Kathleen S. Burgess

About Kathleen S. Burgess

Kathleen S. Burgess lives in Chillicothe, Ohio, and writes narrative and lyric poetry about the American experience in a variety of voices. Her work has been published in North American Review, Evening Street Review, Main Street Rag, Atticus Review, The Examined Life, JMWW, r.kv.r.y, Central American Review, and others. Shaping What Was Left, a chapbook, and Reeds and Rushes—Pitch, Buzz, and Hum, the anthology she edited, are Pudding House publications.
Gardening with Wallace Stevens, a chapbook, was published in 2017 by Locofo Chaps, a site for politically oriented poetry, with cover art by Linda Holmes.

The Mind Is a Cave of Dreams—Life Poems by Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of dugout from Cave of Dreams


Felled by a stone axe, and burned hollow,
a ninety-foot pine rides the water reincarnated
as a dugout vaguely redolent of its fiery formation.
Three thousand years since Bronze Age Britons

sat athwart—poled through swamps, rowed lakes.
Registered signs: bird trill, antler, planet, moon,
clouds singed by the sun. They fished the depths, cooked
on deck the thrashing silvers.

From the roots of sound and trunks of words, language
feeds images that buoy our dreams. Awakened we craft
metaphors, from the Greek metaphorá, “transfer, or carry.”
Transoms, lifted from sterns, allow vessels to be sunk

for the winter in a bog as nourishing as poetry. Hidden,
then dug out, similes and metaphors also float, fresh
or fossilized—tongue of flame, or eye of a needle compass-
bound—so similar, the insensible ear does not tell them apart.

At Florida’s Pithlachocco Lake, Seminole for “the place
of long boats,” a folksinger and a teacher lead students
to discover canoes by the dozens. Archaeologists spoon-lift
from mud the shards carbon-dated to five thousand years.

In time, the people of six continents piloted dugout canoes
over oceans—some with outriggers, some with sails.
Like squirrels we cannot remember where the vehicles lie
though they branch and leaf and flower before our eyes.


Image of family photo from Cave of Dreams

Family Photograph

A satin patina of light hovers over the sofa leather
where they sit—the grown-up daughter and son, home,

together. He, cross-legged between his sister,
her scarf ornamented by a gold gift bow as corsage,

and Dad, who smiles in a wool shirt, Christmas red,
festooned by a tangle of green curling ribbon as necktie.

The father’s left hand lies snug in a brown leather glove.
The son’s lips close in amused concentration, as,

from one blue sleeve of a Santa Express party sweater
to Dad’s bare hand, he extends the four-fingered cardboard insert.

The easy grip and shake say humor’s an art between them.
In the photo we can’t see what’s done: a breakfast of pancakes

with berries and syrup, cups of coffee, espresso black.
Nor can we hear the daughter’s grin blossom into the next quip,

or the silver ornament from Lazarus, now Macy’s—a falling
portamento followed by the stutter-chirp of a mechanical mockingbird.

The same gurgle-spurts their parents had made with forefinger
tommy-guns blazing at Nazis from perches in neighborhood tree forts.

Behind Dad, a photograph of two girls. Sad little Pearl, grandma
of the siblings on the sofa, has cut her own bangs. Younger sister

stormy-eyed Nevada is tethered to sissie’s arm. They’re in button shoes,
twin shapeless dresses of mattress ticking. Pockets quiet their fists

where they stand on a porch in a southern Ohio flooded by rivers
of misfortune years before the Great Depression—a photo in grayscale.

Nothing much to suggest sentinel evergreens on a hillside of snow and stone
where the living stoop to lay flowers, and the grace note of light moves on.

Image of flying from Cave of Dreams

I Believe I’m Sinking Down

from Cross Road Blues, now known as Crossroads
—Robert Johnson

At the horizon a drowning sun,
powerless to float the graphite sea,
casts rays like grappling hooks into her chest.

Onboard, hundreds of screens flicker.
Should she watch Big Fish

or reel out her misgivings? Stage them:
wings unhinged, the fuselage and tail
thundering into an ocean too shattered to reflect?

Storms and wind shear terrify,
but she doesn’t pray the airbus through

a sky star-stung, scythe-hung. Clapton
shreds the blues of Robert Johnson, an afterworld
of resurrections in a set of loaner earphones.

By its wingless tongue, her pencil articulates
the frictions as she belies a lack of faith in last acts.

