“The Cottonwoods.”

UPDATE: this is an old poem I published on here months ago but I decided to republish it tonight for one very simple, personal reason: the man I wrote it for, my beloved Grandpa Bill, died twenty-two years ago today at the age of seventy-five years old.

And I still miss you, Grandpa.

Thank you.

J.W.

Old Glory

THIS SHALL HENCEFORTH BE READ IN A FAUX-N.P.R. VOICE, WARM AND MELLOW LIKE A FRESH CUP OF COFFEE:

Good evening and welcome to Part 1 of The New American Poetry Hour. I’m your host, Pretentious McDouchebag. On tonight’s episode we have two old poems by Jackson Williams and let me tell you now, dear listeners: they’re not that good. Both of these poems we have for you tonight are not that good and show the marks of a young man who learned very early on that he’s not that good with poetry. They were written sometime in 2007 — the author lost the dates to them. I apologize to those tuning in tonight.

But mmmmmm, this is good java, no?

THE COTTONWOODS

I think of Grandpa Bill, a nickel tucked in a shoe,
westbound to California, run from the Irish wake blues.
His mother had just died. Relatives gathered ’round;
for three days he knew no sound, except the plucking of
heartstrings, and the dead, like lightning, finding a way to the ground.
Like clockwork his Pa had another round, not just one but two,
his soul buried in more than rot and sand. A misunderstood justice,
delivered from a gnarled hand.

Stories I heard, haunted by vibrations from just three days,
never again understanding evil people and their civil ways.
But I guess it pays to be young, and he heard the trains,
hellcats ripping through Virginia night, eyes blistering with
nervous moonlight. Then the Old Man, always right, that mad
dad full’a beer, playing his new performances of knocks
to an audience full of fright and good cheer.

They had an Irish Wake, like an heirloom on display,
spooked and ghostly, maybe the dead would wake front and center.
Storms were quelled and given life there in the living room,
if only for a few moments, you can’t hide a hidden temper.
Choruses, choruses, the fist and shotguns, relatives drinking
and spun like tops on tables, the telling of tall tales,
let’s add on to old Irish fables.
Leave it to the angels to be experts on sin.
There you go!

To California! To California!
Under that sky one could live off their own shoes.
To California! To sweet California!
Bless the train, bringer of glorious red, white, and blue.

I heard he was tall as a mountain, thin as a rail,
a voice clear to tremble might, an escape from a jail.
That is the sweet sad mark of old adventure.
On a train he found faith, wisdom, took a chance on truth,
on that rocket he found the key to youth: adventure.
He didn’t know how far it was to the west.
All he had on him was scorn, an old steel-stringed guitar,
and he still wore that funeral vest.

To California! To California!
Look at God and give his plan a big ol’ laugh!
To California! To California!
Only believe in the possibility of your nation.

Week later landing and running to Sacramento.
What a story, and how all the good ones go:
He married the first girl he spoke to, and it’s
never what you know but who you know. In his
life of grand escape, he watched Depression and saw
a nation bloom in to something more. Not that it meant
anything in the end, he was simple enough to enjoy his door.

To Destiny! To California!
May what lays ahead always set you free!
To California! To the western dream!
A road begins from here to Kentucky.

I remember the funeral, I was only three. First person
I knew to die; first march to surrender a funeral wreath .
Hank Williams played through the night,
the old Cottonwoods raged before the street,
a few weeks later I saw the train and recognized that old beat.
It is the twang of history, a precession of candlelight
Not even the rust can throw it off its tune, powered by song
and the wandering moonlight strolls to see its thunder:
To California, my heart for every wonder.

J.W.

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3 thoughts on ““The Cottonwoods.”

  1. William Miller

    There are more good lines in this poem than a young man your age should be allowed to write 🙂
    “…the dead, like lightning, finding a way to the ground.”
    Keep it coming, man.
    Bill

    Reply

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