Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: big tent poetry

Legend Says

Legend says
this land was sculpted by golf pros who only knew how to make a buck.

Legend says
there is a secret zodiac of yet-to-be trademarked corporate logos.

Legend says
the northwest passage was built by Bigfoot but is now owned by crows.

Legend says
there was a cat who joined the circus to run the big humans act.

Legend says
trees are the heretical thoughts of stone, but no one understands.

Legend says
the woman on the lake bottom sold her sword business for a taco stand.

Legend says
there was a man who named three oceans and drowned in a river.

Legend says
all night, the cities beneath the plains hum that tune stuck in your head.

Legend says
the Loch Ness grebe got lost on migration and settled in Oklahoma.

Legend says
everyone has three teeth and a tongue that aren’t attached to them.

Legend says
a man rode out of town and returned with an elixir made from cheap tequila.

Legend says
words are keys, but the doors were all busted down by thugs years ago.

Legend says
I don’t want to go to bed; tell me another one.

This was based on one of the prompts at Big Tent Poetry: start a poem with the phrase “legend says…”

My sci-fi haibun “Dear Old Stockholm” is up over at qarrtsiluni as part of the translation issue. Be sure to check it out and while you’re there have a look around. There’s a lot of great work in the issue.

The Matter of Dancing the Tangle

there is the matter of slipping below streets
where other worlds lie deeper still

parades of skulls answer boyish dreams
where flashlights’ flames throw question marks

illuminating smiles and bare thighs
(don’t say more before we wake)

the space spins round a radio star
sweat, short skirts and cowboy boots

typical typical a laugh a sigh
he starts by saying more

when less is better
she finishes by saying nothing

there is also the matter of energy
when D.J.’s lock in with the subway rumble

there is also the energy of matter
and dancing the tangle of time and bass

there is also the matter of knowing
when to burn and when to gasp

there is also the matter of morning
when the last one up turns out the lights

This is written in response to the latest Big Tent Poetry prompt, which was a list of words and phrases. It also owes much to the recent National Geographic article “Under Paris” (Feb 2011).

Check out what others did with the prompt here.

Grackle Ghazal

I stroll the streets and dodge mangy grackles,
fluttering birds in trees, those angry grackles.

Black feet and dark beaks snap at my sandwich—
I’m surrounded by the grabby grackles!

I sit a bench and study pawns and queens
‘til “checkmate’s” called by the cagey grackles.

At dinner parties, I near drop my drink
shocked by the sins of the feisty grackles.

I hang for hours on back porches, strumming
old guitars, swapping lies with folksy grackles.

At night, I roost in city trees and sing
croaking wild songs, toasting jolly grackles.

This is in response to Big Tent’s prompt about alliteration. There’s some in there, but the process led to a ghazal and some grackles.

Go to the Big Tent to see what others came up with.

For those who may not know, grackles are, like blackbirds, members of the icterid family. Here in central Texas, we see two species: the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) and the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus).

This post was included in I and the Bird #142 hosted at Birds O’ The Morning.

Old Selene Telling Lies

My old feet are pinprick cold these days.

I sleep in socks and dream of stars
and wear slippers all day long.

I ruined these beat old stompers
when security had me marched
down from the moon.

(Hand me that Epsom salt, would you, hon?)

It was a long road down,
and I wore lousy shoes.
The way was cold, strewn with debris,
the Earth just bluing then.

I stumbled over gravity, kicked back
the comet curtain and saw you,
so beautiful by the pale light
of my old waning moon.

I lost track of the steps I took, then.
Eventually, I quit counting all the miles.

In the end, though, they forgot all about me,
but then that’s just how it goes
for us used-up old goddesses, isn’t it?

(Oh, baby, these dogs’re barking.)

This is for Big Tent Poetry’s latest prompt, which suggests we write about feet. That’s where this started but then it walked off (har-har, oh I slay me) in a surprising direction when I found myself writing the line about walking down from the moon.

There are just a few gnarled oak chapbooks left. It’s a collection of my favorite micro-poems from 2010 previously tweeted, ‘dented or otherwise shared. Let me know if you want one. They’re free and I’ll ship them anywhere.

Read more feet poems here.

