Frank Stanford on the left in shades with Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and friends
Stanford was a native son, in this land of Independence.
Circle of Light
When you take the lost road
You come to the snow
And when you find the snow
You get down on your hands and knees
Like a sick dog
That’s been eating the grasses of graveyards
For twenty centuries.
When you take the lost road
You find woman
Who has no fear of light
Who can kill two cocks at once
Light which has no fear of cocks
And cocks who can’t call in the snow.
You find lovers who’ve been listening
For the same roosters to sing
For twenty centuries
Roosters that have swallowed stones
Out of each other’s tracks
But have never met
Anywhere on the road.
When you take the lost road
You find the bright feathers of morning
Laid out in proportion to snow and light
And when the snow gets lost on the road
Then the hot wind might blow from the south
And there is sadness in bed for twenty centuries
And everyone is chewing the grass on the graves again.
When you get lost
You come to the moon in the field
The light all lovers soil
The sheet no one leaves clean
The light cocks are afraid to cross
The same moon woman danced under
For twenty centuries
With blood on her face.
When you get lost on the road
You run into the dead
Who have broken down stones
In their throats for twenty centuries
I saw two little crazy boys crying
Because it was morning
And when morning comes it comes
In the morning and never at night.
I saw two security police taking out a man’s balls
And I saw two little crazy boys
Crying by the road who wouldn’t go away
But two has never been a number
Because it’s only legal to pass one at a time
It’s only a drum you can carry but you can’t beat
It’s the evidence they need to make you disappear.
In Another Room I Am Drinking Eggs from a Boot
What if the moon was essence of quinine
And high heels were a time of day
When certain birds bled
The chauffeur is telling the cook
The antler would pry into ice floes
Swim with a lamp
And we’d be shivering in a ditch
Biting through a black wing
There would be boats
There would be a dream country
The great quiet humming of the soul at night
The only sound is a shovel
Clearing a place for a mailbox
Friend of the Enemy
The yolk went down my leg
Like a beautiful snail without a shell,
Went down the hill
To the skillet of water, to the nymphflies,
Into the lips of pond minnows,
Down the long belly of the gar – the hellbenders
Having dived and lost, then into
The paw of the lame panther
Who loped back to her lair with it.
As for the white, it stayed with me,
Mark of the beast, birth, and trade.
I had my quiet time early in the morning
Eating Almond Joys with Mother.
We’d sit on the back porch and talk to God.
We really had a good time.
I’d sort baseball cards
Or look for bottles.
In the afternoon I’d shoot blackbirds.
Jimmy would go by the house for ice water
And make the truck backfire.
Oh, I really liked that.
That was the reason he did it.
In the evening the cottontails ran across the groves.
I shot one and put him in the backseat.
He went to the bathroom.
Jimmy said I knocked the shit out of him.
At night we would listen to the ballgame.
Then to the Hoss Man.
Jimmy liked “Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby”
by Jimmy Reed.
The Arkansas Prison System
Is like a lyric poem
with seven basic themes
first the cottonpicker
dragging behind it a wagon of testicles
a pair of pliers which can fill in
for a cross in a pinch
then there is the warm pond
between the maiden’s thighs
next we have some friends
of yours and mine
who shall be with us always
Pablo the artist
the pubis of the moon
Pablo the cellist
panther of silence
Pablo the poet
the point of no return
and in case of emergency
the seventh and final theme
of this systematic poem
is the systematic way
death undresses in front of you
Weariness of Men
My grandmother said when she was young
The grass was so wild and high
You couldn’t see a man on horseback.
In the fields she made out
Dark and blown down from the weather
Like her husbands.
She remembers them in the dark,
Cursing the beasts,
And how they would leave the bed
In the morning,
The dead grass of their eyes
Stacked against her.
The Light the Dead See
There are many people who come back
After the doctor has smoothed the sheet
Around their body
And left the room to make his call.
They die but they live.
They are called the dead who lived through their deaths,
And among my people
They are considered wise and honest.
