Five Poems by Cal Freeman

cal-freemanFight Song of the Fiddleback

The rain tonight
dribbled through the silver
maple leaves long
after it had rained.
I sang a few bars
of Guy Clark’s “Dublin
Blues,” thinking of the spider
I hit with a boot
this afternoon for nothing
but fear and all
the pests I am always
killing to assuage
its grip. Spiders of this sort
(brown recluse?) hunt
roaches and other
insects we do not want
around. I worry over
what potting soil
and damp cardboard
will bring to the garage.
I am the type
to stay up all night
with vague foretellings
of reckonings
as I imagine
the collapsed carcass
distending its legs
once again
and scurrying away
in a gesture of weary
forgiveness though
there is nothing
a spider or a person
has the agency
to forgive.

. . .

Fight Song of the Broken Shovel

In a world of white, my spine
is too sick to register the snow.

The hard ground still
administers its ache.

The snow fleas work interminably unseen,
saying, “Death is one function;
do not call it ‘rest.’”

I do not call it.
Nobody mentions it up here.

In a world of shovels,
I am the gripless one

amidst their throaty machines
boisterous as drunks,
too tired to wish anybody well.

Hoarse with scraping,
and the injury gets worse
on days like this;

I am past the point
of healing with rest.

As creatures go, we
are unregenerate.

. . .

Epistle to a Malt-Worm

Dear rasp around the edges of the voice,
dear atonal rendition of a Gordon Lightfoot song,
dear weevil in the dry husk of my ear
cursing the governor, masticating
his kangaroo congress, those plutocratic
sycophants, for robbing working people of their rights.
Dear red-eyed dipsomaniac, the stench
of cheap whiskey doesn’t make you wrong.
Dear dead before 60, dear fatal resignation,
dear nothing’s dear or true beyond
the rigid shape of history and death,
dear plethora of classist nouns for you,
nobody cares that the Edmund Fitzgerald
was on its way to Great Lakes Steel on Zug Island
when it sank, though you say it like a source of pride,
you say it like a doomed and storied ship.
Because you work amid refineries and coke
in a neighborhood where people scrub
their awnings with toilet bowl cleanser
to remove the untold sludge and falcons perch
on giant gantry cranes to hunt, because your greens
are splotched with chemicals, all anybody hears
is the slurred braying of a dying animal
as the befuddled bartender throws you out.

. . .

Fight Song of the Lazar House

Nancy has to chain the dog
to the banister
so it doesn’t attack me,
some beagle mix,
purblind, fat.
She offers me
a cup of coffee as she lights
a cigarette in my grandmother’s
kitchen and coughs
like a garbage disposal
with a loose blade.
She wears a shrunken
pink shirt,
faded pink with a yellow
nicotine limn, sweat
shorts and flip flops;
she has tallow skin, a goiter
like a waddle on her neck.
I found her an hour ago
at the strip mall
methodically searching
the potted plants and
sidewalk cracks for butts.
I took her to the Shell Station
and bought two packs
of Kools, figuring
this would keep her
home for the remainder
of the day.
This looks like my
grandmother’s kitchen,
and it is my grandmother’s
kitchen, but the doors
have been torn off
the cabinets and rows
of orange medicine bottles
sit where my grandmother’s
teacups used to be.
When I ask Nancy
where my uncle has gone,
she says she doesn’t
care and hopes
he never gets back,
that he backhands her
and calls her a whore.
I sip the bitter instant
coffee and read
the labels on the bottles:
Lithium, Haliperodol,
Zoloft, Oxycontin;
not all of these scripts
are hers. She points
to a picture on the corkboard
above the telephone
and says it’s me. No,
that’s Uncle John,
I correct her. No,
that’s you, she insists.
I nod as I sit at the table
to wait. My grandmother
would sit in this chair
and chain-smoke
Doral cigarettes
while playing an interminable
game of solitaire.
The old man
stayed in his plush chair
in the den and
half-heartedly read
novels while watching
golf or baseball.
They are both gone now,
and I don’t know
how my aunt
and my uncle
divide up the rooms
in this house.
I imagine there are
for dust-caked books
and rooms for
loose pennies, rooms
for pills that were
never taken and
rooms for empty
hangers, rooms for
errant memories, for
rumpled gowns
and collared shirts,
paternal rooms, maternal
rooms, carpeted rooms
for moieties in flux,
rooms of throw
pillows for a dog
to tear apart,
rooms for too many
pills ingested,
for hepatotoxic
bleeding out the eyes.
Nancy rolls
blue smoke over
her filmy tongue;
the idea to light
tobacco and inhale it
came from a dark,
place, I think.
I give her a hug
before I leave.
Her dog growls
at the end of its
chain as I open
the door.

. . .

How to Comply with a Therapeutic Dose

A woman without a shadow
is not necessarily her own shadow.

The dog that shadows me
is not technically a shadow,
though my father has given it this name.

In Lineland shadow
does not exist.

I’ve shaded paper with pencil lead
and seen the macules turn to shadow.

I am a word on my shadow’s lips
spoken to torture a heavy-lidded beast.

In Flatland shadow
does not exist.

I do not recognize my position before
the sun. I displace
no light when I stand. The Clozapine

draws a two-dimensional me in this quadrant
where dogs bark and gates and rat traps clang.

In five o’clock shadow
the story of my father’s face.

The idea of above persists,
even as I grind these pills
with my cigarette butts

into the soil of an umbrella plant
and dream up other uses
for his belts.

. . .
© Cal Freeman

Cal has writing published in many journals including Berfrois, The Paris-American, RHINO, Drunken Boat, 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). Cal has also been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and creative nonfiction. His book of poems, Brother of Leaving, has just been published by Antonin Artaud Publications.