The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


John Calvin Hughes

Bear This Mild Yoke


You couldn’t let the good times roll,
no more than Beethoven could roll over
no more than Jack could hit the road
You couldn’t tie a yellow ribbon
nor ride Sally ride
nor make the world go away
You couldn’t go down to the crossroads
nor fall down on your knees
nor roll with the changes

nor ask:
who are you?
What makes the world go round?
who knows the way to San Jose?
or how many roads must a man,
or who’s tripping down the streets of the city.

Or where the love of God goes when
the wind blows the water white and black.

How far from your shoulders to the ground,
how heavy the cross you will be buried with,
the yoke you’ll be carried out on,
the mild distance there, the preposterous mile?

The water white and black.



John Calvin Hughes

By and By Black Night


Someone said there is more
of God in the thick dark
than in light, but of a night
your shirt drinks up sweat,
stinking, old, a sick smell
of death in a strange bed,
Wrung like rags your body
spills poisons from the pills
everyone agrees are keeping
you upright and in the sun.
Ache your bones and break
your bones, the bed’s as hard
as scissors, hot as skillets,
in the dark kitchen, where
shadows hold brooms
and the black ink of handwriting
falls off letters you haven’t read.
There’s no up and down in the dark,
only front and back, your front,
hands out before you, your back
heavy with wings too heavy to fly,
while in the corners dust and webs
weave wrinkles of death for little things.




JOHN CALVIN HUGHES has published in numerous magazines and journals. His books are The Novels and Short Stories of Frederick Barthelme, The Shape of Our Luck, Twilight of the Lesser Gods, Killing Rush, and Music from a Farther Room. He lives and works in Florida.



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