BEN PITTS is from Phoenix, Arizona. He is a High School English teacher by day and a renegade poet by night. He lives with his wife, Brianne and two daughters, Grace and Norah. His poetry has been featured on several websites and journals including Red Flag poetry service, Pure Slush’s journals, Tall…ish. (Volume 11), Summer (Volume 12), and most recently one of his poems was featured in the Telepoem Booth project in Flagstaff, Arizona. He looks forward to pursuing his MFA in creative writing and finishing his poetry collection.
A Middle/Upper Class White Man Speaks of Rivers
A Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
I’ve known no rivers.
My ancestors didn’t bathe
in open air and let the sun
kiss dry their pale skin.
Or maybe they did.
I’m not sure.
Darker hands built our houses
on the edge of river banks
as sips of lemonade swilled us cool,
parceled from summer heat.
Or maybe we built our own houses.
Water where I’m from
flows only when bodies
jump off diving boards.
When the pool water
holds my face clear
I see the leftovers
of nameless countries
of faceless people
I’ve never felt the pulse of.
I’ve known no rivers.
For Amreil Watson
Your copy of To Kill a Mockingbird
dog-eared page 352: “He carried
Jem. His arm dangling crazily in front.”
It took the work of four paramedics
to lift you on the gurney. Your arms
were so long, they skimmed the gym’s
hardwood floors on your way out.
Your hands were so fast when you dribbled
nothing could be done when you charged the rim.
But I never did make it to your games.
You sat in the back of my class, knees
trapped outside of the desk. “Can you see?”
I asked too many times. You never moved up.
You circled chapter 31,
“I found it incredible that he had been sitting behind me all this time.”
A strand of brown hair we’ve plucked lightly
and fed it through her wedding ring cradled
over her hand flat on the table.
“If it moves in circles, we’ll have a boy.
Side-to-side (a pendulum), a girl.”
When the unborn waves a flag blue or pink
you’d better make sure to fly it high up
enough for the world to see who they are.
They need to know which rooms to avoid
which patterns to cover their skin correct.
I joke about that old myth told to us
“If you look at the face of a full moon
they’ll be born without their eyes, not blind
just flat where holes should be instead.”
Our eyes move with the off-sway steadied
by unseen hands unsure of which way
they nudge her ring above her fingers splay
like they will be the in the lights of a bright bed
we will surrender all our fears in
two tiny hands naked of all colors.
The pull of the Pacific current
still can light a knee-jerk flame
left over from voyagers—
their backs an olive leather.
Under the warm moon
palmed by all the trees
some can feel an urge
(A photograph found upon the liberation of Auschwitz)
Some of the guards
sprawl out on blankets
on the grass around a basket
full of peaches. At the gate
a game of croquet sounds
like a toast of pure crystal
while pillows of black smoke
choke the life
out of the sky.
Good/Bad Night’s Sleep
How’d you sleep?
Like a log
suspended on its way
lazily down a river.
How’d you sleep?
like a bird
in a storm
You remind me why
it’s not a good idea
to ask someone how
(they may tell you).
First teaching job
over my shoulder
just as confused
in the back seat
There’s nothing in that bag now.
The one with age marks
stuffed under the bed.
It used to hold graded
essays and extra pens
ready to be lent out.
Saudi Woman on a Bike
She slips by unnoticed
except for the old man at the fruit stand
feeling the skin of a date. Strokes become rapid
as her Niqab resists the urge to free itself in the wind.
fabric twinges open— milk-drops in the sun.
Her steady pace flails the burga out
against the pedals.
Outside my window,
the sky is a plum.
A prickly pear bloom begins to sprout
between the thorns.
its center is full and pink—
folded outward into the sun
against the petals.
The shape you make bent
over the white sheets looks like
a distant moon crest.
I still make coffee for two.
I still mute the commercials.
I still keep throw rugs
in the closet
so you don’t trip
on your way to the toilet.
I clean a glass
for the tenth time.
I dry the last of the towels
on the line so they take longer—
I do all I can to make sure
I don’t see you sitting
across the table
telling me to slow down.
Owen James Casey (May 27, 2015- May 22, 2016)
When summer is not yet born
and amber leaves passed away,
I can hear that tiny Robin
who settled in the fold of my roof.
His voice light as rain
on an May morning
there then gone.
I awoke to silence
in hopes of a goodbye
melody but instead
he’d left behind bright
feathers cradled in sunlight.
Some birds kiss the sky head-on.
They leave behind the ache
for one last song.
The rarest of them gift
the world unexpectedly
with feathers soft as dawn.
The White City
“And they watched as flames erupted from the towers above.”-
The Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1893
On this yellow swamp a pearl
glints milky hope at the herds
called here from far corners
to say they stood in the heart
of impossible. Children reach
at fireworks. An old man leans
on his cane in a buzz of electric
lights so bright he thinks the world
will catch fire and melt before his eyes.
A lake fashioned in the middle
holds the sky red with sulfur
dust hanging like a church bell.
You are worth the weight in your gold
promises plated sunshine bright
but left me clutching
my glove outside alone.
Through my telescope we search for God.
My daughter’s arms on the back of my neck.
It’s past bedtime; the sky right now’s ideal.
She points at a cluster, “he’s there
Andrew said.” I picture God on purple
nebulas unable to steady himself long enough
to decide who should live tomorrow.
I tell her starlight is four years old. If God
had a telescope, he couldn’t see her yet
in her heart lives all the startdust bursting
in a violet swirls of atoms fused forever.
