I’m Charlie Southerland. When you check up on me, you’ll also find ‘Charles’ Southerland in most of my published work. It is regrettable and unavoidable. However, I live on my 240-acre farm, which is more than I deserve or can take care of out here in North-Central Arkansas, smack in the middle of nowhere, just the way I like it. You’ll need an invite to come up my driveway or potentially bad things might occur to your vehicle or horse you rode in on. I’m getting on in years and ain’t nearly as hospitable as I used to be. I play mountain dulcimer and the harmonica and occasionally sing to the coyotes. I like to fish and hunt, although I’ve gotten soft these past few years and admit to watching the critters more than hunting or killing them. I have little mercy on fish. There is some truth in these 3 poems and there is some stretching of it here and there. I’ll leave it for you to decide. But I ain’t no liar. I’ve been around the holler a time or two so just hand it to me straight. I can take rejection, but not a lot of it at once. I can write free verse but I really take a cotton to formal poetry. I hope you understand. I’m happy to make your acquaintance.
The Killing Tree
I sat, one night, alone, deep in the woods,
my wheat light broken, having beat a coon
to death with it. Seems he had ripped the goods
from underneath my dog whilst fighting, strewn
his entrails round a locust tree before
I got there and the hound went off to die.
…could hear him far out in the dark and swore.
I swore revenge and shot until my dry-
fired empty rifle clicked. I climbed the tree,
it full of clustered thorns. I don’t know how
I lived. Me and the coon went at it free-
for-all. I heard him fall, fulfilled my vow.
—slid down the blood-soaked tree and heaving bile,
I knew that Daddy’d whip me after while.
The Pit Where Something Worthwhile Weeps
These shattered slivers of light reflect, refract
us, topping the pile of refuse strewn along
the makeshift pit, years in the making, exact
frames, only partially buried with the strong
stench of a recent dead or dying meal
a coyote dragged across the slouching biers:
love seat, cook-stove, a rowing machine, fly reel,
Cal King size rotting bedsheets and the Sears
reciprocating saw, its cord exposed,
pale-green-tinted copper oxidizing.
On looking closer, you will see he nosed
a jar of gravy out, fantasizing…
Someone near here says you have bought the land—
beware the garbage; it gets out of hand.
I laid the mad-stone near your heart to heal
The wound where I had bitten you. I’ve killed
three deer, a buck, two does, and had to peel
their stomachs open—all of them were filled
with ruminants. I found one in the buck,
more precious than a jewel, let it dry
outside here in the sun a week and stuck
it in a pouch for when I hurt you. My
intentions were the purest but my bite
was rabid. All I knew to do was this:
boil it in milk, attach it, and it might
draw my infection out. It could dehisce.
In any case, I’m bound to you and sad.
And if it doesn’t work, we’ve both been had.