They float out of their bodies
And light on the ceiling like a moth,
Watching the efforts of everyone around them.
The voices and the images of the living
A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.
The light grows, a white flower.
It becomes very intense, like music.
They see the faces of those they loved,
The truly dead who speak kindly.
They see their father sitting in a field.
The harvest is over and his cane chair is mended.
There is a towel around his neck,
The odor of bay rum.
Then they see their mother
Standing behind him with a pair of shears.
The wind is blowing.
She is cutting his hair.
The dead have told these stories
To the living.
I Or Your Woman
The night was a bad one.
I only saw one other person out:
A big black man on muleback
Riding along the levee, marking the water.
There was a lantern in his hand
And what you could call a grim smile on the lips.
I shifted down gears,
Rolled down the window, turned the radio low.
And said, “Say there, man, how goes it?”
But he couldn’t hear me for the rain
And the song on his transistor radio.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but it’s raining,
Raining to beat hell.”
Said I, “Do you think it’s going to quit?”
“Friend, I couldn’t tell you.”
When big water will, you call everyman friend . . .
We said our goodnights,
Went on, by mule and flatbed truck, wearing black
Rubber, cold to the bone,
Like divers from different ships meeting below.
All you can do is nod, some of the times.
At least, we spoke, knowing that living
Anywhere near the river
You speak when you can; the only thing you try
To hold is your liquor,
And we had none, that bad night on the levee.
Always down the road, I looked up
In the mirror. And I’m sure he’d a done the same.
I almost slid off, once
Imagining this cloud was a pall
And the moon was a body.
I don’t know who put coins over her eyes.
When I got to Rampion’s Ferry,
I thought I was the only one there.
I mean it was quiet,
Except for the current, the cables, and the rain.
I got a piece of rope
Out of the back of my truck, and wound it
Around the generator
Engine; it kicked right off the first pull.
The yellow bug lights came on,
And I saw a body move under a purple blanket.
He cussed me out
For waking him up, pulling his old self up.
There was some kind of fish
In the weave of his poncho; other figures
Of snakes and birds, too.
I didn’t mean to wake the awnry fellow up,
I wonder if I did.
A strange odor came from underneath him
When he dragged out his towsack.
It didn’t smell of something burning, but of
Something that was singed.
Like the rain, it didn’t let up.
“Are we going crosst it, or not,”
He told me in a voice, half-blooded song.
III Some Past Twelve
Someone with a light
Rode up before I could see what all
He was pulling from the burlap:
Blue calling chalk you find in pool halls, ivory
Tusks, a stringer with rotten heads
The good book and another I couldn’t pronounce—
Just as worn,
And one of those paperweight crystals that snows.
He had strummed the mandolin twice,
A couple of sounds blue as a fox in trouble
In a snowdrift on a ridge, like weeds
Burning underwater, a few licks of silent fire.
When I recognized the lookout
The ferry wasn’t more than a few feet off the bank,
So the mule made it aboard, easy;
Its hooves on the planks like a mad, rough carpenter
Nailing driftwood together.
Oh, we made it across. We didn’t exactly
Hit the dock on the head,
But we floated on down to Vahalia’s Landing.
We had a good time.
The foreigner played the mandolin, the river
Reached its crest,
And the man on the mule and I drank way into the morning.
They heard us, the ones on land.
“We’re a floating whorehouse, without noun women.”
And in the dead of night,
Rain and all, we motioned them on.
My father and I lie down together.
He is dead.
We look up at the stars, the steady sound
Of the wind turning the night like a ceiling fan.
This is our home.
I remember the work in him
Like bitterness in persimmons before a frost.
And I imagine the way he had fear,
The ground turning dark in a rain.
Now he gets up.
And I dream he looks down in my eyes
And watches me die.
