New Poems by Robert Fillman

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I am honored to announce the publications of new poetry by the extraordinary poet, Robert Fillman!

“Witness” which appears in Split Rock Review

Witness

Probably by now, my friend
has recovered from the shock
of finding his pet rooster
headless and strung to the fence.
He has no doubt untangled
the thing, his bare hands perhaps
sticky with feathers and stained
with blood, the knees of his pants
maybe cool, wet from kneeling
on damp earth, having buried
the bird, taking care to smooth
the mound with a shovel, still
not realizing what transpired,
how he had hunted it down
before dawn and drunk with rage
bent over its body, choked
last crows from its throat and stole
the morning light from its eyes
before returning to his
home and probably crawling
into bed, without knowing
what he was capable of,
how late he’d sleep, what silence
would follow his every step
when he finally started
his long list of daily chores.

Three poems in hamiltonstone
 

Promises

My father didn’t talk

much to me as a kid.

So each sentence glimmered

 

as if it reflected

his eyes and not the mug

of beer lifted beneath

 

the yellow kitchen light

those nights on Union Street.

My son’s hesitant Yes

 

I would like that brings me

back to words my father

never said but guided

 

into me with his hands,

the even syllables

of a saw pulled across

 

a two-by-four, the rasp

of a taping knife scraped

over spackle, the smack

 

of an old baseball trapped

in the web of his glove.

Each act translated back

 

to a promise of love,

the only way he knew

how to cure the silence.

Omen

The mountain as severe

as my grandfather’s brow

in that small airless room

during his final hours,

I see a barn owl soar

out of the ridge’s mouth,

its big head, terrible

eyes cursing all color,

as if it were hell-bent

on draining the season

 

of red maple, black gum—

every leaf a target.

It doesn’t seem to know

the difference between

misery and mercy,

the living and the dead,

that my grandfather warned

Go easy on your kids

before he closed his eyes

and slipped away his hand.

 

My body suddenly

tight, bracing for a blow,

as if I am the prey,

a small, soft animal,

yet I’m surprised to feel 

a fluff of brown feathers

then a rush of wings that

beats on, flooding my ears

with what could only be 

the sound of a last breath.

 

The Vanity of It All

Two months into quarantine

and I’m still shaving my head,

scraping a razor across

the curve of my skull every

single night, the edge of each

blade sounding like my mother’s

cheerful voice those mornings she

greeted me at the breakfast

table with pink lips, bluish

black mascara, two eyebrows

perfectly penciled on. Her

uniform for a long day

of chores in an empty house,

the sagging clotheslines, the hours

of stirring sauce on the stove,

all the dirty dishes stacked

in the sink, my father’s shirts

piled for ironing, shower

and toilet always needing

to be scrubbed. In the bathroom

steam I’m staring at myself

in the mirror as I rub

a palm over scalp to feel

some small comfort. I lean in,

clicking my tongue if I spot

even one errant hair I

might have missed, those wisps I am

desperately hiding from

whom? My wife and kids? Maybe

a delivery man or

that nice neighbor who brings us

our groceries? All the while

my mind tries to smooth away

this human need of keeping

up appearances, this strange

compulsion to polish things,

with every swipe of the blade

memories of my mother’s

painted face reflecting bright

in the shine of a brass pot.

And two poems in Innessfree Journal

On date night my wife must choose

 

between love and food because
her body will not allow
her both, so I ask her to
starve herself in one way so

I can be satisfied in
another. Last night I grew
frustrated by her illness,
selfishly imagining

how every spoonful to her
lips was a cold betrayal,
willingness to twist with pain
on the couch and not with me,

heating pad strapped to her gut,
the nausea setting in,
all color drained from her face,
as if each little swallow

were another nail punching
through the white skin of her breast.
Now I’m left wondering if
my depravity caused this

crucifixion, how all she
craved was a scoop of ice cream
from the cafe down the street,
how I will writhe in hell,

be made to atone for these
wicked thoughts, no saint to save
me, no matter how badly
I hunger for forgiveness. 

 
 
Learning to Listen

I remind both kids to be
extra good today, insist
their mother doesn’t feel well,
that she has to stay in bed—
and hate myself for it.

            Kids
should be able to be kids.
But when my son suddenly
leaps onto the couch and makes
the springs cheep and squeak I snap,
ask why he never listens,
threaten to send him to his
room alone if he doesn’t
stop, my voice breaking apart
when I notice the redness
of his cheeks, the tears that will 
follow.

             Then I consider  
how only moments before
the three of us were huddled
by the window watching four
goldfinches peck at feeders
on our porch, how my daughter
said they were a family
flitting about, their frank chirps
a break from the hard silence. 

Robert Fillman is the author of the chapbook November Weather Spell (Main Street Rag, 2019). His poems have appeared in The Hollins Critic, Poetry East, Sugar House Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and others. Fillman earned a Ph.D. in English from Lehigh University and is an Assistant Professor at Kutztown University.   

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Available for purchase at:

The Main Street Rag Online Bookstore

A Guest Post for the ULS, The Underground Library Society, by Jennie Fitzkee

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Thank you to Jennie Fitzkee for her guest post for the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society. She deals with a book that is easily misunderstood as being racist, and she details that the story is really about India and not African-Americans. It is important to make the distinction between perception of racism and actual racism, as Jennie does.  Now for her post:

In 1899 Helen Bannerman wrote a children’s book, Little Black Sambo, after she and her husband had lived in India for thirty years.  Helen was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she fondly remembered those years in India.  The classic story is about a little boy who outwits tigers in the jungle.  I dearly loved this story when I was a child, particularly the tigers turning into butter when they ran in circles around the tree.

LBS

 

The boy’s name is Little Black Sambo, his mother is Black Mumbo, and his father is Black Jumbo.  That is perhaps (most likely) the root of controversy and the banning of this book.  Over the years people have projected the story to be about blacks in the south.  Different versions were published, even a board game.  The degradation of blacks was both sad and appalling.

 

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And so, it was banned in many places over the years.  “A typical pickaninny storybook which was hurtful to black children.”  Those were the comments and reasons for banning the book.  When I heard the story as a child, I also thought the characters were blacks from the south.

 

Fast forward to 1996.  Fred Marcellino, an artist and illustrator, read the story.  He said, “There are no racist overtones.”  And there are none.  Zero.  It’s merely the perception because of the names of the characters.  So, Fred illustrated a new edition of the book.  He did not change one word of the text.  He simply changed the names of the characters to be authentic to India – Babaji, Mamaji, and Papaji.

 

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I read this book all the time in my classroom of preschoolers.  They revel in chanting the words of the tigers.  They love the book as much as I did as a child.  We do play performances about this book.  Really!

And of course, tigers live in India, not the southern states in America.  So, shame on those naysayers and book banners.  They should have known better.

I vow to memorize the words to this classic story.

Thank you Jennie for the post, and welcome to the U.L.S.

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