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[with 3 poems by M. Scott Douglass]

I don’t eat meat. Just a decision ten years ago, my choice. It has nothing to do with you; I don’t think you’re “bad” if you eat meat. I has nothing to do with Bambi; I don’t think oysters are especially cute but I refrain from eating them as well. It has nothing to do with personal health; my cholesterol readings were already to (not) die for. And it certainly has nothing to do with ought or should; hominids evolved eating meat (and lots of insects) – perhaps all that protein made possible these brains we think are so big.

All it has to do with is my personal effort to make somewhat less of an impact on this planet. Leave it in a little better shape for my grandkids. Per pound of protein, how much acreage . . . water . . . diesel fuel . . . nitrates & phosphates . . . methane & CO2? Beans and beets will always beat out beef and poultry. How many billions of people can this planet sustain? Not nearly all the billions we have right now if we all want meat every day.

But what baffles me is how “vegetarian” has become a fighting word to some people. If I order plant-based sausage at Cracker Barrel will it make the guy at the next table choke on his chicken-fried steak? Simmer down, Dude. If nine billion people eating meat is going to hurry up and toast Mother Earth to a crispy golden caramelized finish, isn’t it kind of cool that a few people opt for rabbit food? Think of the choice this way – consider it my gift to you.

 

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A Tinderbox of Unsubtle Discourse
++++ It is the law: as a civilization dies and goes down
++++ to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations
++++ – it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first –
++++ gag ‘em, lock ‘em up, get ‘em bumped off.
++++ And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift,
++++ be silent about it, yes, be silent – forget it.
+++++++++++ ~ Carl Sandburg, from At the Gates of the Tombs

There are those who prefer silence
to the sound of the wind in the trees.
For them, my voice rustles their peace
like a harsh unwelcome breeze.

I am the ghost of a storm they
would rather forget, as if they
believe a wave of their hand could
disperse an approaching hurricane.

There’s a red sky this morning,
red as the hot California hills,
and they think they can wish it
away with happy thoughts.

The wind has had its day, they say.
They want to muffle it, muzzle
the barking dog that wakes them,
shakes them from their comfort zone.

I am an inconvenient dog,
a crusty leaf skittering down the road,
a spark dropped in a dry forest:
Pretending won’t make me go away.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

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In the forward to his poetry collection Living in a Red State Blues, Scott Douglass wonders about attracting readers. The people on the reading end may have been burned out by it. Perhaps they were eager to move on from this period in our history or tired of hearing angry voices – . . . I prefer to think of it as exhaustion. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up. Exhaustion. Probably explains why the book’s cover stared at me from my desk for months before I finally cracked it open. I just get bone tired sometimes. Many’s the day I haven’t even opened my news feeds because I figure I already know all the headlines.

Also probably because I know Scott Douglass does not suffer fools gladly. Or quietly. But which of us has never been the fool? OK, I know this book will include at least one (high decibel) rant about all the bullshit of our current epoch, but it has been born from the pen and heart of a human being. One whose voice I respect. And hey, I’m a human being, too. Scott and I have something in common. Oh yes, we do.

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Reunion in an Airport Restroom

What do you do when
the man at the adjacent urinal
starts a conversation as if
resuming a thought left hanging
with a long-lost relative at
a wedding or picnic. You,
having held silent the business
at hand, the business for which
you have waited for hours stuffed
into a flying steel barrel, your
plumbing aching to be drained
for so long now that, amid this
scintillating discussion, it
sputters to a slow rebellious
drip, but wait, did he ask
a question; try to divert you
from your primary purpose
in this porcelain concourse,
where all the gates are full
and line runs from the door
to the tarmac; try to draw you
out of your self-conscious state,
shake off antisocial incivility,
embrace your fellow man?

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

March 13

Today is the anniversary of my
father’s death, or was it the day before
when his eyes last opened ore the week before
when he froze in mid-sentence, rigid fingers
reaching up to still air for stray words
that never returned to him again.

His words find me at odd times.

It’s only the last two minutes
of the game that matter.

But it’s unspoken moments
that haunt me most, moments
that echo throughout my day: the way

he turned a cereal spoon upside down
on the table when he was finished eating,
peanut butter spread to the edge
of a Ritz, a dab of Smucker’s
black raspberry jelly in the middle.

knowledge is the only thing that’s truly ours,
the only thing they can never take away.

