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Poetry Pleases: Americana

Clifton Grady's raw wrenched-from-the-gut poem concerns the dark underside of family life. It's a poem you are not likely to forget.

Back in 1966
we moved into a house
made of bricks
the yard was big
but it held no grass
Daddy hit Momma
and she fell on her ass
I didn't think
it was very damn funny
because I was three

I turned on the TV
a small white dot
then the picture got bigger
Daddy called the people
he worked with "nigger"
we couldn't get loud
after he went to bed
or he'd jump up
and his face would be red
he'd cuss and kick
think I was six

The funny thing about butter
is that comes from
a bovine udder
but technology could mold it
into little bricks
for convenience's sake
we used those "sticks"
Daddy threw a whole stick at Momma
it slid through her boufant hair
he slammed the back door
and we laughed

Once they and I fought
and I wisecracked
I got the belt buckle
across my back
"You sonofabitch"
I heard it crack
This reinforced my anger
it fed my hate
think I was about eight

A Philco clock radio
with a paper speaker
woke me up to meet my teachers
I heard some music
called "Tubular Bells"
I wondered if The Devil
listened to it
in his office in Hell
The only Devil I knew was my Dad
but he worked the day shift
and drove a forklift
The FM airwaves were mighty thin
we could only pick up Newport back then
I guess I was about ten

But you know
some of the best times I've ever had
were fishing the White River
with my Dad
When we were there
he never laughed
he was always so serious
I wondered why he was so furious
with us

Momma was spooky
she always shook
I imagine it was the pills she took
that made her turn around and look
for her dead brother
she heard him call her name
when she was burning trash
or something or other
the things she'd tell
about what Dad did
too much info for a kid
but still she did

We all grew older
the shit got worse
Momma always had a few bucks
in her purse
I'd never steal it
I'd always ask
Get drunk or high
wear a "happy" mask
always obnoxious
sometimes obscene
maybe sixteen

Three years later
in the middle of a shout
the door to Hell blew open
and I flew out
I found out what the world was about
not always rosy
but always better

Twentyfive vears later.....
an Oxford shirt and khaki pants
travel to the "ant hill"
follow the other ants....
but take home more
we never will
than what we bring
to this ant hill

Dad is growing older
and I knew he was wishing
that I'd come up and we'd go fishing
so I did
I took my kid
but it was on my terms
my truck, my worms
I saw a pictoral view
of my ripped up past
we caught fish on near every cast
we had a blast

Over forty and the truth becomes clear
why my "hobby"
is drinking beer
it helps me cope
we've put each other
through some awful shit
I think we're finally over it
we'll see


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