Introduction by T. Merrill
A tireless sonneteer hailing from Little Rock, Scott Standridge, like his poetic idol,
fellow Arkansas poet and past Pulitzer nominee Jack Butler, was a finalist in the annual
Howard Nemerov Award competition first established and run by The Formalist and now carried
on under a different banner. Other feathers in his cap include appearances in Measure:
An Annual Review of Formal Poetry, Modern Drunkard Online, Aberrant Dreams, and Dreams and
Nightmares, the latest addition to his plumage being his debut here at The HyperTexts.
An admirer of Housman, Millay, cummings, Robert Browning, Stephen Crane, Michael Drayton, and of
course Shakespeare, Scott seems content letting himself be guided by his tastes rather
than by the trends, and to bypass the grand, goose-stepping ranks of the advanced for the comparative
child's play of the superannuated. Perhaps some poets will just never grow up and become professionals.
When I was young a five-foot copperhead
lived in the drainage ditch beyond the fence
in our back yard. Summers, among the red
clusters of young blackberries we could sense
his ageless eyes on us, or so we thought—
We'd hear his evil hiss in every breeze,
and quaking we would glimpse him on the hot
flat rocks back there, warming himself, at ease.
One day he crawled through chainlink gaps to sun
himself on our gray concrete patio.
He lay coiled like a noose, stuck out his tongue
to taste my childish fear; inside I hung
onto my mother's skirt, too scared to run,
while Daddy lopped his head off with a hoe.
Sunset—the dying star had just gone pink
and edged the black-eyed bruises of the clouds
with rings of fire; then gray light like a shroud
dimmed our drunk eyes. The sun began to sink,
half-circle on the flat line of the day's
last breath, till sectioned to an arc it stood,
bright as a knife blade in a pool of blood.
The sky turned crimson with its fading rays,
When all at once the whole damned world went red—
my hands, your eyes, the bottle at our feet.
I could have done a murder in that light.
The sun blinked once and vanished, then the night
descended on us like a sheet of lead.
We sat there till the darkness was complete.
So this is it. It's time to settle in.
Get used to these three gray cubicle walls,
the tasteless coffee, the recycling bin
Beside the coke machine; the bathroom stalls
that never close just right. In twenty years
you’ll never notice all the keyboard grit.
Before that stale, burnt popcorn odor clears
in the break room, you'll be done with all this shit.
I know: trapped hours before a flickering screen
were not part of The Plan. Still, who's to say
it could have turned out better? Chase some dream,
chance is, you'll fail. At least this place is clean.
Benefits. Two weeks off. 401K.
Put in the time.
Try not to scream.
The Fire Does Not Go Out
The fire does not go out—not though the coals
consume their skins and don a coat of ash
as gray as boredom; not though the pop and flash
of that initial heat that sparked our souls
to conflagration sputter down and fade
to silent smoke, where once the roar of flame
had driven us to frenzy; though we blame
these bellies loosened, those dark hairs now grayed.
My love, we've spent our fuel in prior days;
we've burned green wood and thrown up such a cloud
it blinded us past reason, care, and doubt.
To burn long at such heat is not allowed.
Though we burn low, the fire does not go out.
One breath: the cinder sets the world ablaze.
You always kept some water by the bed
in case you woke up thirsty in the night.
I still remember that—and how the light
cut fault-lines through the glass. And once you said
you felt just like the white stray cat you fed
with scraps on paper plates you left outside.
When she stopped coming round, Lord, how you cried—
the water down your face, eyes puffed and red.
I think sometimes about the night you tried
to make me say I loved you—how the bright
blue tears stood in your eyes, where gold light bled
its heart-breaking refraction; how the sight
drew out my ugly truth; and how instead,
now knowing what I owe—I should have lied.
Go on—pour me another glass of wine;
I'll tell you when I've had enough to drink!
'Cause lately it's been hurting me to think—
A few more snorts of this and I'll be fine.
There's brisker pipes than poetry for dance,
Old Terence said before he had to die.
He was my friend—I can't think he would lie;
So quaff quintessence while you've got the chance.
Since Life's enjoyment lasts one sunny season
And Death's duration is Eternity,
Why not enjoy a cocktail, maybe three?
They call the thing a "liver" for a reason!
I've heard the grave's a private place, and nice—
But just try getting tonic there, or ice.
Why do you have to talk to me while I
am standing at the urinal trying to pee?
I think the rules of bathroom courtesy
demand your silence, and averted eye.
Can this not wait? What urgent piece of news
could overrule such common etiquette?
Good Lord, man, concentrate! Or else you'll wet
your shirt tail, to say nothing of your shoes.
I mean you no offense—all I mean is,
Give me some peace! Look only toward your feet.
I do not wish to speak while I excrete!
I do not talk while holding my penis!
There's got to be some other situation
In which we could complete this conversation.
She smoked like Raymond Chandler on a tear,
With lips like she'd been eating cherry pie
Real sloppy. I could smell the rotgut rye
Behind her ears, and lilacs in her hair.
Her eyes were working under half-dropped lids,
She took my measure—call it forty-long,
that leaves room for the gat. She hummed a song
Under her breath; we mooned a while like kids,
Her hand in mine like feathers off a dove,
Her voice a tenor sax. I'd like to say
She played so sweet I never felt the knife
Till it was in. But nothing works that way.
At least when she kissed me it felt like love.
I've never been that drunk in my whole life.
Cubicle Dolor, #2
It's hard to conjure beauty in this place:
birds detonate, rose petals droop and fall,
butterflies pop like soap bubbles, replaced
by pale fluorescent lights and three gray walls.
The Aeolian harp's god-driven, airy sounds
are drowned out by the copier's clank and buzz;
Euterpe is no longer to be found
down here, and I don't think she ever was.
Satyrs and nymphs wander these halls, no doubt,
and worshipers of Dionysus too;
but hide themselves, afraid to be found out
and never play—there's too much work to do.
The keyboards clack, the flickering screens entrance,
and nothing here may bloom, or sing, or dance.
Name anyone—now, when you take a breath,
one of his atoms flies into your lungs.
All history parades across our tongues,
and every exhalation conquers death.
For matter, not created nor destroyed,
but only changed in form, must yet persist;
and who existed once must still exist,
though parts of him be differently employed.
So when at last I take my final taste
of Einstein, Shakespeare, Lincoln and the rest
and go to particles—don't be distressed,
my love, for nothing in us goes to waste:
In breasts unformed, in breaths untaken, we
will be together, elementally.
My Love Opens Me Up Just Like a Rose
My love opens me up just like a rose
and so discloses my heart to the sun;
she places golden grains there, one by one—
without her ministrations, nothing grows.
My darling covers me like rich brown soil
and tucks my seedling dreams in humus beds;
from frost she shields their drooping fragile heads
until fruition answers all her toil.
And so whatever blooms spring from my soul,
whatever slender shoots rise to the air,
what fruits ripen and bend their branches there,
whatever once unformed grows true and whole
from this spare, fallow garden of my mind
is thine, my love—is thine, is thine, is thine.
Now gently—run your fingers down my spine
and press the indentations where the bone
is knobbed like ancient wood, with years unknown
marked down, fuel for the fire; the scalloped line
where knots mark out the casing of that rod
of wet green nerve, the tissues of the sense
that pulse with electric incandescence
beneath the skin, the secret flesh of God—
And where my skin pebbles as from a chill
under your touch, and where your hot palms press
my muscles, such candescent fires arise
that, like a pillar in the wilderness,
consumed by tongues of fire but burning still,
the light and heat of us inflame the skies.