Shagbark Hickory trees line the hollow
Like old men sitting around telling lies
- The rutted road calls, beckoning me
In the night and I can feel my own mortality
Screaming out, like death is amid that forest
And it’s waiting there, for me like a referee
Above the road, up there somewhere is the face
Of sin, and she calls and beckons like a siren
Though I know she’s not here in any real sense
- She’s just some tyrant who plays quarters
And orders the men to do things they know
They shouldn’t do, but will do anyway
For her and her hairy horns in the trees of death
Always run like smeared paint over the moors
Of this Appalachian coal town’s inertia and heat
In the snows of winter so sublime and white,
Like the death that awaits us all, but we never
Hear its voice. Until it’s upon us with the fangs
Of the Mummers Dances and witches of October’s
Cold nights and crisp, harrowing, deafening days
Or of the wolf. I wish I could turn around, go back
Leave this place and all its darkness and slime.
But I can’t. I couldn’t if I wanted to – it’s far too late.
* * *
The Pecking Order
About ten blackbirds sit high on a wire
Above the snow struck Ohio-Pennsylvania
Line. Points unknown. Pickups sputter,
Slide all over the road under the birds.
Ten blackbirds on a wire and 11 tons
Of angst and hunger soar the sour skies –
They’re crying, loving and leaving Ohio’s
Cold for more of Ohio’s cold –
Not migratory birds but scavenger pickers all:
They would not more travel south
Than shed their feathers for snake skins.
About a dozen blackbirds perched high
On a telephone wire black and brittle.
Now there’s 11, soon there will be 12
Again, maybe 15 and then, back to 10.
Those birds just sit there, perched,
Their red wings ready to blur the moment
Like so many starving starlings under skies
Gray and cold, spitting out sleet droplets
Like the broken teeth of some idiot god,
High above. Scarecrows aren’t scary
Anymore and the birds cackle cynically
In the freezing air. The field corn dining:
Tough and sparse. The landing: cold and risky.
Field corn is buried underneath
This glistening cold. Warm underbellies
From the wired heat wave. High above skunk,
Fox, bobcat, roaming wild dog and coyote,
Ten to fifteen blackbirds on a telephone wire
Are as wise as drunk derelicts in a rural roadhouse
Saloon. The wire carries information
To the masses but the wire was made for their perch,
Nothing more, nothing more. Oh, you ugly birds -
Sing sour for the morning. Not songbirds,
But survivors; in it for always and never.
Tomorrow, it’ll be more of the same. Nothing
Will be accomplished. Maybe a pecking order
Will come about in the warmer afternoon,
Maybe not, maybe just more wire roosting,
You crows, you killers of Halloween;
You barking bad harbingers of
A first blizzard of a new year stark and sad.
* * *
~ Samuel S. Vargo has taught English Comp. at Youngstown State University, West Virginia State University, Univ. of North Florida, Florida Metropolitan Univ., Hinds Community College (Jackson, Miss.) and Jefferson Community College (Steubenville, Ohio). He has an MA in English (from Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, USA) and has worked most of his adult life as a newspaper reporter. He was fiction editor of Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, for 12 years. He has had poetry and fiction appear in the following: Ascent Aspirations, Blue Fifth, Centrifugal Eye, The Circle, Clark Street Review, Connecticut Review, The Cynic Online Magazine, Dandelion, Edifice Wrecked, Electric Acorn, Gypsy Blood Review, Higgensville Reader, Late Knocking, Licking River Review, Lynx Eye, Mastodon Dentist, National Lampoon Humor Network (College Stories, The Frown, The Phat Phree, Points in Case), The Nocturnal Lyric, nthposition, Ohio Teachers Write, Poetry Motel, Projected Letters, Red Dancefloor, Reed, Small Press Review, Verve, undergroundwindow.com, Yasse, and numerous other presses and literary journals. A literary press will be publishing my first collection of short stories sometime during the first half of 2008.