Alice’s Poetry

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Tax Season Tuesday

Winner: Honorable Mention in the 2020 Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest

After one kid brushes her teeth,
tucks in by 9:10 p.m.,
I rush to clean four dishes
before my tax accountant husband returns
to our unmopped kitchen at 11:07 on April 13
while the guinea pig contemplates tough decisions:
Should I eat hay, pellets or carrots?
I work best without sound,
the TV remote grows in kind dust
on the sticky coffee table,
surrounded by long hairs—either mine or my daughter’s.
My feet stick to cereal bits and popcorn nubs and cracker crumbs—
teenage son strikes again,
the other guinea pig.
I like falling asleep on the couch,
I like having the bed to myself,
I cry at night so no one can see
me counting down to April 15.

Bottom Drawer

Published in Kakalak 2018

Bottom Drawer

Dad tore into my room without knocking—drunk?
I’ll rip that book apart if I see it again!
It wouldn’t be the first or last time he dad-handled
anything he didn’t approve of.
He saw the photos of dogs and marchers.
So I hid the library book in my bottom drawer
among the too-short jeans and worn-out socks.

Eleven years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death,
I’m investigating the fire hoses, Dobermans, black
and white people holding hands.
Dr. King had to keep changing his shoes,
and spent over a week in jail.
Even in third grade I understood he fought
something bigger than him,
and he died for it like JFK, RFK, and John Lennon.

My grandmother used to tell us
about our noble Scottish and English ancestry:
bishops and generals and slave owners.
How we are better than everyone else.
Is it my fault I’m hated at school?
I sigh the book into my backpack, cover down.

I know I’m different when Dad says,
They need a strong hand to keep them in line.
Who? Did he mean Jews, blacks, feminists,
liberals, Democrats—me?

Put Some WD-40 On That Bad Boy

Honorable Mention in the Franklin County Arts Council Writers Guild Carolina Writing Contest 

For only four dollars get rid
of bugs, squeaky hinges, and your social anxiety
with this yellow can of aerosol miracle
that’s small enough to fit into
your pocket for any emergency.
Car falling into a lake. Check.
Breaking into your own house. Check.
Starting a fire. Check. Safecracking.
Removing pythons from your leg.
In case of zombie attack:
use the hinged straw for spraying in their eyes.
An aging MacGyver uses it for relieving arthritis,
extracting “Clinton/Gore” bumper stickers
and conditioning his cat’s fur.

Oh, genie, where were you these times?
Sleeping in my Mustang
because of a friend’s sticky lock.
Getting blamed for crashing
my family’s Commodore 64,
a clunky PC with power source issues.
Breaking my grandmother’s toilet lid
at age two. Embarrassing testimonials—be gone!

WD-40 will remove crayon marks and gum,
tame the ozone layer, purify water,
lubricate mankind for gender and racial parity,
in one squirt with a click
of an Amazon “buy” button.

Superman’s out of a job.

Hunger Is

2nd Place Winner in the 2017 Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest

a plastic bag in May
waltzing across bare parking lots.
The neighborhood’s tarred up telephone poles
drenched in sepia and creosote
trap famished flies.

Can hunger be strength;
a willful dance
of power, denial, refusal?
Stop your whining
and do your writing instead
of distracting yourself
with cheese sticks and lightly salted peanuts!
Eat and eat. Never be satisfied.
If you don’t eat?
You won’t die—this isn’t The Grapes of Wrath.

You need courage not to give
into buying more Amazon T-shirts,
sustainable striped scarves,
more cookbooks for all the uses
of buttermilk. But yes to more drinking books
about the history of whiskey—
how does the angels’ share
evaporate more drops in Kentucky than Scotland?
Another hour lost to heavy alcohol study.

Hunger locks you into the future,
but also the past. Can’t leave
this place of neither up or down.
Meditate? Contemplate?
Without attention you’ll wither
like those angry grapes. Or starving insects.
You don’t want to eat silence.
You want bacon. Fried, please, with the crispy
ends covered in pimiento cheese.
You know, the homemade kind.

