Life is mostly scars and souvenirs.
Mark David Manders
Indian Paintbrushes

There are flowers
flickers of orange fire
dancing on green fields under Oklahoma skies.
Like weeds they hold to the worst terrain
and spread everywhere.

They beautify discarded Coors cans
and swarm beneath barbed wire
filling empty pastures
where Choctaw and Chickasaw long ago hunted.

Once as a boy, I worked the roots of a
loose from the rocky soil across the gravel road
running in front of my house
and brought them to my mother's flower garden.

With all the care a ten year old could muster,
I replanted the fire
between petunias and four o'clocks.
There, among the tame flowers      
soon          they perished.

“They grow wild; that's just how some things
are meant to be,” Momma said
as she watered her carefully tended beds
in the summer heat.

But always
before she'd go back inside,
she'd walk to the edge of our yard
and look across the dusty road
at the red-orange blanket
covering the rough ground
burning in the last light of day.
The poem "Indian
Painbrushes" first appears
Native Son  and again in
I Come from Cowboys...
and Indians
. It was a
second place winner in the
2007 Grandmother Earth
National Environmental
Writing Awards.

Momma with her
flowers at our house in
Durant, Oklahoma 1984

The Coast of Oklahoma

Outside my western window,
a grey day presses against the pane,
remnant of a fading hurricane
        flown inland,
to die on the coast of Oklahoma.

Scanning the receding mist,
I hold a lawman’s star in my left hand
a remnant of hard arms and a good man’s heart.
Your cowboy hat hangs
under rifles on a red cedar gun rack
        as if you might walk in
and put it on.

But August has slipped away while I wasn’t
blue eyes beneath a tilted brim.

So, I search the ground below the weeping glass,
        seeking the scuffs
of your well-worn heels on September dirt.

Where fathers walk
        sign is always left
and sometimes, only a tracker can read
those marks.

I need that trail now,
for without a path to follow,
life can be a pursuit of pieces, scattered in a storm
        a whisper of dry leaves
                  whirling away
                            before the rain begins to fall.

The poem, "Night" won first place in the long
unrhymed poetry category of the 2008 Oklahoma
Writer's Federation, Inc contest.

It also is published in
I Come from Cowboys...


I am born into the night
with a flickering tongue of lightning
miles away
and thunder so low it almost goes unnoticed
behind the distant scent of rain.

The air around me remains unlit
by the fire of yellow bulbs. I have chosen
the dark instead,
letting it wrap me in its music
no guitar’s acoustic rhythmic strumming,
only tree frogs and a coyote singing
a dying summer.

Drifting among the elms, a breeze finds me,
touches my skin and moves on
like a lover slipping into shadows
beneath pitch black September leaves,
still than the sky they press against.

I wish to be assimilated into the living blood
of night,
inhaled with ink black air
and breathed across the sky,
my thoughts dripping from branches,
my eyes opening in the face of a great
horned owl
about to fly.
Finally one of the poems I read at the 2010  Woody Guthrie
Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma. "Eastside Boys, We Ran"
Eastside Boys, We Ran

(For William Airington, Jackie, Jimmy and Mike Bush,
Larry Dozier, Charles Guyer, Weldon Harris,
Gary Sheffield, Don Tyree, Joe Dean and Slim Whitley)

Eastside boys, we ran;
we ran straight up Northeast Second
to Mississippi to Texas to Alabama and Arkansas,
over the Santa Fe tracks to the stop sign on East Main.
We ran down gravel roads
that cut across our neighborhood, and past the old cemetery.
We rolled under barbed wire into pasture grass
with no roads to follow
we ran.

We ran from George Washington Elementary
to Roy Child’s Grocery Store;
we ran the bases and then back home
to widowed mothers and to moms who made us cookies
to fathers who drank too much,
and dads who taught us how to cast a fishing line
we ran.

We ran from poverty that stalked its prey
on our side of the tracks,
from pasts that trapped us in seines like minnows
in a shallow creek.
We ran from ghosts and self-fulfilling prophecies,
but never once from a fight.

We ran into the record books,
and we ran into the law,
to God, the Army and college
we ran into the world and into our lives;
we ran.

Eastside boys, we ran
some of us are running still,
running out of time and out of space,
but running all the same into the fire and out of the flames
of a long-gone neighborhood.
We run
we run
faster than the rest.
Dad and his brother
William before 1920

"The Coast of Oklahoma" was written for my father;
it won Songs of Eretz 2017 Poetry contest $1000
prize. Songs of Eretz is a great poetry site. I highly
recommend it.