On a shelf above my head he sits,
an eight-year-old on a black and white pony,
tall and proud, fists full of reigns. Sometimes
I look up to that pony boy and chuckle knowing
his parents paid a nickel to have it taken at
a carnival, how it was the closest he ever got
to riding a real horse, city boy that he was.

if you’re going to do something,
don’t do it half-assed

I though of my father every day
of the week leading up to this date,
but morning found me immersed in work,
the work he taught me, a job he envied.
When my nephew texted a photo of
his grandfather in a 1940’s Navy uniform,
shame swept a chill through me, realizing
I’d almost let the day slip by neglected.

do unto others as you would have them
do unto you

I look up at the pony boy on the shelf
and remember why, of all the photos
I have of him, I choose to display this one.
It’s because it frames him as someone
I know he never was, but reminds me
of his most cherished gift to me:
a sense of wonder, imagination,
the foresight to perceive the possible.

face the music, even when
you don’t like the tune

I am my father’s dreamer son,
the one who sometimes loses track
of time, the one who’s been tossed
from numerous horses, landed hard,
but always found a nickel to climb back on
because that’s what he expects of me.
While I may forget days and dates,
I will never forget that. Not that.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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Forty years ago when I was a sophomore in college I messed up.  I failed a friend.  While I was getting out of bed on dark Ohio mornings to head down to the chemistry lab, I let my roommate Mike sleep through all his classes.  While I was wearing out a carrell in the libe, I left him in the frat house getting stoned again.  When his assigned stack of Hermann Hesse lay untouched on the desk, I picked them up one by one and read them all without ever trying to engage him in discussion.  And when his German Lit. prof called me in to ask, “What’s going on with Mike?  Can’t you help?” my reply still humiliates me forty years later.  “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

Mike flunked out and I’ve never heard from him since.  What was wrong with me that I didn’t at least once try to kick his ass into gear?  A twenty-year old’s lack of empathy?  I’d define that kind of spiritual void not as lack of caring but as something far worse — lack of imagination.  I couldn’t see myself in his place.  If I was congenitally and utterly self-motivated and compulsive, why couldn’t anyone else become just like me if they wanted to?  And I confess to something even more base and perverse.  Maybe I wanted him to fail.  His failure affirmed my success.  For one guy to win another has to lose; when one falls another rises.  Damned selfish and mean-spirited, that.  Anyone who’d known such about me would surely have found me pretty hard to love.

I’m sorry, Mike.  I hope you got your act together and have found your heart’s desire.  Sorry I didn’t give you a leg up when you needed it.  I thought of you when I read Hard to Love by Scott Douglass.

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Characters like Mike and about a hundred other equally earthbound human creatures populate the poems of Scott’s new full-length collection.  Gesticulating poets whose words are air.  A guy with a big head.  New mimes.  Those Ryan boys.  Some are hapless, some redeemed, and a few get skewered.  (Caveat:  you might not want to read this book if you’re a cryptofascist airhead zombie.)  Yes, they’re hard to love, but here’s the secret Scott doesn’t want you to know: he pretty much loves them anyway.

Read every poem.  You and I live in those lines.  We can’t escape what they reveal within us: impatience, ignorance, jealousy, self-righteousness, all the follies we’ve got shuffled in our hearts like a deck of cards — what’ll be next?  deal it! — every one of those things that have “caught me leaning too hard / into dangerous curves.”  You’ve got me this time, Officer.  I’ll pay the ticket.

.     .     .     .     .

Blenheim Tea #1

Bobby McMullen Died Last Night

Or the night before,
or last week,
or maybe it was years ago
when his wife left him
or his only son succumbed
to leukemia

A lifetime of reasons
to cuddle a bottle of Jim Beam.

We could forecast the workday
by the way he walked through the door:

quiet and sullen meant hungover,
hungover meant irritable, outright mean,
loud and talkative meant still drunk,
hangover to follow at eleven.

Even drunk he was a better
finisher than most, and after
some lunchtime refueling, he
was good for the rest of the day.

But it caught up with him.

First he totaled his car,
then the state revoked his license,
liver failing, emphysema and
tuberculosis choking him —
two years ago he retired.

Paper said they found him
face-down in his double-wide.
He’d been dead awhile.
But he went the way he wanted,
the way we always knew he would.

from Hard to Love by M. Scott Douglass

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Blenheim - Tea #2

M. Scott Douglass is the editor of the quarterly journal Main Street Rag and the notorious czar of Main Street Rag Publishing Company.  Don’t get me started.  Hard to Love was released during an ice storm on February 19, 2012.

Scott has done more to promote poetry at the grass roots, both in NC and around the US, than a dozen MFA programs.  Stephen E. Smith calls him “a poet in the spirit of Charles Bukowski — but better, more controlled.”  I consider it an honor and a privilege to have had him kick my ass.  Told you not to get me started.

Sample other poetry by M. Scott Douglass:

Auditioning for Heaven
Balancing on Two Wheels
Steel Womb Revisited

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