Split Level

Honorable Mention in the 2016 Flyleaf Books Poetry Contest

I’m five years old;
Mom talks to me
because of the dress-up dress I wear.
Yanked from a box in our basement,
the one-shouldered drape
smothers me in damask.
A black rosette bursts out
in moiré on the single shoulder—
to tickle my neck.

While we sit knee-to-knee
on our split level’s stairs,
Mom tells me she had once wanted
to commit suicide.
The top of her head
kisses the cheap iron banister
that has just wounded
my baby brother’s chin after a fall.

I bought that dress when I decided
I couldn’t go through with it.

She reaches out to pinch the stiff fabric,
green eyes caught in some place
called the Sixties and France.
I was so skinny back then, you know,
before you kids.

My brother cries upstairs,
so she leaves me wallowing
in her suicide dress.
I applaud her fear of suffocation,
blood and the unknown.
I’ve just learned from Bible school
I will die and my nightmares
where I’m caught without escape
in a basement fire only reinforces this.

I wish I could tell her about my dream,
but I’m afraid she’ll tell me hers.

Domestic Duties

This poem was selected by Poetry in Plain Sight, a program in Winston-Salem that displays poetry on posters in over 20 locations throughout Winston-Salem’s Arts District and downtown, as well as in transit buses. The goal is to bring poetry to a wider audience and to support North Carolina poets.

(For Billy Collins)

You are the coffee mug and the honey,
the wax and the sponge,
and the pink roses blushing against our house.
You are the laundry folder, the trash collector,
the dishwasher, and the Barbecue King.

However, you are not the mop,
the vacuum cleaner or the Fantastik.
You are certainly not the water
running down our tap
into my used Dasani bottle.

It is possible you are the old ice cubes
in our freezer. Maybe you’re even
the Tupperware containers tumbling
on the floor every other day.
Perhaps you resemble the pear trees
in our front yard, but not quite.
Not quite.

Speaking on the imagery of the domestic world,
I am the sound of coffee brewing at 6:30 am on Monday.

I also am the soft eggs
you break in the metal bowl,
the milk you taste in your coffee
and the lemon you bisect for our evening tea.

I am also the glass vase, the dishtowels,
and the ironing board.
But don’t worry,
I am not the coffee mug and the honey,
nor the roses that bloom for a few days.
You must always be the rose I place in my vase.

A Six-Year-Old Reads The Watership Down Film Picture Book

Third Place in the Caldwell Nixon Jr. Award (Judge Shaindel Beers)
Sponsored by the family of Sallie Nixon

Poems written by adults for children 2 to 12 years of age

At the end of the thick book
I find bad rabbit General Woundwart’s
blackened-blue bloodshot eyes
and foaming muzzle and bloody paws.
The jacket cover is the hero rabbit Bigwig
caught in a snare, tongue dangling,
more blood dribbling down his fur.
I feel a direct kinship—
Dad calls me “rodent” when I am good.

Before the rabbits get blessed with fast legs
their god tells them:

All the world will be your enemy,
Prince with a Thousand Enemies,
and whenever they catch you they
will kill you. But first they must catch you.

I never tell my parents how I shove
the spine turned upside down
in my book case, on the bottom shelf,
so I can’t see it from my twin bed.

Perhaps I want to out-trick death.
Perhaps I want to understand it.

My Spiral Staircase

Second Place Winner in the Bank of the Arts 2015 Juried Exhibit

The scrub brush holds tight against Highway 17’s medians
as billboards scream “Free T-shirts” and “All U Can Eat Crab Cake Buffets.”
Fog lifts against my red, spoiler-free Mustang
as I escape the blue blood spinnakers of Charleston, and find Myrtle Beach:

a mecca of hemp necklaces, tongue piercings, dragon and butterfly
tramp stamp tattoos, Ron Jon Surf Shop.
I search for my first apartment in the classifieds
and find only condos with rust stains,
blinds cracked and broken, flood marks
a foot above sickly dentist green carpets.
Low ceilings and white-framed pastel acrylics of beaches,
the ones where the girl forever
chases her pink hat in pampas grass.
I scrape my heels on weeds outside —
none of that place gets into my car.

