John Dorsey: “Poem for Curtis Hayes”

 

Poem for Curtis Hayes

you say that everything we can see here
was once a strawberry field
& talk about a girl
who once had a baby in the bathroom
that now has a busted sink
as we sit beside your empty swimming pool 
sipping gin & tonics in the sun

the past is a young man’s game
its bones good & strong

runaway birds in our infancy
we all make strange sounds
that pass for stories

before we fly away.

 

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017) and Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

 

More By John Dorsey

Creatures of Our Better Nature

The Mark Twain Speech

Punk Rock at 45

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Used bathtubs and sinks, on display and for sale, along a road between Oxford and Batesville in Lee County, Mississippi” (2016) The Library of Congress

As It Ought To Be Magazine’s Nominees for the 2019 Best of the Net Anthology

 

As It Ought To Be Magazine is proud to announce our nominees for Sundress Publications’ 2019 Best of the Net Anthology.

 

Poetry

Ruth Bavetta “A Murder”

John Dorsey “Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead”

Mike James “Grace”

Rebecca Schumejda “i don’t want this poem to be about the death penalty, but it is”

Bunkong Tuon “Gender Danger”

Kory Wells “Untold Story”

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker “Mania Makes Me a Better Poet”

Nathan Graziano “The Misery of Fun”

 

Congratulations to our nominees and thank you to all of the writers and readers who have supported As It Ought To Be Magazine.

 

Image Credit: Henry Pointer “The Attentive Pupil” (1865) Digitally Enhanced. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

“A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country” By Chase Dimock

 

Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Reviewed by Chase Dimock

 

Reading Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press) is like leafing through an old family photo album. But, instead of your good-natured grandma narrating while tactfully dancing around family secrets and perfuming the pictures of cousins nobody talks about anymore with a folksy “it takes all kinds,” your guide is Uncle John, who tells you everything. Schlitz in hand, he tells you of aunts with “cracked skin” who could “eat $20 worth of burger king”, abusive great-grandfathers, uncles who never left their “mother’s side,” and cousins bathing in a steel drum.

You wonder if it’s appropriate to hear all this, but you can see the fondness, empathy, and pain in Uncle John’s eyes, and you realize this isn’t gossip or the settling of old scores. It’s love for the wear and tear we see in people content with their scars or nursing their bruises, and an almost ethical duty to present people as they are: neither sensationalized nor sanitized.

Dorsey’s first two poems “Poem for Olin Marshall” and “A History of Bite Marks” might best express this style of empathy through truth.

all my grandmother’s cousin ever wanted
was his own pizza & a used lawn tractor
the son of sharecroppers & war heroes
he drove a school bus & raised wild dogs
that bit the hand that fed them

We see Olin’s life as a series of loss: he talks of his dead sister “as if she were a saint,” his wife who passed the same year (“he had never seen a ghost quite as lovely”) and the death of his brother, whose estate he inherited, but simply let sit in a bank, resigned to “gathering his history up like dead leaves.” It’s this understanding of Olin’s melancholia that perhaps explains why in “A History of Bite Marks,” Dorsey does not complain too loudly about washing Olin’s dog Bruno as “he tried to take chunks out of our ankles.” Loving others means being bitten, and finding meaning in the language of bite marks.

When applied to his family, Dorsey’s trademark empathy for the underappreciated tells us more about his own identity. In “Tommy” he remembers a great uncle born with cerebral palsy like himself:

one of the sweetest men
i’ve ever known
he was a large baby
big enough to swallow
whole japanese tourists
in some infant godzilla scenario

Several poems remember his grandfather, who bears the decline of the Rustbelt on his shoulders. In “His Summer Place” he laments his grandfather losing an inherited family property after the failure of his painting business. “We Were Still Brave Then” depicts Dorsey as a child and his naive but charitable reaction to his Grandfather’s unemployment, gifting eight dollars to help the family. In a way, we’re reading the John Dorsey origin story, a look into how he inherited and developed his human insight and empathy as a poet.