Her eyes are heavy. I cradle her to bed
where plastic stars glow soft on her ceiling—
the only universe where God could live.
Never Eat Shredded Wheat
I’ve heard it’s silent
in a hot air balloon—
just you and the rush
of red fire high above.
An adrift servant
at the mercy of wind
scarce of all the direction
a sail could offer puffed
in the gleam of open water.
Around the time I learned
from a library book I stole
Columbus was more like
Hitler than a pilgrim sailed
the ocean blue; fourteen
hundred ninety-two thousand
was the body-count excluding
all of those too long powdered
to be labeled Remains by leading experts.
My evening prayers stopped then to
feed that kid on T.V with a big belly
in the middle of his skin and bones.
I invaded my daughter’s bedroom
to reclaim what she took from me.
On the floor was a make-up mirror
she snuck out of our bedroom.
It had two sides that could blow up
my face three times its normal size.
Up that close I manage to see myself
crossing to the feet of a deeper ocean.
What We Look For
Without the wind would we
have found that lost flower?
You’d have to ask the street
dog who paused to watch
it glide away—
you begged me to wear it
on my shirt like a sticker.
Things we’ve found in a breeze:
a tan grocery bag,
you two played tag.
an armful of leaves
you held and let free.
Things we’ve lost in breeze:
A red balloon
as it became
a small dot.
A full flower
dropped on the street
when you weren’t looking.
I watch as you comb your hair
like an autumn brush fire
ignites every part of me—
Stripped off its vine and piled among others
a red pepper shrinks to the size of a golf ball
in the grip of the Argentinian sun there’s a mountain
that hides the factory. I’ve never been there.
I imagine it smells like breakfast floating
out of grandma’s house—fried potatoes
dusted with a pinch of paprika and eggs
sunny side up.
You say you can’t sing—
a bright spotted songbird
on the wing of a Sunday
morning croon rises
in your throat
as our daughter sways
like a boat
off to sleep.
magic doors swung
open to a garden
made of the same light a mirage
A piano in the silent
lobby of a hospital
carries the weight
of prayers knowing
notes are like answers
rising in whispers only
to fall short in shadows.
In the Start of a Phoenix Summer
The mountains are the first
to know it’s here—
the clouds are seared orange
under a banner of 6:00am fire.
Don’t leave water in your car
unless you plan to add tea.
Gather all thing medal
out of the sun’s reach.
In a breeze there’s a warning,
Shut your windows.
Shut your doors.
Hide the baby.
That dog better find somewhere
safer to sunbathe.
My driveway’s the last
to know it’s too late
and nowhere to hide.
They are serving free pancakes at IHOP today
in honor of Veteran’s Day. Red, white, and blue
banners and ticker tape blizzard the parking lot
while people lean in line waiting for a table. Jason,
remember when we were kids
I used to hold my breath underwater longer than you?
I wish I didn’t hold mine when you asked what I thought
about you joining the Marines.
You’re buried behind the church.
Your mom goes there alone
and talks to you until dusk.
I still remember how you held a fork.
I still remember how you’d laugh
with your entire body.
I still remember how much
you hated pancakes.
You blotched a blob of oval paint
fingerprints mixed into a crimson cloud
or is this a slumped rose? Imprints
whisper your stories behind bright smears
inside your mind where the sky is pink
and sweet as candy-coated laughter—
our sleeping dog’s a saddled steed, valiant.
My arms can hold the weight of entire. worlds.
Mom has cloud wings made of cotton candy.
Paintings like this get framed. Maybe some trace
of your world will linger as we drift apart?
The red dust has just begun to still
two old men are playing checkers
in front of the café that’s grown
quiet hours earlier than usual.
The one with the silver cane
resting between his knees moves
a crooked finger to his chin. Above,
a woman with long hair drapes
laundry over the balcony’s rail
to dry in the afternoon sun.
Three years ago, the field behind
the town held oak trees that rained
its leaves on the sidewalk—
it took hours rip them out
with the teeth of two dowsers
splaying a path for plumbing
of high-rises. Jackhammers
quake the earth—red plaster
falls like leaves.
From My Mother-in-Law’s Couch
From this angle
that plant looks real.
Add a shallow stream
or a yellow swamp
in place of a TV
it would try to reach
the curve of the sky.
That deep in shadows
only plastic can thrive.
I snake the rows
then stand up front
for thirty seconds.
A light rattles begging
to be free.
After last Sunday’s rain blew through
I thought of Grandma’s garden
the one along that bricked path
freckled with geraniums and petunias.
I remember how she’d tamp smooth
each cluster at the root and sing
Patsy Cline songs in the ear
of each pedal to woo them
to fold open in the sunshine—
her eyes noticing me watching
from the kitchen window invite
me to help her water the rest.
Her room in the nursing home
has one window that faces the street.
I wheel her to it so she can see the last
of the rain trickle the sidewalk—I hum
in her ear and hope her eyes will bloom
open and see me the way they used to.
What Saturday’s Like Now
The sunrise this morning
was a purple flame soft
spoken notes of light
thrown on our bed.
You sleep on your side
to hear the baby stir.
Three weeks ago I’d hook
my arm along your waist
and pull myself into your back.
You’d crane your neck—
give me that knowing smile.
You roll over and face the ceiling
until morning burst through a beat
of shade to warm the room.
You sit up and scoop the baby
in your arms. The two of you
aglow in the color of a dream.