Letter Poem from Two Mules on the Road

Who would’ve thought just wandering

into the Appalachians We’d find the site of Wisdom

in a crossroad town. Here there is one filling station,

one general store, but at the lunch counter

you can get huckleberry pie, it’s crust flakey

from the leaf lard they use. Nobody worries

about health issues here. The coffee is good,

and the waitress keeps your cup full.

The town’s too small for a school, and nobody

talks about the internet. We met Maude Carpenter

who makes and sells quilts from a roadside stand.

Her husband has both a pension and miner’s lung.

He spends his days whittling wooden chains

and banjo pegs, and evenings he fiddles

Irish tunes. Life’s simple, they told Mike,

and as We drove away We thought of how much

we poets leave in life unexplained.

We’ve all spent enough time looking for

 truth and understanding on one highway or another,

maybe now we should just accept, a hickory branch

can become a binding chain, patches will make

a quilt to ward off cold, and solitude is

a knowledge all its own. So fellow poets, blessings

on you for your searching. We found a direrction to go,

at the crossroads of Wisdom on the way to Serenity.

Letter Poem To Jin and Jennie from Serenity

Would you believe we stumbled upon Serenity?

Well, we did. It’s a little north of the Cimmeron River,

a little southwest of Hosanna, and about an hour’s

drive from Dodge. All that’s left of Main Street

is a crumbling limestone bank, long closed,

the post office with its windows boarded up,

a general store that closed its doors years ago,

and a few dust covered houses whitening in the sun.

Let me report the bridge over Buttermilk Creek

leans precipitously to the right, but farmers

still trust to fate, or maybe faith, and cross it anyway.

When the wind blows hard from the West the dust flies.

Most folks move on to greener pastures, but a few stay,

if only for the sunsets, cactus blooms, whippoorwills,

and now and then the gentle rain; those small things

folks cling to when their logic fails.

Two Poems by Joyce Ritchie


Snow Hill

The river runs still,

past the faded clapboard houses,

laundry lifting on a light breeze,

past rusted cars dreaming highway

dreams, resting now on iron crutches,

past Byrd Park, where tired mothers

watch children soar on playground swings,

wait for the food pantry Saturday delivery truck,

past the old men and young boys

sitting patiently along the quay

fishlines hanging straight down,

undisturbed even by conversation.

Still the river runs,

curves to keep a respectful distance

below All Hallows hill, where the dead

are carried along current of time,

past the old firehouse, the Harvest Moon Tavern,

the Cupcake Shop, Bishop’s Stock and the Blue Dog Café,

past the library and alongside the Cannery,

then glides under the bright white dividing bridge,

past the willow caressing the wind

with her new spring green lace gloves,

past the Inn, the manor homes and stately gardens,

past tea parties, weddings and wakes.

Still the river runs,

past the bald cypress, past Birch Point,

roadmap for geese, haven for loons,

source and sustenance,

constant as the changing seasons,

for three centuries and more

winding through the stories and secrets of this small town.

The river runs still,

as it has,

as it will.

Springtime in Feng Du

     on the Yangtze

Passing Down

In Feng Du the mothers and fathers tell

stories to their children over dinner,

some rice, sweet potatoes roasted on the

cooking fire fills the hut with smokey warmth.

In the children’s eyes they see generations,

the deep pool of wu ji, boundless nothingness

from which grew yin and yang, unity of

existence, eternally interacting





How to tell the children that tomorrow

for the last time they will sweep ancestral

graves soon to be lost, like this house, to the

river’s rising? How to tell the children

every day now is a story to hold

in bone and heart against the rising river?

II  Veneration/Supplication

Remember this, children, in bone and heart,

how today we swept the ancestor’s graves

of the detritus of the year, how we

left small offerings for the favorable

emerging from dark yin winter to

spring’s yang light. Remember how you gathered

small bouquets, gold mother chrysanthemum,

blossoms from the White Dove tree. Remember

our words to the dead: Thank you for your

sacrifices which give us such bounty,

health, long life. Forgive us this sacrifice

of the chi harmony wind water feng shui

that we planned with care for you. May you rest

gently cradled by ancient Mother River.

