Jazz Lessons on Isca at Dusk

Teach me how to play
she teased
her fingers splayed over ivory keys
plucking cat gut strings
thrumming on hollowed skins
stretched and taunt like
a low crouch, tail swishing
eyes dilated iron blue.
You know I can’t play a tune,
But I can follow you
just don’t look back,
I joked,
it’s the only rule.
Too late for that now
she said
her coils shifting, scales shushed
but singing, tongue like lightning;
kaleidoscope eyes and she squeezes she squeezes
she squeezes.
My grandmother taught me how
to cook catfish, horse liver
and how to fry tongues in olive oil.
Hers met mine when she forced open
my mouth.
She swelled and tasted of brine.
Meet me by the sea
she whispered,
lips fluttering against my ear
hips slowly circling like sharks
fingers like talons gorging.
You are the wineskin, the grapes
heavy on the vine, sweating
in the sun.
They took my feathers away
but I still have my music.
I’ll teach you every song I know
she said,
even the one I’m singing
right now.

Dial Tone

twenty minutes screening telephone calls
tombstones bind spirits best they say
when you draw the Tower
it’s the long way down
for the lovers further still
look they wear only leaves
of fig always in threes Hanged Man
I stopped praying to God long ago
when I asked the operator ouija dial tone
to connect my line to Jesus she said
one moment please
Buddha answered instead a smile so loud
I couldn’t hear anything else he told me
to go fuck myself
to love the lotus to love the wine
but above all
to simply piss off because Christ
wasn’t taking any calls that day
and it peels me pale when I dial
the operator answers a smile so loud
I can hardly bear it she breathes
it’s a love story
use your hands use your mouth
but above all
use your eyes always in threes
I said wait lady hold on
I’ve never read tales like that
they always
have an ending


the child finds fossils in a creekbed
cracked dry except for a footprint
size spring bubbling gurgling
choking on the dust of things
beneath the bluest ocean of sky
West Texas it's August the scorch and sear of July is still fresh and throbbing
as the child picks over bits of shell
Cambrian leftovers amid agave
barrel cactus and prickly pear
like little boys ancient invertebrates
were soft and squishy things
seeking sanctuary
stony spiraling sanctuary
against the evolutionary onset of teeth
long before a dusty child crawled
over driftwood crushed quartz the bones of things
and rattlesnakes nearby dreamt
of cool burrows
of eggs and fur and feathers
of soft and squishy things
sleeping beneath blankets of crystalline sands
still salty from oceans long dead and sometimes
a father watches over his hands huge
sticky with cedar sawdust tobacco tar and terror
calcified against the evolutionary onset of teeth
against the scorch and sear of lead and black powder
he knows eons from now
another little boy will pick over their bones
while a footprint of a gurgling spring
will still weep for want of rain
when the child picks up a bit of shell
perfect in its petrification not yet crushed
by the cudgeling of uncounted centuries
beneath the bluest ocean of sky or long dead seas
or the evolutionary onslaught of teeth
this one was a baby I think
said the boy
and then he threw it away

To Psyche

the oracle said you
weren’t meant for mortals
               and I believe it
shimmering in faded denim
and drugstore foam flip-flops,
chipped nailpolish blindingly
incandescent on delicate
gods defy their mothers
for a glimpse of that smile
Prometheus must have felt something
like this to steal and give fire
               so gladly
but the oracle said you
weren’t meant for mortals
               and I believe it
you speak like a breath
from a faraway coast,
like the song of suns
joyously colliding after a journey
so many aeons even gods grew
winds carry you for a chance at a caress
rivers whisper secrets to touch your feet
even eagles’ eyes gawk at the sight
of you as the prey gratefully slips
the oracle said you
weren’t meant for mortals
               and I believe it
I’m only an ant
               separating your grains
and that’s
               good enough


this man called the other day,
tellin’ me bout how my husband
had promised to make some small
donation to the police officers’
union or the republican party or some such
and I asked this man,
when did you speak to my husband
and he said,
ma’am, I spoke to him only yesterday
and I said, good gracious, mister,
that’s a neat trick ‘cause
he done been in the ground
nearly twenty-three years now
and I’ll tell you something else,
he needed to go after that second stroke
when he couldn’t stop pissin’ himself,
but it was only after the first stroke
that he stopped seein’ that hussie in Houston,
stopped winkin’ to the girls
at the Kingsland grocer, to the women
at the butcher in Marble Falls and he never thought
I noticed
or knew about that hotel he stayed at
on Highway 90, always payin’ cash
or that the girls there all knew him by name
but I did, mister, mercy me,
I even knew about that Filipino girl
during the war,
only months after
we’d been married

To Ariadne

you’re harvest skinned, golden
easy spring brew, grain so much
sharper than scythes
shy and easily conquered, a foal
glistening and trembling under your first
breath rolling out like loam untilled
there was a rose behind our house
on the coast that never bloomed
until today, but still-
there will be no harvest this spring
grapes fall forgotten and maenads
mustn’t eat meat, but still-
there will be no harvest this spring
your poetry goes unanswered after
he leaves, the maze so easily beaten,
the bull so easily slain
your gifts, however small
were always so easily given
and easily attained-
things like yarn and steel seemed
simple enough, but still-
there will be no harvest this spring
vineyards stand silent and satyrs
won’t sing, but still-
there will be no harvest this spring

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I was sharing a poem
not long ago with someone I know
my grandmother’s sister she’s
a bit senile these days
a bit deaf a bit obtuse
television set volume maxed out
between Tom and Jerry and Bill O’Reilly
she says, I don’t understand
Scottie, I don’t understand
        why your poems are so sad
and how do I explain to her
in a thirty second window
provided by the latest prescription
drug that may or may not
solve your problem or cause birth defects
blindness or instantaneous death
that beauty is fragile painful
but no it’s not all bad
in fact these commercials
have certain poetry
Ajax is mighty still Trojans always
provide the best protection
and somewhere an old blind man
is either laughing or crying into his lyre
and that’s what poetry is like
it’s like when loss lingers it savors
it’s bittersweet and ages well
like the soccer mom on the flat screen
supple breasts oil of olay skin colgate smile
it reminds me of the things I don’t have
it reminds me that I heard she’s married now
and it reminds me exactly what fucking poetry is
it’s when beauty fades to an old man
on the World Child Fund like some Homeric
demigod of the underworld surrounded
by starving cherubim dishonest proposal
Swift would have something to say
Fox News satirical play but at least
we have Jon Stewart for that to giggle at
when it all becomes way too absurd
and that’s what poetry is like
it’s like a first kiss
it’s like a hysterical laugh
it’s like the way your hands shook
when you hung up the phone
after they gunned down your husband
so many years ago


Scott toombs