From the Sierra Madres to The Milky Way: New Poems By Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of Monterey coast by Charles Cramer

He’s So Fine

I hum with a radio tune on a dirt road detour
through the Sierra Madres. Despite swerves
and potholes, most riders sleep. It’s clear
the Chiffons’ doo-lang doo-lang doo-lang

underlies George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord
in the way magma lifted these mountains.
The driver urges the bus around sharp curves
with no guardrails. Stars shine for attention.

George pleads, I really want to see you, lord,
but it takes so long, my lord. And as if on cue,
the headlights flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Fail.
The radio mutes. Suddenly blind the driver

searches, jiggles switches. Runs off the road.
Our hearts pound like pistons. Brakes squeal
their rabbit-voiced panic. We’re lurching
toward the cliff’s crumbling edge. We stop.

Alleluia wings of doors fold as our driver
steps off-stage to a short-lived applause.
Men follow him out looking into the gorge
with flashlights. Laughing afterjokes.

He opens a matchbook, cups the bright halo
of the match, and exhales his thanksgivings.
He lifts the hood, bends to nerves of the bus.
Fiddles and tightens loose wires. Drives on.

Soon a Milky Way of lights sprawls below.
We merge into beetling traffic. Our driver
pounds a door till a man roused from his bed
yields to our hero’s voice, insistent gestures.

We grab our gear to board the new bus. Once
on the road most passengers sleep, but I watch
bright constellations, the spinning stars, and
a meteor flaming as if to disappear the dark.

Recipes from a Colombian Kitchen

In a smoke-darkened kitchen, an Andean guinea pig
wheeking ¡cuy, cuy, cuy, cuy! is named by its cries.
I lift and cradle the highlands rodent, the cuy pup.

Oversized teeth, rapid breathing, inquisitive eyes,
like any third grader entering a new school year.
Wood flames beneath a full, bubbling enamel pot.

Though American experts will say, Never boil coffee,
the coffee cherries grown, roasted black on this finca,
make a brew smooth as cocoa. A kitchen blade carves

a corner off a brick of panela, crude sugar, to sweeten.
For lunch Custodia prepares a stew of potatoes, garlic,
onion, carrots, tomatoes, a flank steak, salt, cumin, and

a bunch of cilantro added to an ever-simmering stock.
She flings peelings into a corner where the cuyes nest
on a swept dirt floor. There’s plenty for all. Custodia

wields a machete with her right hand. In her left,
purple-brown yuca, a cassava tree root. Quick chops
from end to end, and the skin slips off. Potassium

cyanide concentrates in the rind, so she must wash
the creamy flesh, grate, dry, and grind it into flour.
Like onions or coffee, it’s not for cuyes. Housekeeper

Felicia mixes salt, baking powder, panela, egg, anise
flavor, lard into the flour. She kneads the dough and
flattens it with a rolling pin. Cuts apart the rectangles.

Sets them on a cookie sheet. Scores each with a fork.
I make full moons, crescents, diamonds. When I leave,
Felicia reshapes my efforts. Some of the crisp cookies,

the baked panderos, she saves for the household, then
walks to town, dozens nestled in a basket linen-lined.
At the market, her customers take all but the crumbs.


Under a lantern’s hiss of white gas, at a small bar
on a river, the owners challenge Ted and Yukihiro
to gamble on an Inca game we’ve never played,

Sapo. A brass frog, the sapo, tops a console box.
It’s Peruvian tornillo wood overlaid with leather.
A tropical sky flashes veins of fool’s gold and

rumbles all night with fools’ wishes. From seven
meters the players pitch tokens to twirl the brass
spinners, zing into holes, or the wide brass mouth

for a win. The coins channel and collect below
in square pigeonholes numbered with scores.
After a practice round, they start. And Ted’s bet?

Enough for us to live two months. That burning
water, aguardiente, empties into flushed faces.
We get the hustle. Confident they’ll outshine

these tourists, the local hotshots toast to spirits.
Swell with their coming fortune. Ted and Yuki
miss the sapo, the two- and four-sided spinners,

most holes. Mala suerte, a hard mouth grins.
Too bad. Emilio’s moustache curls upward.
Carlos slaps Yuki’s back. Offers a new game,

new chance. Taunts, Doble o nada, gringos.
They begin. I watch for bottles and knives.
Who wins last matters in the fog.


Long days, short rides. Ted and I trudged Atacames flats
close to the equator, and just past sundown we topped
the estuary bank. Below, on the beach, silhouettes
erupted: coconut palms, tents, compadres about a fire.

