Featured poet: Jack B. Bedell


Eight poems:   The One Thing That Sticks
For the Boy in Bayou Blue Who Spoke In Tongues
In the Marsh          At the Bonehouse          
Les Mains du Bon Dieu         Summer, Handfishing
Fall, Batfishing           Dead Heron

An introduction to Jack B. Bedell, by Jake Adam York

THE ONE THING THAT STICKS

— Bogue Chitto, 1996

It could easily be the rain spreading
on such a yellow, sun-ripe day
or the fish snapping to the surface
to eat the drops like flies,
their mouths almond-shaped and yearning.
Certainly, I could keep the June air
on fire, glowing with motes,
mosquito hawks, the soft French
coming from the woman sunning
naked on the next set of rocks,
the beauty of her tiny son
sliding his toy car along the lines
of her sun-blushed back and thighs,
any of these pleasant and mundane.
But the one thing that sticks is
the way your hips rolled over into waves
as you slid into the river,
the way its water spread
to accept your leaving.

from At the Bone House (Texas Review Press) © 1998 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



FOR THE BOY IN BAYOU BLUE WHO SPOKE IN TONGUES


When he was twelve, he made the national news
to his parents’ delight and filled the pews
of the Living World with gaggles of girls and
tourists eager to hear the sermon he’d planned
for A Current Affair. His long, curly hair
and sparkly eyes glowed when he’d share
his witness with the congregation. He’d shout
and swoon and lash his tongue while rows fell out
rolling in ecstasy around his raised
pulpit. It pleased the deacons when the crazed,
fainting crowds filled their baskets with money,
but no one wondered when his eyes rolled a funny
white back into his head if he were reading from
cards inside his skull, or if the Spirit would come
and improvise the whole show for him
while his mouth spewed syllables like phlegm.



from At the Bone House (Texas Review Press) © 1998 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



IN THE MARSH



I followed my father past the camp,
past the two pecan trees
and the pine that marked our boundary,
black mud sucking my hipboots
as I ran behind him.

When he reached the bayou
I froze in the marsh grass
at a black-tailed deer
collapsed into the bank,
skin draped like linen
over the hoops of its ribs.

Its nose still dipped into the water;
its stomach swelled.
Around it the marsh hovered,
swirled; insects dived and crawled,
hurried to hide the body.

I wanted to hurry, too,
but the deer’s stillness kept me
from bolting. I held my ears
against the humming of blue flies
and pressed into my father's shirt.
He shrugged over me, ready to fish,
pulled me away from the deer’s empty sockets.

I forced myself not to look,
not to see the deer disappear,
not to watch the beetles
dig into the deer’s stale flesh.

Death, my father explained,
and slapped my back as if to pat it in.
I cast harder and more often
until I could look at him
and no longer see his eyes
fall back into their sockets,
until I could ignore his hollow hand
patting me on the shoulders,
until his words faded into the marsh’s breathing.

from At the Bone House (Texas Review Press) © 1998 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



AT THE BONEHOUSE


It all seems so tidy watching
my father hand over the last check,
white concrete and marble doors
shining all around him.

Like this it is decided.
One day I’ll be buried
above ground.
                       My father smiles,
some adult pressure relieved,
some burden of ambiguity sealed.

Five Bedells choose their spots—
mine, upper right corner,
farthest from the water that pulls
at everything here until it's gone.

I read my name in brass—
                 Jack B.
                 1966-
thinking the while of playing the rain,
of warm south Louisiana water,
thinking of how that water turned
cold in my clothers and hair.

Upper right—good choice.

But something in the caramel of the brass
reminds me of ground,
of what I will never know here.

In Texas, they do not tax themselves
with bonehouses. They return to the elements.
In Arkansas and Mississippi,
people have proper grave stones
to be toppled by frat boys,
plots to make love upon
under moon and dry skies.
Even in north Louisiana
people are eated by beetles
the way it was meant to be.

Not here, though.
Upper right corner — I will never know,
the completeness of ground,
of travelling through earthworm
and robin, of being stewed
and returned to life by the slow,
consuming burn of water.


from At the Bone House (Texas Review Press) © 1998 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.


