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Three Poems by J. Kates

"Rule Number One," "Woman of the High Plains," "Out" - J. Kates

Rule Number One


Rule Number One: Everything’s attached.
In the briar patch whichever way
you turn, somebody gets scratched.

Rule Number Two: Your eyes bleed
when they are plucked out and weep
when they are stuck in. Proceed

accordingly. Your oldest friend
needs that woman, that job no more
than you do. Friendships mend

if they are meant to. Have some fun.
Make some money. Get what you can.
Above all, look out for Number One.


Woman of the High Plains


The ground boils here, but slowly—
not like the water in my pot
stripping a cooked chicken to bone
and soup, separable
identities. It takes,

they say, nine years or more
for a man to render down
to broth, and then his skeleton
can be picked out and thrown away.
My husband, now,

would pinch the soil each spring
and taste it for the planting,
knowing what it needed
until it needed him.




Everything will, you know. The bone
harp singing in the king’s hall,
the cunning wound, tobacco-stained
carpeting, a telephone call,

Col. Mustard in the dining room
with a wrench, Raskolnikov
in existential gloom,
brothers wrestling over a pocketknife

on a slippery riverbank,
strangers stretched on their knees.
Fingering a pistol, jilted Frankie
nails Johnnie in his BVDs.

That’s how it is: What we act
in private becomes the matter
of music, the marrow of related fact
in a storyteller’s patter,

and nothing we can dream is left
without beforehand or afterwards
unaccounted for. When we laughed,
our laughter was broadcast by the birds,

and when you slammed the door
an old shaman in a weatherbeaten tent
half the world away finished the story
and told me where you went.



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