The Dead Man and Road Songs

1. About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man has been everywhere, man.
He walks along the shoulder, holding out his thumb.
From the Yucatan to the Yukon, and the left shoulder to the right,
the dead man has seen it all.
On Saturdays, the dead man goes honky tonkin’.
They write songs about him and call him
‘Stranger’ in Texas and ‘Buddy’ in Tennessee.
He hopes to pull the tire jack from the stone and become the king of the road.
When Jesus left Chicago, the dead man followed hoping to elude
the hellhound on his trail.
The dead man still carries the old guitar he found at a crossroads in Mississippi.
He tries to play like Robert Johnson but comes off sounding like Elvis.
He’s met them both out on the highways and told them he was following the Dead.
That was a joke, though, and he thinks they knew it.
In Luckenbach, he joined other dead men and they sang songs by Willie,
Waylon & the boys until dawn when the Sheriff arrived.
The dead man let love slip away somewhere near Salinas
and hoped to reach Amarillo by morning.
He got off the L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught.
He is on the road again, chalking up many a mile.
He’s walked through every road song worth singing, a long strange trip indeed.
Yes, the dead man has been everywhere, man.

2. More About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man prays for all the roadkilled animals at least once a day.
He started doing this a long time ago, and it’s become his habit.
The dead man bums a smoke when he can, another habit.
He has seen (and sometimes set with a careless flick of the butt)
summer wildfires that scorch the median.
Coming around again in springtime, he’s seen the wildflowers
growing best where the roadside had burned.
This makes him feel important.
In the summertime he sleeps among the roadside prairie grasses,
and he huddles under bridges in winter.
Someday, the dead man will get where he’s going.
He hopes he’ll know it when he gets there.
But the dead man has been on the highway for years.
You have seen the dead man, and you kept on driving.
He doesn’t mind, though, loneliness and solitude are his beans and beer.
The dead man understands this is how songs are made, where they come from.
These are the dead man’s wandering years, and he is in no hurry.

This is a response to the Big Tent Poetry prompt to write a dead man poem using the form invented by Marvin Bell, which is based on the Zen admonition to “live as if you were already dead.” I started writing sentences and soon I realized that the dead man was a highway wanderer and that there were lots of songs about him.

Many of the lines in Part 1 either refer to or are borrowed directly from songs by Geoff Mack, Hank Williams, Roger Miller, ZZ Top, Robert Johnson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and the Grateful Dead.

Mad props to Dave Bonta for his post about formatting poetry in WordPress, which gave me the answer to indenting long lines, something I rarely use.

Go here to read more dead man poems.

Dear Old Stockholm

We communicated in images. Flickering moments on dueling monitors. Shoes on cobbled pavement. Clothes rustle in the wind. Wind? We both understand this thing, wind. The colors are suddenly blinding. I can’t even name them. The view of open parkland and a blue pond widens to almost 360 degrees. My stomach drops as the ground falls away, earth tumbling into a pit of sky, images bleeding off the monitors now. We’re flying again. It’s all she thinks about, the only thing she’ll show. I rip the cables from my temples. She flaps them from her wings. We stare at one another across the sterile distance of the research lab. Going nowhere. Again. A white feather floats on the air-conditioned current. We’re as alien and far apart as ever. Three feet away yet separated by species and the awkwardness of the now-severed connection with its illusion of understanding and love. Can she feel it too? She doesn’t blink, her avian eyes as incomprehensible as the machines humming in this lab. I glance at the security cameras and lean in. Please, I whisper, please. Don’t make me leave. I’ll show you everything. Outside, I hear engines and the wind of ten thousand wings beginning to flap.

A flight of egrets
glides toward the setting sun—
the moon rises.

This is for Big Tent Poetry’s challenge to write a haibun about travel and an encounter with an imaginary creature. I love haibun, though my approach has been intentionally nontraditional. I’d like to learn more, but I also like the notion of feeling my way into something new and playing with it a little bit like the way I’ll fiddle with a new instrument before attempting to learn how to play it.

I suppose this is why my haibun tend to read more like prose poems. Most of them actually start with the haiku, which tend to be pretty straightforward and traditional. I then write a prose poem piece that goes in a completely different direction. I often think of the prose piece as fictional process notes.

Sometimes I think I might just revise the haiku out completely and let the prose stand alone, but for now I like the way the haiku contrasts with the prose and grounds the charge, bringing things back to Earth. This Earth anyway.

