He Just Belongs


Mom and Dad gave Billy that dime store guitar
when he was little. He took it from there.
I left home, and when I orbited back,
he’d transformed himself into a big ball of
Toy Caldwell, Richard Betts and Jerry Garcia.
The kid with the plastic-stringed plywood box
now strode onto stages a guitar god.
But when he gave in to his blues…oh my.

Under the lights, with that Strat in his hands,
he finally was who he was meant to be…himself.
He could raise us up, then make us cry,
all with a two-step bend of a G.
Then he’d release it, like he did one night
with his spirit, to sit in with Toy and Jerry.
He’ll never have to give up his seat.
Stevie Ray says he’s got his back.
He’s Wild Bill and they all know
he just belongs.

My friend Anthony Desmond has asked folks to write a poem about music. My relationship with music is deep as the Marianas Trench, but it’s center of gravity always is my late brother Bill.

Conversation in Libby Prison

Libby painting
Libby Prison by David Gilmour Blythe, 1863

In a dark third-floor corner of one of the great spaces where Union prisoners of war are confined in the former warehouse called Libby Prison, a young soldier from western Ohio is talking to an older man, a yellow stripe on his uniform pants, captured a week earlier at Frederick Hall, Virginia. It is Sunday, March 19, 1865 and distant church bells ring  through the glassless, barred windows.

What did you tell ‘er, Pete, after they captured you at Winchester, after the Rebs paroled you, after the Infantry mustered you out and you went home to…where…Albany? What did you tell ‘er, and what did she say, when you told ‘er you were goin’ back ?

What ‘d she say when you went an’ jined the cavalry? What did she think of her man, ‘most forty, climbing on a horse to chase Rebs ‘round Virginia at your age? What’re you gonna tell her if we ever get outta stinkin’ Libby Prison? If, like them whispers I been hearin’, Grant’s got that ol’ fox Lee cornered in the henhouse somewhere ‘tween here an’ Lynchburg, then what?

What’ll you say when you get back to her all skinny from eatin’ green hardtack and corncakes. rancid bacon an’ bad water? Will you tell her about seein’ what you seen? What’ll she say when she sees you?

Peter Snyder rose from his pallet in that old Richmond warehouse, smiled a tired smile into Micky Shelby’s freckled face and said, I vill say, “Mama, home I’ve come.” Und she und the kinder vill hug me. Und she vill say, ‘Velcome home my Peter. Kiss your Papa, liebchen.’

Dot’s vat she’ll say, Mick. Und later in bed I’ll tell her the elephant I’ve seen too much, and I’ll never leave her, ever again.

Over at dVerse Poets Pub today, my friend Grace is looking for poems that tell a family story. I tried, but could only come up with this sketch. I simply had to write it. The old soldier is my great-great-grandfather, Peter Snyder, a German immigrant who loved his new country so much he enlisted at age 35 as soon as the call went out for men to serve the Union cause. I only found out this story while doing a little research a couple of years ago and wondered about Peter. Today, I put some flesh on those old bones.


Threshing Room

Square-cornered morning sunlight pours
through the window and onto the bar room floor,
dust specks floating in the box-shaped ray
crawling closer to the window and a date with noon.
The day crowd only notice mahogany and bottles
and maybe faces, multiplied as in a housefly’s eye,
as the bottoms of glasses rise over their empty horizons.

At the end of the bar, a man in black looks up
from his crossword puzzle, its ink, his vision, smudged
from the slosh of his three-boilermaker breakfast .
He departs after tossing a crumpled buck on the bar
and steps into an afternoon as empty
as his last glass. At a nearby park he sits on
an empty bench in the small mid-day shade.

His suit and the paper bag in which he carries
six cold cans of Genny are stained in their sweat.
He empties and tosses each green can, as if it
was a seed to be scattered by a prairie farmer.
But it’s not. It’s like his days, mere husks left
on the threshing room floor, where the shadows
crawl longer, closer to his horizon and date with night.

Over at the dVerse Pub site, my friend Shanyn Silinski is asking for poems like seeds, growing something from them. As I always do, I twisted that request a little bit, darkening it and drying it to something different. Back to my gritty city poems.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

501I didn’t really feel it, that first time headed south on I-95 out of Fredericksburg. Pretty quickly you get distracted by the big rigs and Jersey plates flying by. And how the sun starts out blasting your left eye, but eventually becomes a blast furnace on your left thigh, by the time you reach Fayetteville.

Once you get past the relentless chain of Pedro and the hookers’ come-ons to spend your pesos South of the Border, and you take the exit east onto 501 toward Marion and Conway, the pace slows and your heartbeats get pinned to the thup-thup of tires crossing the tar strips on the road toward The Strand.

The first time we crested that rise by the ash pond and saw the hazy blue Atlantic and the not-so-distant-now sparkling spires looking like some seaside Oz, traffic got gummed to a crawl. But the pulse in the car pumped back up to sixty-five again when the little ones started bouncing in the back seat, singing Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.

I felt that.

Over at dVerse Poets Pub, my friend Shanyn Silinski is looking for work that somehow captures the rhythms of getting from here to there. Didn’t expect to be so wordy, my poems have been more commuters than world travelers these days, but this prose poem is what I felt all those years ago on our first trip to Myrtle Beach.

A Rumor of Spring

This last March night, I stand
beneath a black ceiling of clouds
as they break and flow
across the sky, allowing a peek
at the moon and she upon me.
They’re heavenly echoes
of the river ice, once a mass
of winter rigidity, now cracking
and whispering downstream
certain secrets kept for too long.

New whispers, a quietly
cacophonous accompaniment,
inform my reverie. They approach
on the south wind, as new cloud-cracks
reveal the silhouetted band
marching northward across the sky.
I shiver, not so much
from the cold, but because
this flapping pennant affirms
the river’s rumor of spring.

New 100-word drabble shared with dVerse gang, who are looking for poems of animals as portents of good or bad news. To me, there’s little better than the news that after this long rough Winter, Spring–real, warm, green-up Spring–is near.



Months of muted tones
too long held sway
over this northern land.
Even once-bright snow
lies dingy like porridge
flecked in blacktop dust
and salt crust.
Against slate skies,
crows croak their primacy
and even gray goose chooses
to fly beyond.

Sounding my forgotten clarion,
I decree audience.
See me, hot spot of rainbow
resplendent, perched atop
charcoal skeleton of ash.
I am your King of Spring,
and will daub all in hues
you’ve missed since last
Sun dropped its rays
like raindrops.

I am Cardinal. Have faith.
April dawns and new life
like kaleidoscopic dreams
approach just over horizon.

New 100-word drabble poem shared with friends at dVerse looking to impart or share color.

Photo by Lonny Holman