Two poems by Ben Kline

Red Spots in the Snow

You kept leaving me as if I were that boy Jimmy who lived with his mom and four older brothers in that flaking blue shotgun house with no screen door and a dirt yard up Jenkins Holler. Skinny, light brown Jimmy who never said his last name, who fed his family’s five shepherd mutts before himself, who always slumped in the front seat of the bus, blinking his big brown eyes, staring at the floor before and after he ate his neon green shoe strings for junior high bullies, that Jimmy, who deputies later found a week before we would have started fifth grade, his ears tucked in his left sneaker, his big toes in the other, and they had to pry his right thumb from the lighter receptacle of that white jeep left idling to empty between riverside dunes of culm. They found his newly asymmetric head shaved of its hair and shoved under the brake pad, his left eye dangling from the rear view by blue veins tied in a bonnet knot, as if such things occur on their own and even after that you kept leaving me, vanishing to the hillside shed that smelled too clean to have a tar roof, returning Sunday mornings to snarl down pew when I would not sit still, because I stayed busy chasing clues about where the killers hid the saw, why the sheriff never arrested anyone when we all knew who dropped those red spots in the snow. I stayed busy with all the other yet undiscovered shiny curiosities carried by the murder to the government woods above the limestone cliffs that remembered the river before us, those old crows often watching from dead branches in the leafless walnut tree that loomed like a twelve-armed ghost over my seldom-used sandbox, as if they might bring me splinters for my dislocated fingers or shake their shiny black remiges to make room for my original teeth you kept leaving on the floor, leaving me a little bloody and smirking through raw gaps, leaving my tongue to hiss and spit and lisp when you growled like a dull hand saw eager to remove my limbs.




In the verdant low valley
where the ancient Teays once flowed
before the last glaciers crawled home across eons
like an unfinished homicide
leaving unwashable stains and inscrutable scars,

our narrow hollers & dull white things
occupy the northbound stretch of the Ohio
that mimics the Teays
just a caw’s echo to our west
practicing gravity’s tectonic sorcery

that wards off good thoughts or new ideas
near the 20 barns throughout the farm.
In how many have I hid?
or made a temporary bed?
or fled?

Punishment was never a vice.
Unlike men, my aquifer
of unwise choices.

From age five, I was a son & an employee
filing my 1st 1040A at age ten & Reagan
gave me no rebate which was not great then, either

even when I slid my arms all the way inside
bovines wailing and wriggling

like greased sacks we used to layer
the barn floor, protecting new spuds
or those wobbly little newborn Charolais
who slid out the queerest shimmery pink.

I clipped abrupt red vees in their diaphanous ears
each March when their banded scrotums
littered the calving lot like soccer balls
for the feral cats

& I lamented the shiny elastrator
its distinct crunch
like a demon’s dying cough.

Cousins kept chickens.
Uncles kept goats.
We only had cows & hay to bale
& fence to build & a sawmill in a shed.

No one had sheep & once Dad
bought a Shetland named Becky.
She had sunflower hair & was kind of
bony, but not a pet

even after she gave birth to Puff.
Both sent to glue in a June
as hazy as the rest.

They fade like the others.
Like Skunk Tail, Pop Bottle, Psychokitty & Big Brahm.
They fade like that middle orange part of dusk
submitting to the violet

because totems are temporary
unelected representation

& I was animal enough.
Classification faggot.

Men with out-of-state plates
saw it in my shallow end eyes.
The moss under ripple
concealing my bedrock.
My gaze lingering like blood loss

as I swallowed all the dark waters
of ditch, pond, creek, lake & cock.

We worked 6 days a week.
7 if the sky decided & we recognized
the signs in the cumuli shapes

between milking cows & cleaning stalls
& stacking bales but only after Mass,

after Uncle Jerry backed over the frizzy tabby
from the spring litter with the dump truck
& the other cats gathered
round their freshly dead friend

with a low frequency hymn
city cousins mistook for purring.

Religion jostles what we do not understand
against what we secretly wish.

The cats knew Our terriers too
flinging snakes around & over by the neck

because Satan likes it rough
& Christians happily oblige until caught

graft in hand or cock in mouth
until the lights click on in the vestibule
& I confessed I liked big cocks,
those biggest totems of all

on men with beer bellies
with hair everywhere
with sweet & sour crevices
sweating vigorously profane

exclamations that my tongue completed
on a journey through failures of science
& most philosophies trailing along

the salty holler of his coracobrachialis.

I would say Amen, sniffing his hair
pushing the air out by puffing my cheeks,

laughing if one of the loft cats
snuck up on us & meowed.




Ben Kline lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. His work has recently appeared in Bending Genres Journal, Typehouse Magazine, Beech Street Review, The Matador Review, Impossible Archetype, Love’s Executive Order, & others.



(Front page image via)

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