archives fall 2008



In Uniform

January is a communal myth of improvement undercut by the fine print of personal resolutions. And in this city of heavy boots and mittens drying fireside, any operation in distant sands seems to run smoothly compared to the severe complications of domestic demands. Just mark the affront of those shrapnel-edged snow banks outside of the bay window as predatory birds force their lurid limericks on the townsfolk tied with Odysseus to the mast of a television tower. Just count out the hours of aching dedication to the mission of distraction, the blue haze of crystal vases with wax flowers held in the embassies of waiting rooms where scarves choke the oak coat tree in the name of theology. Just imagine in it all the astounded ghosts of fashion’s ten-thousand abandoned jackets singing marching songs in this terrible territory, unaware of the seductive siren red dialogue of the cop drama in the living room that caused the whole town to look askance at the purpose of their shovels and decide that burial is nearly the same as clearing their pavement. Just know that through it all the winter hardens its clutch and there’s no room for improvement but though the goddess of a Caribbean cruise’s luxury and that this is the moment, deep in the sludge of rutted streets that we call psychology, where heroics from the armchair must break a leg on stage to prove that life at home can get dicey, especially when those suitors come calling for the bride that remains an ageless Penelope. January is a journey to betterment that remains tethered to the tatters of the preceding year’s stories of hardships. But by February the townsfolk will make a quilt of this travesty and feel guiltless as they disguise their lies in designer sheep’s wool and revise their desires with patriotic pedigrees that will fool the Cyclops of self long enough to lead to his demise, at least in theory.


Ghost Town

A jumble of haggard Victorian structures staggered down the jags of Cleopatra Hill since their inception in the 1880s, drawn back to the dead mines where labor organizing anarchists once cut deals with the earth and sympathetic officials before the copper they revealed turned into a series of treacherous heads and tails, a serpentine figure eating itself in the shadow of a little known civil war in the high desert of Arizona. Unsavory as they were to the saner folks standing peripheral to Jerome—once called “the wickedest town in the west”—they built the town into map-worthy dimensions with the suffocating canaries and self-made demolitions that are the trade of all in that dark business. But earning, earnestness and mad political convictions cannot exist altogether for long, so they were deported by a mob of usurping shopkeepers with shiny boot heels and an eye towards making the horizon a nicely gilded affair where there’s nothing to appeal.

Burned from the bowels outward, stripped into near nothingness and sold out inch by inch, the town sunk into itself, nearly abandoned over the years, until the 1960s drove distant grandchildren from California into fits of radical consciousness that rivaled the glossolalia of snake-wielding ministers in the heat of soul-altering tents. These children, breaking with authority for their cliff-hung utopia where freedom required the cheapest of rents, retook the town, bracing up old haunts with swirling pastels and sold far out art like blessed relics surrounded by haloed women with beads on their breasts and cacti in their hair. Now, years gone from hair grown long and songs grown longer on the radio that sunned the dial into darkness, this generation dons the finery of eccentric gentry and sells sepia tone postcards with intimations of saloon shootouts, riotous whorehouses and the Rolling Stones before Altamont with tax laws and copyrights intact to protect their commercial interests and karmic convictions lest a citizen gets too rowdy and tries to upset their good sense. Let it never be said that the steep, twisted streets of Jerome have ever questioned their identity in all of these years. Let it never be said that we’ve failed to detect the impression of its fingerprints on the stones hurled into the shadows of our valley as we seek to decipher the clouds overhead.



The dead standstill, stone-deaf;
they’re echo bound
on the bank where lanterns rust
while the old curses course below
the cleft of rows
left by Puget Sound’s smoking fish houses.

Yet summer persists in the topsoil
squared and packed in shipping yards,
but rain-bowed further on
where regiments of roiling clouds
loose energy beyond our powers.

Words flare and disappear,
obscured by the weather
to settle like soot behind bay windows
where coffee pots clatter
and the smell of oil
lulls each interlocutor into dreams of outriggers.

And Georgia Bight’s ground frazzles
while Cape Fear Arch
armors the sharp notes of brass bells
for those who would listen
for hidden patterns
in the acidic deluge and brutal gale.

Barrel fires, skree piles; matter moves
ice aged and dry eyed through time,
coalescing for a moment
and dwelling on the water shelf
like a hymnal of pale regret between worlds,
but we are bound to the teething mouth,
milking the spine of night while miracles
levitate on hammocks of nails
behind our white houses
perpetually for sale.

Shadows of storefronts handle the wind,
unwavering, hard witnesses
to the slough of human use
on the courthouse steps
where the crowd consumes larvae
in utter awe of the absence
of taste that would indicate carnage
has taken over the carnival tents
of their distractedness.

Though breaking with custom is really the issue
to pursue at all costs,
we must attend to our laced regalia
among the desolate statuary of consolation
keeping the flood waters
from the foundations and fountain bases,
the manicured route
of knowledge within the forbidden oasis.

And the cotton-headed children might light
candles in the round,
calling for an old fashioned purging,
but epochs of pushing urgency into dim memory
have eaten the ground empty of the greenery
which indicates effected cause.

Bided and then surely bygone,
slipped into the leaden runoff that links progress
to loss, we trudge around our monuments
rubbing beads of grainstone and marl raw,
breeding in our sediments of distress
as the tide curls back into blackness.

But this tract of rock is omnivorous
in its monotones
and jumping off may not always fly
in the face of uncertain rain and windfall,
so we are stuck in the mud
of our gaping wherewithal.

Sublunary stone layers fill with fish bones
and the nets of generational recourse cough
into the curtains drawn like dust jackets
over treasured tomes of vespers.

And the circuits of our desires,
ever exploited and wayward,
cannot be measured or weighed by scales;
the toiling fingers of the plotting and tipping hand,
the sleek pop of a hook out of a hungry mouth
where the waves of air and water
only exhume the land’s body
to study its collapsed arteries
in bits of blackened shale.  


Caleb Puckett has pieces in the Oklahoma Review, Projected Letters, and Starfish, among other publications. Otoliths recently released his prose collection Tales from the Hinterland. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.