Ed Skoog

Like Night Catching Jackrabbits in Its Barbed Wire

It's my thirty-fifth birthday and some old friends
are visiting. We drive up to Pioneertown's
one bar and (separate) bowling alley
where the singer who calls herself Cat Power
has left her scoresheet on the wall.
We bowl better in her glow and original
pinks and greens of 1951 the alley's saved.
Back in our civilian footwear we walk
sand to Pappy and Harriet's Pioneer Palace
and drink our beers, play Quiddler with a fresh
deck as the band begins its roadhouse fight songs.

A marine with shaved head and band aid
on his nose plops down and steals my wife's beer.
She snatches it back, looks to me, my words
forming in my hand. The soldier's buddy
apologizes, says he's just returned
from the sandbox that afternoon, forty Iraq weeks
and they're getting him drunk. An officer,
my age, in slacks and button down, leans in
from the table behind, says he's watching,
not to worry. I've been here before, in dark
on a side road of my little town beside the army base.

I remember how beating felt, how good
in cold to smile at ways they beat me.
I'd always been hungry to be touched, and bread
they fed me was sweet. All things that happen bad
are soft to lay down on later. Once comfort
I hoped for was gone, what was sharp and bitter
was my mother. That was first Gulf War.
Back in the roadhouse we finish our game,
the bar closes, our wives go back to motel
and we still thirsty drive into town twenty miles
through summer's forest fire to Joshua Tree

Saloon, downroad from where Gram Parsons
died twice in 1974, overdosing on heroin.
The first time, his hooker expertly shoved
a cube from the ice bucket up his ass,
brought him back to life, yet he knew enough
of life to shoot up again an hour later,
when she stepped out for a cheeseburger.
It's hard to save your own life, to take
such extreme measures alone. The woman
at the saloon, heavy with heavy curls
collects drinks and asks are you a marine?

as I bruise past to the bar's blue ATM,
and I do feel underwater, undersea
five thousand feet above its level.
And when I wake from my drowning,
outside motel window the mountains
are still deciding what gown to wear.
Quail know the story. Between bushes
they sing it. A hawk listens from the arm
the Joshua tree waves with. My wife pours
orange juice into a green glass on kitchenette
beside black crumbs of birthday cake.

Ed Skoog

 Ed  Skoog Ed Skoog was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1971. His poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Ploughshares, The New Republic, New Orleans Review, The Canary, Fourteen Hills, Practice, and NO: a journal of the arts. He has been a scholar at the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences, and won the 2005 William Faulkner Award in Poetry from the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society. He teaches poetry at Idyllwild Arts
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