Roy J. Beckemeyer
A Golden Shovel Poem after
Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”
There was no such thing as spare change. We
didn’t ask for pennies for candy. We really
did know the score. If we wanted heat on cool
mornings we needed to bank the fire at night. We
ate what was on our plates; there were no left-
overs. Walked through snow and rain to school.
Arrived on time, mostly, although some days we
dawdled, especially me. I would find a way to lurk
out of site, in an alley, and then get to school late.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how it is we
poor kids made it through. We were strike-
out kings, I suppose. We all seemed set to go straight
from school to work the mines. But dad fixed that. We
went together to the smelter. His friends would sing
out “Hey, Pal!” I thought he had it made. “It would be a sin,”
he said, “for you to work here. Look at us. We
break our backs shoveling coal. Paycheck too damn thin
to pay all the bills. Might as well rub a lamp, expect a Jin
to grant our wishes. You need school. Your mom and I, we
want more for you.” He liked country music. I chose jazz.
I didn’t know that he would be gone, that year, by June.
The leukemia took him quickly. It seems now that we
barely had him. He was too damned young to die.
You think you have a world of time, but it ends so soon.
When Is It Summer In Kansas?
When the wind sends your words
back into your throat as you speak them,
when the sun banks its heat up under
your hat brim, and the cool of morning
is lost in months past, when robins thirst
thirteen ways for water, and the first cicada
rasps at the heat before noon, when leaves
curl and click rather than brush against
one another in the breeze, and turtles
scratch at parched earth for moisture,
when heat wavers above roads in spasms,
when farmers disk spindly wheat back
into dusty ground, when foxes dig their
dens a little deeper, and earthworms
are nowhere to be found, when storm clouds
say with lightning what they refuse
to speak with rain.
will encircle nothing
but fallow ground
impoverished of hearts,
and contract only
when the earth’s clay
swells and shrinks.
in the way
your lungs burnish
to a brighter red
and your heart opens
and closes like a fist,
grasping at that
sending it off in spurts
to engorge arteries,
to sate cells.
Place your faith in
reliably climbing their
blue way back toward
alveoli and air.
Retired aeronautical engineer Roy Beckemeyer studies Paleozoic insect fossils. He also writes poems: they have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His poetry collection, “Music I Once Could Dance To” (Coal City Press, 2014), was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book, and he was a 2016 Pushcart nominee. He has recently agreed to serve on the RCP Editorial Board. Signed copies of Beckemeyer’s books may be purchased at his Author’s Page: royjbeckemeyer.com”