James

Victoria is hosting at the dVerse pub tonight and has asked for a poem with character development. She suggested the ekphrastic route and this pic came to mind. Kind of shot from the hip a bit (yeah, I know, what’s new), this is mostly stream of consciousness with very little editing. From what I have been told, James was certainly a real character.

Also shared at IGWRT.

James

It is difficult, perhaps impossible,
to reconcile man to myth,
with a picture in hand
and years of stories
cluttering the mind.

Vibrant in black and white,
confident, looking the part
of a man’s man in his
pressed suit and cocked fedora.

Remove implanted memories
and you can romanticize the image.
Convert the knowledge of moonshine
sold out of the back of a Tennessee
BBQ joint to runnin’ it down backroads
in the trunk of the Hudson — ninety to
nothin’ escapin’ crooked cops.

Mean does not show up on polaroids.
Controlling and angry are hidden in
still life. There were no pictures of wife
and kids hiding in the apple orchard
waiting for the shots to stop and the
whiskey to wear off.

I only remember seeing him twice.
Once at a truck stop, Mom agreed
to meet him when he came through
town, would not tell him where we lived.
He gave me circus peanuts, showed
me where he slept in his rig.

The other time was a surprise. We went
to visit his mother, she told him we were
coming. Mom was pissed he was there,
but he did let us go to his house (forbidden
before), go through some things,
collect a couple of memories.

A relative called, said his part of the headstone
had been engraved. Mom acknowledged.
Was there remorse after his wife died
and his children refused to speak to him?
Is there regret at not knowing
your grandchildren?

I wonder at times if he ever cared.
Maybe a bottle by his deathbed
was company enough.

It is hard to tell the difference between
a grandfather and a ‘real son-of-a-bitch’
in an blurry old black and white.

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39 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Poetry - Prompts

39 responses to “James

  1. I think you captured not only the man but the times. It ran like a movie reel, or a news reel yet the punctuation was not bullets or bottles, but loneliness and broken hearts along with missing information and missed opportunities. The story of an era really. And people cry out for a return to those times — not me. Give me the “right now” every time!

  2. Mark–this is brilliantly drawn. I especially like these lines:

    Mean does not show up on polaroids.
    Controlling and angry are hidden in
    still life.

  3. Loved your stream-of-consciousness-shooting-from-the-hip-(so-what-else-is-new) approach to this prompt! It works well with the layering of romanticised images and bitterly-told tales.

    ~Paula

  4. WOW! powerful powerful write. I used to date a guy by the name of Fortner years ago he was rather wild too. I am sorry you didn’t have a good grandfather neither did I so I can empathize.

  5. I found this so powerful and sad, b/c many times that’s true… alcoholism is such a terrible disease-

    Maybe a bottle by his deathbed
    was company enough.
    It is hard to tell the difference between
    a grandfather and a ‘real son-of-a-bitch’
    in an blurry old black and white.

  6. I love the feel of this poem, like not only slipping back to the era but also introducing me to someone new. Very much enjoyed.

  7. good night man…this is hard…pictures dont show the hard for sure…an absentee mostly…with plenty of problems…but family as well…def tight with emotion on this one mark…

  8. I often think stream-of-consciousness writing produces the best writing. This just oozes with his personality and the whole untold story behind the photo. Also, you’ve used another tool to define character: setting. It tells a whole lot. Thanks, Mark.

  9. so many things that can’t be seen on polaroids..true that…enjoyed your stream of consciousness….a sad portrait..very well written

  10. S of C or not, you have told this story in a compelling fashion. Your last stanza draws no conclusion, leaving room for conjecture.

  11. Exceptional…….love the flow and insight of this..

  12. dfb

    Absolutely stunning. Took me back to time that seemed to vivid – very well done.

  13. One of those characters you remember from the film but ‘forget’ in real life

  14. This gives an essential flavour from a past era. Excellent.

  15. Awesome write, Mark. You created this character–or described him–in such a vivid way, I thought you were talking about my dad for a minute there. Well done!

  16. hypercryptical

    Powerful stuff and mean does not show up on polaroids…you brought a static benign image to life, showing the real man…

    Anna :o]

  17. Mark…when you let that pen run, it’s awesomeness that spills across the page. This is fantastic!

  18. Wow, your words are powerful and sad! I love it. Your right, a picture can never capture the whole person.

  19. Wow! That last line really hits hard. My grandfathers did the same thing in Arkansas and my maternal grandfather was an abusive alcoholic. I never had the displeasure of meeting him. Kudos to you and your talent!

  20. Great character development here Mark. I really felt transported to the arena of moonshine and regret. A sense of sadness here.

  21. Oh so true. “Remove implanted memories
    and you can romanticize the image.

    Mean does not show up on polaroids.
    Controlling and angry are hidden in
    still life.”

    Pictures may say a thousand words, but they don’t always tell the whole story, do they? A great write.

  22. hobgoblin2011

    very strong piece. Excellent detailing, really illustrate the character and his environment very well, yet it’s the tone and subtleties that allow the readers mind to reflect as it does, especially after the last few lines.

  23. Strong and vivid writing – I love the aliveness… so true about photographs too – you say it all in the final stanza:
    “It is hard to tell the difference between
    a grandfather and a ‘real son-of-a-bitch’
    in an blurry old black and white.”

  24. Mark!! You have skills! I love this stanza:

    “Mean does not show up on polaroids.
    Controlling and angry are hidden in
    still life. There were no pictures of when
    they were hiding in the apple orchard
    waiting for the shots to stop and the
    whiskey to wear off.”

    Well written!! Visiting you from Toads!

  25. I felt I was in the film “Bonnie and Clyde” the entire way through this, though your poem is better than the screen play. But, wow! It just hit me that people like this and in all the upstate NY liquor running history I know were real and had children who would relate to this story of abuse and sadness. I cannot believe I needed this hit over the head to fall out of he myth. I love your poem.

  26. Yes, this plays out like an old movie of those times. You tell it so well. It would make a great short story!!!! There’s a ton of material here:)

  27. Can’t add to what other “Toads” have said. Really a well written poem / character study.

  28. Wonderfully told story in this. You brought him to life.

  29. Mean does not show up on polaroids.

    This tells a story, rough, edgy, honest, sad… the bitterness glazed on just enough to give it an edge, but not ruin the character poem. Loved it!

  30. This is a difficult write, but you did it with such strong images! I love how you wrote it…I am sad, for this if it is true! Yes, I think we all know someone that chose the bottle over life~ Well Done

  31. Mark, your idea of pictures being simply facades for bad character, so true. An unflinching look at a selfish bastard, and yet it reads so well. Perhaps it’s because James could have been in my family, I feel like I know him. Sign of a good write: Readers can relate. Good on you! Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/08/27/deep-seated-exploration/

  32. I love this. Excellent piece. I will come back and comment more later when I have time.

Some of what I write is true, some is fiction; most is merely possibility.

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