LES MAINS DU BON DIEU

(after a line in Daigrepont’s Cajun Spiritual)
for my uncle, Ray Rougeau

The last word I can picture you saying to me
was "Faith." It sticks because you were never a man
people would call talkative, even before
the nurses wrote you down as unresponsive,
before they took your staring at the cracks
in the white walls of your room as some kind of loss.
They see in your eyes a man who would hand them back
anything they gave you without sign of recognition,
but every time you rest your eyes from the wall
to meet mine we are together on a popelier dock
in early fall, the sky flat-grey on the water.
A run of bull red has knocked the conversation
out of us, turning it all into cast and reel—
backbone and shoulders. The fish are so big
the only thing they hit is small crab
on shad rigs. We've already filled the boat
to near sinking, so you leave me there on the dock
to ride out our luck while you bring the first load
back to the camp to ice down. Alone, I live
a twelve-year-old's dream: every time I cast
I land a big one to pile on the dock as testament
to the day. It is more than I can handle, more
than we deserve, but I keep pulling them in.
You return in time to see my rod
arc and the line give more than it has all day.
you watch me fight this monster patiently
and load the boat again. Almost by script,
just when I want to fold, the fish runs
straight at us, between the pylons under the dock.
With no sign of pause you take the rod from my hand
and toss it into the water. It is all I can do
not to follow it, a rig worth more allowances
than I can imagine lost for one fish
in a pile of one hundred just like it. You pull me near
and whisper the word mostly to yourself. Your eyes
stare calmly at something just below the surface
I can not make out. When the redfish comes around
to make its last run at the gulf, the rod follows
as if delivered by the hands of God.
In a single motion you catch it up
and pass it to me to finish out the day.
Before my line breaks and your stare returns
to the wall, I have a sense of what you mean:
Mettez votre vie dans les mains du Bon Dieu.

from What Passes for Love (Texas Review Press), © 2001 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



SUMMER, HANDFISHING


My uncle's rules were simple enough.
Leave your books behind at the truck,
a bare sole the difference
between a small cut on the foot
and the real pain of angry metal
forced straight up through a shoe.
Approach everything with care,
palms down, fingers out.
Live by every decision —
nothing grabbed wants to be,
so use your hands with forceful purpose.
And just in case you grab something
more decisive than you, before
it grabs you back, let it go.

from What Passes for Love (Texas Review Press), © 2001 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



FALL, BATFISHING


It all started as easily as the idea
of gravity — a football thrown at dusk
between low pines, the flutter that tracked it
almost to the ground, then the equation.

One boy went for the apple, the other the knife.
I was sent for my Zebco 808
because my house was closest and I moved
slow enough my mother never asked.

Before any of us could reason right from wrong,
before our mothers' fear of rabies intruded,
the apple was on the hook and sailing up
into the trees.
                     What bit offered no fight.
It joined the dead weight of the apple and fell
to the street as helpless as a choupique born
without bones.
                        Having landed a creature
as alien to us as snow, we could not help
but scratch ourselves and gather. The parts of it
that showed — the cicious teeth and see-through wings —
should never have seen our flashlight's beam.

The vision of it chased all of us back home
without even a poke of the knife or a taunt
for the thing. We left it there sprawled in the street.
It didn't seem as hurried as you'd think,
nor as bitter at our sport as I would be.

Years later, alone in my college library,
I learned bats must fall into flight and know
nothing of the severity of ground.

from What Passes for Love (Texas Review Press), © 2001 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.



DEAD HERON


It startles me to find it pinned to barbed wire
on the edge of some pasture in southwest Arkansas
so far from water it could only have been mistaken.
Its blue feathers lift in the wind;
its head bends sideways languidly, a sketch
from Audubon's notebook. Nothing in the field
seems to welcome it.
                                 Back home, these birds
are ancestors gliding across the salt marsh
between cypress knots, spearing mullet
and spreading into the summer wind for their mates.
They move toward the sky with sincerity.

Here, there is no dignity in its decay —
ants eating its grace from inside out,
hornets and bettles burrowing into it.
Whatever ghost its tendons held in life
must surely find it shameful suspended on land,
dry and falling to earth piece by piece.

Only a visitor myself, it is
the least I can do to pry it down and keep it
with my gear until I can set it free to glide
on the first river I come to.

from What Passes for Love (Texas Review Press), © 2001 by Jack B. Bedell. Used by permission of the author.

Jack B. Bedell was born and raised in south Louisiana. He earned his B.A. and M.A. from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches before attending the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where he earned his M.F.A. He now teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University where he serves as Editor of Louisiana Literature. His first book, At the Bonehouse, won the 1997 Texas Review Prize, and his chapbook, What Passes for Love, was the winner of the 2000 Texas Review Chapbook Competition.