Mark McBride

After Tammy Faye Bakker's Last Television Interview              


Old women across America dreamed of wingless Tinkerbells illumed by the lustrous sheen of fervent prayers.  They dreamed of ancient cats swaying in the warmth of heater vents and Michelangelo painting his fallen face into the grip of Saint Bartholomew's hand.  They dreamed until at last through the open square of their dreaming, a green lawn dotted with grey stones appeared, and on the crest of a distant hill a backhoe sputtered to life.




Dust takes dictation one dead cell at a time

across the fuzzy flats of ceiling fans

and the snowy crests of shelved books.

Skin, fiber, sporethese are what dust records,

and if I leave open a window or door,                                                       

pollen from pines, African sands.

Now the sea bean in the bathroom has a stubbly beard.

I scrape its brown belly with the edge of my thumb.

A cat, a child, a former self.  Animate to inanimate. 

Matter to after-matter.  Even a bean can tell you this,

poised on a granite countertop,

its pith petrified to the hardness of rock.



On Learning of the Death of a Former Student                                                           


I remembered the space where he sat but not him. 


He shared a desk with a beauty who did not know

she was beautiful.  In front of him was the student

with nystagmus.  Then the guitar-playing Christian

and the blond whose world was wound with worry.


When I heard the news I went back to my grade book

and found his name: C plus, B minus, D, zero. 


He failed.  No face.  No image.  No history. 

But beneath my desk, in a stack of old essays, I found his. 

The topic: Something Important.  His was a fishing story.


Sunrise on the lagoon, the sky spreading pink and orange

like two shrimp-stained hands rank with praise. 

He'd learned from his grandfather how high pressure systems

kill the catch, how the sky bears down against the water,

stills it, smooths it, smothers it, until every finny creature

is sent scrambling to the bottom of the world. 


It came to me then, the conversation we'd had

about the lagoon when dawn is on the water

and you realize the hiss you hear isn't jacks

ravaging bait fish or rain or wind, but simply the sound

of the ocean breaking through the trees. 


I remembered him then: a stocky kid, timid smile,

downward gaze.  And I remembered what I told him.

"That's it!" I said.  "That's important.  Write about that." 



Mule Skinner's Blues


We are both drunk, thigh to thigh. 

He strums, I chord.

We ramp-up to 4/4 time, my fingers planted

in the familiar G three-legged dog


that signals an explosion of sound so loud

the heat bugs outside go silent.

He calls this singing. 

Mother calls it almost dead cats.


When she's drunk, she calls him

a half man.  The arm, gone

since Fallujah, makes him, to my eyes,

three-quarters, then some.


But none of that matters now. 

Now we are both full bodied and limitless.

I chord, he sings, and no one

dares fault him for the beat of his strum.


Mark McBride's work appears in The Southeast Review (winner, World's Best Short Short Story Contest), Subtropics, The Yale Review, and other journals.



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