Ground Wire

Do you remember the playground
where children swarmed, climbing
the backbones of ancient leviathans?

A man sold half-eaten legends
from the debris of empire,
rusted machine guns in the basement.

(sign me up)

Indian bones and arrowheads
poke through packed earth,
fingers straining against thin cloth.

I suppose we all duck the evidence
in search of answers,
making our own sense from symbols
on scientific calculators.

(here is where we solved for x)

Upstairs, old men and women
chant themselves to sleep each night,
embellishing with cadenced recall
skirts and toys and sunny Saturdays.

I am full of red wires now,
redundant circuits, ticking louder.

(everything temporary sounds like forever)

Forged bank notes blow down an empty highway.
The first blue norther rolls down the plains.

Now comes the thunder.

This started from the wordle list at Big Tent Poetry.


When the headlights
struck the stars

and the radio de-tuned
to static songs,

the highway dropped
away and clouds

grew shapes across
the galaxies below my tires.

And though my hands
still gripped the wheel,

I was now a passenger.

A Necklace for the Goddess of the Empty Sea

After years in the desert, when he reached the empty sea,
he knelt in the sand and prayed to the rusted ships
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering black waves.
Syringes and glass glistened in the sand like ruined stars.

He knelt in the sand and prayed to the rusted ships.
In the grimy brownlight of evening, he collected treasures:
syringes and glass glistened in the sand like ruined stars.
From these bones of the past, he made her a necklace.

In the grimy brownlight of evening, he collected treasures;
he found bits of plastic and driftwood poisoned with tar.
From these bones of the past, he made her a necklace.
Imagining her beautiful again, he sang like the birds of legend.

He found bits of plastic and driftwood poisoned with tar
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering black waves.
Imagining her beautiful again, he sang like the birds of legend
after years in the desert, when he reached the empty sea.

This is for Big Tent Poetry’s weekly prompt. The form is called pantoum, and this is my first crack at one. I liked the repetitive spiraling nature of the form, which seemed an interesting fit for another of my post-apocalypse myths and legends poems (for want of a better term), though, I suspect pantoums are best kept short. The idea was to write in form about something that makes us angry so there’s some BP oil spill in this as well as a little bit of influence spilling over from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. Using form to tame emotion is a good idea, I think. I’ve tried to write about the BP spill, but its hard to maintain control. Form helps. So does 3rd person narrative and walking so far down the chain of effects that I’m in a different world by the time I begin to write.

Just for grins, I de-pantoumified (de-pantsed?) it . It’s easier for me to follow this way since I can get lost in all that repetition, but it loses that legend-y vibe, I think.:

After years in the desert
when he reached the empty sea,
he knelt in the sand
and prayed to the rusted ships
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering
black waves. Syringes and glass
glistened in the sand
like ruined stars. In the grimy
brownlight of evening, he collected
treasures. He found bits of plastic
and driftwood poisoned with tar.
From these bones of the past,
he made her a necklace.
Imagining her beautiful again,
he sang like the birds of legend.


Elegant and graceful, forever young
under the lights, but up close her legs

were scarred like cottage cheese, her eyes
had bathtub rings. She twirled the years

inside the cage, spinning them away
like someone else’s dreams. Backstage

she showed us off: tiger, leopard & me,
toothless cougar rescued from a meth dealer.

We rumbled like idling engines while
she ruffled our fur, loving all of us

as she did her own children, loving us
even as we tore her and her son apart.

This one took a decidedly dark turn, and it’s based on a true story. My father-in-law used to coordinate a Shrine circus. We went and got to go backstage to meet the woman who worked with the big cats. She was much older in person than she looked onstage. The cats were beautiful, and she clearly loved them and took good care of them. We weren’t allowed to touch them, but seeing them up close even inside their kennels was enough to set some primal adrenaline sparking. A few years later we learned that the cats killed the woman and her son.

This is a response to the very first prompt over at the brand new Big Tent Poetry where I’m honored to be a barker and to have had one of my posts included in the 3rd ring of that exciting poetry circus. The prompt, in honor of the site’s circus theme, was to write a persona poem ideally about someone associated with the circus. I chose the cats who I can’t blame. It’s what they do. We often wonder if our sweet cat would eat us if he were big enough. I suspect he would.

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