Archive for the Mike James Category

Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on December 5, 2022 by Scot



Younger, I read signs, stayed off grass, picked no wild or house flowers
Older, I made my own signs of printed, block letter warnings
Now, I ignore instructions, forget absolutes, and give up old thoughts of home


It’s All So Brief

No more afternoon naps
Sweet, gauzy fantasies to wake from
No more magazines, well-travelled postcards,
Bookmarks, questionable motel beds
No more 2 am hemorrhoids even
No more after dinner holding-forth to impress friends, forbear silence
No purpose for ties, shoestrings, tomorrow’s shadows


Five Beds

The Rainmaker’s Bed
The head is in a desert mirage
The foot is in another mirage

The Summer Bed
The sheets are white linen
A beach is nearby
So there’s sand in the sheets
No one minds when happy

The Pillow Bed
Think of accordions
Playing on silence

The Winter Bed
It’s heavy like winter
You sleep beneath white snow & a black bear
The bear won’t wake until spring
The bear is warm beside the snow

The Canopy Bed
No one can paint on the ceiling
From a canopy bed

Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on June 9, 2022 by Scot



Postcard to Cecilia Woloch

I was leaving a country of rain for a country of apples. As always, I’d lost my way. There was only rain to guide me and I’d forgotten my brown umbrella and my good glasses. The wind was strong and the leaves fell and sometimes the wind made me think, Hurry. Other times I thought, Not Here. I kept looking for a halo of blackbirds. None appeared. Only the thought of the apples kept me going. There was a hunger I didn’t name. I kept thinking of apples and of sunlight on green open hills. I knew the hills were there, but not what they contained. I did not know if black birds were there. I did not know what would happen if I stretched out my wish filled arms and held them still. My hair might blaze down my shoulders and every rain soaked dream quietly bloom.

Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on March 3, 2022 by Scot


Under the Sign of the Lamp

For a very long time there was silence
People kept to themselves
Communicated with nods, unscripted gestures
The wind quit doing what the wind does
Even rain fell noiselessly

Then, one Tuesday, before afternoon’s midpoint,
A phonograph began to play in the attic
Of a large, old house everyone thought empty

Townspeople gathered beneath the attic window
The phonograph played an instrumental over and again
Some old women began to speak
At first, their voices all rasps and hollow bird cries
Very quickly they were singing the melody
At every refrain, they added and replaced words



What I Learned From Rocky Balboa

Staying upright is often enough.
Not all broken places heal the right way.
Say your fears out loud to those who love you most.
Everyone needs an Adrian.
Be thankful for big chances, cufflink turtles, and spaghetti.
Don’t forget to celebrate at the top of the steps.
There are so many steps.


Tell Me How You’re Doing

The horizon stays in place no matter how many steps I take.
There’s a dullness at the edge of every corner.
Nothing seems sharp. Even stars get blurry when I try to stare past.
I lose track of them when I count. And it stays night.
I get rejuvenated when I should sleep.
Also the reverse. One more puzzle I can’t fix.
Despite my recent wonderments, that hasn’t changed.






Mike James lives and works right outside Nashville, TN. His work has been widely published. His 20th collection, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021, will be published in April by Redhawk.

New Neighbors Didn’t Bring a Parade by Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on December 22, 2021 by Scot


All excited about your brand new house, you opened your blinds to find the Three Little Pigs built next door. A new mishmash abode of hay, sticks, brick, barbed wire, and tires. All this after your patent for turnip-flavored gumdrops was so quickly turned down. You thought a new house, replete with stucco splendor, would change your life’s trajectory. You mainly follow the corkscrew’s direction. Your thirsts are legion. If you knew the names for all your wants, you’d occupy every shadow. The only lingering gaze you get these days is from your mirror. It never talks back. At night you light scented candles by the dozen. It’s not enough to have a pleasant aroma. You have to see something burn.

Poetry of Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on June 1, 2021 by Scot



How Many Angels Can Dance on the Point of a Needle?


There was one needle all angels danced on
No measurements were taken
None were asked for
There was room for all the angels and twice as more
And still their laughter sounded like singing
And their sighs sounded like singing
Though none sang a lullaby
Not one angel slept or remembered sleep
If you asked what sleep was like they would say the white moon

Lew Welch Going Into the Mountains with His Rifle by Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on November 10, 2020 by Scot

for Jacob Johanson

He didn’t walk all the way to Mexico to see any dancers
He didn’t learn how the moon tastes in May rain
Or how to drink the sun off any green leaf

Some paths never circle back no matter how far they stretch
Even paths that reach above the tree line
Where clouds moisten breath

Two Poems by Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on June 3, 2020 by Scot


I have trouble doing the last bit. I can place one foot atop the other, nail them down pretty quick. Then my left hand isn’t much of a problem. Though I miss the nail a few times because carpentry isn’t my skill and because I can’t lean over fully, swing all in. The challenge is always my right hand. Once the rest of the work is finished, it waves around unpierced. There’s no clean way to nail it myself. I must always cajole some passing stranger through flattery, fetish, or father guilt. Luckily, on a busy street there’s always someone willing to step right up and nail it down



How This Autumn’s Been

Lately, I go out and walk in the morning woods. I look for
Rooms large as an acorn, large as the spider’s crystal palace.