III  A Father’s Lament

Each day he watches Mother River rising,

lapping at the fields and the little hut.

Each day the river gorge reverberates,

ring of metal on metal, a new road

being carved from sheer granite, a rhythmic

marking of the river’s inexorable rise.

Each day he carries a piece of their life

on his back up a switch-back path to high ground.

He doesn’t know to call it what it is.

What he knows is the feeling of dry dirt

crumbling between his fingers, scattering

down the mountain baked dry by beating sun,

his hand missing the heft and promise of

moist earth made fertile by ancient river silt.

IV  Boatman’s Song

Each day the river rises faster,

past the 25 meter marker, the 75,

soon the 150. White Crane Mountain

no longer soars so high over my little

boat floating silently on the current

over submerged worlds – ghost villages,

temples, treasure lost to Mao’s beautiful

river, grown twice as wide, deep and dark.

Ancient Mother River could not know she

would be dammed, nor the insects whose wet wings

betrayed them, nor the fish and salamanders,

the bamboo and the White Dove tree, nor the

Siberian Crane and the Golden Swallow

watching from higher and higher branches.

About the Author:  Joyce Ritchie lives and works in Baltimore, MD and is inspired by, among other things, the landscapes and clear light of small towns and rivers in Maine and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her work has previously appeared in Passager and other literary journals.

The Day The Music Died…

– For Joe Kimball

My student, Will O’Mara is dead,
though he’s not been waked, or laid out yet.
Even now his fingers, which should be tickling a coed’s thigh,
move lazily over the piano’s keys playing his
beloved Chopin.
But make no mistake, Will is dead.
The cancer eating his blood cells came too fast,
has consumed too much marrow, too soon.
Of course, Will knows now what is to come.
Still, even knowing, he plays steadily and will not,
even for death, rush the music.

From Etude to Nocturne Will O’Mara plays his concert.
I am the audience of one,
come to listen in the family living room
where father and mother give piano lessons.
Will told me all life’s delights are few
and asked, what’s pleasure anyway?
What’s meaning? I have no answer. Sparrows fall.
There seems as much meaning in that act
as joy in the act of sunlight shafting through chintz curtains.

Now my student Will O’Mara is truly dead,
and sadly there is no great news in this fact.
When he was finally gone, only a few inches
of copy from the school newspaper, his yearbook picture,
a handful of tapes his parents made remained.
Perhaps, this was his concert’s theme:
from life, from death, there are no truths to gain.
We poets might just as well write our poems
with their cold truths in the ink of winter’s rain.

-Andrew Brown

The Chugalug King & Other Stories

Andrew Brown’s new book of short stories is available for Pre-order over at Passager Books.

The Chugalug King & Other Stories

Congratulations Andy!

Field Burning

field burning

As we burn back the winter’s stubble
the gods of the fields, turtles, snakes,
badgers, and foxes
stumble through the ash.

Their faces are charred naked,
eroded like wind scoured
clods of dark loam.

In the symmetrically changing field
there are faces in the grass not seen,
but orange fingers of fire
pry away their face covering shawls.

Who burns a field burns the gods,
and burns also them: Field mice.

The humble ones,
stroked and cradled by the fire’s hand
who cannot hide.

In the green-shoot spring
we act without forseeing
to revive the fields for planting,
and breathe the breath of ashes

grass, fire, stubbled-death
and god-green, spring’s breath
as all are rushing together into a terror.

A terror of the burning time.

For the Reservation Sioux Hard Times Make Dreams

Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation, (Lakota) Indian family

I understand now from a Michigan nephew
they no longer manufacture Pontiacs in Pontiac.
My god, I thought, has it come to this,
first no buffalo and now no Big Chief or Firebird?
What are we going to put up on jacks to rust,
and what are we going to use for shade?

Where will we find a backseat to make out
while we play skin, talk big, and drink Ripple?
I’m thinking tonight of Billy TwoTails, the Oglala,
who looked into the sun till he went blind
before he began having a vision.
The police locked him up in Rapid City.

