like this don’t
just happen all
of a sudden. First,
there is this unseen shift;
then a shaking and a splitting
at the core of things. Next, the rush,
fast and hundreds of miles deep. From
the very first wiggle sirens sound evacuations.
Sometimes there is a scrambling for higher ground.
Sometimes there is denial, fascination with the odd receding calm,
exploration of new beauty until the holding on for dear life, a few loud words,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .being
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .swept
by Danny Earl Simmons, first appeared in Other Rooms.
Editor’s Note: The form of concrete poems often overwhelms the content, but this poem’s careful enjambment and shape perfectly enriches the subject matter.
Her Red Dress
after reading Kim Addonizio’s “What Do Women Want?”
She calls it her burial gown,
and it reeks of absinthe sweat,
cigarette smoke, and one too many
broken-heeled walks home all alone
where cabs don’t go that time of night.
It slips over curves it doesn’t dare hide,
turning every used-up inch of the sticky
white skin it embraces into an ashy smolder
of regrets as deep as the way her men breathe.
It’s a wanton red lust, wet with kisses that suck
all its sour secrets before the panting end comes —
wrinkled and thrown to the floor.
by Danny Earl Simmons, first published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal.
Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is visceral and shocking, but is exactly what’s needed to convey a sense of lingering regret and joy entwined.
My middle son is missing something
in the middle of the middle of his chest.
For 21 years, he was my youngest son;
then there was this calling it quits
followed by a starting over (for me).
Now he is in the middle.
He was five when the doctor told us
about that hole and that murmur.
Nothing to be worried sick about after all –
just watch for infection.
I watch. I see how he loves to smoke
some things more than other things.
He speaks slowly. I see all the signs of an infection.
My middle son, when he was still my youngest son
and before he grew tall, learned to drive with the ball
and blow right past me and take it all the way to the hole.
He’d walk back to the line and wait for me to toss him the rock.
My god, that smile.
by Danny Earl Simmons, first published in Avatar Review.
Editor’s Note: This poem speaks on multiple levels, using subtle repetition to describe what love for one’s child feels like (from youth to adulthood).
If I were not afraid
of becoming white, wind-scraped bones
in the dry of a thorny dead ravine
long after hovering and foul feeding;
if I were not afraid
of one turned back after another,
an end to coffeehouse debates,
and never seeing another eye squarely;
if I were not afraid
of shaking hands with her Galahad
every other weekend too soon after the red
fades from her eyes and my stinging cheek;
if I were not afraid
of a bent caney man
looking this way then that
for someone to tend his grave;
if I were not afraid,
I would succumb until golden
passion meets breathless exhaustion –
then break all my mirrors.
by Danny Earl Simmons, first published in The Gold Man Review
Editor’s Note: Fear of pain is a great motivator.
Soft and Worn
My mother had a heart as soft and worn as the brown leather belt
she used when beating red welts deep into my back and ribs.
It got that way from her father revving the car engine over her
kindergarten pleas and from the fuzzy recollections of the taste
of her grandfather’s very long hugs and cherry-tobacco kisses
while her grandmother donned lace gloves and pretended
grocery shopping had to be done every afternoon. Most of all,
there were my father’s brown eyes, long gone and refusing
to just come home, seen in mine whenever I stared her down.
My mother’s heart was soft and worn and snapped like a whip
across my back and ribs, leaving marks so deep and red
there was nothing left to do but clench my fists and forgive.
by Danny Earl Simmons, first published in Shadow Road Quarterly
Editor’s Note: Two line stanzas carefully control the emotional impact of the narrator’s pain. By the end, however, the reader can’t help but recognize that there is no controlling this trauma.