines who take off in the morning air,
mysterious murmurations a Druid,
red hair aflame, would die for, his pale bare
chest, a pagan's crest of runic scars
displayed in green and orange, black and white
for seasons of the sun. Here, nothing mars
the tight gyrations but the merlin's slight
intrusion, picking off an old cock––laid
low in the reeds where grackles, late to rise
are startled, quick to join their mates who fade
from dark to light formations in disguise,
wing to wing, their iridescence blinding
to the Druid and his mate; she plays a flute
to imitate the rush of sound winding
like a stairway to the stars, the mute
clouds looking down, bemused then sorely pierced
by a few, those few who lead the flock. They dive
and twist, contort and tease the ground nearest
the fanatics watching figure eights jive
before their eyes. The redwing blackbirds join
the ceremony from the great gray oaks
across the marsh. The Druids drop a coin
into the muck as sacrifice; the croaks
of pool frogs lend symphonic bass, surround
the wetlands like the catholic choirboys, monks
in-training, unafraid but straining, bound
by transcendental fiat, more like drunks
than spirit. The flock, dynamic, flies, moves
across the field by slight degrees all day
unhurried, undulating as it grooves,
the cackling louder while the sun holds sway,
but then relents, and plunging down to eve,
a Wolf Moon rises on its back; the flock,
magnificent in its sheen, makes-believe
reality before it settles; shock-
waves feather out and dissipate in reeds
with darlings dreaming through the mania
of stunts to come tomorrow and their deeds
above the isle known as Britannia.
With all the cracks here, are you not amused?
She’s aged and gathered in the dust, has raged
About the heat which weakened her—abused
With all the cracks here, are you not amused?
How rhetoric has come to be confused
With flame as real as one who has been caged
With all the cracks here. Are you not amused?
She’s aged, and gathered in the dust, has raged.
A Cordial Undertow
Now and then nostalgia has overtaken
Me—perhaps it’s something I can’t explain here.
Lifeboats save us from the convergent sea swells,
Sinking and drowning.
All of us who wish to be saved are saved, thus
All the lost are lost in the depths of darkness,
Finding comfort there in its briny bottom.
Weight is a presence—
I miss you like that, like the lost miss breathing,
Like a boat who misses the shore, the tempest
Sparing no one starving and thirsting, staring,
Withered like raisins.
Now you know my secret nostalgia parting
Then from now, the splitting and shivers, seagulls,
Terns and turtles, beaches and mangoes, palm trees
Balmy as kite string
Tethered to my fingers entwined but loosely held,
Tail taut caught in thermals uprising, pulling
Ever tighter, ever so farther wayward,
Taking the scene in.
When I smell the air, I can sometimes think this
World won’t end, won’t leave me alone, akimbo.
Yes, I know it’s fantasy, once again you
Stand here, beside me.
Responding to the Howl
The linguistics of wolves
There’s no point to shunning you now. It’s later
Than you know and thinking about it after
Thirty-one plus years is a waste of someone’s
Time. But you know that.
Forty-six long hours and a sunrise knocking
Up against the Sound, what a sight! the cool air
Soothing, after Iowa’s heat. Wyoming’s
Lonesomeness buoyed me.
Most of South Dakota was bathed in darkness.
But Montana’s sky and its peaks, its glaciers,
Thrilled me. You were cold for a minute—piqued too.
Found in your heartbeat,
Coal-mine fire is burning beneath your tailings—
Smelled it when I drove up beside your hedgerow.
Holding you sounds trite but it isn’t, is it?
Tell me, please tell me
Which is better, pillows or arms or subtle
Play? And who are you all alone without me?
Who am I who’s trucked all across the country?
Jonah, Jonah, listen, relax, I’m coming.
I’ve been chosen, chosen from all the fishes
brimming in the ocean to hold you safely,
prophet of Yahweh.
Hear my song and feel it down deep and rising.
Here I come to take you away to his good
will: redeeming Nineveh, fearless, holy,
washed and relentless.
Wave goodbye to shipmates who sail the coursing
wayward trailing currents, released from curses’
gloom, despair, calamity’s charge and roiling,
We will dive the fathomless depths together—
you, cocooned in the darkness of my belly,
sleeping—I the behemoth, luminescent,
swim for the far shore.
I’ve not come to taste you; my tongue is addled
strangely tinged and tingles deliciously so,
satisfied, but Jonah, my stomach churns, turns
wanting to vomit.
Never have I vomited, never have I
known the feeling, known the release, the pleasant
roiling, deep and heaving, congealing, holding—
Who would believe me?
Gathered Sapphic Fragments
Lush means one thing, lushness another; lovely
Love, please pour us drinks of the best wine, creature.
We will toast the vine as it sprouts new leaves, leave
Causing pain, a virulent strain, a pinched nerve
Makes me tingle, jigger the load I carry.
Would you marry me in the morning, knowing
What is left to love of me—conch pea seedling
Green and fragile, squashable? How about it?
