Clyde Kessler 


Jimmy Sloan’s Parole Jig 

The old man rode from prison,
jazzed and numb, the wildness of his voice,
all the starved lives, the people of his mind,
the low pay, out where the body helps, in where
the shrug of a heartbeat feels like a windshield,
or a dead-bolt’s key, the whistling taxi driver
of a shadow, or a brimmed town in the lips
of a song that he might trace like a foreign bubble
squeezing through a rope, the unknotted face,
some green upholstery, a little cash smelling very poor
and metered with fog, he was tasting a biscuit,
he heard children laugh behind a willow, some kittens
patted a ball of twine under a trailer, a cop on a bike
labored around a curve, the name of a wrist bone
cracking fancy at the moon, his mother’s maiden name
sugary and thin, his adopted parents made like lenses,
his own shout, the sycamores and geese of a pond,
the time loss of his eyes as free as something invisible,
the last words, a narrow moth quivered towards him.


A Summer Garden Walk at Night

Walk my garden at two a.m.
You can glimpse a moon-leaf
in a web between hollyhocks.
You can hear the young mice
learn the salt block of an old cow
beyond the fence. Then stop
where the sand willow says stop.
The garden waits there. Waits
because you might be a soldier
tomorrow. You might fight in a war
that brings you nothing like hollyhock
moths emerging amongst the stars.


Baby Jack

A cowbird snuck its egg
into a horsehair sparrow’s nest
the same morning Jack was born.

His mama propped a mirror
near his mouth to see the breath
condensing. Jack was too calm.
She said the newborn looked up
as if flying things carved it from the air.

His daddy was rewiring a hotel
in Maiserville. Nobody told him
Jack was born until he got home
a month later. There was a sparrow
feeding the hungry mouth of a cowbird.
A baby boy was squalling like fire.


A Migrant’s Faith

She whispered to a crow feather,
she whispered its dream, its dark eyes,
the unlearned pulse, a thready wrist
in a stone.  The sunset brazed the voice.

She could have turned the life away.
Instead she drew the words into the feather,
into the wings, the shadow of a flock
on a mountain.  She had no heaven there
to play the winter, so it flew away.


Nelly Grudet’s Zoo Van

Wild cats floated in a zoo van,
the old woman saw them dreaming
in her sleep, the sedation, their hearts
in tune with rain, and her own breathing
sounded like a scratchy purring under glass.

Outside, she lifted a crate lid, found a portrait
long old, a homesteader, a paroled ancestor
who prized his ridge and hunted the eyesight
of any strangers, ran them off pride-wounded
to God.  He would have lots of truth and silence
and one child who ran away, who tracked
a lion like a ghost.  She whispered to her hands,
and the portrait’s oak frame.  If the sky froze to her,
it was the same as a painted eye.  It was the same
as a cloud sliding over the Caribbean with gulls
and crows lagging on a beach.  She was retired,
had a season or two of rich life posed with wine.

She heard all her ancestors who bothered with names
laugh into her mind.  It was a cold morning again:
a few old neighbors knocked on the door,
the zoo van, the cats, the island, the house. It was
wrapped up in waking and never waking.



Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, Va. with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. He writes and publishes poems of many kinds, including haibun and science fiction poems. Poems were recently published in Contemporary Haibun, Decades Review, Now & Then, Silver Blade, Big River, and Rose Red, and poems soon in Mystic Nebula, Belle Rêve, San Pedro River Poetry Review, and Kentucky Review. Clyde is a regional editor for Virginia Birds, a publication of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, and a founding member of Blue Ridge Discovery Center, an environmental education organization with programs in western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.


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