Later, fiddler crabs probed at leftovers. Sally lightfoots,
reddened by a Coleman lantern, skittered into holes—
theirs or their neighbors’. Too dark to put up our tent,
we lay all night in a shack sieving rain onto our heads.

By daylight we raised our pup tent in sand. Stakes bit
and let go, too short to hold. So Brad and Joanna helped,
wrapping the guy ropes around stones. When the poles
toppled anyway, we strung the lines between two trees.

Around us legs and claws, the remains of crab wars,
littered the shore. We climbed eucalyptus-scented hills,
descended to a one-dock fishing port where we lunched
on fresh catch—luscious and round, tasting of lobster,

and tropical fish pulled in by Ecuador’s trawlers who vied,
three miles out in waters our northern nation contested,
with industrial ships that caught, cut, packaged, iced fish,
and threw back. Sharks trailed in water so reddish gray

all hours that local men feared to swim along the coast.
The sea held them all: blue, lemon, nurse, whitenose, bull.
We didn’t know sharks hunted in shallows, not yet.
So we body-surfed to shore. Tumbled, heads down,

feet up, choking and laughing, skinned, crusted in sand.
Most afternoons we walked to a café and store for beer
and Manicho bars. The chocolate was as full of peanuts
as the sky of stars that night when phosphorescent waves

washed around us. Suspended in stars, we whispered
with the Pacific. The slow sea pulse was the rhythm
of our bodies, the rocking of the whole world,
as we floated, disembodied, invisible in umbra.

Interview: Marietta, Ohio Visual Artists Appreciate John Steinbeck in Show

Image of visual artists Michelle Waters, Todd Morrow, Lisa Haney-Bammerlin, and Geoff Schenkel

REsolve Studios, a visual-artist group in Marietta, Ohio, is designed with both visual artist and local community values in mind. Its distinctive connection to literary artists, including John Steinbeck, involves sharing shows that travel to other venues in the Southern Ohio-West Virginia area. The Appalachian Soul, a show that featured a distinctive installation called “The Victorian Brain,” is one example of exhibitions that make local and literary references of special significance to lovers of John Steinbeck, interactive art, and the Appalachian heritage. Ideas and images from The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men informed the exhibition’s eclectic visual elements, reminding viewers that John Steinbeck’s circle of friends at the time he wrote these books embraced visual artists, musicians, and other writers. In the following text by a Chillicothe, Ohio poet-editor and SteinbeckNow.com contributor, visual-artist interviews and individual artist statements suggest how John Steinbeck’s social vision applies to a region suffering marginalization, deprivation, and conflict similar to the cultures of the Dust Bowl, California, and Mexico depicted by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Forgotten Village, and The Pearl. The writer remained painfully aware that genocide was the price of expansion under the invading Spanish, and the rapacious Yankees who followed. The earliest settlers of John Steinbeck’s California were the Ohlone Indians. Chillicothe, Ohio, the home of ancient Indian cultures predating the Ice Age, was later settled by the Shawnee people for whom the city is named. To the east of Chillocothe, the historic town of Marietta, Ohio sits on the West Virginia border. A station along the Underground Railroad before the Civil War, it is the site of the Marietta Earthworks, a burial venue of the pre-European Hopewell Indian culture referred to in the introduction to Kathleen Burgess’s interview with the visual-artist group eager to talk about their sense of mission and heritage, and their appreciation of John Steinbeck.—Ed.

Driving through the Marietta, Ohio neighborhood occupied by the REsolve Studios visual artist collective, I found one of Geoff Schenkel’s murals transforming the wall of an old brick building. On one side of the two-story studio, a garden blooms on land the artists reclaimed from an abandoned gas station. I first met core members—Geoff, Michelle Waters, Lisa Haney-Bammerlin, and Todd Morrow—in 2014 when they were installing The Appalachian Soul at PVG Artisans, a gallery in Chillicothe, Ohio, where I live. Gallery owner Cynthia Davis saw, in REsolve Studios’ blend of energy and social purpose, artists on a spiritual quest to redefine being an artist in Appalachia. They reimagined and reconstructed the exhibit for her gallery. Geoff and Michelle wrote the artists’ statement for the show:

It is a massive, yet intimately approachable, room-sized sculptural environment. Anchoring this innovative combination of literary, musical, and uniquely mixed visual sources, this exhibit draws viewers to its wildly sprawling interactive core and continues to reward its “participants” when they pull back . . . to catch their breath while taking in the surrounding, focused satellite works. This deeply engaging, richly cohesive yet hard-to-define body of work represents the adventurous, even noble inclinations of REsolve artists to reach for a better life by letting go of the comforts, conventions, and security of their known world and seeking new depths in a wilderness of worlds yet to be defined.