Driving past the Century 21 office, I do an illegal U-ie
after seeing “Rent Specials.”
Don’t even need the key to F312 Possum Trot Road,
since painters opened the door and load up their brushes in milk white.
I pause to see a skylight,
golf course view, mirrored closets, 30-foot high ceiling,
two torn couches, missing chandelier lights, broken toilet seat.

I climb the spiral staircase, a whorl of shell
that weaves economy in the 450-square foot loft.
A single strand of DNA. A birthright?
No more living with passive-aggressive parents, boyfriends or cats.
When I write the $575 deposit check, I see the staircase
curling up to my scented candles and purple lava lamp.
As I descend, a baluster flakes and peels black dust
in my left hand: skin shedding and reforming.
Like the sunburns I won’t let myself get here at the beach.
It’s time to skim the railing with my right hand
against the single center pole.
It’s time to find me.

Rogue Tissue

Pilcrow and Dagger Aug/Sept 2015

The twisted tissue loves to turn
inside her back and jump
into the soft jelly between
degenerated L-4 and L-5 discs.
Press, pulse and pound on the nerve root—
what fun to play outside the jelly mold;
to emerge from the bone spurs like a worm
after the rain, smelling of panic and dark earth.

Stop the stiffness before prime time,
hard like Sunday morning bagels on Tuesday.
What is sleep? Face in the pillow,
microwaved rice in a soft blue bag
gives up its loose position before dawn.
Coffee at 2 p.m. so she won’t drive drowsy.

Don’t make her end up like
the young old man in the square
who grips the back of the bench
with his left hand, shifts his weight
to his right foot and grips his
muddy brown cane in his right,
trudging forward at the end of his downtown lunch hour.

Could her attacker’s color be blue
like the waiting room?
Couches, bed rails, blankets and scrubs.
Or white like her nurse’s hair
who dies a year later from ovarian cancer.
The doctor saws and sews the taut skin
up into a clean lip line.
The oozing scar a centipede
searching for a crumb on a moonless night.
The pain is gone, save a shadow.
She still hugs the headboard
when rising to meet her day.

Entreaty to Young Editors

Forthcoming in Flying South 2015

Remember, folks, the delete key is your whacker
against acyrologia. You’ve killed a roach before, right?
Same thing.

Mr. Fornaciari, my sixth grade English teacher,
grew up poor in Boston and watched I Love Lucy re-runs
every day after school. When roaches crawled over his legs
he smooshed them with a tennis racket.
He said they smelled like apples gone bad.

Back in college and high on pot,
I flung a giant roach off my balcony
by making a toe claw with my right foot.

Years later while hosting an open mic
in downtown Raleigh,
Some in our audience jumped
like marionettes caught in turbulence.
Before the fat sucker could slink into a wall crack,
I killed him with the sign-up clipboard.

Compadres, to be a great editor,
lay waist all over the keyboard,
in your intimate and fare wisdom,
ring your fingers as the fumes
waif their decent and whale
like Lucy gobbling palates
of chocolate roaches
too sweet for her pallet.

How to Remove a Carpet Stain

Published in Carolina Woman Magazine

The Big Dipper splotch
mocks me at the top of the stairs
guarding the bathroom, delighting in permanence.
Not coffee, tea or dirt.
Motor oil perhaps, but how the hell
did a member of my household
spill fuel from their hands or a plastic cup
before going to bed? Boiling water,
baby shampoo, toothbrush, prayer.
This stain is like a pole dancer
clinging to carpet fibers
before closing time.

I call the carpet guys
and they blame me for playing
Lady Macbeth. But in the wetness
of now scrubbed wall-to-wall,
the stain remains, a hero who
remembers that moment
of glory when strangers’ thoughts
only centered on him
and now refuses to disappear.

