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Seven Poems From Ray McManus

Ray McManus, a South Carolina-based writer of poetry and prose, today graces Salvation South with seven — count ’em, seven! — new poems.

Angels Already Know

On the day you are born
God will pull apart husks,
and it will be done outside.
And God will shell peas,
and God will cut melons,
and God will pour salt in the churn
that God will be watching.

And on the day you are born,
God will put box-fans
on wet windowsills,
a wind-chime in the distance,
and you will be white,
and you will be small,
and the world around
you will be brutal.

But mostly you will be small.

We Know the Field

Because we know
the path along the firebreak
that cuts through pines
where it’s safe to slip past
transfer-trucks to get behind
the dumpster unnoticed.

Because we know
that’s where we’ll find a girl
too pretty for us,
too pretty to be slinging plates
for the late shift
at the 44 Truck Stop.

Because we know
an angel when we see one.

Because we know
she’ll teach us how to pray
before taking the bottle
from her throat
to wash our feet.

Because we know
on Saturday nights,
when flesh tightens
around the rib and aches
for touch, men will come
with sacks of silver to drop
from the nearby auto auction.

Because we know
despite the bill
she’ll tell us to be patient,
and we will,
and we’ll take turns
watching the world
around us scream
and fall apart as it dies
to the hum of old songs
spilling from tired engines.

Because we know
the miles between us
doesn’t matter, nor do the tips
she can hold in her teeth.

Because we know
the obvious wages a sin
will cost a body, any body.

Because we know
she’s not trying to hide
the ghosts of everyone
who came before us,
or the way a haunt pushes

on the bones of a face
and eats just under
the edge of a streetlamp
in a parking lot.

Because we know
there’s hand
and there’s mouth.
Because we know
there’s offering
and there’s sacrifice.
Because we know
there’s work
and there’s reward.

Because we know
how to break a promise.

Because we know
we’ll take more
than a blow-job
for a dime-bag in trade.

Because we know
we’ve been scattered
among the rocks to be choked
out by weeds.

Because we know
how to grow
into thorns to be chewed
by thinner cows.

Because we know
God is great,
God is good.

Because we know
the words of the prophets
are written in bold:
            to open, tear here.

The Dale Earnhardt School of Human Experience

Because you win some
when it comes to this race,
but let’s be upfront about it –
you can’t commit
to making the turns
if you don’t claim the inside.

Because you lose some
to the ones who think
it’s best to slow down,
that cars should stay
parked in driveways,
that backyards are where
kids should scream as they run.

Because you wreck some
days and burn down others,
drive into town
like a mother-fucker anyway,
position the kids
to look out the car window,
and dare them to witness everything.

Reproduction

Because a boy will stare out the window and learn the indifference of a larger dog trying to straighten his hind legs while stuck to a smaller dog just like his dad did.

And he will learn submission through a tangle of water hose just like his dad did. And he will go church and hear words like master and bind, the danger of oxen in unequal yoke just like his dad did.

And in his bedroom, he will hear how a man has to shoot dogs that don’t belong just like his dad did, and when the boy will ask why, just like his dad did, he will learn the ways of male dogs as God made them, how they either eat, fuck, or piss on everything they see just like his dad did.

And he will think his dad laughs, so he will too, because that’s how it plays through when a boy gets to hear that he’s not a dog despite his compulsion to force pieces that don’t fit just like his dad did.

And he will hear that it’s only natural to get jammed or die crying just like his dad did.

And everything he will hear will ruin his life.

The Last Saturday in America

If my neighbor slams his shovel to the ground
and stomps across the yard toward the gas can,
I should let him. We’re not friends,
but I offer him water, which he takes,
and we talk about roots, good dirt, how
that limb just fell one day, the black spot
that ate its way down the middle of the trunk.
I can’t ever remember his name.

Across the street, the neighborhood stray sniffs
the fenceline. The new people moved here
two weeks ago. They keep their dog chained
to the trampoline. My neighbor is quick
to recognize a bitch in heat, says someone needs
to get that dog fixed or shoot it, and then he’s back
to the fire he started. The stray – clearly male,
matted and thin and desperate for the wreck –
claws at the dirt and bites at the gate. It doesn’t take
long for him realize that it’s easier to jump
over the fence than it is to crawl under it.
My neighbor never looks up.

I won’t tell him that he can’t burn a stump out
that way. I won’t tell him that it’s easier to cover
and leave it to rot, that he’d be better off blowing
the whole thing up and just fill in the hole in later.
I won’t tell him his wife is at the window, watching.

Demolition Disco

Disco is an abbreviation here,
a song for the discontinued.
Because whatever happened, happened –
can’t take back what is already taken,
can’t unbreak what is already broken –
because you tried that once
when you were eight and thought
you could put the guts back into Stretch Armstrong.

Just ask the preacher on Friday
when he’s stacking envelopes
in the backs of pews. Ask
the docent after your kids
get tired of seeing statues.

Because this is America,
where an arm becomes
language and a hole becomes
the story of trial and error.

Because there is a lesson to learn here:
how one is born
to plant feet to the floor,
to push the very foundation
out from under a place and see
the origin of all creation,
only to walk backwards from it.

No, this song is different.
Structure and expectation aside,
you need to hold the beat on this one,
and find a good place to bury it.

The Butchers

We crawled our way out of the bog.
We were kids, scared of bad dreams.
We were told the swamps were haunted
and the woods at night take everything –

first prey, then predator, then hope
for a full moon so that we could make out
the contours of what was before us.
We were curious. We stepped forward,
surveyed the chorus of bullfrog and dark splashes.

And some of us were commended for being brave.
We stepped wider, moved farther a way
where we could feel our feet sinking
until we disappeared back into the water.
All those years ago. All those bodies.

Learn more about Ray McManus and his work on his website.

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About the author

Author Profile

Ray McManus is the author of five collections of poetry: The Last Saturday in America (Hub City Press, 2024), the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Award-winning Punch (Hub City, 2014),  Red Dirt Jesus (Marick Press, 2011), Left Behind (Stepping Stones Press, 2008), and ­­Driving Through the Country Before You Are Born(USC Press, 2007). His poems and prose have appeared in many journals and anthologies.

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