Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
3 Poems

Worn Out Place

that rut
in the carpet
of my soul

worry
worry
worry

and back again

can’t you see it
careful don’t fall in
quarantine old hat

for me
I shall not want
a shepherd

the world out of kilter
behind me
slams shut
a table
prepares itself
in the absence of mine enemies

anointing
I shall not want

the sheep
rattle chains
if only
you could hear them

a ghost I am
raggedy
threadbare
fluttering in the attic
of sanity

all the empty-hearted
drafty places
familiar
it’s my attic
after all
the world never visits

spring
summer
fall
winter

never knock
never wave back

I shall not want

don’t attempt
to tempt me

off my ledge
out of my furrow

yea I walk the valley
shadow death
fear thou art with me
rod and staff

yea though I thread
again
the worn-out place

I shall not want
green pastures
waters still
mine enemies cup
overrun
mercy all the days
in this house
I dwell

I shall
not want
righteousness

restoreth my soul
never
merciless all the nights

worry
worry
worry

can’t you see it
O can’t you

 

 

Night Falls

doors slam behind you
behind me doors retaliate

closing
slamming
do doors ever

open
whisper
the stars now ghosts
in our eyes
do we ever

find the key to what is us
stop this endless leaving
exit Exit X IT out
so many

doors
wide open when we moved in
one by one
we chop them down
kindle the pyre of misunderstanding
understanding all too well

the squeaky hinge
jamb out of plumb
cracked lintel
mislaid tools
the hiding of them sometimes

can we
feel the knob in our hands
comprehend the certainty of it
can we
turn it as if life depends on the turning
as if lives

in our eyes
night falls
and we turn

which way now

 

“Whipped Peter,” McPherson & Oliver, Union encampment, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, March 1863

The Last Slave

Who sold first
who purchased

African
Portuguese

does not matter
what matters

the spidery history
this man’s back

still with us
after all these

years
centuries

white knees
on black necks

nooses hanging
NASCAR garage doors

kneeling
standing

O say can you see
doesn’t matter

if the heart
is not in it

yours
mine

ours
feel the beating

bear the load
cry the tears

cut the chains
free at last

the last slave
the last master

this matters
O say can’t you see

I have a dream

 

*editor’s note: The poet uses the ekphrastic method, whereby the verse is meant to respond to a visual, either a photograph or traditionally a piece of art. In this case, the image of Peter appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1863 after he escaped slavery in Louisiana, making it to a Union Encampment in Baton Rouge.

For further information concerning slavery’s continued impact on the life of Americans today, visit Project1619 by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

 

Robert L. Dean, Jr. is the author of The Aerialist Will not be Performing: ekphrastic poems and short fictions to the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020), and At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). A multiple Best of the Net nominee and a Pushcart nominee for 2019, his work has appeared in Flint Hills Review, I-70 Review; Chiron Review; The Ekphrastic Review; Shot Glass; Illya’s Honey; Red River Review; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; River City Poetry; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; and the Wichita Broadside Project. He is event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music, held annually in Wichita, Kansas. He has been a professional musician, and worked for The Dallas Morning News. He lives in Augusta, Kansas.