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I lifted my head and croaked
Like a crow, and the nails
Vibrated with something like music . . .
James Dickey, “A Folk Singer of the Thirties”
Henry David Dobson
Out of action, losing traction,
I slid down South, a bad mistake.
Florida is flat, crawling with con men,
rattlesnakes, swamps, and tattooed
waitresses who call you “Sugar Britches.”
Shooting for Key West, got waylaid in Mayo,
Way down upon the Suwannee River,
A taint of a town (tain’t panhandle,
tain’t peninsula), impoverished
in more ways than one. No fun.
Met Loquacia at a juke joint call’d Phas 2,
a concrete block shit hole
not far from the “Bo Gator Motel” where
I was staying – not clean, not well-lighted –
and my money was dwindling.
Loquacia was into iguanas, had them
inked all over her skin, crawling up
her back from butt crack to shoulder
blade and up over down betwixt her tits
crawling down under disappearing into her panties.
Just got one tat, the name of my dead son,
Thom, one letter from left to right
in the crotches between my fingers.
I open my hand and spread the span,
and poof! his name appears in Gothic.
Anyways, I spent my days scrounging,
hooked up, thanks to L, with this cat who claimed
to be from JA, Mo-Bay, but could have been
some South Carolina geechie for all I know,
but he paid me good to make a run.
Seems he supplied some squids
at the base up in Jacksonville.
2 kilos of what the geechie calls ganga
stowed in the trunk of my Chevy
in duffel bags. What could go wrong?
Long story short. I’m writing this
from the Duval County Jail. Loquacia
ain’t darkened the door. Silver lining,
my rap sheet ain’t that bad: shoplifting,
public drunkenness, simple possession.
Working with a public defender, an
idealistic Jewish girl named Rachel.
She asked me about the tats, and sort
of teared up, she did. Maybe she can get
me off – and by that I mean out of jail.
Anyways, here I sit, way
out of action, with absolutely no
traction. a semi-literate Oscar Wilde,
waiting for my upcoming trial
where I’ll sing like Joan Baez.
Took the back roads to Tallahassee
to avoid the monotony of mile markers,
dead armadillos, and exit signs.
Took the back roads and took my time.
Didn’t make it quick enough to see him die,
but my step-mama filled me in,
sucking on a Marlboro like a man,
“A horrible death, a horrible death,” she said,
over and over, shaking her head.
I didn’t know what to say. “Too bad.”
“He fought it hard,” she said, “screamed
‘Get that Gotdamn light out of my face,’
then up and passed.” She’d took a picture
and showed it to me. Looked like
all dead people look – his eyes froze,
his mouth froze open like a fish.
No, my daddy and me didn’t get along,
the house not big enough to hold
the two of us. Like in that
Springsteen song. We’d cuss each other
and sometimes come to blows. Of course,
me 35, half his age, been able whip him
for a while. He sure whipped me
back then before, cracking a buckled belt.
Can’t quite pity the poor dead bastard,
laying there waxy with his hair slicked back
in that Sears and Roebuck suit, striped tie,
his mouth glued closed, his eyes glued shut.
His daddy beat him, and that daddy
beat that daddy before that. I ain’t
got no offspring, but got my own
business, mind my own business,
so I have the time to take my time,
to take the back roads, to avoid
traffic, to miss all them 18-wheelers in a hurry
to reach them warehouses they can’t abide.
When Jimmy Jeffcoat’s meth lab blew,
me and Tiny Wade was smoking a joint
back behind outside the Stop and Go.
Boom. One blast. BOOM. Tiny jumped
about a foot and a half, like a bullet or bigger
was headed his way. “Got damn, what was that?”
I told him I reckoned a transformer blew,
or maybe a sonic boom? but then we heard a siren’s
whoop-whoop and knew that something bad was up.
“For sure, it ain’t no Islamic terrorist,” I joked.
“Ain’t nothing in this shitty skank ass town
worth the trouble of blowing up.”
* * *
We still ain’t recovered from that tornado
two years ago. The kids gone off to college
ain’t never coming back. Tallahassee, Orlando,
Atlanta – they got movie theaters and restaurants.
Their parks ain’t littered with them empty canisters
the teens been huffing on all night long.
* * *
I hear they hauled Jimmy down to Duval County.
He lost his dog and parrot, both burnt to a crisp,
that parrot that perched and shat on Jimmy’s shoulder,
like Jimmy was some long lost landlocked pirate.
“Arrggh,” Jimmy’d growl,” and the parrot’d go
“Arrggh” over and over. I swunny it got old.
I suspect Jimmy ain’t laughing right now,
and I know for sure the parrot ain’t,
and that dog won’t keep me up ever again
barking his chained-up ass off all night long.