Always on Sundays

Published in Pilcrow and Dagger

Next to the Safeway
where Dad got his Washington Times,
we graced the doors of the Church of Marvel,
aka Joe’s Books.
No speaking allowed in the dusty sanctuary
where the congregation gathered
by the racks of fresh comics out every Wednesday.
While in the back,
next to the “Sacks are Loaded” baseball card trading dude,
my father ingested new history tomes
dumped off by a World War II widow.

Joe often oversaw the service
from behind a wooden podium, no inkling
all comic book men hereafter will clone
themselves after his chubby stomach, beard
and supreme fondness for faded KISS T-shirts.
Every Sunday I searched for Star Wars #65
in the back issues bins with Leia and her blaster—
the one Dad ripped up in front of me
when I was nine. Never found it.
While cleaning the register glass, Mrs. Joe
yelled at me if my index finger
initiated a turn of the cover—who wants
to buy a sucky book? Her limp brown hair,
glasses and ponytail every week reminded me of shame,
but I prayed to this kind of religion.

Cooper River Bridge

published in Broad River Review

Alongside thousands
of other bridge runners,
our bodies block the clear Charleston
sky and sea, as the eroding marshland
curls green beneath.

This pylon of silver,
its rivets like buttons on an old man’s plaid shirt.
Billed birds cry to their companions,
scraping the brown muck of pluff mud
from their wings. That musty smell’s
all in my drinking water,
algae compounds leaving spots on my wine glass.
They say refrigerate your tap water—
for a nice, clean taste.

Where would the Holy City
be without its liquid economic engine,
but also its brakes—high tides flood
downtown streets anytime it rains more than an inch.
“Rain bombs” overload the drainage systems.
And it’s only going to get hotter.

I wipe sweat, adjust my hair clip.
A fellow runner in jean shorts and a dirty tank top praises,
Thank you, Jesus! as we lean our feet
into that first grueling hill,
built to accommodate container ships,
their minds hold nothing
but air and steel, port and prayer.

Chorus: The Hero of Acheron

Kakalak 2014 

Against our constant warnings,
You have 5 minutes to evacuate!
she descends in the elevator,
shedding her blue jacket, shedding her mind-killers—
always watchful with her duct-taped
pulse rifle and flame thrower to rescue
the girl, her Persephone from
the Queen of the eggs.
This Demeter is something of an immortal—
while in cryo-sleep she outlived her Earth daughter
and once returned to her planet, chose
a space station’s safe orbit, refusing
to walk barefoot in the prairie grass
or view stars burning with death.

She brings her own star justice to the Queen’s eggs,
dripping with mucous as one hatches…
saving the girl before the pomegranates eat her.
Angels hum to the sulfured air.
The two rise to the unstable surface,
what was rage in her descent is now fear.
You have 2 minutes to evacuate!
This wounded goddess could lose everything;
she’s fighting gods with their own agendas—
before it was only her and her vengeance.
You have 30 seconds to evacuate!
The android Hermes flies
to mother and daughter before enfolding them
aboard the Sulaco as the dead world explodes.
The humans and near human flinch
to shock waves rising higher and higher
in the moon’s atmosphere.
But all we know Hades won’t let
Persephone ever leave
the underworld.

LBJ Takes Off

Comstock Review Fall/Winter 2014

Goddammit, all I want is a cigarette.
Everyone else is smoking,
what a sweat lodge, all shades closed up tight.
Boil at the back of my neck’s gonna explode.
No one leaves Dallas till I say the word.
Our tents’ve been raided and our horses hobbled.

The morning team’s out of office for good,
but hell if I’m the chief in the Irish mafia’s mind.
So come on over, honey, get up from the bed,
I’m not about to stage a coup.
That’s right, all the ladies ‘round me,
Lady Bird, Judge Sarah, sweet, sweet Jackie.

