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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 




 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

CALL ME ISHMAEL
By Gayle Compton

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Beowulf

 

We swore she was of the race of Cain.

Wyrd is, and will always be, God’s equal in the universe,
Professor George proclaimed.
But for now, I am the master of your fate.
Fail this class and you draft dodgers, pacifists
and dumb asses will pack your duffels for Vietnam! 

Poor Whitey Joe, who misspelled Hrathgar, grand mogul
of the Mead-hall and mid-term ten-pointer,
was blown neatly in half west of Saigon.

Wendell Lee, who mistook “tatters of food” for “taters,”
the Irish kind he ate with beans in West Virginia,
lost both legs in Da Nang and went mad with Agent Orange.

I, who stayed up all night until my brain was a Scandinavian
stew of moors and moats, dragons, bards and kings—
Old English verbs dripping off my chin like Unferth’s hot ale—
got Dr. George’s only “A.”

Now, for the life of me, I can’t recall just who the hell Wyrd was,
or how Beowulf fared in the fenlands.
But I remember Wendell Lee, scrubbing toilets in the men’s dorm,
thinking about his girl in Boone County;
and Whitey Joe, who wept when Bobby Kennedy died,
locked in his room with Bob Dylan.

And how we put a name to the nameless beast
the bard called “Grendel’s Mother.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Call Me Ishmael

 

Once I believed in Endymion.

Once Keats, the bard of Joy,
sang to me in “mused rhyme.”

I read Moby Dick in a front porch swing,
heard the sea’s rolling symphony
beneath the swinging bridge.

Once my mother drew water
and the rusty voice of the well chain
was the Pequoid’s
farewell to Nantucket.

Hanging off a C & O coal gon
I blew in at the Cape,
bearded, unbathed and swarthy.

With my clothes in a cardboard box
I rode a Greyhound bus
to the mills of East Chicago, Indiana.

I saw hell fire trundled
on an ingot buggy
and breathed the sulfurous
breath of Satan. 

Clinging to a wheel of a ’54 Mercury
like Queequeg’s  floating coffin,
I found the road to Peabrook.

Abraham, my dear old redbone,
rose stiff-legged from the porch,
whining and stretching,
his eyes full of memory and forgiveness. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Newsome’s Grass is High

 

Paul Newsome’s grass 
is getting high.
See how the honeybees
work the clover,
how the blue wings
nurse the dandelion!
Paul Newsome is dead.
His widow has locked the doors
and closed the blinds.
All day she sits in darkness
waiting for the night.
The grass grows
and honeysuckle climbs the gate.

 

The man who killed Paul Newsome
has gone away.
His chickens roost 
in the unfinished shed.
The lizard waits for flies
on the new pine boards.
Strange, how his wife wears
the old coat he left.
Wrapped against the eye
of the mid-day sun
she walks alone-- 
easy as the bees in the wild grass. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine Cedars

 

Damn a woman thinks she’s too good—too good to wash clothes on a board.
Damn that woman to everlasting hell!

You could hear him cussing, coming up the holler, Grandpa Gus,
cussing everybody on Lykens Creek, everybody from Spewing Camp to
Possum Trot, damning them all to hell.

Swinging his cane and cussing, damning the Lord, damning Grandmother,
a righteous woman with her hair in a bun,
dreading Grandpa, crawling through the drawbars, blood in his eye.

Grandpa Gus, who planted 10 cedars, one for each child, staid drunk two weeks
when they buried Sally Jane.
Strange, how the third tree died in the flush of spring.

Tanked up and coming home, nine cedars marking the path, nine cedars
taller than the house,
two rooms propped on hickory poles, horse shoe over the door,
Jesus on the wall.

Cussing “old Mert,” a good woman with supper on the stove,
mocking the liver spotted hands that made the quilts that bought the cheap Maytag
with dollars saved and counted in a Prince Albert can.

Grandpa, the whore hopper, spending his old-age pension on the red-lipped floozies
at the Lloyd Hotel,
rode me on the corn sled pulled by old Dobbin, driving ahead of the thieving crows, showed me where to drop the golden seed into the fresh turned earth.

Grandpa Gus, out all night at the Greenfly hoedown, up all night shaking a leg,
fought an oil lamp by a corn shuck bed,
lit the house on sawmill road, burned off both ears and singed his head,
saving a pint of Early Times.

Loaded to the gills with West Virginia rotgut, Old Man Gus kicking the door,
slinging the bean kettle slap in the creek,
rolling a brand new Maytag over the hill.

Grandpa Gus, high as a kite, damning that high faulting woman
hiding in the barn with two grown girls,
taught me how to milk old Pet, sitting on a bucket, squeezing the full teats,
laughing out loud, squirting my tongue with the sweet rich cream.

With his big hand led me to the spring under the papaws
where the fresh milk and white churned butter chilled in the 
moss green rocks.

I was 16 when the house burned on Lykens Creek,
when two ladder back chairs held a cheap grey casket
in the green shade of nine cedars. 
I saw the liver spotted hands lay a new white Bible
gently, gently over charred bones.

Three days later, in the smoldering ruins, Morgan and Ed,
two sons left to fight over the land,
two brothers who would never speak again,
found his bottle.

Alone, reaching deep into the cursed ashes,
searching for something without a name,
something beyond the specter of blue smoke,
it was I who found his heart.

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Gayle Compton

Gayle Compton is a hillbilly living in Pike County, Kentucky, center of coal mining and internecine feuding.  His prize-winning poems, stories and essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including Appalachian Heritage, Main Street Rag, Now and Then, New Southerner and The Kentucky Anthology.  His novella Countdown to Glory is forthcoming from Prolific Press.  Should his androgynous first name suggest otherwise, he is a male.     


 




 




 

 

 

     
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