He just went on screaming, “I have a dream.”
I suppose life could always be worse.
They could close the packing plants in Texas,
or stop growing cotton in Alabama, or picking melons
in Salinas, anything bad is possible,
if palefaces won’t make Pontiacs in Pontiac.

A New Literary Place (…or, the James boys saddle up)

AB Gaouche painrting, rough paper-1 (2)IMG00243-20110629-1353 (2)

Welcome to Two Mule Press! Being two mulish writers, we want you to consider this an open invitation to join us as we re-launch our modest little online literary journal/blog. We want to tell good stories. We want to tell your stories. We don’t bite but we have been known to kick occasionally and we are looking for writing that does the same, be it poem or short story, essays or reviews.

We are excited to join the growing literary communities both here in Baltimore (where we live) and those that exist online. We intend to seek out good writing – with a focus on poetry and short fiction –  from both established writers and newcomers, and provide a forum for introducing and nurturing new voices. We will provide links to articles and books we think you might find interesting. We will showcase visual art and music. We hope to have something new almost every day and that you will enjoy looking at and listening to all of it. And please read Andrew’s expanded introduction letter of Two Mule Press below for more detail on what we hope to be when we grow up.

We are excited to be presenting new work and interviewing a number of new and established writers on our site. We couldn’t be happier to showcase some of their writing in our first posts. We will also be posting some of our own work in the interim because, well, it’s our site.

So come on, jump in the pool with us. Send us your work. Just don’t let us find you in the shallow end.

Letter From Andrew Brown, Co-Founder Two Mule Press:
“Why?” Good question. At first glance it might seem there are plenty of places for the aspiring writer to dip their toe into publication water. “What about literary journals, university presses, and established online sites?” These are all good places to explore, and most writers have been down their submission roads, but we have a somewhat different objective in mind.

Language anthropologists explain poetry grew out of storytelling as a way for groups to explain the mystery of life, and pose answers to those basic questions of mankind’s existence: Who am I, Why am I here, Where is here, What is this thing we call life, and certainly the most primal question of all, How did I get here? The poet/storyteller expanded the “I” of these questions to include the audience of the tribe into a “We”. Now we ask, who are we and are we the chosen ones?

As writers we find our writing driven by these same arcatypical questions, and in the classes and seminars we’ve attended, after hours, and over a beer, we find other writers struggling with the same urge to chronicle in stories and poems their unique vision of the world, and the tribe. As an example, here are the titles of a single poem and a short story we love and think illustrate what we are looking to rediscover in the writers we are appealing to for submissions.

James Dickey’s poem Cherrylog Road, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Clean Well Lighted Place. They have stood the test of time and there are many other writers we could list, both older and newer. Henry Roth, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Hugo, Raymond Carver, Philip Levine, James Baldwin, and Annie Proulx. New writers like Scott McClanahan, James Arthur, Philipp Meyer, and Tracy K. Smith, to name just a few of our current favorites.

If Two Mule Press is going to go anywhere it will be mostly up to the people who want to contribute their voices to the electronic longhouse where we hope the storytellers of our village will gather. Almost sixty years ago Marshall McLuhan told the world we would be linked by computers and instant communication into a global village. Bold words for a time when computers took up four floors of a university building. Now we have phones, tablets, text messaging, the Internet, and people corresponding in real time across the Ethernet of space. As poets and storytellers we think two old mules can create an electronic longhouse where writers can share and “post” their voices to ride on technology’s wind.

Our goal is to respond to everything sent to us (allow us some time for responses), to use everything we feel justified in using, to print the very best submissions, and that includes the graphic art some poets like to surround their poems with. All that we ask is that you love language and the mystery, power, and beauty of the word. Ideally, we would like every author who is comfortable doing so to submit their email address to be published with their work so readers may give feedback (this is not a requirement.)

So now you have a good idea of our plan. Send us your work. We look forward to reading it.  We hope you join us in the Longhouse.
– A.B.