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Biloxi Back Bay
We woke early
and then peddled our Huffys off the pier
and into the Back Bay's sour.
We bathed with the gators
and cottonmouths in the golf course pond, and
came out smelling like rosemary and rotten eggs.
Before mom’s noontime smack,
we’d eat free in the Dennys
near Jefferson Davis's house,
free concerts, festivals
and Mardi Gras Parades.
Mom, flashing her flesh
in between gulps of Gulf gumbo with
bitter Old Bay broiled shrimp dividing most evenings.
She'd give me and Chris weed and we'd laugh.
She'd get us drunk on white zinfandel, we'd cry
and pass out, she'd then slip into something tight
and go to Oscar's to work the men and use.
Did my best that year to keep order,
couldn't control mom’s wild sandy blond-haired
mess though. Couldn't protect myself and my brother
after we lost access to the house on the air base.
An eighth grader is no match for the bands of bored
fifteen-year-olds who routinely kicked us
into the bay with our clothes on
and jacked our Huffys for days.
We couldn't let them get away,
they were all we had,
we'd stalk them down, take our bikes back
when the brats hid them outside their parents'
white ranch fences.
Mom tripping off for months,
us sleeping under the tin-roofed piers,
breaking into the abandoned hospital,
we'd never steal
much and I'd entertain
my kid brother with hoops
plus we had my shrimp net.
All it took was a little corn meal
so I'd sprinkle it sparingly,
catch a few shrimp then bait the hooks
and cast them out for fish.
We'd spot the big moving vans
and befriend the new kids,
spend the night with them,
eat dinner with parents I'd dream
were our own, then another night and another
until they'd begin to ask questions.
My wife now wonders
where I learned to cuss and count cards,
why I had to repeat the eighth grade,
why my brother stole cars, why I don't trust
cops and why on earth I had to wear a ward-coat in my twenties.
She wonders why I keep my eyes open during grace,
why I take my Luckies under the sweet gums,
why I'd even go through a poets-are-interesting-phase,
and why I ride my motorcycle during rains.
She wonders why I like my beer hot,
where I learned to handle snakes,
why I'd rather nap in the grass,
why I lock eyes with under-the-freeway-men
and how I can say it's because they appreciate it.
So, “what of your mother?”
those who ask me are usually strangers
or PhD's who want to repair my schizophrenic mind.
“What if she reads this?”
unconscious behind their pedigree names,
their narrow eyes, their librarian frames,
both questions divide the evening
from the rest of my workday
as I contemplate kicking the one
who last asked in his ass.
Let me tell you something,
let me tell you somethan,
lemme just tell youse one goddamn thing:
the dead skin on my fingertips and palms,
a dead brother who was more like my son,
a left hook, a devilish look, an omnific desire to write
one good book, craftsman's hands, gullible blood,
the ability to memorize poems
and a prawn-shelling knack is my inheritance.
With all this going for and against me,
I still don't have the ability to lie
to self-congratulatory chumps,
no—never killed anyone, I still carry a knife
though it’s never been brandished,
I just grew up as the man of the house
on the streets of Biloxi where I learned to fish, cook,
to light a kerosene lamp and keep the fire going,
to take a punch, to get up, to rig a full sail, to pray,
and I still thank the Gods for that Back Bay.
Used with permission. First published in the US by The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review,
first published in Berlin by Herzattacke. Poem appeared in Biloxi Back Bay, the chapbook
(2017 Rabbit House Press).
Excuse My Dust
-poem title after Dorothy Parker’s epitaph
This is my wish as I go under
where all humans before me have gone, and all humans will go—
before hospice arrives to make certain I’m comfortable
and before I ask you where’d the time go,
I want the dandelions to eat me before the worms
and roly polys arrive because all little guys seem to have great big handshakes
though they’re cute little buggers, they are, so—turn over the rocks
and watch them scatter for the grass.
Used with permission. First appeared in Biloxi Back Bay, the chapbook (2017 Rabbit House Press).
Band of Aides
while I held my baby by her shoulders
the vaccination nurse moved towards us like an amoeba
after that first heel stick there was a silent stirring
as she furrowed her brow and stuck out her lower lip
then she fought just like I fought
the psychiatric aides years ago
who made me guzzle liquid charcoal
to clear the tranks from my overdosed system
her wails make me think of how I yelled rape
when they forced the catheter
our attempts to comfort her after the “all done” moved
my mind to those months on the veterans' psych ward
head counts every fifteen minutes from the mental health aides
who woke me every odd hour in those odd days.
Used with permission. First published in WLA: War, Literature & the Arts (Volume 21, 2009).
Appears in Biloxi Back Bay, the chapbook (Rabbit House Press 2017).
-all poems from Biloxi Back Bay, Rabbit House Press 2017, selected by Fall Guest Editor Tyree Daye
BIO: Rob Greene is the editor of Raleigh Review, and he has lived in Raleigh for much of the last two decades. Prior to this he had relocated forty-six times. Greene taught poetry writing at NC State University as a graduate student while earning his Master of Fine Arts. For the past five years he taught at Louisburg College, where he served as the advisor for Lou Lit Review. This fall, Greene will begin teaching at Saint Augustine's University in Raleigh as well as begin work as a doctoral student and postgraduate researcher in creative writing at University of Birmingham (United Kingdom) via distance education. His own poems have been recently published in Open Minds Quarterly, Great River Review, War: Literature & the Arts, San Pedro River Review, and in the Berlin-based annual Herzattacke. His first chapbook, Biloxi Back Bay (Rabbit House Press), was published in early 2017.
PROMPT: In "Biloxi Back Bay," Rob Greene confronts those readers who would ask, "What if she reads this?" The 'she' in Greene's poem is Greene's neglectful, heroin-addicted mother; Greene's retort is that "the dead skin on my fingertips and palms / a dead brother who was more like my son," all this and more is his "inheritance." We all have someone whose imagined reading of our work makes us anxious; perhaps we even avoid writing certain poems because of this fear. However, our difficult relationships are our inheritance; so your prompt this week is to write that honest, vulnerable poem, to write within the fullness of a difficult inheritance. --Associate Editor, Amie Whittemore