Two poems

Rough Customer

I sure was one when I was just a girl,
though it was on account of being raised
in honky tonks and nightclubs. This one night,
I won what must have been five pounds of nickels
from a slot machine mostly for show at the bar.
I won’t dare spend a breath repeating all
the filth the owner growled at my new fortune.
Nothing he said could spoil my jingling spoils.
The half mile home my daddy begged to let him
take turns at toting my potato sack
of riches—twenty dollars. A year or more
I swam in maple nut goodies and licorice.

That’s when I learned, and all my life’s confirmed,
that money’s like a rabbit you can’t catch.
It hops and hops. You hold it once, you feel
a soft good feeling you would like to keep,
but it’s not sweet on you as you on it.
I spent my nickels only one a day.
Now that was Daddy’s doing, who despite
the whiskey had a little wisdom in him.

Not having all my wealth at my avail,
I took to waitressing the family parties.
Imagine me a girl in ponytails,
feet pinched in patent leather, skirt a-twirl
while taking orders, tugging trouser legs
of giants ugly, fat, and mean enough
to fill my storybooks, and offering
to top them off. “Y’all want another highball?”

Now, half the time they’d only pat my back
or have me sip a bit of what I’d fetched them.
My uncle Bud for years would call me Dizz
for how I’d stagger and collapse by midnight.
But that’s okay. I was the only one
to look that ox square in the eye and call him
Sissy, my name for him, and never lose
a tooth. Well, lose one on account of Bud.
My next career was merchant to a fairy.
Whatever she should want my milk teeth for,
I never asked. Just counted my returns.

I gave up alcohol for good by seven.
It makes me dizzy just to see a bottle.
Despite that early easy money I never grew
to gamble more than scratching off a ticket
once in a good long while. I’m careful not
to cuss, say Lord or God unless in prayer.
But have I lived the way I really ought?
I think back to the knee-high prodigy
of tipsy sips and ill-got gain I was,
the otherwise of life lived wise enough.


This-a-way and that
water tossed the boat,
apostles up in arms,
Jesus with a yawn:
“Peace, be still.” Amen.
He woke old Lazarus.
Broke bread to feed the thousands.
Brought sight with spit and sand.
Made water wine and ground.
Told me, “Harry, love
your neighbor like he’s you.”
My long-haired neighbor Glen.
Professor at the college.
Drives a beat-up Stanza.
Votes my taxes higher.
Asks me not to barbecue,
says his son’s got asthma.
Jesus sermons me
high on his mount, to love
this pony-tail and slacks?
Not only love this sack
of tofu and alfalfa:
love him like he’s me?
I don’t do miracles.
Sorry. When Jesus Christ
forgave the spitting crowd,
maybe a multitude
of Jesuses looked up,
and blood fell in his eyes
loving them till the earth
rumbled to lose his ghost.
But when I look at Glen
I don’t see through the blood
that trickled off the thorns.
My eyes, they are the thorns.

—Kevin Cutrer, Boston, MA