Two poems by Mike Pulley

Martha Dunfee


The Fifties

As if filmed in black and white.
Viewed on a snowy television screen.
The hooded Klansmen, Klanswomen came
to my grandparents’ mill village home.
In a surge of curved-back cars
lining the curbs up a hilly street.
The robed women, like beneficent nuns,
brought in boxes of food. They scared
Aunt Phyllis. She crouched low
behind her mother’s skirt.
Frail grandfather could no longer
breath in cotton dust from the looms.
The men lifted him in a ladder back chair,
carried him out beneath the chinaberry.
They strung a drop cord out to the tree
for a lamp of elongated shadows.
The preacher quoted scripture to bowed heads
before grandfather received the bag of cash.

Grandmother was grateful,
pumping the Singer pedal,
pushing threads through with a thimble,
sewing robes for the new recruits,
secretive backdoor handoffs
in the dead of night.
Grandfather was a prisoner of his recliner,
coughing, spitting into a coffee can.
When congestive heart failure
finished him off, he crouched
on the bed on all fours
in fetal position, begging the Lord
for one more breath.
A black hearse brought him home,
the coffin lid raised for viewing.
Aunt Phyllis lifted me up
to see him sleeping in his box.
What dark brood did I come out of
to look back on this blood bond
with uncomfortable awe.

Out of Place

Overnight, smoke from the fire in the mountains
covers the sky.
A pink planet rises out of arid hills.
Suzie Q, an old Chihuahua, tiptoes
across the desert sand.

Soon, we head down the hills to
the mother’s funeral in the smoky valley.
A hearse carries her ashes through
a maze of freeways to the cemetery
surrounded by subdivisions.

When the preacher prays
beneath the tent, a wreath
is placed out of reach of sunrays.
The siblings take turns shoveling
dirt into the fresh hole, covering
the urn with infinity.

Somewhere in this city,
a man’s old lover phones for a favor.
She has misplaced her car keys,
needs a lift.
He plays along, following
the curves of her body like the cars
caressing the smoggy hills.

At home on another coast,
the chicken that lays blue eggs
is dying in the heat.

At night, training takes place
at the Marine base in the desert.
Bombs explode like a Fourth of July show.
Joshua trees witness in stillness.
Death is an odd disk
eclipsed by the smog of living.


Mike Pulley’s work was recently published in South Carolina Review, Cold Mountain Review, Canary, Café Review, California Quarterly, and ICON, among others. He teaches contemporary literature and advanced writing at Clemson University.