5 poems by Bob Stout

Mass at the Casa de Brigidas

The priest waved his hands

as though each of seventy-some parents

were Pinocchios

attached invisibly

to his adept

and mobile fingers

“…your sons,

your daughters,

respect, obey…”

Not a grunt

or snicker

but a silent

twitching murmur

lucky if they

even hear us!

“…just

as you respect God, Creator…”

                                              of all

the snares and dangers

–drugs and sex drives,

car wrecks, bomb threats–

“…forge

the world

He in His wisdom…”

dumped

upon adults by definition

but inside still really children

trying to cope

with angry spouses,

friends in trouble,

rising prices)

“…turn away

from earthly

pleasures…”

airline crashes,

serial killings,                                                        

stock fraud coupes

“—suffer

here to gain Eternal…”

Nuns

picking at guimpes’

starchy collars,

mumbling

their childless

problems

“…submit,

receive

His bounteous

blessings…”

mini-vans,

new clothes,

computers…

Twisted on the cross

above us

Christ, the martyr,

gazing past revolving fans

as we, the parents,

nodded,

thanked Him,

“Father,

that we love them…”

 

and are loved

(we hoped)

a little in return.

 

Elaine

Beige curtains twisted into dancing shapes

as real as dreams. I rose, watching as they

seemed to touch, then part, then spin slowly

back to touch, fingertip to fingertip, again.

Rhythms floated in and faded as I crossed

the room to gaze towards sailboats anchored

in the bay. Come with me! Elaine once whispered

as we’d danced across a jetty. Pulled off our clothes.

Plunged into currents swirling alongshore.

Clasped each other’s bodies quivering from cold.

 

A truck edged past, its headlights flickering

across the fronts of dormant stores. Now get me warm!

she’d laughed and run and tripped. Rolled over.

Held me, shivering, as we’d surged past instant wanting

into places where the sea and sky were one.

Then rose, exhausted, strangers brushing sand

from heated bodies, trying to laugh

and walk back to the jetty, talk: My God!

We’re silly! I still feel like you’re inside me!

No thoughts then of schedules, children,

just the beach and palms and jetty.

Again I felt the wind assault our wetness.

Felt her fingers touch, then separate from mine.

 

Stranger in the Coffee Shop

Faces move

to greet me

shyly, shove

aside the danger

 

of too quick

a smile. The

waitress licks

her lips. “Odd

 

weather,” someone

whispers. “Coffee?

Sure.” She runs

to get a cup.

 

The cook peers

through a crack

above the grill,

a stack of pancakes

 

in his hand. An old

man coughs. “More

butter please.” I sip

my coffee, read

 

the paper as they nod

themselves back

into safety, all being right

in their small world.

 

November, Oaxaca

In the vacant lot down the hill

the leaves are turning yellow

and the long stalks of the sunflowers

have cracked and fallen.

Tiny butterflies—some black, some white—

flit through brambled summer growth,

brown and barren instead of lush and green.

A lone dove pecks at particles of seeds

beneath a tangled mat of inert vines

and the wind

makes rustling sounds.

 

A man with an atrophied arm pushes

a bicycle vending cart

down the gravel roadway

calling to vacant houses

that he has corn for sale.

 

Boatman in the Jungle

Hunched like a hewn

immobile idol

He listens to the water

lisp its power

His nerves the rhythm of an engine,

eyes the function

Of trick whirlpools, currents,

knowing beauty as a deck’s thin knife

that dissects green.

Robert Joe Stout is a journalist living in Oaxaca, Mexico, who has contributed nonfiction, fiction and poetry to a wide variety of publications. Much of his writing is focused on social and political themes involving people and events, present and past, that affect the United States and country in which he resides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 poems by Bob Stout

Perhaps

If it was a competition
then I lost before it began
but I didn’t mind
because Richard was older than me,
more confident, and I was shy.

He’d been to college, I hadn’t
but because of the war he’d enlisted
and so had I and we wound up
on the same Air Force base.

Sunday night youth group
at the Baptist Church.
Glenna was the prettiest
of the highschool girls
and the most open to flirtation.

I was attracted but hesitant;
Richard less so. He had a fiancé
in San Diego but San Diego
was four hundred miles away
and Glenna was in Merced.

He didn’t describe what they did
together and I didn’t ask
although he knew that I knew
that they’d become lovers.

It wasn’t a long-lasting affair.
Richard’s enlistment was up
and he headed back to San Diego
to finish college
and marry his fiancé.

Glenna and I became friends.
She seemed older than she had
when I first met her
but she was fun to be with
and I got to know her parents
and enjoy the time I spent with her.

But we never made love together.
Perhaps I was too shy or perhaps
I needed a friend more than I needed
a sexual adventure. Life’s a here
and gone thing for a lonesome G.I.

Discoveries: Veracruz, Mexico, 2018 

Those with Perla María watch her place
the short-handled shovel she’s been using
beside her open pack and tug her jeans
over what once was a youthfully sexy figure.
“Cuántos más?”—“How many more?” Not a question
that seeks an answer. But “Demasiados”—too many—
Joaquín murmurs. As though fondling
sacred jewels he lays two portions
of a broken skull and a splintered piece
of collarbone on a ragged piece of bedsheet.
Eyes half-closed, lips torqued downwards,
Perla María reaches towards it, then lets her hands
drop into her lap. “Just those, nothing more?”
“It was a shallow grave,” Joaquín pronounces professorially.
“Shallow because others are under it,” María del Carmen
grunts. A big woman, wide-hipped, big breasted,
sturdy despite three husbands, motherhood,
sixty years of work, she hands Joaquín a moldy piece
of paliacate they’d found beside the skull pieces.
“Campesino,” Joaquín murmurs. Young,
don’t you think?” “They’re all young!”
Perla María snaps. Then, almost inaudibly,
“Salvador was seventeen.” María del Carmen’s fingers
seek the younger woman’s shoulder. “Si quiere..?”
but Perla María shakes  her head. “We need
to go on.” Lips tightly together she forces
a smile. “Like Joaquín says, we can rescue
them from nowhereland. Rescue ourselves—”
“From not knowing,” María del Carmen murmurs,
Forcing smile of her own. Joaquín nods,
glances at his watch and picking up his shovel
suggests, “We’ll dig a little deeper,
maybe find another body further down.”

Perla María 

Her desire, her deepest desire,
was to have a gun, kill someone.
Narcos. Police. “You can’t trust either,”
her husband admonished. “Those who protest
become victims themselves.”
“Then I’ll take them with me!”
But she’d never fired a gun,
never owned one. The police laughed
when she demanded they do something.
One of them suggested they’d be glad
to do something sexual. Mexican justice!
In the marketplace she burst into tears.
“I can’t stand it! I hate it! I wish
I was dead!” she told the woman
who tried to comfort her, “you don’t—!”
then saw pain in the woman’s eyes.
“My daughter,” the woman murmured,
“two years ago.” “And you haven’t—?”
“We’ve found others,” the woman
shook her head, “by digging.”

Perla María still fantasizes having
a gun, killing someone. Narcos.
Police. But the digging helps.
Fosas clandestinas. Unmarked graves.
Hundreds of them. With the others,
each of them thinking The next one?
Maybe the next body will be Joselito’s?
Olga’s? Agustín’s? she marks the locations,
breathes in the smells, shares being
parent of a victim. Shares doubt
that there exists a God who cares.

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Robert Joe Stout is a Mexico City College graduate who works as an freelance journalist in Oaxaca, Mexico. His poetry has appeared in over 200 journals and magazines, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Slant, offcourse, The New York Times and Poem.