Mama's Last Love Song, poem by Joe Samuel Starnes

The sun goes down and it gets cold.
Our chil­dren are behav­ing like dogs.
The snakes are sleep­ing deep in their holes,
fiery red and orange has fad­ed from the leaves
and our cups are brim­ming with bourbon.
A blue sky is slow­ly set­tling to dark.

I escape the house out into the field after dark.
I’ve for­got­ten my coat and shiv­er cold.
In my pock­et I’ve got a flask of bourbon.
In the dis­tance I hear your wild dogs
bark­ing and crunch­ing in the leaves.
I’m watch­ing out not to step in gopher holes.

Across the road I hear a shot­gun blast holes
into a road sign or beer cans lined up in the dark.
The wind back and forth flut­ters the leaves.
My hands and feet are numb with cold.
I’m glad to be ignored by your dumb dogs
who rely on warmth of fur instead of bourbon.

No win­ter coat can warm me like bourbon
and fill up the many lake-sized holes
in my heart not filled by the love of a good dog.
I walk to the big oak and stand in the dark.
My dog froze to death last year in the cold.
You buried her some­where under these leaves.

I wish I could go but I can nev­er leave
so I stand here sip­ping this warm bourbon,
my only pro­tec­tion from lone­li­ness and cold.
My mind is turn­ing into a sinkhole.
I paw my shoe at the earth brown and dark.
You love me much less than these dogs.

Our chil­dren take after you and the dogs,
root­ing and scroung­ing in the leaves.
I wish they would fall down into a deep dark
well and get stuck; I’d drink bourbon
gaz­ing, laugh­ing down into the hole,
not giv­ing a damn if they were wet and cold.

I’m out of bour­bon and get­ting cold.
The dogs are dash­ing through the leaves.
Tonight I’ll take down your gun and shoot holes in the dark.


Joe Samuel "Sam" Starnes was born in Alaba­ma, grew up in Geor­gia, and has lived in New Jer­sey and Philadel­phia since 2000. New­South Books pub­lished Fall Line, his sec­ond nov­el, in Novem­ber 2011 (view the online book trail­er).  His first nov­el, Call­ing, was pub­lished in 2005. He has had jour­nal­ism appear in The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post and var­i­ous mag­a­zines, as well as essays, short sto­ries, and poems in lit­er­ary jour­nals. A grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia and Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty in Newark, he was award­ed a fel­low­ship to the 2006 Sewa­nee Writ­ers' Con­fer­ence. He is work­ing on an MFA in cre­ative non­fic­tion at Gouch­er College.

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2 Responses to Mama's Last Love Song, poem by Joe Samuel Starnes

  1. Big Ed says:

    Drink­ing bourbon,shooting dogs? Is this the Sam Starnes I know?

  2. big Ed says:

    Drink­ing bour­bon, shoot­ing dogs? You were not raised like tha.

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