You divide me delicately like surgeons
Wielding cold scalpels.
Break the clocks, their timeliness agitates me
When I see them running amok and hear them
Calling out their bellicose ticking, tocking,
Tell me, girl, which ecstasy you’d most likely
Die for: The impermanent lure of drinking,
Potions, sex, adrenaline rushes, thrill rides?
Night on the sofa?
When you come and finally lie exhausted,
Lounging here entwined in our perspiration’s
Helix, would you mind for mortality’s sake—
Letting the grass grow?
Now beneath our feet is the beating heart, this
World alive with gravity’s pull—surroundings
Soundly gather pulsing around us, coursing
O poor Eve, you finally get your wish, set
Free to leave his Eden for greener pastures;
Morning Star has risen and fallen, lost his
Hands and his footing.
Would you shoot the messenger, cut his heart out
With a knife, dis-member his bloody body
Leaving puzzled pieces to reassemble,
Changing the message?
When I heard your mother departed, left this
life, left you alone with a father you scant
knew, I wept for you, for your loss, your heartache.
You were so young then.
She was joyful, fabulous with her humor,
always, always ready with gleeful laughter
even when your father was sailing coastlines,
mapping for Solon.
She would send for me at the oddest instance,
night or day, and graciously I would visit.
We would write of gatherings, orchards, fig trees,
flowers and islands.
Playing games with you on mosaic tables
scattered near the fountains of Aphrodite
pleased her so—the abacus always favored.
You were a bright child.
There was no denying it: understanding
was your gift, gods happily casting lightning,
saturating liberally your mind's eye.
Who could have known it?
You were never babyish but reflective,
even when your mother and I debated
over which stringed instrument you would study.
Memories mock me...
Lyre! she stomped deliberately, the lyre, sir.
It was such a delicate thing and complex
too. And all the cruelties relied upon it,
Lying there hidden.
Its forbidden devious beauty quiet,
stirred by fingers tenderly roused, provoked by
my instruction, thespian that I was, tasked.
Vanity took me.
Your dynamic fingers obeyed me fully,
striking strings with vividly poised aplomb, your
yellow locks seductively twined and flowing.
Willowy limbs took.
They took hold like zinnias blooming, dancing
smartly like viscaria after cloudbursts.
Blue eyes like Ionian waters sparkled,
prisoners held fast.
Here, you grew, your musical murmurs nymph-led,
mated with your lyre in the form of mystic
sorcery confounding my sense of being.
Oracles haunt me.
When your mother’s death in the winter carried
you to darkness, nausea took hold like bone chills
clawing hard at militant places tearing.
Myrmidon Fates came.
When they came, they mercilessly denied you
solace, forcing mutiny to your surface—
lava from Vesuvius, unrestrained, flowed
charring your essence.
You survived somehow in the thrashing harvest,
gleaned your childhood agonies, shocked and gathered
all of that and never betrayed your Self once.
Quiddity drowned there.
When your aunt came, whisked you to Athens, took you
from us, I was governing your estate on
Lesbos, thought I never again would see you.
Zeus intervened, though.
You returned, a woman exemplifying
grace and beauty, relishing home and comforts.
All who met you reveled in joy’s regaling.
You preferred the love of the girls to cloying
boys' advances—principled, prescient lovers,
fiercely loyal, purposeful, skilled in your arts.
Many men came courting for your affections,
undeterred by sentiments you displayed to
them of fairer maidens collaborating.
You rebuffed them stoically, all but one though.
Maybe you were left with the empty womb’s pain.
I suspected tentacles there attached, pulled…
Comedy's drama stuck.
Cleis came so named, and the whole of Lesbos
cheered her birthing, celebrants all endowing
her with gifts and treasures a child should dream of.
Burgeoning young sprout.
Long forgotten, loosely bound golden curls swayed—
babbling, lively chattering, long erased wisps...
Still, the axis Cronus devised kept turning.
Turning and turning.
Marriage made you flammable, focused, jocose—
writing, singing, teaching the girls the same arts,
all the time encouraging his adventures,
pushing him wayward.
She reminded me of a younger you, your
mother, chasing breathlessly after shadows.
Aging, I could amble along and trick her.
Afterwards, we'd faint.
Little Cleis grew and her voice raised pillars.
Duos, you both went singing the Siren’s lyrics,
tunes entrancing denizens, sating Pleiades.
Sensuous poems flew.
Both of you have sailed on the seas to foreign
lands, performed as dyads and cronies, slain worlds,
seen the gods and goddesses, Mount Olympus.
Drunk from their vineyards.
You came home in time for the autumn harvest.
I had taken offerings to the temple.
She was with the girls at the school consorting.
Pallid, the horse neighed.
O my Sappho, where have you gone? The Boatman's
come, your last love, fresh-filled amphora olive
oil for Charon, Hades, the journey launching—
glutting the Styx full.
Love of mine, I'll finish the care of Cleis.
These old bones will faithfully guide her calling,
wipe her tears and sing in the morning's reason,
gather your ashes.