Four Poems from

We Lived among the Bones

By Jason Schlude

 

Superhero

at work in the choir loft

grandpa Joe built walls

then fell through a hole

into the font

backsplash blessing bystanders

grandpa was a superhero

he turned Wheaties and peanut butter

into magic dough bait

his web of lines

crisscrossing the lake

dragging the deep

for bottom-dwellers

sparing no carp or catfish

go get me that paper

he told a daughter-in-law

sending her out the van door

one dewy morning

to steal the post from a porch

her kids giggling in disbelief

from the backseat

he showed old men

how to hide beer

in a garage

from a beloved nemesis

shouting

Joe

you gotta stop drinking the beer

his oracular response

ah goddamn it Rose

he napped on shag carpet

a round walrus

head upon flipper

grandpups nuzzling

stuffed bears and rabbits

in crevices willing to receive

 

his supersuit never changed

black clogs

khaki work pants

white t-shirt

sometimes with flannel

always fat rainbow suspenders

only once was he

without them

cancer feasting upon his brain

he sat in a silver wheelchair

heavy arm lurching

immense hand snatching

mid-air

the blue foam ball I threw

squeezing it hard

he stared at me

with the hoary eyes of a bard

as if to say

settle down boy

it’s not yet your turn

and by the way

I’ll miss you

Had Plato Met My Father

had Plato met my father

he would have known

he had it wrong

ideal forms

only in an imagined universe

ridiculous

life is a chicken ladder

dad believed

smeared with shit

from top to bottom

but he could mix mortar

with a golden 3-2-1 ratio

of sand

cement and lime

pulling and pushing the water

with sure strokes

of a garden hoe

till the mortar was so smooth

you wanted to eat it

wish in one hand

and shit in another

dad suggested

and see which fills up first

yet he cut the lawn

starting at the perimeter

mowing clockwise

blowing cuttings to the inside

a final run magically erasing

any sign of neglect

we are not a pretty people

he told us

we are meant to work and die

still the work ennobled

like cleaning trout

sliding a blade over the skin

lifting scales like silver butter

then through the belly

releasing silken secrets

before removing

the red crown of gills

hidden in the mouth

slipped upon the stringer

each fish making the riverwalk

a triumph

stick a bone in my ass

he said

and let the dog drag me

to the river

but he showed me

how to care for a flag

duty complete

to fold it upon itself

twice lengthwise

then in triangles

stripes to stars

tucking in a loose end gently

laying it to rest the last time

upon a bed of brilliant coals

stirred to flame

out of gratitude for heartland

Monsters

Homer, Odyssey 9.501-535

I shot back with emboldened heart

Cyclops

if someone among mortals

asks about the shameful blinding

of your eye

tell him Odysseus the city-sacker

blinded it

he prayed to lord Poseidon

stretching his hands to the starry sky

listen

dark Poseidon who holds earth

if fates grant Odysseus

see his friends

reach his well-built home

the land of his father

let him arrive late in sorry state

after losing all companions

upon another’s boat

let him find suffering in his home

a walnut grain

swirled round the stock

like black cherry pipe smoke

silver action lured

as bronze of old

mom and dad away

I took grandpa’s gun

assembled

pumped

making it sing

two loud shushes

before hell unleashed

air rifle came first

slaying cans and bottles

then the living

a baby redbird

in swing-set’s shadow

awkwardly pecking

white breadcrumbs

lead pellet to eye

it flailed

gore spewing from hole

soaking into soil

cursing

cardinals sacred there

a lone eye stared

leaking life

tears stitching everything

for me

no warrior

shotgun came later

wood almost sweet

attacking like a predator

turning shoulder purple

as clay birds soared

then dropped

shattered

the blasts giving

soaring whines to each ear

stealing whispers

from a future wife

speaking dreams softly

in evening stillness

once our dads

worked on a cabin

turned us loose to hunt

Missouri

the world

my friend with 22 at ten

me with 12 at twelve

we walked side-by-side

under bright green

crushed walnut under foot

in the air

within hand

tumbling words trailing

in atmospheric wake

a spinning whirlpool

of leaves

pulled

as a brown snake

coiled and swelled

I swung fast and wild

pointed

pulled and missed

but blew leaves and dirt

skyward

a shockwave driving us back

shell under foot

ringing in the ears

turned screaming

whatever I was

craved body’s escape

to be anywhere but there

abused

numb

responsible for hands

opening a boy

what was coming out

I could not tell

mouth moving words

I could not hear

hole opening into places

I should not see

my eye veins trembled

burned

seduced by imagination

was he alive

dead

what to tell his dad

intensity faded

atoms found their place

two breathing ashen boys

emerged

maybe

memory is all we are

undertow dragging us

from surface

to deep

where we share in

the monstrous

 

Homecoming

my dear young man

I have a prophecy

you will leave

your river plain

without homecoming

always homecoming

you will teach

open minds

open hearts

to old voices

waiting in the folds

of history

you will see

the ocean

you will see

your parents see

the ocean

for the first time

beachcombing

children

holding each other

as Pacific waves

rush up bare legs

asking

why so long

questions filling

the shell of

their hearts

you will see

the Old City

rifting with its valley

limestone

worn smooth

by sandals of pilgrims

seeking their prophets

their gods

in blocks

held together by paper

in rocks

reaching for

the heavens

you will dig

beneath Mount Hermon

mother of

spring and stream

find temples

of gods

long forgotten

your hands upon

drab pots

made by hands

of men

of women

of the soil

long forgotten

your eyes moving with

the lonely afternoon

wind

across golden grass

beds of black basalt

once earth’s blood

reaching through

its cracks

green and purple thistles

who love to grow

from earth’s scars

you will lie

with a friend

in a forest

at World’s End

lost in

the curves of her body

spines of her insight

found by whispers

only you will know

from one

who will live

among your faults

in love

together you will give

the world

two boys

two boys

the world

in their eyes

a steel blue sky

giving rain

a chocolate colt

racing the prairie

making the heartland

wild again

Jason Schlude is an Associate Professor of Classics and Chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in central Minnesota. A former Getty scholar, he is an ancient historian and archaeologist who specializes in the Roman Near East and recently published Rome, Parthia, and the Politics of Peace: The Origins of War in the Ancient Middle East. A member of the Avon Hills Salon, he engages in public scholarship that explores the significance of Classics for the modern world.​ His manuscript We Lived among the Bones is a collection of poems that reflect on coming of age in a labor-meets-farm family in St. Louis, Missouri.

Image:

Andrew Wyeth

Evening at Kuerners

1970

watercolor on paper with drybrush

25½ by 39¾ inches. 

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