Geoff and Michelle stayed in Chillicothe for days assessing the community’s character and needs. Several of the artists presented workshops, spending hours commuting from their homes in the river cities of Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, West Virginia. They also attended literary, art, and music activities at the gallery and were embraced by the Chillicothe, Ohio arts community.

Image of Chillicothe, Ohio art installation "The Victorian Brain"

“The Victorian Brain” occupied the center of the gallery, an eight-foot-high block of cabinetry with shelves, drawers, and cubbyholes exposed on all four sides. Its small doors, audio features, moving parts, books and notebooks, and written messages invited interaction. Sturdy beams connected “The Brain,” as it is affectionately known, to other sections, creating a 10’ x 17’ foot space large enough for several visitors to enter and move through at the same time. An outer layer of photographs and sculptures on walls, shelves, and pedestals surrounded the central structure. Some participants sought to contribute and added small objects to the installation. Others moved elements to different places as they passed through. Children contributed notes taped to shiny stones. A beekeeper added an antique bee smoker.

The theme of Appalachians coping with economic, societal, and environmental pressures, limited opportunity, and traditional values fits the city of Chillicothe, Ohio, the first and third capital in the history of the state. White settlers arrived in the 1700s when President Thomas Jefferson granted land to members of the victorious Continental Army following the Revolutionary War. People of the region are proud of this heritage, yet are sometimes seen by outsiders as unlettered and incompetent, as expendable as the Indians driven from Ohio 200 years ago. Authors Allan W. Eckert, Ron Rash, Donald Ray Pollock, Roy Bentley, and Diane Gilliam, among others, have written about Appalachian culture from this perspective. Despite challenges, however, Chillicothe, Ohio continues to plan for the future with optimism, and the area is under consideration for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the stunning Hopewell earthworks being rediscovered and authenticated by archaeologists using lidar technology.

Image of visual artist Anthony Wilson

Visual Artist Interview: John Steinbeck in Appalachia

Kathleen Burgess: Welcome to the Steinbeck Now community. Please tell us about yourselves and how literature, and John Steinbeck in particular, figures in the life and work of REsolve Studios.

Geoff Schenkel: We come from humble beginnings. We have challenges. We struggle. We feel uncertainty. When we are together, I feel at times like George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men, almost as if they are different parts at work in my mind, dreaming of something better than when we are on our own. Fellowship is great, belonging is great, but it feels fuller and richer when it is infused with purpose. Of Mice and Men normally travels with the exhibit, and it reflects some of our work as a team of artists.

At PVG Artisans we organized groupings of art into seven interrelated clusters. Each part drew inspiration from a written work. Books are featured because of a question posed by Kentucky-born Gurney Norman (Kinfolks) many years ago at an Appalachian conference that addressed issues of marginalization and stereotypes. He asked, “What would essential reading for the Appalachian region include?” Answering Norman’s question guided the creation of “The Brain.”  Michelle and I, as content curators, selected seven works from a list that is now quite long. Around this core we organized The Appalachian Soul. Our raw library responds to Norman’s question with answers derived from many cultures, including John Steinbeck’s California-based work. For me, REsolve’s work expresses, from the margins of mainstream society, a perspective shared in Steinbeck’s writing.

KB: What is REsolve Studios? How does the name describe what you do, who you are together?

Anthony Wilson: The REsolve name is about solving things by thinking through solutions from all possible angles via collaboration. It’s about working together and building a better community, reconciling our own pitfalls, and making ourselves better people. We improve ourselves, and, thereby, our immediate environment, which extends to the overall community.

Lisa Haney-Bammerlin: For me it means family, a sense of belonging. It means giving a new sense of purpose to discarded things. It’s the will to keep going no matter what is thrown our way. Much like the discarded items, we all were once needed but have to adapt to challenges. Having friends, brothers and sisters, makes the journey less daunting.

Todd Morrow: REsolve = the determination to bring about a solution.

GS: After several years as a community muralist, I began doing studio-based work and toyed with the idea of calling the studio “Junk Man Designs” to play off the found objects I was beginning to use in my work. REsolve worked because it has to do with committing and then living with a decision. We seem like a practical lot of dreamers who lean toward healing the broken, fixing up the discarded, loving the imperfect, and finding a home for the outcasts.