My hands don’t shake, but hers do. Mercy.
They’re bare, white—still lots of blood
on her pink outfit,
but now don’t see anything
but the flashbulbs. Thank God
for the smoke, or the smell
she carries would kill us again.

So help me God!
I shout over the howling engines.
swearing on this stand-in Bible
Jackie snatched from the bedroom’s nightstand.

Hatches shut tight
the Colonel shoots us so hard
out of Love Field we’re like
a Comanche’s lance,
driving its steel point
into our surprised throat.

Boba Fett at the Chick-fil-A in Hickory, North Carolina

Published in Quantum Fairy Tales Fall/Winter 2014

My spent leg drags over the brown tile,
as graceful as a Bantha.
Sure, the Mandalorian body armor holds
my knee together, but I’m getting too old for this shit.
Tired of the nights camped out in my truck,
waiting for skips to duck out.
Tired of combing through databases till 3 a.m.
looking up license plates.
Tired of dressing up as a UPS dude
to gain access into their double-wides.
Eating nothing but Snickers for three days.

A large grilled chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Large, please.
A tall Coke. No ice. Hold the pickles. To go. Thanks. 

I hit the head and run into
a 2 x 6 Day-Glo painting with Jeremiah 29:11 in bold print:

For I know the plans I have for you,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.

It’s laughable like weak coffee, the garish rabbits and rainbows.
but I can’t unsee it.
AA meetings taught me to accept the things I cannot change,
like my father’s murder or Han freakin’ Solo.
Hardship is the pathway to peace, they say.
Doling out violence and fear are my defaults
and my sponsor knows I still can’t surrender to anyone.
Perhaps I need new expectations.
Holding the door for an old man in a Braves hat,
I keep my eye out for movement among the parking lot pines
and mutter a tiny prayer while backing out by the Drive-Thru.
And an even bigger one when I take a bite
to drive east into the sun.
Telling myself this ketchup on my armor is real,
even if the past isn’t.

Meeting the Devil in Myrtle Beach outside Woody’s, Hwy 17

Published in Referential Magazine
Nominated for a 2012 Best of the Net Award
Buy the Track from CDBaby

Aren’t I the one you’re looking for? he greeted me
at the restaurant door. I should have done laundry
or zoned out to VH1 instead of meeting friends for beers.
Who was this man with a bald head shaped like a squash,
a nimble slug in a Dick’s T-shirt and jean shorts.

Who could be this fugly with such confidence?
I didn’t mean to nod at, Do you like dancing?
He poked me with questions about lasagna. White or red?
He told me I preferred a bloody cardinal vintage.
Karaoke? He knew I sang every Wednesday night. Then
he asked me about any hoop piercings in my lady parts.
A smirk from his thick, swine lips. You look like you have
a thick clit. How could he know or not know?
He smelled of Brut and Bensons & Hedges, not brimstone,
but, oh, yes, it was time to leave and take a different way home.

Damn my good manners.
Damn the concrete attached to my black mules.
Damn my shitty dating pool at this tourist trap.
Damn my heart’s echoes.

I didn’t mean to vaporize seven minutes from my life.
I didn’t mean to never forget his face.

August 31, 1997

in After the Steaming Stops     

Thanks to the front page,
I found out like most people did:
how she lay dying in a Paris tunnel,
how the impact raked her in like soft hay in a baler.
With Binky the Siamese cat plopped on my lap,
I stop spreading strawberry jam on rye toast,
his skin folds and dusty white fur escaping over the print.
I wish he could lick all of that black type and spit up
a vicious hairball I’d shovel inside wet beach sand.

Loss reminds you about change,
and what you are willing to throw away.

One week later it’s too early
for the calls of pelicans and egrets,
as I drive to a friend’s home on Folly Beach
to view the prince-demanded funeral. I could
have watched at home, but her day demanded witnesses.
My boyfriend didn’t know who she was
and couldn’t understand her power.

It’s the second time in 18 years
I’ve set my alarm to see such pageantry.
Eight horses carry the hearse
instead of the bridal carriage.
I cry more for her than I did
for any family death. I cry
for another death coming.

I see it’s time for me to move out of his place,
tell him what he’s afraid to say,
and take his fat cat and a few towels in the parting.

Ice Cream Party

Enjoy a taste of Alice’s award-winning poetry!

Award Winner, Poetry Council of North Carolina

Pale plaid dresses brush
against pink walls, patent leather
Mary Janes kick white tiles.
Two balloons escape into rafters,
and I haven’t tasted even a teaspoon of ice cream.
I won’t, not on this day.
My third birthday, high voices
squeal above the store’s door chime.
Hands clap—my mother’s—
demanding silence. Guests disappear
like popped bubbles. The girls go home
because I’m not behaving my mother says.
I never find out what I did wrong,
but I remember her saying:
I love you, but sometimes I don’t like you.

For a long time I feared the chance
of friends leaving early.
Will anyone love me when they know me?
Will they show up at my parties?

Now after a decade of marriage and two children,
I fear my tongue-sealed invitations
go unanswered. While cradling white wine
I don’t want anyone to leave me.
I smile too wide, needy for crammed rooms.

The King of Cool Looks at Fifty

published in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, April 2012

I idle my bike in this empty field,
dry as a Southern Baptist wedding.
I cough from the exhaust and
the scorched wildflowers on the edges
smell wasted, me on pot.
Don’t smoke, don’t drink anymore…
My body’s given up way before telling me the score.

As a kid, I don’t remember my mother much,
and I never met my father.
He saw me on TV as Josh Randall
on Wanted: Dead or Alive,
priming the “Mare’s Leg,”
and never bothered to call.
Uncle Claude threw me
against walls on Sunday nights
after spending the day drinking Bushmills.
Saturday mornings he taught
me how to shoot ‘em
rabbits and squirrels
in that shitty dump
I had to leave.

Mom showed up,
I couldn’t stand her.
Her dyed blonde hair, legs up in the air
men passed through her
like watches at a pawn shop.
At twelve, I was tumbleweed that blew into Chino,
the reform school where I
was never tall or strong enough,
yet hit hard without hurting my right hand.
(My first two wives would agree)

When I made it in The Magnificent Seven
I asked Big Money to give
soap and jeans to the Chino boys.
Yeah, man, I worked my own stunts,
almost filmed me and not Bud jumping my bike
over the barbed-wire fence.
My dune buggy ride
made Ed Sullivan piss his pants.

They needed to know I drove the Mustang,
I always get the last word,
don’t they know?
Maybe they could fail
but I couldn’t.
When I die, it’ll be
frontpage news.

Ode to Hamburger Helper

Honorable Mention Winner in the 2012 Carolina Woman Writing Contest

Come to me my enriched pasta and rice,
packaged cheese and red powdered sauce—
I pull out the milk and water for you
on school nights when the kids
are starving for Beef Pasta or Crunchy Taco.
My husband prays for your buck a box special at Food Lion,
a week of dinners—just kidding—but seriously,
I did you three times a week
when we were first married.

Well-meaning friends demand I open
a cookbook once in a while—
there’s way too much salt
and MSG in your gloved Helping Hand boxes,
evoking a certain late pop star.
They tell me to avoid your yellow starches,
cook real pasta and veggies—forego the quick prep.
Run past Aisle 4—“Prepared Foods”—run!
And what the hell are you doing in Food Lion anyway?

They can keep their organic carrots and hand cut pasta;
I’ve got 27 Box Tops to collect for my son’s school.
I blame my mother—oh, I know, but it’s true!
She created all from scratch,
spent hours in the kitchen, and nary a Helper or a Kraft
noodle crossed my lips till I was 20.
Like skirts, pendulums swing
and I love your Italian, Chicken and Asian Helpers
over browned lean beef.

I promise not to burn you.

Alice Osborn will help you get your novel published and adored by your readers

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Alice Osborn
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