American Culture · American Literature · Anthology · Classic · Collection · Contemporary · Poetry · Southern Gothic · Southern Literature

Frank Stanford

Death and the Arkansas River

Walking from the killing place,
Walking in the mud,
The bootsoles leave little hexes in the kitchen.

One summer there was a place
Where everyone chewed dirt in their supper.

It was a place like an attic
With a chest of orchids pressed in books.
Men cleaned their fingernails
In the moonlight.

Death let a bid.

And while everyone was in hipboots
Looking out for Death’s fork-lift,

There was a shine on Death’s loafers.
His poll tax was paid, so was his light bill.

In the winter, Death runs snow tires on his truck,
He makes long hauls at night.
Death pays the best wage,
He can keep in touch on his two-way,
He’s paid all the Laws off.

Death can afford whatever he wants.

If you listened to the ground, you’d hear
Thunder coming like a train on the tracks.
And Death would signal ahead
That the half-dollar you stole to flatten
You lifted from your father’s eye.

Death dances a slow boogie.
Even the awkward can follow
Where he leads.

In my life Death has asked me
To trade dogs,
While others have asked me
How he combed his hair.

Every time Death gets a Cadillac
He wants to fight.
He wants to run the front door,
He wants cooking that will remind him of home.

If you try to forget
Death ties a string around your finger.
Regrets and warnings
To those who don’t know what’s cooking
When Death’s bread rises
Out of its grave.

Death, for instance, was looking
To cold-cock my brother.
My brother thought he pulled a fast one.
He played the radio and drank whiskey.
He raised hell
With women already married.

Do you know anyone that’s got the best
Of Death?

Some say you can keep an eye
Out for Death,
But Death is one for fooling around.
He might turn up working odd jobs
At your favorite diner.
He might be peeling spuds.

Death is fond of the double-entendre.

I for one am reminded of butterflies,
Snow blowing off pines.

Death controls the journeys,
The fare and the gender,
And Death is around you
Like a lock and dam.

So don’t let Death catch you
Listening to the ground, even a place
That sounds like home.

It could be Death
Would file a quitclaim deed.
Death holds a quiet title
To the land your loved ones walked.

Even if you couldn’t hear
The Sound would carry
Like a truck on a bridge, like a flower
Given at a ball, a sound in place,
The tradewind called Death, gentle
As children in their night clothes
Fighting with pillows, so quiet
Not a soul is wakened.

Frank Stanford, What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. (Copper Canyon Press; 1st edition April 14, 2015)

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