Road Hazard

What I thought was a cat
was a sack of sand.
Someone driving
toward the flood
or where they thought
the flood might go.
That by now
was days ago.
Animals, go home.

More by Bradley Paul

Instructions on Damaging the Monster's Cloak of Invisibility

Grendel appears as a wolf in the kitchen
Grendel appears as a shark
beneath the dining room floor
Grendel appears as a monster named Grendel

Might I have some money? asks a man
and you turn: is this the monster?
Here, says a nun, let's watch TV together
I knew and liked your mother

Grendel Grendel Grendel
you say
cowering in the dream of the shark
that cowers inside the dream of the wolf
Say his name enough and
it sits like snow
on a chain link fence
not so invisible now

Anybody Can Write a Poem

I am arguing with an idiot online.
He says anybody can write a poem.
I say some people are afraid to speak.
I say some people are ashamed to speak.
If they said the pronoun "I" 
they would find themselves floating
in the black Atlantic
and a woman would swim by, completely 
dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, 
until the ashamed person says her name
and the woman becomes wet and drowns
and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp,
white in the black water.
He says that he'd still write
even if someone cut off both his hands.
As if it were the hands that make a poem,
I say. I say what if someone cut out
whatever brain or gut or loin or heart
that lets you say hey, over here, listen, 
I have something to tell you all,
I'm different.
As an example I mention my mother
who loved that I write poems
and am such a wonderful genius.
And then I delete the comment
because my mother wanted no part of this or any
argument, because "Who am I 
to say whatever?"
Once on a grade school form
I entered her job as hairwasher.
She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad.
"You should have put receptionist."
But she didn't change it.
The last word she ever said was No.
And now here she is in my poem,
so proud of her idiot son, 
who presumes to speak for a woman
who wants to tell him to shut up, but can't.

Related Poems

Deer Hit

You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk,
swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home

at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves
and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre

of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer
till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,

small moons glowing. You crank the wheel,
stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt

into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass
in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin

and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured
by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car

still running, its lights angled up at the trees.
You get out. The deer lies on its side.

A doe, spinning itself around
in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,

back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—
again and again this terrible bleat.

You watch for a while. It tires, lies still.
And here's what you do: pick the deer up

like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—
the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer

the wagon out of the ditch and head home,
night rushing in through the broken window,

headlight dangling, side-mirror gone.
Your nose throbs, something stabs

in your side. The deer breathing behind you,
shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home

and the deer scrambles to life, its long head
appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror

and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder
and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail

till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.

2
Your father's waiting up, watching tv.
He's had a few drinks and he's angry.

Christ, he says, when you let yourself in.
It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him

some of what happened: the dark road,
the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles

the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence.
Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,

drags the quivering deer out by a leg.
What can you tell him—you weren't thinking,

you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix
what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body,

color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter?
The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.

Your father walks to the toolshed,
comes back lugging a concrete block.

Some things stay with you. Dumping the body
deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent

in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.

The Horses Run Back to Their Stalls

It’s another sorry tale about class in America, I’m sure
		you’re right,
	but you have to imagine how proud we were.

Your grandfather painted a banner that hung from Wascher’s
		Pub
	to Dianis’s Grocery across the street: Reigh Count,

Kentucky Derby Winner, 1928.  
		And washtubs filled
	with French champagne. I was far too young

to be up at the stables myself, of course, it took 
		me years 
	to understand they must have meant in bottles 

in the washtubs, with ice.
		His racing colors
	were yellow and black, like the yellow

cabs, which is how Mr. Hertz first made the money
		that built
	the barns that bred the horses, bred at last this perfect

horse, our hundred and thirty seconds of flat out earth-
		borne bliss.
	They bought the Arlington Racetrack then and Jens

got a job that for once in his life allowed him to pay
		the mortgage
	and the doctors too, but he talked the loose way even

good men talk sometimes and old man Hertz
		was obliged
	to let him go. It was August when the cab strike in

Chicago got so ugly. Somebody must have tipped
 		them off,
	since we learned later on that the Count

and the trainer who slept in his stall had been moved
		to another
	barn. I’ll never forget the morning after: ash 

in the air all the way to town and the smell of those 
		 poor animals,
	who’d never harmed a soul. There’s a nursery

rhyme that goes like that, isn’t there? Never
		did us any
	harm. I think it’s about tormenting a cat.

The Carrying

The sky’s white with November’s teeth,
and the air is ash and woodsmoke.
A flush of color from the dying tree,
a cargo train speeding through, and there,
that’s me, standing in the wintering
grass watching the dog suffer the cold
leaves. I’m not large from this distance,
just a fence post, a hedge of holly.
Wider still, beyond the rumble of overpass,
mares look for what’s left of green
in the pasture, a few weanlings kick
out, and theirs is the same sky, white
like a calm flag of surrender pulled taut.
A few farms over, there’s our mare,
her belly barrel-round with foal, or idea
of foal. It’s Kentucky, late fall, and any
mare worth her salt is carrying the next
potential stake’s winner. Ours, her coat
thicker with the season’s muck, leans against
the black fence and this image is heavy
within me. How my own body, empty,
clean of secrets, knows how to carry her,
knows we were all meant for something.