I decided to seek others of similar mindset. If I couldn’t find them in neighborhoods, towns, physical communities, maybe I could find them in communities of shared interest, similar mindset, values, wishes. Todd chose to join. Others passed through. Then Anthony found us. He said he hadn’t become the artist he wanted to be yet and wanted to discover what he was capable of in this community. We attempted big projects, leaps of faith. Michelle liked the work she saw coming from the studio and reached out to us. She said we’d have a hard time getting rid of her. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to deal with her overwhelming cheerfulness, but it didn’t turn out that way. Lisa found in us kindred spirits. Here we are, a family of choice with all our imperfections.

KB: Tell us something about John Steinbeck that engaged you in planning and creating The Appalachian Soul.

GS: (Quoting Tom Joad’s description of Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath): But now I been thinkin’ what he said, an’ I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he foun’ he didn’t have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, ’cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn’ think I was even listenin’. But I know now a fella ain’t no good alone.

I believe what Tom Joad says. In that place I’d called alone is the breeding ground for violence and the hurt we unleash actively and passively against ourselves and others.

KB: How do you engage the neighborhood through your art and your garden?

GS: Through our art we seek to create a place where it’s safer to imagine what is possible, safer to explore differences in ways that are open, not competitive, trying to find resolutions to chronic problems, and ways to accept human imperfection. Some might call our work “mentorship.” We work with schools, community groups, and religious individuals, while thinking with others about issues of sustainability, community, inclusiveness, and fairness. Something I’ve always valued about this work is its ability to surprise. Many come to it in joyful, childlike response.

While I love that and want that to be part of the experience, I also love that below the surface there is more going on related to Appalachians coping with outsiders’ attitudes and challenges. Recently I got the great opportunity to watch a young man explore “The Brain.” He’s at that stage of life where he’s getting a sense of himself in the world at large. There is for him a dawning awareness of just how big the world and its issues and its forces can be.

As he explored, sort of posturing as he went, not wanting to be too interested, trying to maintain his cool, on-top-of-the-world football star swagger, he unrolled one of the hidden messages like a fortune from a cookie, and he read these words from a 1912 New York Times editorial titled “Education or Extermination”: The majority of mountain people are unprincipled ruffians. There are two remedies only: education or extermination. The mountaineer, like the red Indian, must learn this lesson. As he read, his jaw dropped and he impulsively showed everyone around him. That back and forth between magical, playful elements and jaw-dropping, serious understanding is our aim.

We seek to make the studio and gardens spiritually and physically a healthy, nourishing place by amending once neglected soil through intensive composting and sharing with others the abundance of what grows here: art, food, and human relationships through mutual exchange.

Michelle Waters: I think the moments that struck me the most were when I was working in the garden, people I didn’t know would drive by and smile, honk, wave, as if they supported the act, the momentum of what we were doing. That felt really special to me. I also really enjoy the concrete blocks that have become a part of the garden’s retaining walls—the blocks that we made with the local boys and girls club, creating art together that they could see when they walked through the neighborhood, and be proud because they helped make their part of the planet more beautiful.

KB: How have you grown within the collective and in interactions with communities you’ve served?

GS: Fighting the bitterness that stems from living in proximity to what some call a “sacrifice zone” isn’t as hard as it once was, and the desire to punish others for their inhumanity doesn’t burn as strongly. Doling out punishment isn’t my job, and with that burden removed I can grow into being a healthier participant in this creation we share. I’ve witnessed suicidal individuals become more forgiving of themselves and seen people at wit’s end come here to ground themselves, seeking comfort and a chance to deal with the trauma that comes from life.

KB: How do you make decisions—regular, structured meetings, or another way?

GS: We have had regular meetings. We are currently working on our own projects, but we come together every so often to reconnect. We discuss things as if we were a family sitting around the kitchen table weighing facts, opinions, options, then sorting the tasks that need to be completed to reach our group goals. It is not a clean, efficient business model. It doesn’t run itself, but this method has produced some wondrous results. I think we go by instinct, or hunches. Michelle wanted to create the exhibit at PVG Artisans. Anthony and Todd wanted to do the steampunk show in Athens [Ohio]. Those turned out well on many levels. We constantly adapt to challenges.

