Sam Barbee :: “A Dead-On Toss”, “Generous Gods” and “Tiny Dancers”


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and given away at birth; raised and educated; married and divorced; defiled and defined, and churched, in North Carolina. Southern writers such as Flanner O’Conner and James Dickey molded my fiction and poetry. As red blood throbs in my veins, it often runs cold when I think of aspects of my heritage.

Three Poems

A Dead-On Toss

A dormant quarry near our elementary school,
tapped out and shut down, now a reservoir.
Swollen with water, tangles of lily pads
have taken over. The stagnant water’s smell
casts murk on breeze. Box turtles crown granite
outcrops elevated above the overlay of vines.

As we approach, some smudged shells lunge
into their safe hemisphere. Shoulder to shoulder
with friends, and even the class bully, we fling
smooth stones toward yellow and brown
emperors of the swamp. Each chuck huge
with a prayer, but small with triumph

as projectiles plunk into water. Our rocks flurry
like meteorites, or gods swooping to strike down
a blotched shell sunning itself. One of our rocks
clunk finding a target. The turtle submerges, split
carapace into foul microcosm to drown, unable
to restore what cracks or combusts. We pump fists.

Generous Gods

To impress the 6th grade boys,
my thumb and index vise
the green lizard’s tender shoulders.
My possible new pals shade me, grow
elbows to huddle and watch as I pinch off
the long tail and place it in my stretched palm.

The appendage’s primal wiggle twitches
faster and faster, sensing it once mastered
a birch leaf’s belly to sun itself.
Nerves still squirm like a magnet wrangles
iron shavings spilled from sparks. The detached
tip becomes still.

Older boys chuckle at me,
the 4th grader. I twirl it like a charm before
disbelievers. My deserved peers turn away.
I shrug and sling the lizard into high weeds.

When severed, we reimagine ourselves
thriving as something whole, try to create
a personal myth or ballad.

Generous gods
smack us awake, remind us who spins
stardom, and how our blunt efforts fall short.
Their laudable heaven creates the new
constellations, gathers a clutch of stars
for the yet-named galaxy.

along the edge, I slump, longing
for tolerance. The upper classmen
huddle on the street corner, then salute
one another homeward. I hear
a bluebird’s song reclaim the sky,
and my retinas ache searching the sun.

Tiny Dancers

The pub’s jukebox lights colors on my face,
I punch up Elton John standards:
Your Song, Tiny Dancer, Levon.
We feast on our greasy constellation
of pepperoni and chalice of Pepsi.
Friday night sacraments for our routine
of staring at stars and slow-dancing
high school agonies. We complain
about college requirements, intolerant
teachers’ weekend assignments.
Repartee to postpone what our eyes crave,
maintain our castings of innocence.
We cozy up to the red and white oilcloth
cluttered with ground peppers and paper napkins.
Feeling courageous, we order half-mushrooms,
and chunks of sausage.

It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside.
Satiated, we sashay off black and white
linoleum, and sail my Chevy wagon
down the tight alley to the field.
Kiss learned places, speak learned phrases,
tongues still tasting pizza and soda.
Back seat folded over, we brave this distance,
prone to worship before the untested
shrine of ignorant flesh. Impatient
like held breath beneath surf, you slide
off your sandals. Button by button,
I glide your sagging bell bottoms and halter.
You dismiss shyness, pale breasts shimmer
between tan-lines. I am charmed
by your eyes’ prism, and the expanse
between tight hips.

Hold me close, Tiny Dancer.
Never picturing our future
of cheap wine, Dixie Deluxe condoms,
beach sex, and tangos in wild dunes,
we wed ourselves to this initial vignette.
A chaste basket of appetites we have
suppressed, initiations to what we
now possess. By senior year, we will learn
no simple answers, but will rely
on the yellow moon’s attempt
to guide us and help recreate this first spin
as lovers. Loosening our clumsy grips,
we will praise this first embrace, and farewell
even after we divvy contentment, slice
by slice, still consecrated by love-songs
and concentric promises the day we wear our
war-wounds like a crown.