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Charles Southerland

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.

Sea Story
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,
     suddenly tranquil.
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
     Drunkenly pleasured.
Causing pain, a virulent strain, a pinched nerve
Makes me tingle, jigger the load I carry.
Would you marry me in the morning, knowing
     Limitless factors?
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,
     Arbiters raging.
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
     Vein-wise, eclectic.
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?

The Eunuch
(a sapphic)

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.
     Poignantly, weeping.

You preferred the love of the girls to cloying
boys' advances—principled, prescient lovers,
fiercely loyal, purposeful, skilled in your arts.
      Readily willful.

Many men came courting for your affections,
undeterred by sentiments you displayed to
them of fairer maidens collaborating.
     Steady, exploiting.

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.

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