Five Poems by Jim Daniels

Basement Bathroom

The ache in the fist
from punching through the wall
forty years ago, angry
at my father and the world.

Ordered to repair it myself
I left the faint outline of spackle
around the new drywall.
No matter how many times

I repatched and sanded
it comes back. The ache
it comes back. I’d be lying
if I said I remembered why

the fist, why that time.
I moved out of that house
a long time ago. My father,
and that world, died.

Bones burned or buried.
The bones never heal right.
The imperfect fist
sanded smooth.



Landscape in Early November 

The cat in the grape arbor above me
hunts birds hunting the last shriveled grapes
knocking November’s leaves onto the patio.

Wild and dreamy, the cat blends into leaves’
brown-yellow crackle. And the birds! Shitting
on the glass-top table. Why am I out here

amid killing and dying? I hunt for pockets
of light emerging after leaves fall. I imagine

I know how these things play out,
but the green bug upside down beside me
cannot right itself. Someone has to write

the graceful shadows of its legs
flailing in the cursive of the dying.



My God is a Superstitious God


with his mismatched socks

and rabbit’s foot, his knocking

on wood and rubbing the belly


of the Buddha who himself

is making the sign of the cross.

But rainy days and Mondays


still get everyone down.

Did you pick up the new Grim Reapers

record? They got back together.


Bring your souvenirs and lucky charms

to the reunion tour. The Four-Leaf

Clovers are the opening act, but their set



to be short.



Beating The Dog to It


When you spilled cereal on the floor

—which happened often, handling

those no-brand plastic bags

of puffed wheat and puffed rice—

you were ordered to sweep it up

and dump it back in your bowl.

You had to beat the dog to it.

If you asked nice maybe

a brother or sister might slip you

their daily spoonful

of sugar. If the cereal had a little grit

it was family grit. Almost

a comfort. Your mother stood

at the sink—coffee and cigarette.

Your father long gone to the factory.

How did they make them puff?

Add the milk, and they floated

on top and spilled on the table. Of course

you ate that too. She didn’t smile

much in the morning. Up early to make

the six bag lunches lined up next

to the door. If you poured Tang

on your cereal instead

of powdered milk, the Tang rule

went into effect. After all,

some families had no tang.




The Sad Cookouts

start asizzle: family, neighbors, beer,
and hardy-hars. Then, the heat, the beer
(already, more beer?), the tears (already, tears?),
dropped hot dog, nipping dog(s), screaming child,
(another screaming back), the horseshoes,
the bullshit, more bullshit (already), the lack
of horses, men and women in flushed, huddled teams,
scoreboard broken, potato salad starting off bad, turning
badder, weak bladders, errant water balloons, the affair,
(the other affair), the manic smokers, the angry cigar,
the amateur, the professional, the charred, the raw,
eat, eat, eat, ice cream melting down sticky sticks, hurt
feelings, the shove, the tackle, the bugs,
the spray, the burns, the sun getting the hell
out of town, melted ice, warm beer, coals
abandoned to dust, then windblown into ashes
of expectation, what could go wrong, gate left open,
who kicked the nipping dog, the toddler, the new bike,
the skateboard, the feigned apology, the short hug,
the long hug, the hard kiss, the sloppy kiss, the changed will,
the home improvement rusting in weeds, the soiled
deck of cards, anteing up, doubling down,
work in the morning, but first the drunk-
driving home.



Jim Daniels is a poet, fiction writer, and screenwriter. Born in Detroit, Daniels currently teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He has written and edited many books, most recently The Perp Walk, fiction; Street Calligraphy, poetry; RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music, anthology.

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