Poetry: Selections from Jim Burns
Skeletons’ Night Out
Guy walks into a bar.
Sounds like the start of a joke,
maybe with a talking horse
or dog involved,
but it’s no joke,
it’s a dream,
I have these dreams
dredging up the detritus
of a life that has kept rolling on
longer than I would have ever imagined
when I was young
and dreams were full of hope, not regret.
Now the rolling stone divests itself
of its gathered moss.
Anyway, the dream.
So, I walk into this
all-night bar and grill,
Edward Hopper sort of stuff,
glance around at the few customers,
think right away
kind of off about them,
but something just off.
And then I realized
they were thinner than skin and bones,
they were just bones,
they were all skeletons.
A male skeleton had his hand
under the table
on his female companion’s knee,
no skin to touch,
just phalanges on patella,
but he made do.
And there was an old jukebox
with a teen skeleton leaning against it,
trying to look cool
and feeling and keeping time with the beat,
while a couple was dancing boogie-woogie,
bones clanking as if they were jousting.
At the counter three old men
sat and talked of the days before jukeboxes
when they danced to live bands until sunrise,
and when one turned to pass the catsup,
as red as the blood they lacked,
I could tell it was my father.
I went up and put my arm
around his hard, cold shoulders
and said, Dad, how’re you doing,
and it all seemed natural like.
But he turned around real slow and said,
I’m dead, when you’re dead
everything’s pretty much the same all the time,
but I sure do like the coffee here.
And then he asks could I stay and have a cup,
so I take another look around
and I say, No thanks, I need to go,
and he winks and says, I understand,
and I walked right back out of there,
but I know someday I’ll return.
The Blank-Faced Man
The blank-faced man came to call last night
and sat by the bed in my chair
His intent seemed not to be fright,
and when I awoke he tousled my hair.
He had no key so I was surprised
but I didn’t know how to speak
as he sat there with watery blue eyes
and face so long and bleak.
Fist resting on chin and elbow on knee
he perched there without a word,
but I feared what his mission might be,
like Poe’s raven, an ominous bird.
After awhile he arose and turned
and left without revealing his scheme,
and in me remained the question that burned,
was he Devil, Death, or a dream?
the world opens
like a flower
a black rose
lies a black spider
waiting for you
sniff the fragrance
and feel the pain
Riders in the Night
drive through the night,
the Angel of Death rides shotgun,
sometimes she perches on my shoulder
like a prized parrot
squawking in my ear to remind me
of her eternal presence,
otherwise she sits beside me
quietly preening her wings,
satisfied that she has my attention.
All in all she is a more agreeable companion
than the Grim Reaper,
he of hood and scythe,
an overly serious chap
too consumed by his job, always on call,
I can’t imagine him perched on my shoulder,
instead he sits there in his seat,
tense, upright, but bent forward at the waist
himself a victim of time and his calling,
insisting that I must turn here, turn there,
that only he knows how to get to
wherever it is we’re going
and showing how eager he is
to lead me to our destination.
The Angel, on the other hand,
seems less hurried, less bossy.
secure in the knowledge
that our trip will ultimately be through
and her purpose fulfilled.
The moral of this story is simple,
if you’re driving through a pitch-black night
and are hailed by two hitchhikers,
pick the wings over the scythe,
you won’t live to regret it.
Jim Burns was born and raised in rural mid-20th century America in a place where Roses are red, violets are blue was considered fine poetry. He attended Indiana State University where he obtained his B.S. and master’s degree in history, and Indiana University. From the latter he got a master’s in library science and spent most of his working life as a librarian. He wrote some poetry in his youth, then returned to it after retiring, finding it was a good way to preserve his mental faculties, as much as possible, that is.
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