The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


James Kimbrell

Stanzas from Earth


Like clothespins on a hearse curtain,
                                                        my jerry-rigged funeral will continue without me.
As for my point of view, pondering of themes I love best—night, sleep, junkshop
                                                                                 guitars, telepathic wheat,
                                                                                 sheet metal chicken coops
                                                                                 in the backyards of West Jackson—
Surely I will fly with invisible crows over the valley of the Provine Rams.
Surely I will step through chain link, paying no one.

Like a mandolin in a bone tree, like a back hoe in the opera lobby,
                                                         like a snot rag in a jewelry shop,
                                                         like magnets in a dog collar,
                                                         like cocktails at a courthouse,

I’ll feel out of place early on,
the wind barbed between my ears transparent,
                                                              squirrelly void of my impersonal space.


You won’t see me sitting on the fire hydrant at Capital and Calhoun, or in the weedy lot
            beside the Stop & Go.
You won’t see Wanda bring Ronnie some Now & Laters, or Quint picking his fro out,
You won’t see Doug J. with enough empty Coke bottles for a Hormel half-can and
            a bag of Fritos.
Unless you’re standing in front of a mirror, you won’t see yourself waiting at the no-
            bench bus stop marked by a narrow sign on a telephone pole.

Somewhere east of eyeshot, carrying the Gulf of Mexico in my plastic spoon,
talking politics with my old man in a spider web hammock,
cutting pearl inlay for a snowflake’s tombstone . . .

I’d rather not swim to the other side of any river, nor ferry on a current of inadequate,
overly earnest, embarrassed, if not outright apologetic metaphor
            incapable of disguising its own fear, transforming nothing.

But death draws the long straw, just as the afterlife
                                                              rides shotgun with its beautiful face in the wind.


My sister died at 48, my other sister too—I’m pushing 49, sweet momma, called the
           48 blues.
Yea though I drag a muddy boot through the gates of non-duality, if I clean up, sweet
           momma, can I stay all night with you?
I may not be the infinite rebate on the eternal Calgon coupon in the finite Jitney Jungle,
           and maybe I’m not the midnight moth-light over Hardy Junior High, Pecan Boulevard,
and the Vo-Tech Center,
but sure as the ancient, one-eyed barber at Capital Cuts knows me as my father’s son,
I will jump the Mississippi Coliseum on a bored-out Huffy, surfing the plywood ramp
           for you, sweet momma.
I’ll wheelie over the volcano’s mouth even as it blows spit bubbles, leaving in my wake
           an ellipse of Red Hots.
Sure as a mirror catches from nowhere my bicycle breath, if I clean up, sweet momma, can
           I look back at you?
Can I hold your hand by the concession stand in three hundred years?
If I show up at your square-dance, will you call my tune? step to my number? gauge my
           particle levels?
Will your heart make room for me the way a curtain billows imperceptibly when a jet
           thunders over?
If you can’t hold me, what’s all this loving for?
I don’t need a monolith. I need a mojo hand.
                                  If I can’t come in, sweet momma, let me sit down in your door.



James Kimbrell

First Day, Middle School


I wave from the goodbye area
     reserved for the wearers of pantsuits
and pressed slacks, keepers of fobs
     and lipsticks. Coffee breath. I wave
and wave as if toward the bannered deck
     of a cruise ship. My daughters don’t
quite skip. They almost float. Then
     they vanish ahead of their paisley-print
backpacks. Racing forms. Dog tracks.
     That’s how my father would follow
a morning like this. Not to hedge
     his bets, but that luck might swell
before it swerves, might rain paid bills
     and Old Milwaukee, whole cases
of King Dongs and academic success.
     There’s a horn honking contest
in the drop-off lane, our town’s only
     traffic jam, courtesy of parents
too rushed to park. I think of my father
     holding up the line at Bill’s Mini Mart,
raking a house key across a scratch-off card,
     then one more, then another, until
the poor woman behind him
     dropped her items on the gummed-up floor
and walked out. Little did she know
     that the world was my father’s casino,
each dawn a link in the gold chain
     of his omnipresent quasi-Vegas. Progress
dictates that I drive to my office
     where no unloved greyhounds
chase a painted rabbit. My bet: the stapler
     sits to the left of the pencil cup. Still,
it screws me up, what can happen
     on any day at any school: lunatics
with guns. Perverts with cameras.
     Bullies. Pink Eye. Somewhere
in the red brick building, my daughters
     are making new friends, setting out
on a path of neat, orderly rows.
     Is it too much to hope for, God
of Lotto and roulette, source
     of all pawnshops and wind, natural
or pumped-in, whose spirit moves
     through cafeterias, science class,
and slot machines alike, is it
     too much for you to protect them?
Blessed is the freedom to ask.




JAMES KIMBRELL was born in Jackson, Mississippi. He has published two previous volumes of poetry, The Gatehouse Heaven, and My Psychic, and was co-translator of Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-Seon, and Choi Young-Mi. His work has appeared in magazines such as Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Field, The New Guard, and Best American Poetry, 2012.  He been the recipient of the Discovery / The Nation Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has twice been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a professor in the English Department at Florida State University and lives in Tallahassee.



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