In the evenings they listen to the same
tunes nobody could call happy
somebody turns up at the edge of town
the roses bloom
and an old dinner bell rings once more
under the thunder clouds
In front of the porch posts of the store
a man seated on a soda water case
turns around and spits and says
in his new set of clothes
holding up his hands
as long as I live nobody
touches my dogs my friends
[ and for the long distance runner] ~
[“The Last Supper”] from The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You
I am afraid after reading all these so-called initiation books that some
cortege of boot lickers will enter my room while I am sleeping and suck
my eyes out with soda straws they will be older men and women much like
the amanuenses with bad breath in the principal’s office who call
up and tell on you the Unferths of the world better beware
I know Jesus would have kicked your teeth in you couldn’t pull that shit on him
he was telling his buddies one night boys I’m glad y’all decided to come on up
and eat supper with me I hadn’t got much there’s a few things I’d like to say
at this time Matthew says to Simon I sure as hell don’t know what he’s got us
here this time for I’m beginning to wonder you talked to him lately
yea I was shooting the shit with him on the mountain but I want to tell you
this Matthew don’t never come up on him when he’s alone he jumped on me
I thought he was going to kill me he was just walking around just talking
to himself waving his arms like he does he’s worse than John
Jude put his hand up to his mouth and said down the table I think Jesus is going
off his rocker get Simon to tell you what he asked me
Simon says he didn’t want to talk about politics or dreams or nothing he just said
Jude next time y’all are over in Mesopotamia why don’t you pick me up a few
bottles of that wine they make over there
sure thing Jesus I says
well now the boss is talking he is saying I asked y’all up here because frankly
I’ve been feeling a little sick lately and I want to make sure y’all know what
to do in case anything happens I know one of you is going to do me in I know
that but goddamnit y’all know those people in town are after my ass
the other night I walked down the streets in a disguise and I seen a couple
of you messing around and drinking with the soldiers what’s going to happen
if one of you gets drunk and lets it slip where I’m hiding out then I’ll
be in a fix you know if they was to find me they going to cut me y’all ever
think about that and Peter ain’t you ever going to get it straight what you’re
supposed to do give me one of those biscuits Judas and go outside and take a
look-see I got you Jesus Judas says
John leans over he says been catching any fish Peter
oh well I been getting a few of a morning they ain’t biting too good now you know
on account of this blamed weather nobody is even listening to Jesus he’s just
talking to himself like he was crazy Matthew says I believe he’s been hitting
that wine a little too hard don’t you reckon
Jesus says another thing I told all of you it’d be better if you didn’t get
involved with women
now just listen to that little two-faced bastard James the Lesser says
we all know what he’s up to shacking up with all those town girls
the other night he was dressed fit to kill and drunk as six hundred dollars
a rolling around in the mud like a hog kissing that whore’s foot why shit
I wish he’d let us in on what he really does
Thomas spoke up for once he says I know what you mean the other day Andrew
and I asked him about some scripture he said leave me alone I don’t know
nothing about that shit and then we seen him cussing out a priest over at the
temple he knew more about it than the elder did
another thing Matthew says I wish he’d start writing what he wants done down
and do it so I can read it you know as well as I do that damned Peter can’t
keep it straight he won’t get anything right
Bartholomew says don’t make no difference atoll cause Paul is going to tell
it like he wants to that’s for damned sure
all the time Jesus just mumbling to himself wine spilt all over his robe
the rest of them chattering and cussing trying to figure him out
John the Baptist about the only one Jesus can count on except for crazy John
is banging his goblet on the table he is saying now ain’t this a sight
spitting in the lord’s face at his own birthday party I’ll swan
Brother John why don’t you tell Jesus what the real problem is
the crazy one says everyone of y’all is chickenshits you are afraid to look
those elders in the eye and tell them what you think ya’ll get up on a rock
to talk and you see a soldier coming and you say anybody seen a stray mule
Jesus is saying to himself I’m going to pull those temples down if I have to
get me a rope and tie it to a pillar and a jackass and do it myself
wake up Jesus Philip says
Paul who hadn’t touched a drop gets up and gets his paper out and says
the nature of the problem Jesus is this the people don’t believe you