The collection’s eponymous poem “Your Daughter’s Country” is Dorsey at his most revealing and unsettling, tracing the lineage of generational trauma. It begins with a fairly standard description of his great-grandfather’s depression era farm life, but then suddenly he exposes what the family long repressed:

the family history gets a little fuzzy

it wasn’t until i was in my 20’s
that i found out he had also been
an alcoholic
a railroad man
& a rapist

something my own father never knew

The rest of the poem delves into the tragic, abused life of his grandmother, for whom “there was never anywhere for her to go that was far enough away from where she’d been.” This is Dorsey’s greatest twist. He populates the book with several endearing, or at least sympathetic portraits of family, until you come to the poem that bears the book’s name, and he rips apart our expectations, like the way his great-grandfather’s abuse likely tore through generations of family.

While the poems about his literal family stand out, for John Dorsey, the familial extends beyond blood kin. Throughout his career, Dorsey’s work has been known for his portraits of people often overlooked or misunderstood. Whether it’s an old friend or a weathered stranger’s face at a rural Missouri diner, he has the ability to pull something from deep inside a person that feels as if it came from the memories of a cousin you spent all your summers swimming with.

In “Poem for Mary Anthony” Dorsey portrays a trucker who knows “you won’t find god in the stacks of books we have piled high in the bookstore in town.” In another poem, he mentions a friend’s brief recollection of a man who placed second in an episode of Star Search, but

just like in life
nobody ever remembers
the runner up.

instead they ask you
for your last cigarette

I’d argue that Dorsey’s poetry is all about remembering the runner up, as well as the last place finishers, those who didn’t get an audition, and all those who never got to dream of an opportunity.

 

Your Daughter’s Country is available from Blue Horse Press.

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, San Pedro River Review, and Trailer Park Quarterly. For more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey 

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James

“Creatures of Our Better Nature” By John Dorsey

 

Creatures of Our Better Nature

as i stop to watch the gossip of a bluebird
through a dirty glass window
i think it is november
& i’m sipping champagne
on a half built deck
in the woods
that may never get finished

just me & some lonely bluebird
fluttering our wings
like crazed teenagers
mauling each other
in front of some steamy glass sunset
on some makeout mountain
that even time
can’t look away from  

for a few seconds i am that bird
& that bird is me

& we are both beautiful here

when all at once
the sun wraps its fingers
around our throats
& begins to sing.

.

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

 

Image Credit: “Peacocks” by Melchior d’ Hondecoeter

“Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead” By John Dorsey

 

Otto_Brausewetter_Die_Barke_des_Charon

 

 

Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

& there is nothing to eat
a mouse carrying a ham sandwich died
in the corner of the room

its stomach full with pride

but that seems like centuries ago
when mice did things like that
when the outline of a young mother’s thigh
could evoke the holy spirit

when we were all the afterlife of the party

when all of our hungry closets got fed

when love danced around
every corner
of our heart

with no reservations.

.

Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.

.

About the Author:John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

 

Image Credit: “Charon’s Boat” By Otto Brausewetter

“Punk Rock at 45” By John Dorsey

.

 

Punk Rock at 45

when i look at your life now
i think nancy spungen got off easy
breast cancer at 45
you have be a fighter
to sleep in the streets
with your broken heart
just dangling there
like a locket made of bones

i remember you at 30
beautiful
tough
& sad

talking about your family
as we drove to 7-eleven
to get hotdogs on christmas eve

how it all came flooding back
your father threatening to drive
the whole family off a bridge
into icy cold arkansas river water
on christmas morning

or the near rape
by a family friend
at fourteen

or the countless bad relationships
that became your anthem
as much as nick cave
or the murder city devils
ever were

your lungs filled up with silence

as the night sky balled up
into a fist
& hurled your childhood
into the past.

.

Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.

.

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

 

More By John Dorsey:

“The Mark Twain Speech”

 

Image Credit: Digital Art designed by Chase Dimock

 

 

“The Mark Twain Speech” By John Dorsey

.

.

The Mark Twain Speech
for mark mcclane

you talk about frontiers
that only dead men
& drunks can see

not about the blood
& sweat that goes
into words that won’t sell
the stories of heartbreak
& what time can do
to beautiful things

everything turned to bone

words careening off your tongue
& down a river
slow to offer amnesty
to those in a sinking ship.

.

Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.

.

About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

 

More By John Dorsey:

Punk Rock at 45

Creatures of Our Better Nature

 

Image Credit:  Chase Dimock “The Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau”