Author Joseph Heywood
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Autumn, South of Dodge [The Epic Version]

No frog-stranglers in a month or more,
the leaves a listless red and gold,
too dry for pat hunting,
fresh bear scat ripe with dry berries
on the two-track out by Frenchman's Swamp,
taken as a warning.  I'm wet to the skin
under my wools, too hot for hunting birds
and no damn dog, Toodles back home
content to sniff the behinds of strangers
or take a nap in the bright light
of Indian summer, leaving me
to cope alone, the lazy bitch.

Stuffed the twelve-gauge in its case,
in the bed of the truck,
bounced the Triple A road to Lost Glory,
a sandy crossroads with a tavern
and sign, Food (Pasties fresh-made)
and Drink & Live Bands & Bait and Ammo,
one-stop shopping, no name
but known the way
good steelhead holes
are known up here,
by what they offer,
not what they're called.

Tish the Dish behind the bar,
fondling the glassware. Nighttimes
she swallows long-neckers no hands,
labels and all, leering lasciviously
at the possibilities.  Few takers though,
the Dish's old man's a carver
doing time Down Below
for taking the fingers off an insurance man
from Ishpeming, fiftiesh with three kids,
caught with his right hand
spelunking under Tish's pleats
in the parking lot after closing time
her old man supposed to be off
jack-lighting deer,
and so bloody much for plans and alibis
when you mess with married women.

Prancing behind the redwood bar
in a red miniskirt shorter than my imagination
and a halter top stretched past its warranty.
Shadows of black hair under her bare arms,
Tish Dish, Earth Goddess in eternal estrus,
worse I heard since her old man went off. 
How come they call this the temperate zone
with the mercury running
from a hundred above and change in summers
to seventy below some winters,
now ninety when it ought to be less than half that?

I tell her:  Gimme a Shorts and
a double-Jack shooter.
I confess I don't mind a look
at those legendary legs,
but hereabouts you need to mind
your business or lose it. 
I don't mind random violence
long as I assign the P-factor. 

Behind me there's six pool tables
and an old coot named Lute Maki
shooting nine-ball with a carrot top,
buck a game, the sort of man-boy
intimate with the entrails of Motor City beaters. 
Can't tell the score, but there's an edge to the game. 
Cold-blooded folk need their cold
to keep the hot blood in its place. 
Absent cold, we're all
awash in a murdering mood. 
In August I don't talk
if the thermometer's up,
but this is October
and ninety, something's in the air
like a storm getting up its head
on the taiga of upper Manitoba.

Not long till I seen a dollar bill flitty-floating, a crinkled quaky-leaf fluttering indecisively toward the tabletop, green on green, the move of a green gamer, done in youthful ignorance, the wrong move when it's ninety in October and too hot to think.  No time for gawking:  I drop cash on the cork-scarred bartop, pause at the door below a blinking Budweiser sign, hear a pool cue snap against something hard, an angry killer bee, bred in Brasilia or Benton Harlem, something with the hard-nosed, no-nonsense directness of a denizen of the Cass Corridor.

Tish the Dish is all legs
on the slippery hood of my truck,
her little feet in red dancing slippers
clawed into the bumper for purchase,
her chin down hang-doggy.
Hey you, she says, I need wheels,
a ride you know, over to my place
on the Yellow Dog Plains
just outside Dodge City.  You it?

Dunno, I say, tell the truth,
your old man and such,
bad odds even for the innocent of heart
and him caged like a rogue bear
in some house of corrections that won't take. 
I ain't no gambler, sweet cakes.

My old man ain't no prob,
not no longer, not since last night
when some nigger gutted him brisket to balls
with a butter knife strop-honed
in the stamp mill where they make the license plates,
opened him up and poured gasoline
into his belly, they tell me, lit him on fire and watched. 
Dead men don't chop off no fingers, Mister. 
Do I get that ride or what?

I confess to a weakness
for long-legged women
in red dancing shoes
who can swallow long-neckers,
no hands, labels and all. 
I don't mind if you don't, I tell her.

I figured it would turn bad
when he went up with rump rangers
and rapists, he was just a country boy
who knew a good knife when he saw it. 
Live by the blade, die by the same.
I hear it's in the Bible
somewhere, though I'm not much on churches
or unlimited arc slo-pitch softball."

Her shack had two floors
outer walls of black tar paper
tacked on by pine strips
and rusty nails like a faded blackboard; the yard spilling
flotsam and jetsam, piles of soup cans,
derelict automobiles twisted on their sides,
a pack of black dogs that sang at the sight of her. 
Up this way where appearances
don't count, people dump what they have to
outside the back door in winter
to let the snow cover it up
and come spring there's so much
to do more pleasing than policing
they don't have the will to finish. 
Not finishing is something
we know about.

She says, You should know
that the dew of lust gathered
heavy in my short hairs when I was fourteen.
It set me in the fornicating mood,
and that's the truth, but I ain't loose, Mister.
You lay a hand on me, my dogs'll eat
fresh red meat tonight.  You want a brandy?
I wouldn't mind a sit on the stumps out back,
to enjoy the weather
and civilized conversation
about the effects of the moon
on the migration of glaciers.

Above a dutch oven made of red sandstone,
I see a black mantel and blue Mason jars
filled with the pale fingers of men
with poor timing or bad luck.
Don't fret, she says.  They ain't
my idea of Better Homes and Garters.  You want,
give 'em to the dogs to hold 'em till supper."
She sat stark naked on a red and white
personal flotation device
stuffed into the top of a pine stump.

Used to be a whole forest here,
dandy white pines tall as the sky
until that winter so cold
it started them to blowin' up
at two in the morning
and all the dogs howling scared shitless,
like a firefight, my old man said,
not the one got gutted, but before him. 
I never stay with one too long
on account of men try to take you over. 
You ever take over a woman,
steal her soul?
No doubt you have, all men do.  Indians say
when you've given up your soul
a dozen times, you lose it forever. 
Generally I don't put much stock
in Indian gibberish, since I seen
how they can't handle ferments,
but they ain't like us,
so you never know. 
How's that brandy?

Not exactly what I wanted
on a ninety-degree day
in October.  Good, the best.
Shapely long legs get you
to dishing out compliments
the same way your leg pops up
when the doctor
gives you a smack
on the knee.

Lose them clothes, Hon. 
How come you're dressed
so warm on a day like this?
Sat there on the stumps, drinking brandy,
sweat running out our pores,
a dog barking lazily now and then,
us too.

You leave me I'll kill myself,
she said after a long silence. 
Said with flashing eyes
and only the hint of a smile.
Cause of your old man?
Cause of I feel like it. 
Tired of getting left so maybe
it's time I do the leaving
especially when I can see by your pecker
you're only here for the brandy. 
I'm all alone, mister, a gig I done plenty.
I never been much on mourning,
except for dogs.  I seen your eyes
back there in the tavern,
seen what you wanted. 
I never been able to say no
to a man who wants me bad as that.
Slid off her perch, walked toward me. 
I never been straight
on all this business about heaven. 
You think they take in felons up there?
Not that he'd be such a great addition. 
He'd go sweet on some poor thing
and the first time Jesus set eyes on her
he'd be lopping off the Lord's fingers. 
That'd make a mess for sure. 
Imagine the Lord having to bless people with stumps. 
Still, a man gets killed for no reason,
they ought to be sendin' him off to heaven
even if he's gonna make a mess.  You think?
I got this way of just sayin'
whatever pops into my mind.
Gets me in trouble sometimes.
You believe people should suffer,
like their brains all filled with cancer
and babbling about some sulky
they used to bet the beer money on?
If I was in pain
I'd want somebody to off me.
You think I'm slanky? 
I hear that lots round last call,
drunked-up men whispering, You so slanky-hot,
like that bad bitch Madonna
with the aluminum titties.

I seen the Queen of the England
once, over to the Soo, she weren't no skank.
If I get off to sleep don't be fearin'
I can't find my way back to the shack.
I walked that trail many a night
and couldn't say I'd a wanted
it any other way.
I been in crowds when I was alone
and alone when I was in crowds
and mostly I don't like any numbers
over the sum of two so if you're
interested in something more than the sights
this might be the time to
be declarin' your intentions
in words a girl can't get
mixed up in her brandy.

Gentlemen don't talk out of school,
so let's leave it at this:
I confess to a weakness
for long-legged women
in red dancing shoes
who can swallow long-neckers,
no hands, labels and all. 

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