“No photographs of Pinetop Smith are known to exist.”
The gray riverbank
was dry with snakes of tree roots
and the radio
waves bounced the static-
charged air with night time jazz.
Pinetop Smith clicked keys
in a fresh boogie
woogie: “hey don’t move a peg
until you shake that
thing.” Pinetop Smith killed
in a Chicago dance hall
by a stray bullet.
The clear evening sky
is fresh ink now as I stand
by the Missouri
forty years later.
Music dances on my arm
like breath. The full moon
shines blue where stars
dot my wrinkled hands
steps from the river.
Tires kick and crunch
in the gravel where the past
clings to the thick light
while Pinetop pounds keys
over distances of years,
over brave currents.
Public Works District Yard 6
I organize these summer months
and reduce tasks to numbers,
fixate on numerals in a mantra:
rise at six, work at seven, lunch
at eleven-thirty, break at two,
punch-out at three-thirty, drink
Absolut from five to twelve, sleep at one,
cut four swipes into an overgrown lot
then circle three times along the fence line.
We search for addresses of empty lots
to mow: at 3123 Patrick there’s no house:
broken bottles and weeds and gravel.
If I find a house at 2958 Burdette, 3016
would slide in here. Often we cut
the wrong lots. We unload the Bush Hog,
cut fence wire from the flail blades
after the previous job. Then mow.
My last day at District Yard Six,
I bolt on flail blades and my hand
slips, my forearm catches
a jag of metal. The blood stands
like Jello. My foreman finds
some butterflies and we make
a quick patch job. Driving home
I think in a week I’d be back
combing newspapers, searching for work.
I drive home along the Missouri River,
by the automobile boneyards,
past factories and welding shops, by
the trailer courts filled with kids
celebrating in their blue plastic pools,
past the faded Go-Go Lovelies sign
and shaggy parks and a dim cafe. Along
the river I turn onto an access road and park,
watch the current churn up logs
and bright litter. I stand there for a long time
as the bank boils whirlpools,
then think for a moment the world is dying,
that we were all suffocating. The moment
passes and I get back in my rusted Pontiac,
turn on the radio, fire up a cigarette,
then spin over the gravel in triumph. In
the rearview the gray dirt rubs out the sun.
The gravel sings along in my fender wells.
Both I still see dead—Mark
thin on a gurney in the hospital,
Pat sitting on his living room floor,
tv on, his chemo pack pulsing.
I could have done better, could have
looked out for my younger brothers
more. We all took defiance seriously
so we laughed at death, expected,
courted it, a gift Dad gave us,
along with excess.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe are in the park,
climbing pine trees,
the sticky balm on our hands,
its scent in the air.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe ascend with grace,
grip tightly the branches,
always moving up to light.
Michael Catherwood’s second book of poems, If You Turned Around Quickly, was published by Main Street Rag 2016. In 2006, The Backwaters Press published his first book of poems, titled Dare. His third book, Projector, is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin Press in 2017. He has published poems, reviews, and essays in various magazines, including Agni, Aethlon, Black Warrior Review, Borderlands, Burning Bush 2, Georgetown Review, Hawai’i Review, Laurel Review, Louisiana Literature, Midwest Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Sycamore Review, Westview, and others. He writes essays for Plainsongs and has recently published poems in The Common, Poetry South, Solstice, Louisiana Literature, Measure, the minnesota review, New Plains Review, Bluestem, and the Red River Review. His awards include Intro Journals Award for Poetry from AWP, two Lily Peter Fellowships, the Holt Prize for Poetry, and National Finalist for the Ruth Lilly Prize. In 2003, he received an encouragement award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2014. His website is http://michaelcatherwood.net.