KB: No other studio captures the spirit of this region, its traditions, realities, and potential, better than REsolve Studios. I know that your art offers chances for exploration and delight, with serious educational implications. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about John Steinbeck, community, and art at SteinbeckNow.com.

Photo of Michelle Waters, Todd Morrow, Lisa Haney-Bammerlin, and Geoff Schenkel by Cynthia Davis.

Photo of “The Victorian Brain” courtesy REsolve Studios.

Photo of Anthony Wilson courtesy Michele Coleman.

Appalachian Mountains Cabinet of Curiosities: Poem By Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of Appalachian-Mountains cabinet of curiosities

The Wonder Cupboard

On The Appalachian Soul, an exhibit by REsolve Studios

Small doors of the “Victorian Brain” open to red, lathed handles
on inverted bread-pan drawers. Nothing rises but nostalgia’s one
windup tune. Take old books, journals. Add a message, tiny bottle.

Presto! A shelf full as a trick hat. A box that talks. Scattered letters,
numbers hang. In cursive almost obsolete, a jigsawed word, Home.
Wood paddles recall days when dread beasted teachers’ closets.

A kneeling child fingers a cubbyhole for its marble, its brass bead.
She fondles aquarium stones, wishes for rainbows, forests, peace.
These, the wonders, should fill her life, so she pockets the marble.

From the birdhouse skyline no birds preach. A veteran’s boot,
recycled, is a small lamp base. Search for a way out of coal mines,
radiation in Southern Ohio. Find instead a Lincoln-head penny,

a toy. A plastic guitar pick. From a tree limb to manifold pipes
Illusion fumes onto a screen a future Martian-orange and desolate,
distressed as a photograph grieved by acid. In such a landscape

the single blue chip like a spring sky breathes mirage and hope.
A woman of light floats in a photograph on the wall. Teach them,
the children, to live. There’s wood, light, the guitar pick. Behold!

The Morning After a Perfect Storm: Narrative Poem by Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of a perfect storm approaching the state of Ohio

After a Great Wind

In the too-early darkness, candlelight flickered
our shadows up the stairs. Beneath open windows
we lay bare, sweating between sheets and dreams.

Transformers exploded in fireballs. The storm
peeled roofs like lids of tinned sardines. We lost
homes beneath old oaks and shallow maples.

We wake to a wounded city. Empty refrigerators.
Eat raw. Board up what we must. Make our way
through a jungle-green maze of limb and canopy.

Together we heave lighter branches to the curbs,
toss in twigs. Tree trunks that crushed our cars
we leave for huge machines to grind the wood,

spit sawdust. Cautiously we move, and watch
for the power lines’ fanged bite. After sundown
we lie uneasy, to sleep, day animals in the night.

From Atlanta, Georgia to a Deadbeat Dad’s Ambiguous End: Narrative Poem by Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of deadbeat dad in narrative poem

Dead Man’s Petition

With a last what-the-hell round, a chaser
of self-pity, he drove to Atlanta, Marathon,

parts south. His ex-wife didn’t see him go.
He’d been lost since the factory closed.

And he owed a year’s back child support.
From Ohio, his decades as deadbeat dad

were untraceable under an alias, living
underground in a work-for-cash economy.

Twenty-odd years later, and beseeching
the same county judge who’d declared him

deceased, he remembers those days past.
His ex doesn’t want him alive—can’t afford

to refund the Social Security spent long ago
for their children. Life got away from him,

he says. But he doesn’t account for much.
Doesn’t visit. Defeat transfixes him again.

Then the gavel pounds. The man stands down.
No one buys back time. A heart in purgatory,

he wanders away. The children are grown.
His ex is getting along. She says he’s better

left a citizen of the Republic of the Undead.

Open Season on the American Experience: Poem By Kathleen S. Burgess

Image of hunter during open season, an American experience


Silhouetted by a sun about to fail,
this man takes aim. On the other side
his face must gleam, as a cartridge
case, ejected, tumbles wingless.

Skyward. Into clouds. Gray eyes
focus from the shade of a wide brim.
Sweat-curled hair spills from the hat
back, down his neck and collar.

The rifle butt narrows to its dark
barrel as a fist to an eager finger.
Clouds explode. Birds scatter.
His target convulses. Spins away.

In his holster a pistol sits snug,
walnut grip and trigger ready
for the short shot. To make sure,
he’ll cock again. Fire. And again.

At first, only the moon’s flushed
face begins to fade. An eye
rising into less light. Then
the red mist sudden, and fine.