Two Poems by Michael Hoerman


In the cave, my friend J.C.,
Whose father wouldn’t claim him,
Broke sta­lac­tites with his fingers.
He caught a white cave­fish, car­ried it
In cupped hands until clear water ran out,
Then bashed it bloody with a rock.
He pulled out the pack of Marl­boros I’d lost.
He denied they were mine.
I said some­thing about doing him like the fish.
He offered me food stamps, stolen from his mother.
She was at home, turn­ing tricks for nothing.
She used the divorce mon­ey to buy a Monte Carlo.
She went to the honky-tonks—not city honky-tonks,
But road­hous­es, where you find real trouble.
She brought men to the back­seat of the car.
We lived in a trail­er park.
Noth­ing is dif­fer­ent there from any­where else.
We knew what we were and we could laugh about it.
J.C. got a sleeve­less pink t‑shirt from Wal-Mart.
The screen-print said “Inno­cent Man.”
He was guilty as hell.

Flood Season

The farmer gave up and swam around on his back in the corn tops,
Water whistling from tobac­co-stained lips, fish­es swim­ming in his eyes.
He saw me walk­ing on his lev­ee and he turned mean.
He swam at me with a sin­gle long stroke and grabbed me by the ankle.
The farmer opened his mouth and out came a roar—
No words per se, but it was clear he was Bil­ly Goat Gruff-ing me.
I kicked him in the teeth then, and knocked his one gold tooth into the water.
I watched it sink down where the blades of the corn grass
Pirou­et­ted like dancers in the flood­wa­ter; the gold tooth sank to the mud­dy bottom.
The farmer looked down, his mouth agape;
I kicked him again. One but­ton popped off his over­all straps.
I saw he had tits, with a hairy baby hang­ing in his chest hair, suckling
Tobac­co juice. The baby looked up at me, a brown trick­le on his chin.
I saw fish swim­ming in his eyes, so I kicked him, too.
The baby dropped down into the water, sink­ing like a rock, then spot­ted the gold tooth,
Gob­bled it up like it was a worm wrig­gled off a hook,
Kicked his legs and shot away through the corn­stalks, shim­mer­ing like a bluegill.
Then I looked and the farmer was float­ing back out into the water,
Laugh­ing like mad as the corn tops tick­led his uncov­ered breast.
The farmer thought about that baby hav­ing his gold tooth.
He reached down into the mud, pulled up a mus­sel and threw it,
Knock­ing out my last baby tooth.
He lift­ed his arms to swim at me again, but this time I ran.
My feet skipped like stones across the water.
I ran up the hill, through the pas­ture, across the train tracks and jumped a fence
Into the yard of the Methodist Church, where sev­en men sat in the shade
Eat­ing a pic­nic lunch, on break from the railroad.
I saw they had the gold tooth on a stump, and the baby,
With riv­er-bot­tom mud in its hair, clutch­ing at it beside the Holy Bible.
One man said Hal­lelu­jah, are you an independent?
I didn’t know what he was get­ting at, so I said Hell no. I’m a Methodist.
Then I picked up the Holy Bible and I picked up the gold tooth.
I jumped onto the stump and pushed the gold tooth into my emp­ty socket.
I read scrip­ture out loud. The blood from my mouth ran onto the pages of the book,
While down in the corn­field the farmer swam
With sun­fish in his moon white eyes.
(reprint­ed from Bad-Rot­ten, Pud­ding House Pub­li­ca­tions, and the Chi­ron Review)

Bad-rot­ten is an atti­tude, a ceil­ing, and a tar­get for exploita­tion; it is the hope­less feel­ing a kid gets when he reach­es for a reserve of strength not impart­ed to him. Nature, pover­ty and Jesus are the way­points in these bad-rot­ten poems, which have pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in pub­li­ca­tions such as The Potomac Review, The Chi­ron Review and Arkansas Lit­er­ary Forum.

–Pud­ding House Publications.

Michael Hoer­man was born in Carthage, Mis­souri in 1968, a descen­dent of pio­neers to the Mis­souri Ozarks. He was a 2004 poet­ry fel­low of the Mass­a­chu­setts Cul­tur­al Coun­cil select­ed by Nao­mi Ayala, Mary Gan­non, Thomas Lux and Afaa Weaver.

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