John R. Shaw – Three Poems

Allowing Infinity

My thoughts
lead me away,
those “poke salad” evenings,
through backwoods trails, to the river’s
long pool.

Where the
waterbugs skate
in eights on still, green water,
the air, set with honeysuckle,
reeks sweet.

Parting, dimming,
Grassy hues tint the sky
sharing with the late August heat
and damp.

The night
on sluggish feet,
hopes to conceal its awe,
skulking in petty increments
to drape.

the crappie flops
and turns its face over
leaving circles, sating the wish
to see.


Song of the South

We were let out on the corner
of Main and Denver
in the sweltering heat,
and skipped to the crosswalk.

We waited for the light to change—
and changes were slow—
to go to the Ritz.

The line led away from the ticket booth
down the cracked sidewalk,
just past the poster marquee
of coming attractions
and next Saturday’s double feature:

The People that Time Forgot
The Thing with Two Heads.

Waiting to buy a ticket,
we took a place in line near the far door,
the one with weather-beaten wood that
had the label rubbed off,
but you could read admittance
even without the color.

Inside, the sticky floors
squeaked when you walked
and the cushioned seats clacked
when you stood up to leave.

Whispers when the lights went down,
we watched the Technicolor with wide eyes
as Uncle Remus sang and told us stories.

We were Johnny, Ginny, and Toby.

After the movie was over,
we left our clattering chairs
and walked out like we were in high cotton,
all chattering about our favorite parts:

how the tar can get all over us
if we struggle too hard
or how that br’er rabbit
out-smarted everybody—
even himself, bless his heart—
to get out of bad places.

The tales got better by the retelling,
with happy endings holding in our memory
just around the corner

The movie house was torn down
a few years later,
and all that is left now
is a mud hole in the vacant lot,
and the pawn shop next door.


The Side Yard

Maybelle came down the alley
of the side yard
with both tail
and calico coat twitching,
and settled into the cardboard box
we set inside the gate,
lined with Sunday’s funnies
and one of Mama’s old dish towels.

You worried about the demands of birth,
smoothed your skirt
and knelt in the grass patch
by the box all day.

I sat with you in the late morning shade
and brought pink lemonade
when the sun was overhead,
while you whispered
and wrinkled your brow.

When the fifth and last kitten
was cleaned and nuzzled
You reached out for my hand
and I smiled at your joy.

You visited every day to check on
mama cat and her tiny furballs
-three black and two calicos-
until we found them homes.
Then Maybelle left,
because she was never ours to keep.

You moved away.

And that is when I realized
it wasn’t both/and.

It was either/or.