Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop - David Lee (Wings Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop.  David Lee.  Wings Press.  San Antonio, Texas.  2017.

Back on May 9th, 2016 this all started.  It was almost one year ago today that Today's book of poetry wrote about the former Missouri Poet Laureate David Clewell's excellent book Almost Nothing To Be Scared Of (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016).  The esteemed Mr. Clewell started corresponding with us here at Today's book of poetry, started sending us books we'd never heard of.  Then he introduced us to the Twangster, Mark Twang.

That was when all hell broke loose.  Twang, our correspondent from the south, thinks nothing of walking into my office unannounced and throwing down a book with a demanding "read this now!" Not sure where fear ends and respect begins but Twang has certainly opened some eyes around here. Today's book of poetry is ashamed to admit that we'd never really heard of B.H. Fairchild or Rodney Jones, and we certainly had never heard of David Lee.

Today's book of poetry doesn't know exactly how to say it but try this; David Lee is the poet Today's book of poetry has been waiting for.  Reading Lee is like taking a ride in a jet fighter when previously you'd only been riding a wagon.  David Lee is a whole new ball game.

The editor at Wings Press had this to say about Lee: 
      "Imagine Robert Frost simultaneously channeling Will Rogers
      and Ezra Pound.  Imagine Chaucer with a twang."

Today's book of poetry would add that you could throw that witty wordsmith Woody Guthrie and old Willie the Shake to that compendium.  

Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop is a stunning social history of rural Texas, mid twentieth century or earlier.  Most of it from a woman's perspective, a woman's voice.  This is astonishing magic.


and down they forgot as up they grew
                   E.E. Cummings,
                   "anyone lived in a pretty how town"


Back in the once upon a time days
Hooter Hagins got to be famous
a lot longer than the rest of us
but until Maurine Huffman
told her story to her Bobby Jack
almost everybody
even those of us who knew her then
and were there had already forgotten
that we all thought
it was a miracle
or a terrible accident
She had only one breast
No one was really sure
if they had to take it off
when she was a baby
or if she was born that way
and nobody ever thought
to ask her or her mama
which was what
to resolve the dilemma

none of us seemed to notice it
until we were in junior high school
on a day like a bolt of thunder
Monroe Newberry who was so innocent
he didn't know any better
made the longest speech of his lifetime
when he said Jesust Hooter
you only got one tiddy
from then on as long
as we could remember to think
about it she was
as important to our self identity
as President Eisenhower or Sputnik
or Governor Shivers or Coach Darrell Royal

in high school it seemed
she'd managed to find a way
to get it centered so we could look
forward to sweater days
to see Hooter's point of view
then along came Ella Mae Blodgett
with snow cone brassieres
Hooter got one to work for her
so well the Mr. Bennett
in general science quit
trying to teach any at all
on those days and had work sheets
in his drawers
ready to pass out so he
could practice on his personal theory
of successful sight alignment

wore it to class next semester
on biology test day
after ten minutes Tommy Bouchier
who was a Baptist and refrained
from all lustful contemplation
until he went to college
got up and walked out
sweat running down both sideburns
took it in the library after school
on his own time and still
graduated class valedictorian
nobody could hold
any of it against him


years later at the Dew Drop Inn
across the tracks drinking
bootleg liquor Jimmie Ivie asked
Bus Pennell how he lost his eye
Was it a hunting accident?
which gave Bus the opportunity
for personal loquaciousness
he said Partially
it was on a Saturday night
in my pickup out in the bushes
with Hooter I goosed her
she jerked loose
her gazoobie was like a brick
with a carriage bolt
stuck in the end of it
tore it right out of its sockets
he should have laughed
at the end of his story
and reminded them of what
they'd misplaced in their remembrance
that Charolotte Paducah before
she married Bobby Joe Rushing
shot it out with a Chinaberry
in a slingshot
when he came into her yard
after she told him not to
but when he didn't
went as quiet in there as when
Jerry Banks puked in church
during communion service
after Charles Ivins told him
it was made out of dead
ground up body parts
he wouldn't put it in his mouth
and be a cannibal
Miss Lela's eyes all wide
because her mama was midwife
saw it at Hooter's birth
them people didn't know
if it was from the Lord or the Debbil
but she had surely been touched
way back before Bus Pennell
got to her in his pickup
rumor of it spread all the way
to Odessa we heard


we were in line
at the picture show on a Saturday night
somebody we later thought Wheelis House
brought his cousin
down from Tahoka to go to it
he'd forgotten to warn him
the potential consequences
of silliness in our town
he said too loud
Looks like a Chinese rhinoceros
yall ought to call her Ichiban
like that Jap wrestler in Lubbick
Harold Wayne Clayburn said
You want us to call you a doctor
or a vegetarian? he said What?
never saw a thing
she hit him holding a half drunk
R.C. Cola bottle with peanuts in it
on the point of his chin
went down in a squatch
like a jellyfish
that lost its bonnet at sea
one eye rolled up and the other one
looked straight out like it's
been painted on
knocked him right out
of one of his shoes
she said to Harold Wayne
It's a veteranarain dumbass
whoever it wases cousin
that brought him
probably Wheelis
tried to say He didn't really
mean nothing by it
but Glenda Hutto
who was her friend that night
beside her standing in line
said It's too late already
you don't call the roofman
when it's raining.

