David W. Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State
University, in Allendale, Michigan. His poetry has appeared in The Dark
Horse, The Formalist, Hellas, Loch Raven Review, Right Hand Pointing, The
Evansville Review and many other journals and magazines. He has also
published a great deal of fiction, including The Gallery, a novella
currently available from Amazon. He began writing poetry in high school but
started to focus and concentrate on the art and craft of poetry in the early
1990s. Since that time, over two-hundred of his poems and sixty of his stories
and novelettes have been published in a various venues. He lives in Grand
I am wandering
into the realm of relics,
shelves stocked with Oertels 92 Beer, Wiedemann's,
Falls City, Falstaff;
car lots full of Studebaker, Cord,
and Kaiser (also called a Henry J.);
in my cabinet, Carter's Little Liver Pills,
Castoria for stomach aches,
on my mind jingles for Ipana Toothpaste,
Wild Root Hair Oil.
I am familiar with barber shops,
delivery of coal,
in thick glass jugs
glistening with sun,
beaded with morning dew.
When I see old movies
the world looked that way
when I roamed alleys
before computers sat at every desk
or compact disks whirled.
Now it looks so different.
a shadowy storage place
I am expected.
To My Inconstant Lover
In photographs of Monet’s studio
the paintings line the walls but hang half-done
in various stages, not complete, begun
but not all finished—art caught in the throes
of birthing, and the artist would compose
several at a time, not merely one,
working on ten or twelve but giving none
his undivided focus to its close.
He did his paintings the same way you bend
diffusing it, letting your gaze
promiscuously rove without an end,
creating partial beauty in a blaze
of love’s color and light.
finished his work—but never you, my friend.
A Curse on You
A curse on you:
may all the desert djinns
who haunt dry wastelands be unbottled;
they swirl into your home and make demands—
not grant three things but take three things away:
your wife, your kids, your cat;
and then, for you,
bestow diarrhea in a dispensation
potent enough to carry the spell through
at least ten years of rank abomination.
A curse on you:
may bedbugs swarm your sheets;
may you lose every game of chess you play;
may scorpions build nests down in the pleats
of your best easy chair;
may more defeats
than the Detroit Lions piled up come your way.
May every flight you take see a delay.
The brothers at the monastery here
make thimbleberry jelly that they sell
to tourists on their way to Mackinac.
Their abbey is a small one, tucked away
deep in the aspen woods.
that cascades clear and cold over a mass
Of black slate rocks then plunges to the lake
is right beside them, pouring day and night
into the vastness of Superior.
The Auguries Road-Kill
Pectoribus inhians spirantia consulit exta.
?Virgil, The Aeneid, IV, 64.
Prophets must not be obvious.
the highway’s reeking viscera inform
how natural processes have given way
to unnatural technology would harm
a seer’s good name—an all-too-obvious
interpretation, easily yawned off
by the disinterested, the impious,
the gainsayers who only know to scoff
and mock. I
read these serious auguries,
along the roadside—omens of sure doom.
Their sight (if I interpret properly,
receive the given signs and don’t presume
to deny the word the roadside corpses tell)
claws at the center of my serious soul
and harrows like a wraith returned from hell
speaking its warning in prophetic role;
they witness to a more disturbing thing
than the displeasing sacrifice of Cain;
or when the offering of the Theban king
sputtered and died.
Driving a wooded lane
I see them by the score, mangled and spent
on tarmac altars, organs crushed, unsound,
an inauspicious witness, twisted, rent—
the blood of Abel crying from the ground.
That winter filters through my memory,
falling like snow the January night
we kissed the first time by your SUV
after our drinks, after the bit of spite
I got for lighting up in the Cottage Bar
(but how was I supposed to know the rule
that banned a customer from a cigar?)
The owner bustled up and, dry and cool,
told us he’d overlook it just this once.
We laughed after he left and I went on
puffing it to its stub with nonchalance,
drugging myself with smoke once he was gone.
In Bar Davini we drank the best beer
I’d ever tasted—aged in wine-casks, dark
as your intentions.
I’d hoped when the year
turned warm we’d be together.
But the mark
was etched on your imagination’s slate.
You had decided no.
That night you bummed
a cigarette and smoked after we ate—
a habit you had kicked and then succumbed
to; lit up
after three clean years. You said
you liked to smoke in bars.
I think you knew
what lay in store for us.
It made your head
uneasy with the deed you meant to do.
You had to have a cigarette that night
to calm down.
I’m not good at augury,
did not pick up the signals, the bird-flight
prophetic signs that you were leaving me.
Soon you refused my kiss—said you were sick.
Since it was winter I believed
God, but you were politick!
I bought you phony lines and you achieved
more time to plot how you could say
you had decided and that we were through.
Your letter came on solstice, shortest day
and longest night of winter’s residue.
I have nothing but words,
To prove that her pussy is made of poems.
If time could spin back like a hula hoop
once more she’d bring her theory and my art
into a single formation with mouths
that uttered those soliloquies.
for an hour at a time, touching our tongues
and teeth, until our lips were sore, our jaws
worn out—and even then we did not want
to stop but sought to run the market up
with kissing usury, like Catullus
with Lesbia’s lips embraced and with her joined,
body to his, and all the world in rage
and envious of their wealth. Her mouth discoursed
Theory is everything,
I told her, if you want to get a job.
Gaston Bachelard wrote books on how we know,
with intimacy, our old childhood homes.
We knew the intimacy lips could find,
the spaces past them, could interrogate
and deconstruct the words we spoke, but we
were more eager to speak out words past words,
disseminate the unsaid understood.
