365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


Child of July

Think of the rockets they fired
the day you were born, another great
war over, cotton on parade in rows
men dark with foreign memories
back in the mills
women back in the house
their dreams hung fresh in closets

you, nipple in your mouth
eyes about to eat the world
or sleep, empty as a cup
upside down, but wise
like the moon, like its shadow.

Think of the children on lawns
that night, how their toes dug in
how they felt like fountains, kissed
fantasy and ran through the dark
with sparklers that wrote
in the air and were hot.

Think of the flags that snapped
on their poles, salutes and songs
that stirred the air, all America
loose on a hinge.

You drew the excitement
into your soul
where fifty years later
it burns like a fuse
feels like mischief, means freedom
about to explode and ring
in your ears for the rest of your life.


There were my father's hand
my mother's eye
my uncle's snap
behind the ear.
I preferred the obvious, the eye.

My cluster of cousins
who got it with soap
would foam at the mouth
like madmen
for just one good goddamn.

Our teachers
were shakers.
They shook and shook and shook
us like rag dolls
to spare us
from the ruler and the switch.

And now, a leap of years
later, the three impatient children
of my very patient child hold
their noses to the wall.

The clock ticks toward forever.
Pain pools in their hearts
their bladders and throats
trickles out of their eyes.

The wife of my child
sets them free.
Wiping their tears
with the hem of her skirt
she stares into the hard hole
of her own anger.

I see her sort
through weapons
and find a razor
made of ice.
Tonight will be sharp and cold.


At a newsstand
next to nowhere
I leaf through ads
in military magazines.

The new equipment
outperforms the old
in every case:
the tanks and planes are
unprecedented speed
accuracy, payload

engineering genius
and company pluck.

At peace at last
with fools and failure
I close
my eyes and advertise
myself as target:
standing still
more often now.

Pigeons in Aswan

The woman in the market
stall sings lullabies
to a shadow
and kills her pigeons, six
a minute when she's killing:
reaches deep into the cage
takes control
of what her hand finds
squeezes each bird still
lifts it then and tilts
the throat back with a thumb.

The knife, its blade
no longer than a pencil stub
is quick. The dark blood
flies into her song.
The wings do not believe
at first
and then they do.

She meets my stare.
She is the queen
and I am the boy
lost in the palace
not fit
for this kingdom, her knife
or what passes
for delicacy in Aswan.

A native of Illinois and a career Air Force officer whose last tour of duty was as Air Attaché in Vienna, Dennis Ward Stiles retired in Charleston three years ago. Resuming a career as a published poet which began in the 1970s, he has recently had work appear in or accepted by Southern Poetry Review, Florida Review, Laurel Review, Poetry Northwest and other journals. He is a member of the writers' group linked to the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 4/14/97