Three Poems – William James (3)

photo provided by the author

Near a full mile of road 
from here to Wingard's Berry Patch, 
& there's brand new blacktop, 
fresh painted yellow lines, I bet 
you can't get there faster'n me. 
Yer gonna chicken out, 
hit the brakes too early, slow down 
way before the road bends, 
before the curve into the trees, 
yer gonna get so scared 
of a cop hiding behind the billboard, 
scared of a speeding ticket 
or a fiery crash. But not me.
I tell everyone I'm brave 
& step down hard on the pedal, 
push it to the floor, 
I ain't slowin' down for nobody. 
Full throttle everything, always. 
Gonna drive so hard the car shakes 
like it was built on a fault line, 
rattles & shimmies to wake the dead. 
I ain't slowin' down for nothin', 
not even my own fear. You go on, 
drive real slow when that curve comes. 
I know you ain't never catchin' up.

Near the end of Brady's Run Road

was an old railroad crossing, no rails left 
but the pavement dipped down just right 
so if you hit it at a certain speed, gravity 
would release you from its clutch & you'd bounce 
off your seat all weightless then plunge back down 
so hard your bones rattled a perfect strike, a tumble 
of pins on a polished lane, which is great fun 
when you're fifteen & fearless, so in the mornings, 
every seat behind the back axle of the #7 bus was prime 
territory staked out by acne-plagued prospectors 
from Sr. High guarding their claim with an arsenal 
of spitballs, paper stingers shot with rubber bands, 
Trapper Keepers weaponized for close combat 
& any elementary student was damned to suffer 
if they dared trespass on that hallowed ground, 
the fortress of newly-learned curse words, 
all that brag & swagger – boys posturing 
in clothes handed down over the summer 
by the same older brothers who'd given them 
their first sip of cheap beer, or slipped them a sticky-
paged magazine from some under-the-mattress collection – 
they were all so terrifying to us younger kids, 
but Rusty was the worst of the whole lot, rumored 
to have been held back two whole grades & the legend went 
he'd once punched a senior in the jaw so hard 
you could still hear his teeth clattering down the hallway 
by the wood shop – not the biggest of all our bullies, 
but mean as a jack russell dog in a denim vest 
& he'd stand there, right in the center of the aisle, 
blocking your way, daring you to just try & pass by, 
just try to take a seat in his domain & if you did, 
he'd reach out with both his hands, fingers already twisted up, 
wicked & snarling like two junkyard dogs 
latched onto a butcher's bone & he'd grab 
one of your nipples cruelly in each claw 
& twist left/right/left like he was fine tuning 
some old FM radio, wouldn't let up until you begged, 
until you showed him something sweet as tears, 
& you'd come home wearing a summer night sky 
bruised across your chest, so wasn't a one of us 
brave enough to attempt an overthrow, until one day, 
the bus driver – a little too buzzed from the special 
coffee in his thermos – took the last turn before 
the crossing just a little too fast, crashed down 
the sudden dip in the road like a jailbreak, 
that old canary-yellow chariot screaming 
through the air like a majestic bird of prey 
& Rusty, who we feared even more than our fathers' 
belts on our backsides, rocketed up into the air 
& was then met with a sharp suddenness by the metal 
dome of the bus roof & he sunk to the center aisle 
some stringless marionette, a bright red carpet 
erupting from his nose, chips of teeth sparkling stars 
on the floor, then Joe – who was the weakest of us all – 
high-stepped over Rusty's broken fountain mouth, 
took a seat on the now-vacant throne, tossed his backpack 
in the the pooling blood, the zipper wet 
& winking at us all, a grinning scarlet skull.


My mother kept a plain brown glass jar hidden 
in the freezer chest in our backyard shed. Tucked it 
beneath the frozen strawberries in plastic bags, 
next to the venison cuts from last year's hunt – 

wrapped in foil & promptly forgotten, safely guarded 
by a thick layer of frost – what I mean is that 
she never meant for it to be found by anyone, 
least of all some hawk-eyed explorer, twelve years old 

& pretending to be a wizard. But I was mixing up 
an especially powerful set of potions in my secret lair 
that day & if there's anything a wizard is good for, 
it's finding the hidden mysteries in ordinary things. 

I heard it beckoning me – calling out, begging 
to be filled with the invisibility spell I'd concocted, 
wanting nothing but to serve as the home 
for my various elixirs. Of course it was already filled 

with something its rightful owner treasured – blood 
red petals from a rose, decades ago pressed 
between the pages of a favorite book, dried & sealed 
so as to last forever – I wanted them gone. The vessel 

emptied & free for me to take. I locked the shed door 
behind me, breathless with excitement, the anticipated 

I shook the jar loose from its small tundra, neck twisting 
open like a crippled bird, & the only memories my mother had 
left of an older brother – dearly beloved, taken at a mere 17 
by the highway crash – spilled out on the concrete floor, spread 

			rust on cold gray & bloomed 
			one last bouquet in memorial 
			before my feet, clumsy, savage, 
			trampled the petals into dust.

About William James

William James is a poet, aging punk, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. He's the founder & editor-in-chief of Beech St. Review, a contributing editor for Drunk In A Midnight Choir, and the author of "rebel hearts & restless ghosts" (Timber Mouse Publishing). Follow him on Twitter (@thebilljim) or at View all posts by William James

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