Cal Freeman comes from Detroit, MI. He is the author of the poetry collection, Brother of Leaving. His writing has appeared in many journals including The Paris-American, The Drunken Boat, Berfrois, The Cortland Review, and Birmingham Poetry Review. He is the recipient of the Howard P. Walsh Award for Literature, The Ariel Poetry Prize, and The Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes.) He teaches at Oakland University.
Now she knows, she says,
that the wise are often shiftless,
but the inverse is not necessarily so.
And it isn’t really wisdom
if it can fit inside a sad three-minute song
on a ’96 Ford Escort’s factory-installed stereo.
She remembers the hum of radial tires
on asphalt and some lizards and stones.
But it’s the dumb Tom Petty tune
that played on our drive through the desert
that she remembers most. At the edge
of the continent where the red sun fell
over the Pacific at Redondo Beach,
we shrieked and laughed like seagulls in the surf,
our clothes still on, our toes in wet sand
where she mistook a pop bottle for a conch.
Rumors of a great city rode in fog
perched low between two ridges,
and headlights sliced the chemical valley.
“We were young,” she says,
“and we will never be again.” We gave
our change to their one famed beggar,
his calves sculpted from endless
combing, and congratulated ourselves
for relating to this way of life.
He went silent and scurried off
when she asked about his finds,
as if he had a secret we did not deserve to know
that we would both learn soon enough.
Jerry leans toward me in the snowy wind
as he speaks. The crust of a lesion on his lower lip
Leaves his mouth flaccid around
the beer bottle he swigs from.
“His boss bought him that crossbow and rifle,
but he aint getting either of them back,
I can guarantee you that. And I told that buddy of his,
the one that came by and was taking them pictures
that once he hit her he lost his rights
to anything on that property.” He bats
at snowflakes that stick to his glove and melt.
“Gone.” We drink fast in this weather,
the Budweiser turning to slush
near the top of the bottle where the palm’s
warmth does not touch the glass. I follow him
into the garage where he shows me
the bright green crossbow and a canvas bag full of ammo.
“She took out a PPO, but the divorce isn’t official.”
He fires up his kerosene heater and takes off his gloves,
his hands swollen and pink with gout.
A red glow shoots from the mufflered end of the heater.
He takes my empty and grabs two more beers.
We have just finished clearing our walks,
but there is already a new blue-white sheen
over the pavement. “Yeah, she’s under water
over there like everybody else, but she paid
for his ass, food, hunting license, TV, everything.
And he thinks he can come back now and get all his shit.
I just hope that judge puts his ass away.
If he doesn’t, I’ll kill him.”
I know his daughter’s house; it’s only a mile away.
My wife used to go there once a week
to tutor his granddaughter when she was failing 2nd grade.
“I hope he goes straight to hell.
It wasn’t the first time he done it, either.
The kids said he used to take her in the bedroom
and shut the door, then she come out crying.”
I tell him to trust the process, that the courts
will make sure he gets what’s coming.
I ask him if he heard about Renesha McBride,
the young black woman who was shot in that neighborhood
last month while asking for help when her car broke down.
“Well, it’s hard; she was on the guy’s porch,
and he didn’t know what she wanted.”
Train Song, Minus History
Spanish moss over boughs of heritage oaks.
Robins fighting each other for roosts in the branches
before sleep. This whistle stop town
we tried to love, tracks grown through with cattail,
burdock, and phlox long after the train has tumbled
on its anachronistic way, tumbleweeds in the wind-
vacuum of its wake startling grouse like a hound.
Spiders gleam on mulching creosote ties
that sink beneath steel rails into earth. Those robins
unnerve our ghosts where we once walked with heirloom
jewelry we never got a chance to pawn, those good old days
when we were poor and rootless. The engine
shouldered a gunnysack of smoke as it passed
over the stone gulch where snakes would come
each afternoon to sun and molt and a child
might chuck a hairpin or a wooden toy, not yet
knowing that falling from this world sounds
only like that evanescent whistle.
Beneath the lamp where one day we will
never sit again, I read of knots so impervious
they will remain after the winds disperse our songs,
the rope-ends knocking boatless creosote wharfs
where we once watched the horizon darken.
For remember when you leapt out of something
erroneously called joy, though it runs
deeper and more singular than that, the rains
charging through your blood, after which
each task was done and undone until cosmogony
seemed like a mere household chore?
Your hands pruned, fingertips chucked up
by the strings you’d fret for hours.
I remember when I almost caught you.
Though this body may never recover
from the abuse I’ve heaped upon it
and though something less
than certitude, as well as certitude
itself, cradles me
in its tremoring palm, I’ll be vindicated
by the thought (vindicated by the deaths
of ill-tempered beasts I used to be)
that long ropes of mercy have moored me
to these angels whom, born
about the same time, are contemporaries
of nothing I have yet seen.