we heard all over town
that at the Rotary Club meeting
Pastor Brother Gene said
It was a stampede
of accumulated wisdom and grievance
that she chose to unleash
upon that poor foreign boy
at that very moment
in order to provide the incentive
and momentum for possible redemption
and on the other hand
he probably just should have stayed
at home in Tahoka that night
even though they all laughed
it was standing room only
at the Methodist Church
next Sunday in anticipation
that Hooter might show up
for admonishment or praise


she began to disappear
from our collective consciousness
when she married down horribly
to Paulie Joe Wheaton after
he came home from his two years
Army service in lieu of the penitentiary
then another divorce after him then
married Byron Hainey who drifted
on the lam from Arkansas
got him a job at Piggly Wiggly finally
sacking groceries and stocking shelves
by then time and gravity
had done its duty
along with cancer getting popular
and other women getting one
or both of theirs cut off
so it wasn't much unusual any more

we forgot about her mostly
until the new husband we never accepted
either for us or her
got the prostrate cancer
took him to Dr. Tubbs
who called in Hooter
the first time said Your husband
is a real sick man but
would be a whole lot better
if he had sex once a day
on weekdays and twicet on Saturdays
when she came out of the office
he asked her what the Dr. said
with everybody listening
she said Dr. Tubbs said
you're going to die
on the next visit
Dr. Tubbs told Hooter
he had to get serious with her
said We can operate on him
try to get it out but you need to know
that would probley make him
pure flat impotent
she said Well that's fine
but would there be
any negative side effects?
that piece of gossip
brought her right back
to her previous hero status.


he ran off home to Arkansas
where we heard he died
and the church ladies social club
decided it wasn't right
Hooter should be alone
took her out to the old Wheaton place
where her ex Paulie Joe
who it was thought
still pined for her
had put in a trailer house
over the foundation of the burned one
Wheaton Texas-house with a sitting porch
pulled up he was lounging
on the furniture outside all bigfat
with his shirt off grinning
needing a haircut
in the sunshine
she said Turn the car around
and get me out of here right now
they said What for?
he's wanting read bad
to get back together with you
she said He looks like
a Chester white hog sitting up
with two rows of titties
hanging down his front
I don't need the reminder
or the competition

wasn't anything they could do
but take her back
she turned to look at him one last time
standing up waving his arms
his whole front belly looked like
a little boy sloshing in the bathtub
spillwaves going up and down
she said Oh set down
you silly sonofabitch
you're embarrassing me
Sybil Cockrum almost run the car
off in the ditch
them church social club women
laughed all the way in to town
they all sworn a  vow
not to ever tell anybody
Ruth Lee laughed so hard
she peed herself on the carseat


then Maurine Huffman told
her boy Bobby Jack after that
about Hooter back in high school
how she was world famous
all the way to Abilene
put a boy in the hospital
for making fun of her
and then why
pretty soon the whole town
was all over it again
she was once more our celebrity

but when the new Cambellite
preacher's wife Sister Parker
without understanding the true essence
of the matter said
as part of her conversational duty
checking out at her register
at Piggly Wiggly I heard
somebody say you was
really something way back when
that you was maybe
the most famous person in this part of Texas
Hooter said Yes ma'am
we all were
legends in our own minds
but that was then
and today is now
and that's exactly why
most stories start Once upon a time
and then go straight
backwards from there
but at least mine
had a point to it
and the right two words
for a conclusion
so we don't have to think
about any of it any more
and that's just about
all they are to it
I hope you have
a real nice rest of the day
and we all decided with her
it was time to let it go


Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop weighs in at well over two-hundred pages and when you are reading it you might feel like you're caught between memories of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and the whispered words of wisdom from every woman in rural Texas.  Bluebonnets... is the anecdotal history of a time most of you are too young to remember, Lee's women remind us.

David Lee and his Texan women broker no hypocrisy and they do it in chicken-fried, glowshimmer style.

Veal, 1948

All afternoon grandmother
dressed the meat
divided the cuts
steaks and chops
a small roast
for the ice box
and sliced the round
into thin pieces which
for the first time
she didn't pound
with a saucer's edge

and for the meal
a private portion
chicken fried
for everyone at the table
including kids
so tender adults weren't requited
to do cutting
the savor of fresh beef
filling the air
on the tongue
lingering on the mind

"This is so good"
"So so good, mama"
"Never so tender"
"Where'd you get this meat?"
and grandmother
head down to her plate
as if in prayer
"Milk cow shed her calf"
"Shed her calf?"
"Still born"


One Reason Why You Didn't Want
Kristine Thornton To Talk During
Town Board Meeting

While Arguing Over Redistricting With Moe Bob Trammel

If the Lord wanted you
to have an empty head
and a cob up your ass
He'd of put popcorn seeds
in your daddy's spurem

                                       From sidebar minutes of the
                                      monthly Town Board Meetings
                                                        19 September 1950


Our southern correspondent, the Twangster, didn't stop with Bluebonnets..., no, he also sent along some other David Lee titles full of real life and wonder.  Today's book of poetry recently read A Legacy of Shadows - Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1999), Driving & Drinking (Copper Canyon Press, 1979,1982 and 2004), The Porcine Canticles (Copper Canyon Press, 1984) and we listened to the CD David Lee: A Listener's Guide where Lee reads from A Legacy of Shadows and News from Down to the Cafe.  

