The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Harold Whit Williams: Four poems



Lead Guitarist Coughs Himself Awake
From a Dream Concerning His Great Uncle
Stranded Behind Enemy Lines at Tarawa

You were chewing strangler fig leaves
To deaden the raw throat pain
Drinking mildewed rainwater pooled
Inside jungle roots your boots rotten
With the odor of small dead things
And peeling from your farmboy feet
Like banyan bark those low planes
Overhead are not yours not ours
Their motors speak an exotic language
It sounds like parrot babble duetting
With thunder with rainpatter always raining
How many days without reinforcements
No food no ammo just malaria dysentery
I switch on the kitchen light and blink
And see dirty dishes Nyquil I want
To sleep but cannot did you stay awake
Are they coming they are coming
Those rainpattering parrot babblers
Overhead machinegun fire cherry flavor
This tastes awful but it could be worse


 Lead Guitarist Contemplates an Eddie Rabbitt
Song While Cleaning the Gutters

Climb that pentatonic ladder brother
Scale it with your workgloves off
With your workboots laced tight
Don’t slip on that fifth rung the one
Slick from last night’s gullywasher
I also love a rainy night who the hell doesn’t
Maybe the shut-in the insomniac
The patrolman the fella heading off
To third shift at a cracker factory maybe
That union-proud Nashville picker
Toting his mid-sixties Fender tweed
Thru Cumberland River floodwaters
To hit those recording studio punches
Hit those key changes those high notes
That squeal like a pig for those banknotes
For the bungalow with swimming pool
The hatchback that won’t pay for itself


Tent Revival On Hawk Pride Mountain
Colbert County, Alabama 1979

I sit with friends from school. We dig our toes
Into the sawdust floor and pop our gum.
A band onstage commences with the show
And thumps pathetic gospel rock. A hymn
Would be appropriate, I think, but folks
Around us hoot and stomp and sing. The preacher
Appears from back behind the drums. He kicks
Like Vegas Elvis. He’s fat with oily hair
And sparkled suit. My friends rise up to clap
But I stay put. The stench of stale cologne,
Perfume and sweat has made me queasy. I slap
Both hands down on my knees and gaze upon
The giant bluejeaned ass in front of me.
Where’s this Holy Spirit I cannot see?


Billy Sherrill Borrows Granddaddy’s Martin Acoustic
Bear Creek, Alabama 1955

This fella dresses cool. His pompadour
Is longish, greasy. Menthol cigarette
And pointy shoes. So Max—he slurs— this here
Guitar will do just fine. I’m off to hit
Ol’ Muscle Shoals or Nashville. Daddy shuffles
The gravel road and says – that Ottis, he
Retired from gospel singing. Into sales
Or something. Picking ain’t his life. So Billy,
With sweaty brow, with baby beard, takes
The axe from Max and burns a riff. This rube
Can really play, my daddy thinks. His licks
Report like rifle fire. Been reading tab
And charts to learn the chords—he says, then sighs—
This neck is smooth as Sally’s inner thighs.