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Sample Poems by Charles Brice

In Medias Res

I come from the people whose potatoes went bad,
whose land had been beaten by English dragoons,
and who had been abandoned by fat boys in Rome-
some dressed in red and a big one in white.

I come from courage-sweat of firemen in Omaha,
who spoke in brogues and risked their lives
to save blazing futures, whose wives waited
in hopeless housedresses for them to come home to

boiled dinners roiling with cabbage, carrots, turnips, salt pork,
and what meat they could scrounge.

I come from one fireman blown up in a gunpowder factory,
identified by the scapular wound so tightly round his throat
they had to bury him with it. I come from his great
grandson, my Uncle Johnny, who so hated dimly lit restaurants that

he would turn on the high beam of a foot-long black police flashlight
to read the menu and bellow, "This place is too goddamned dark!"

I come from a couple who got lost in a snowstorm
in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1944 and never left.
I come from the prairie-its sweet smell of columbine in summer
and from the perilous purity of its frozen abyss in winter.

I come from a frayed baseball mitt stained with spit, smelling of leather,
from a Ludwig oyster pearl drum set with Zildjian cymbals in the basement,

and, in the backyard, from one tulip as red and true as a beating heart.

The Holy Land

Some call it Mecca,
others Jerusalem,
but for me it would be
Liverpool, where four
scruffy guys held
our collective hands
and loved us
yeah, yeah, yeah.

I had a yellow sparkle
Japanese drum kit
my parents bought me.
I learned Ringo's kick beats,
what he liked to do with
the floor tom, the tom tom,
and the high hat: how
he'd set the symbols
so they'd clang together,
produce their own
wall of sound.

I set my ride and crash cymbals
very high, like Ringo,
my stool so high
I almost stood up.
One drunken night
in Wheatland, Wyoming,
my stool broke in
the middle of a solo.
I ran down into the school's
locker room and puked up
the quart of Bali Hai wine
I'd drunk on the eighty-mile
drive from Cheyenne.
Craig, our bass player,
hung me by my collar
from a hook used
for coats in the strong
Wheatland winter.
This was no Cavern Club,
and our band, the Rogues,
remained one of the hundreds
of tiny bands in tiny towns
across the country that went nowhere.
But the Beatles inspired us all,
made us happier with their music,
made our land holy.

The Ventriloquist

At seven I diligently practiced throwing my voice.
My goal in life was to become a ventriloquist
like Edgar Bergen or Paul Winchell. My mother
bought me a Jerry Mahoney dummy so I could
become "the life of the party." That was, according
to her, the best thing that could happen once I grew up.
Jerry and I became pals and often performed for my
parents who wouldn't look at me so that we all
could pretend my lips didn't move.

Then, one summer morning, cousin Terry,
drunk, weary, and battle-scarred, drove his car
into a ditch near Torrington, tumbled front
over end, and crushed his chest-two years
after Korea, finally a casualty of that war.

In the mortuary I felt Terry's cold forehead,
gaped in wonder at the rosary braided
through his wrinkled fingers for eternity.
I watched the mortician gently close
the coffin lid and spread the Stars and Stripes
over his casket-watched him place his hand
over his heart during taps and the marines'
twenty-one-gun salute. He handed me
a spent shell from the firing.

Back home, I found a large box and put Jerry inside.
For three days I prayed for Jerry, wound
a rosary through his wooden hands, felt
the cool grain of his forehead. On the third day
I dug a hole in the backyard and draped
Jerry's cardboard coffin in a tiny flag I'd saved
from the Fourth of July. I cupped my hand and
mimicked a solitary trumpet playing taps and

lowered his coffin into the ground. I threw in the shell
the mortician had given me-imagined marines
giving Jerry a twenty-one-gun salute.

I shoveled dirt over Jerry,
said goodbye,
and caught my own voice,
like a boomerang,
come back to me.

My Face

What about my face? I don't spend time
looking at it, got out of the habit at sixteen
when my face looked like the winner in a
Craters of Mars Lookalike Contest. I spent

so much time scratching my face
that scritch became my theme song
and screech the sound emitted
as horrified humans shrank from me.

And now, an app that finds your twin
in history. Why would I want a twin?
Could the world endure two of me?
For a class project in middle school

our son, Ariel, wrote a report
on General Rosecrans, my great-
great-grandfather. The photo Ari found
of him bore a remarkable resemblance

to me. Rosecrans, a general for the Union Army,
is famous for losing the battle of Chickamauga
in the Civil War. Evidently, he pissed off
General Grant by refusing an order that

would have won the day. Rosecrans,
also known as Rosy, went on to become
a United States Representative from
California. A street bears his name in L.A.

What would great-great-grandpa think
of his maybe not so great great-
grandson-a conscientious objector and
lifelong pacifist? Most likely old

great-great-pap-pap would hop
on his horse, draw his shiny sword,
let out a screech, and ride into
the rosy penumbra of history.