Thomas Thornburg Poetry Memorial: American Ballads

Published by Author House, Bloomington IN, 2009

Bag Ladies

Bag ladies are this season wearing
field-jackets gleaned from K-MART shoppers and
KEDS cast off by charioteers
on skateboards fleeing from the cops;
hooded and rope-cinched at their waists
(doomed matched pairs shuffling westward).
vespers et matins in their quest
they toss and comb the city’s trash,
each empty can discovered, cash.
Sometimes drunk they will confess it,
and sometimes cough the alley retching
pink spittle in their sad kermess.
Sometimes we talk (they ask my pardon
for sifting through these things discarded)
for better homes and other gardens.

Other Gardens

When children, we dreamed
Of sailing to Baghdad.
Hoosier gardens teemed
Like Iram; Kaikobad
Led Persian cavalry
Down to an inland sea.

Those magic minarets
Are with childhood hidden,
Our children in the desert
Killing children.

Serving the South

deadended on a siding in Midway, Alabama,
stand 6.5 miles of RR cars.
covered in kudzu and time, they stand,
iron cheeks squaring their gothic mouths;
they are Southern and Serve the South
(hub-deep in red clay) this land,
this ekkuklema of southern drama.
still, it is Bike Week in Daytona,
and the Lady is sold in yards from rucksacks
where a tattooed mama fucks & sucks
(her name is not Ramona).
here will come no deus ex machina,
this American South, this defeated dream.
drunken, drugged, dolorous in their dementia,
forbidden by Law to wear their colors,
these cavaliers race their engines and scream
where the marble figure in every square
shielding his eyes as the century turns
stands hillbilly stubborn and declares.
heading back north having spent our earnings,
honeyed and robbed we are fed on hatred
cold as our dollar they cannot spurn,
and we are in that confederate.

Twelve Clerihews and a Sketch

Poor Eddie Poe
collapsed in the snow
and exhaled no more
in old Baltimore.

Poor Mary Mallon
wept o’er many a gallon
of soapsuds, avoiding
the cops, and typhoiding.

W. B. Yeats
believed in the fates,
but on Sunday
in Spiritus Mundi.

. . . 


Once in this journey, following the call
I broke my bones falling
Now I go hobbled to a distant star
My shippe a heavy bar
Friends come asking how we are
My friends, my friends, we are alone.
He who would know must break his own bones.

A Ballad of My Grandfather

My grandfather was a Wobbly, sirs,
And as such he was banned
And blackballed from his daily bread
Across your promised land.

My grandfather polished metal, sirs,
And ripped his skilly hands
Whenever you allowed him to
Across your promised land.

My grandfather suffered somewhat, sirs,
And worked till he could stand
No more before your wheel; he loafs
Beneath your promised land.

My father walked a picket, sirs,
In nineteen-forty-five,
His son beside, and with them walked
His father, man alive.

That was a bitter solstice, sirs,
The wind complained like ghosts,
The cold struck home, the striker stood
Frozen to their posts.

The people in the city, sirs,
Sequestered in their hate,
Supped in communal kitchens there
And massed at every gate.

Consider all such service, sirs,
Kindred to your time,
A  long apprenticeship to cast
Such mettle into rime:

The pain these fathers weathered, sirs,
The freedoms you forsook,
Is polished into pickets here
And winters in their book.

to be continued, check back for updates

Publication status of American Ballads

Copies of American Ballads are readily available on Amazon and reasonably priced at $10.99, even offered for Prime.  This Amazon page features a comment by the wife of the poet, who felt that the book needed further description. 

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