And time would tell us writing comes before
our speaking—words set embedded in the white
of our enamel, in striated strips
of muscle, in membrane and in our bliss,
long, long before our lips and tongue could form
the utterance that gave us root, gave speech
gave ways to say, but also gave us pause
in all the heat, the tumbling into bed,
the words breathed in that nest of hatching forms,
where the best words were inarticulate.
My Hog Trough Dance
In old English and American Appalachian tradition, when
a younger sister is married before an older sister, the
sister is made, on the wedding day, to dance in a hog
When my younger sister married
I came to the church, abject as any sinner.
They’d brought the hog trough in.
I did my dance while she put on
her bridal dress.
My feet turned black.
She donned linen like snow,
like a hawthorn bush when Spring
brings out its drolleries;
shit and slop coated my feet;
her silk shoes padded down
the altar aisle.
graced the nave;
the raucous laughter of the men
who came to jeer at me.
Gold teeth, gold toothpicks,
(the deacons had to tell them to remove
their hats, spit out their chaw
before they came into the church).
They wore their best:
old threadbare suits
of outlandish, ill-matched colors;
(one of them hadn’t noticed the spider
building a web on his sleeve).
I noticed all the sights, the smells,
the shining leers they brought with them.
Each one of them had come
to be a shabby Jesus of the Church
of Hog Troughs;
and wash my feet like he did the disciples',
hoping I would be gracious to them
since they were to wash me
clean of the filth of being
lag by four years of my sister;
They laugh and
say I will lead apes in hell.
Their gazes follow me
there as I watch
my sister, sanctified,
white as a winter day, a lily-moon,
dragging my hog-trough
with her down the aisle.
Years ago, in 1961, we saw them—
my cousin Leroy and me,
boys in the grit and soot of Gary, Indiana,
watched a wedge of Canada geese
cut the air above the toxic dust
that settled from the steel mills
to coat trees,
swings and clotheslines
in my Uncle's backyard.
You could see Gary all the way from Demotte back then,
and smell it all the way from Crown Point.
You could see the orange cloud the steel mills made
billowing like an angry genii
granting the wishes of industrialists
for wealth and power
but spitefully scattering acid
on the ground below
as ribbons of steel glowed
created poisonous salamanders escaped blast furnaces
and burrowed down into the soil
and thrashed in the waters of Lake Michigan.
He and I were enraptured
watching the perfect wedge of birds cut
the clear air above,
going north to cleaner nesting grounds,
rolling their wings slowly
above the patch of foulness
where we stood,
our feet soaking up the death
of PCBs and sulfur dioxide,
gums bleeding from heavy metals
noses constricted and lungs aching
from coal and lime
filtering, silent as death,
into our blood.
Leroy's dad, my father's brother,
died of lung cancer
even though he retired to a
warm clean-air refuge in Arkansas.
Leroy's wife would kill him with a gun
during some drunken, pointless lover's quarrel.
The mills in Gary are shut down now,
the air even a little cleaner
than it was back then:
no more orange clouds
or pollutants that dissolved
my Aunt Geri's nylons when she hung them
outside to dry.
I wonder if the geese have found another route
or if they still cut their way
in the shape of a sideways V
up above it all,
above the sin and pollution,
up where everything is colder but clearer,
where human folly is only a smudge
on the landscape far below.
And I wonder if boys still stop
and gaze up at them
and marvel at their airy symmetry.
My Guardian Angel
The assignment he received was not ideal,
and he was more the distant scholar-type.
His research passion was French poster art.
“Everyone’s seen Lautrec,” he’d
say, “and all
have marveled at Tourée du Chat Noir,
but how many have ever seen Rameau’s
De Dernier Boleau or have admired
the striking cover Abel Hermount did
for Nathalie Modare?”
Still, he was
unfallen and he did his task until
he could retire to a coracle-like hut
down in Barbados—back to his research.
Despite the hiatus lasting eighty years,
he greeted me with grace, just as the kings
in The Odyssey would welcome strangers—like
Nestor and Menelaos and the King
“Don’t think it’s your fault,”
he said. “I
got my orders, that was all.
No big deal,” and he poured a rum for me
with ice and lime.
We sat out on the beach
and watched the sun go down.
We lounged and drank.
I asked, “Was I hard case—tough to guard?
Or was it easy duty?”
He leaned back.
He sipped his drink and organized his thoughts.
“I’ll tell the truth (I really have no choice).
You were no picnic, that’s sure.
It was tough.
Your parents opened you to the occult.”
“Occult?” I sputtered.
“How?” “When you were eight
you had a bad nosebleed they could not staunch.
Your aunt knew of a woman who could charm.
She tied a straw around your hand then said
a Bible verse.
The nosebleed stopped but you
Soon every demon in that town
was after you.
I had to fight them all.”
I marveled, asked, “What else?”
“Well, in the place
you served your army time at there were lots
of bad influences.
All the drugs you took
broke down your natural resistance to
demonic presences—and you were marked
by that old episode of sorcery.
It took a lot
to keep you safe.
There’s more. Yes, there’s
but why go on and on?
You’re here. The things
they sent out didn’t get you.”
“You must be
a pretty tough enforcer.”
We’ve got more firepower than they
can muster—better weapons.
And the guys
who fight for them are screwed up, can’t shoot straight,
and don’t make plans real well.”
The sun had touched
the sea by now.
The clouds had gone from red
to purple. I
could see scars on his wings
as they trailed from the chaise lounge into sand.
He’d lost a finger too—feathers as well.
But he smiled, stretched, relaxed, enjoyed his drink,
enjoyed the sunset.
“No assignment for
another thousand years,” he said, and sighed.
“More time to work on research.”
I was glad.