those fellows in the temples have got it all organized all they have to do
is send out stooges and hire a couple of rednecks who make out like they’re
crippled they have a big gathering they say the same things you say they
pull off a fake healing the redneck’s wife stands up she says LIE he ain’t lame
he’s just drunk and so all the people go home saying those christians what a
bunch of wind see Jesus they are using your material but they ain’t coming
through so that is making you an enemy of the people we just got to get
organized as is proved here today by your followers carrying on as they did
so I’m getting sold down the river by the elders and their hirelings uh
that’s right Jesus ask anybody here why I didn’t think they’d do that he says
I told you a long time ago not to keep talking with them temple people John says
you should a know’d what they was up to ain’t nobody going to understand you
why you ought to know that when we first run on to you we had second thoughts
we thought you was crazy there’s probably still some sitting down here right
this second that still thinks you are a crazy one but Jesus you should a known
we been through a lot together we go a long way back you should a listened
all they wanted was you they liable to get you yet then they won’t have no
competition they want to keep feeding the hogs the same slop
they the ones that want to get fat man you listening to me Jesus
he says ok if that’s the way they want to do things at the temple
I’m going to change my tactics I going out after these chillun more than I have
been they’ll know I’m telling the truth I still got a few things up my sleeve
left what’s that Paul says
I’m going to do a few things can’t nobody follow
we could always go back to biting the heads off fish and chickens Peter says
why don’t you let us in on it for a change Paul says we follow you around
like we were a bunch of sheep picking up your tab bailing you out of jail
coming up here all the time for supper and what do we get to eat nothing
why can’t you have a little faith in us Jesus
ok this is what we going to do he says hold on who is that walking up the steps
it’s just Judas
how does it go boy Jesus says and the other one answers just fine Jesus just fine
and John the Baptist turns around he says to the one who has just slipped in boy
didn’t I see you talking to some white folks the other day
here endeth with a chord on the guitar that’s how the men did Jesus like he was
old like he was young just like Elvis did to Big Dad Arthur I know
just like another blind singer the men come down to see with their equipment
they get his song they pay him twenty dollars and he don’t hear from them ever
again except sometimes in the mail on Christmas when one of them might send a
five dollar check there won’t nobody cash oh tell me brother how do the old men
feel who were young as purple flowers from Hawaii once when they listen to their
songs coming in over a borrowed radio tell me don’t they take up a notch in they belt
don't they tie another knot in they headband don't they wring that sweat out
have mercy Jesus deliver me from the lawyers and the teachers and the preachers
and the politicking flies can’t you hear them buzz can’t you hear them bite another
chunk out of me oh brother I am death and you are sleep I am white and you are
black brother tell me I am that which I am I am sleep and you are death we are
one person getting up and going outside naked as a blue jay rolling our bellies
at the moon oh brother tell me you love me and I’ll tell you too I want to know
how do they like it when the ones who sung shake they leg on the Television
I want to know Jesus don’t a blind man count no more some by signs others by
whispers some with a kiss and some with a gun and some with a six bit fountain
pen whoa lord help me and my brother help us get through this tookover land
Estate of Frank Stanford © C.D. Wright
Frank Stanford was born in 1948 and died just shy of his 30th birthday in1978 at his home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the victim of three self-inflicted pistol wounds to the heart. A prolific poet known for his originality and ingenuity — dubbed “a swamprat Rimbaud” by Lorenzo Thomas and “one of the great voices of death” by Franz Wright. He was raised in Mississippi, Tennessee, and then Arkansas, where he lived for most of his life and wrote many of his most elegant, eerie, spooky, powerful poems. He attended the University of Arkansas from 1967-9 and studied engineering while continuing to write poetry. He authored over ten books of poetry, including eight volumes in the last seven years of his life: The Singing Knives (1972), Ladies from Hell (1974), Field Talk (1974), Shade (1975), Arkansas Bench Stone (1975), Constant Stranger (1976), The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (1977), and Crib Death (1978). Some of the poems above are also from an unpublished manuscript.