Leland James is the author of three books of poetry. He has been published in
over fifty journals and magazines worldwide, including Form Quarterly, The
South Carolina Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New Millennium
Writings, The London Magazine, Vallum, Orbis, Magma, Osprey (Scotland), Arc, HQ
(The Haiku Quarterly) and The
Society of Classical Poets Journal. He was the winner of The Little Red Tree
International poetry prize, the Portland Pen Poetry Contest, the Writer’s Forum
short poem contest, and the Atlanta
Review's International Publication Prize. He was also a runner-up for the
poetry prizes of Fish International
(Ireland), the Welsh International, The London Magazine and the Society of Classical Poets. He has placed or received honors in dozens of other competitions,
including those of Aesthetica Magazine, Southwest Review's Morton Marr
Poetry Prize, the Golden
Quill Awards and the Bridport Prize. He also received the Franklin-Christoph
Merit Award for Poetry in 2008 and was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. His
personal website can be found at
The Lament of Whitehorse Billy
I never took no water with my whiskey. I laughed
at winter’s busted pipes and trails hip-deep
with snow. I never bent. No willow tree was I.
Like a hardwood stake, whittled sharp,
I drove myself into this froze-up earth and stood my ground.
Just as hard and strong I loved my brown-eyed Anna.
She loved me back and we was like twin
cormorants that never left the lake in winter.
Birds not fine or flyin’ high but rugged
like the tundra. Proud, I guess, a little,
of the way we stood outside in this hard place that we was born.
Then a woeful wind came whinin’ down the mountain,
cut me like a Humbolt ax, dropped me to the ground. My Anna
upped and died. I shattered like a sheet of ice, lost its grip,
slid from the roof into a bed of gravel. The doc,
he told me why she died, some words I didn’t understand.
Hardly even listened. Why don’t matter. Dead is dead and gone.
I’m hopin’ folks remember me the way I was—not like now
gone all to Hell and drinkin’ from the bottle, lettin’ the stove run dry.
I'll be rememb’rin’ Anna when I take my .45 way up in the hills
where I won't be to no one any trouble. Someday someone will find
my gun. Let it be my marker. I hope whoever finds it knew us when
and says a little prayer, for me and for my Anna.
© 2010, 2012 Leland James; published by The South Carolina Review; winner of
Creative Works Competition and republished by Aesthetica Magazine
Creative Writing Annual, UK
At the Nursing Home
—inside an old man vacant by the window
Hold me occasionally for the light is fading
and I can no longer see the hills that once
rose there, brown hills, sand, sand. I see
the color, like the brown shoulders of a girl
I knew by the lake, outside the window.
Did I marry her? Were there children?
Is that snow? Is it winter already again?
I remember her shoulders, not her face
or name. I remember your face sometimes
(are they your shoulders?) and your touch.
Hold me occasionally. The hills are gone,
and monotony. I know that word, but I
could not say it and no longer even try.
A strange world, monopoly. It tastes like bleach.
My life is there in a thimble on the night stand
only I can see. I stare at it for hours. Hold me
occasionally. There is no hurry. The light fades
slowly. It seems the last part of some other day,
and the thimble holds so little. The hills are gone
and soon the thimble will tip slowly over.
It will make no sound, nothing will spill.
© 2014 Leland James; third place and publication, The London Magazine annual poetry competition,
Above the bend, the water deep and clear,
a quarter mile seen from the Buckman Bridge;
ten minutes walk for me, my cabin near,
through pines down from a timeworn granite ridge
—a lofty mountain once, it’s said, in time
gone by. I come to see and hear the stream,
this part that of the whole makes not a page:
a line, a phrase or two, in a river’s scheme
of mounting water up ahead that this
small stream will join; and that behind, upstream,
flowing down, winding from a nascent hiss
to sing a hymnal line and brace the dream.
From this unsubstantial perch, this swaying bridge,
mirrored in the stream, the sun floats on the ridge.
© 2012 Leland James; published by HQ Poetry Magazine, The Haiku Quarterly
I split the wood each year
from rounds of beech and maple
bucked from the trees we clear,
those fallen from the winter.
Some say to split the rounds
still green and moist within,
while others find it good
to leave them for a time;
with these I am inclined
and leave the rounds to cure
beside the stacking shed
until the asters bloom
again up by the spring.
The rings within the core,
it seems to me with time
show faults that blades may find
a truer line of splitting.
I leave the rounds to cure
awhile before I parse
the wood; my ax more sure.
Some say wood’s split best green.
I’d sooner let it season.
© 2011 Leland James; International Publication Prize Atlanta Review and