The Today's book of poetry staff have been taking turns taking home the David Lee CD.  It is simply riveting poetry from a voice so authentic you have no choice but to believe every word uttered.

The fact of it for Today's book of poetry is that every poem David Lee writes seems to contain more truth than the last.  Lee isn't mimicking voices, he is remembering them, pitch perfect.

David Lee's eloquence is humbling but it is an awful lot of fun.  Bluebonnets, Firewheels and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop is a kind of local, oral history rendered universal.  The stories and characters are new to us, they are new to everyone, but the moral playground they dance on is one we know, recognize from our own small part of the world.

One Reason Why You Didn't Want Kristine Thornton
To Talk During Town Board Meetings

                                   on an unnamed citizen
                                   running for town board

He's meteoaker
just trash not worth picking up;
a bucket with two holes
in the bottom
and a tore out pouring edge

                                     From sidebar minutes of the monthly
                                                             Town Board Meetings
                                                                           12 May 1953


The palette stacker

Let me tell you something, Travis
woman to man as your Assistant
Personnel Director  this one time
Hoyt there is in charge
of this entire mill's palette stacking
being a one man team
and if I were you which I'm not
I'd be careful about how
you've been talking to him
he's an odd duck and just doesn't
take to teasing any
and here' the consideration
I'm thinking I might take
if I were you which I'm not

that skinny little man
lifts 10 boxes of sheets every minute
and stacks them on his palette
that's 600 boxes of sheets an hour
which means in a workday
he lifts and stacks just about exactly
4,800 boxes of sheets
each box weighing 44 pounds exactly
which if you do the sum
comes to just a tad over
211 thousand pounds of lifts and stacks
on his palettes every day
five days a week and six
once we get to the holiday sale season

Travis, to put this in plain linguitch
as the good old boys say
so you might understand it
that skinny little man
who is from Shakeslovaskia
which is why to you he seems
to talk funny but he doesn't agree
has muscles in his shit
and if you tick him off making fun of him
bad enough to have him come at you
I can tell you for a certainty
the next one to wipe your butt
will be the undertaker

if you catch my drift


At one point Today's book of poetry was all set to tackle ALL of the marvelous David Lee material we have in the stacks but then realized we simply wanted to copy out every poem and share them with you.  This extraordinary poetry deserves to be celebrated, and loudly.  

If it were possible Today's book of poetry would lead a David Lee march right into the ballroom of The Poetry Hall of Fame.  How often do we get to call a living poet Great?  Here's your chance.

author's photo
David Lee

David Lee was raised in Post, Texas (southeast of Lubbock, northeast of Lamesa — think hot, dry and flat), a background he has never completely escaped, despite his varied experiences as a seminary student, a boxer and semi-pro baseball player (the only white player to ever play for the Negro League Post Texas Blue Stars) known for his knuckleball, a hog farmer, and a decorated Army veteran. Along the way he earned a Ph.D., taught at various universities, and recently retired as the Chairman of the Department of Language and Literature at Southern Utah University.

After 30 years in Utah, Lee and his wife Jan took to the road to become more-or-less full-time wanderers. Passing through Bandera, Texas, Lee says, "We just fell in love. We noticed nine bars and two churches and thought this is where God lives." They settled in Bandera for a few years, but spent half of the year traveling, mostly on the backroads of the western U.S. They now live somewhere in Nevada.

Lee was named Utah's first Poet Laureate in 1997, and has received both the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award in Poetry and the Western States Book Award in Poetry. Lee received the Utah Governor's Award for lifetime achievement and was listed among Utah's top twelve writers of all time by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of over twenty books of poetry. In 2004, So Quietly the Earth was selected for the New York Public Library's annual "Books to Remember" list.

If we were a civilized nation, we would declare David Lee a national treasure.
     — Sam Hamill, author of Habitation: Collected Poems

This one's a lucky pick: Rural Texas back when — memory filtered through the eloquent country vernacular and irreverent, bawdy imagination of David Lee, who can stretch the truth until delight shines straight through, unspool a nonstop sentence like a bad cat with a ball of yarn, see through the eyes of a woman just the same as a man, and hilariously take down hypocrisy and pretention, especially "preaching, zeal maintenance and overlording." (Full disclosure: love the guy, but then, read on and I bet you will too.)
      — Eleanor Wilner, MacArthur Fellow, author of The Girl with Bees in Her Hair and Tourist in Hell

David Lee

Poet Laureate David Lee at Geneva Hills, Ohio
Video: danceshadowmoon1


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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