I love words, but once feared religion. Thought the Devil was
Just God in long pants, hiding behind a fern in the next room.

You might have heard, the alphabet is a grand palace with
Many rooms. No need to guess my least favorite letters.

Many days, I have no direction. My compass is broke. I’m a small bird
In a grain silo, circling towards cracks of light as if each is another room.

One of these days, like everyone else, I’ll go away without packing.
There’ll be a few stones on my doorsteps. No key beneath a stone.

Four Poems by Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on August 24, 2019 by Scot
  • Night School for Cartographers


You start out tracing your hand, which is the first map any of us know. That’s the lesson plan for nine straight years. After that, you begin drawing your heart in all its many directions. People often drop out about this time. Some go back to the faucet drip of their old lives. Some run away to gag on swords in the circus. A few take enlightenment’s easy path as illustrated by matchbooks and local restroom graffiti.

The struggle to draw the heart comes from having to juggle with one hand while you draw with the other. Jugglers who love globes do best in class.

Stay a student long enough, eventually there’s no lesson plan. For your last seven years, there’s not even a teacher. If you make it to graduation, your diploma confirms you are lost.



“Where Do You Hide Your History?”


In the top hat of magicians. Sound too easy? It is. There’s a little box at city hall which says, Glass Broken for Emergencies. Like Medusa’s sleep cap, no one thinks to look there. Also, ditches. The more worn down the better. The best hiding-spots are in parts of town no one wants to go. A few say history is kept in a river. If that’s true, it’s a long and dirty one. Fish have short memories, but that’s often enough. You would think dreams are good storehouses. They aren’t. Images molt in first light. Plus, there’s a chance someone can read every dream a face holds.



Fallen Angel


The first job he took, after he quit Heaven, was at a butcher shop. His halo sliced meat pretty well. The shop owner liked the novelty, as did customers used to nothing more interesting than sausage plumpness. But, like even the best Broadway performance, the gig ended. The health department sent him out the door, amid the owner’s sobs and sighs. Halos are hard to clean, no matter how strong the disinfectant. Slicing with one violates regulations which date back before phone book popularity.

After the butcher shop, he became a cowboy. He tied a rope to his halo and called it a lasso. It worked almost as well as Wonder Woman’s golden lasso. Though she was from a different place.



A Good Day


That game where we pretend to be strangers and get married anyway. I think it’s called Paradox Heaven. Normally, it ends in a draw. Most days, we try to be angels though it’s hard not to curse in our prayers. Neither of us has a pedigree longer than a postage stamp. Family history is mainly a secret no one wants to share. On days when we don’t shoot stop signs we like to research circuses to run away to. Elephant riding is something we might enjoy. Like good cowboys we practice our gallop on broomsticks. If we don’t get splinters, we call it a good day.



Follow the Ground, Not the Sky


If I know where I’m going, I don’t get there faster. My pace doesn’t change.
I’m slow, unsteady. I can follow the sun, like on a mission, and still lose my way.

My past makes a trail I circle back to. Often, I meet an old self. Normally,
Look away. My satchel, stuffed with unsaid things, gets heavier and heavier.

Thunderstorms tell me the Devil is real. Lightening reminds me to shut
My eyes. Sometimes, I count or hold my breath. Sometimes, I play pretend.

I never gave the Devil up. He’s always around the next corner or ready
To steal my shadow if I turn away. He carries the long list of my fears.

In a way, the Devil is my oldest friend. If that sounds sad, it is. There’s
Never been an angel on my shoulder. Not once. And my shoulders are thin.

1978 by Mike James

Posted in Mike James with tags on May 9, 2017 by Scot

my grandmother burned her outhouse down
insisted, at last, on indoor plumbing

my brother quit high school, amid my
father’s curses and my mother’s sighs,

joined the navy which sent him nowhere
more exotic than california in his three years

uncle mason finished building his fishing boat
used scrap lumber (called it crap lumber)

a heart attack took him the next summer
aunt virginia left the boat to rats and squirrels

around the world jim jones led the guyana mess
also a new pope came and left, quickly, in rome

i learned how to peddle my bike downhill
saw superman three times with my then best friend