Yep, the sun comes up, and the sun goes down,
And there’s one less loser in this podunk town.
Oh, Leah, I’d resign tomorrow
if I could steel myself and endure
mom’s patronizing, smug, I-told-you-so,
but no, I’ll continue to slog my way
through this damned Despond of Despair,
continue to suffer our insufferable DA.
No, I’m good at least for one more year,
my own self-imposed sentence you might say.
It’s almost always drugs. Smack, crack
meth, Ecstasy. With the resources
we waste prosecuting weed, we could feed
so many food insecure kids. We need
to get them out of those trailers
into pre-K if this unrelenting
cycle of poverty is ever to cease!
We’re talking Dorothea Lange like squalor here.
Let me tell you about these two clients of mine,
Jimmy Joshua Jeffcoat and Henry David Dobson,
as different as night and day, but in
a similar plight. Unable to make their bail,
they share the same cell. Jeffcoat’s a creep,
with pitted methadonic teeth.
Dobson, on the other hand, reads Oscar Wilde
and flashes a crooked grin of orthodontic white.
Jeffcoat’s doomed to serve at least seven,
if not more, but Dobson wants, as he says,
“a jury of my peers to decide.” Who knows?
He’ kind of charismatic. DOB 4/1/75.
He sports a full head of slicked back hair.
A ruddy face, creased, furrowed, but kind.
I’d say he’s suffered way too much sun,
and a few too many dark nights as well.
He calls me “Miss” in a formal sort of way,
and he’s practically tattooless, the only one
his dead son’s name, in between his fingers,
upside down from our perspective.
Yes, I guess he could be gay, though I hadn’t
thought of that. But, yes, you’re right, the tat
is indeed a man’s name, and yes, Wilde, could be,
but if I had to bet, I’d bet he’s straight.
When this gig’s over, I’ll bugaloo back
to Boca, having done my time.
Might go to grad school, SCAD, get an MFA
in photography. I’ve learned being a lawyer
is not for me. Should have listened to my
heart instead of my mom. Oh, sure, she’s proud
of what’s she made of me, my Ivy League degree,
her youngest brand name of a daughter.
Bobby Lee Thornhill
“Please help me help yourself,” my PD said.
“A little remorse could go a long, long way.
Even if you don’t really feel it,
Try feigning it, you know, like an actor in a play?”
“No ma’am, I can’t. I won’t. In fact,
I’d love to kill him all over again.
Watch him jump when I pump
them shells in place, watch his face go white,
them tiny rodent eyes terrified
as I suggest he pray –
“Boom – “before he can mutter ‘Our Father’ – boom –
bits of brain and skull splattering
sticking to the concrete block wall behind.
“No ma’am, remorseful I am not.”
Some icy thing shot up her spine,
like she was looking at Satan himself.
“It’s cause what he done to that
little girl,” I said.
She shivered again
and crossed her hands across her chest.
Henry David Dobson
When I put my hand upon that bible
(its old leather cover was cracked),
I wondered how many hands, both black and white,
were as steady as mine taking that oath.
I slowly raised my right hand and swore
to tell the truth, the whole truth,
nothing but the truth – so help me God.
I said it as if the Lord was as real as you and me.
I looked each juror softly in the eye,
the way Jesus might, if he was on trial.
* * *
They claimed I had to know the 4 kilos
were hidden in those bags, mashed
under wads of dirty clothes.
“No, sir, I did not,” I said. “I swear,
I did not know, would have hid
them better if I had.”
The fat man snarled; his sarcasm dripped,
“We’re supposed to believe you didn’t look?”
“No sir, I don’t believe in snooping
through other people’s property.”
The fat man lost his cool, sensing he might lose,
raised his voice, “What about the smell?
The patrolmen could smell it, the K-9s went wild.”
I sighed an exhausted sigh and said,
“With all due respect, sir, I’m no dog;
plus I lost me some olfactory in the Iraqi war.
You can check my records on that,” I said.
* * *
My PD, she played a role as well,
was less a Yankee, more of a good ol’ gal.
She appealed to the jury’s sense of fair play.
“Let us hope,” she said, hand on heart,
“we have not come to that sad day
when we’re so cynical
we ‘re incapable of
mustering a reasonable doubt
in favor of a fellow human being.
“He could be your brother or son.
Let us hope we can still manage
to muster a reasonable doubt.”
* * *
There’s nothing quite like getting out of jail.
You feel so free it’s almost worth
getting locked up to get out again.
You look up and see clouds overhead,
and in your car with the windows rolled down,
you can feel the wind blow back your hair
as you bid adieu to that goddamned town.
You’re free to take this road or that,
free to head north, south, east, or west,
free to holler a rebel yell – you’re free again –
on ’95 headed south to Key West.