The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Marty Silverthorne: Four Poems


Differential Desire

Little John would give his right ball joint
to make love to Ruby Red, nurture her grease
nipples. He couldn’t raise a piston or push
a dirt dauber out of his exhaust on a good
compression stroke. Little John felt his innards
seize as if the oil of his heart had left him.
When he heard Big Green’s diesel drone through
the field; he knew his days of sparking with Ruby
Red were sealed to rust and dry rot. Visions
of Ruby Red with her rear wheels off, smooth
underbelly glistening from an oil leak flashed
through Little John’s gearbox. How proud
Ruby had been of her new wheels, shiny red paint;
Little John thanked the John Deere Jesus for
seal beam sight, water pump heart and sweet
Ruby Red. What he’d give to run his pistons
in and out of her slick cylinders, seek the glory
of her oil. Instead of making love to Ruby Red,
he was frozen, antifreeze seeping from worn
out gaskets. He longed to roll his motor over,
bring his pistons to top dead center, sputter
to the hog killing where guts were split and
splattered, skin fried for cracklins. Little John
sat beside Ruby his headlights fogged with tears.


Farmer’s Prayer

Cattails color the ditch banks
craning their necks in the dry
breeze. A buzzard rises from
a cracked up creek bed
bloody prey in its talons.
A doe searches the woods
for water; a thunderhead
is the farmer’s dried up prayer.


Buzzard Sky

Pa watched the sky burn
black with buzzards
crossing the Roanoke
to the slaughter house
on McGaskey Road.

They stitched the seams
of the sky together,
coming in droves
to feed on carcasses
behind the packing house.

With crops full,
they headed north
back to nestlings
high in Tuscarora hardwoods.


Little John’s Lamentation

Little John thought his sentence to the hay barn
penitence for putting Swayback out to pasture.
He remembered strutting up and down the field,
showing off for the mule who was too swayback
to plow. Little John’s discs sunk deep in black
soil beyond reach of the old mule. He never thought
his pasture days would come until haunted by
the blast of the Ivers Johnson late one fall afternoon
when Yates and C.Y. disappeared beyond the
Kitchen Field. Little John looked the next day,
listened for braying but Swayback was mute.
Little John, confined to the hay barn, had seen
days he prayed for a bullet to end his rusting misery.
Swayback’s harness and singletree hung in the
back of the barn echoed Little John’s prayers.