Archive for the Scott Owens Category

13 Ways of Places by Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on August 3, 2011 by Scot

The first place I remember —
a wide chair, 2 babies
in the seat, my brother and I
astride each arm.

A place we came back to
year after year, every time
a man left or hit us,
7-acre farm full of chickens,
corn, cows, tomatoes,
2 boys in 2 single beds.

On Phoenix Street, behind the KFC,
I learned to ride a bike,
and when the trash can
caught on fire,
I was beaten for lying
until it blew up.

My mother’s nose is bloodied,
my brother saved by not
being able to reach the gun,
every night punctuated by trains
going anywhere but here.

What could be better
than a bedroom of my own,
window onto a wide front porch,
until a lovesick neighbor
knocked on the door at night,
pulled a gun
and emptied his stomach before me.

No doubt the worst place
we ever lived,
downhill from everywhere,
a place for runoff to collect.

The streets here breathe
with overarching steam.
Night and day
the rumbling of machinery
causes voices to rise.

This close to history, to other,
I had to teach myself the language,
find ways to venture down the Rhine,
south to mountains
without my family’s help.

Little wonder I got out early.
What does it say of a marriage
to remember nothing that matters
of the places it lived?

Who could use a house
with 7 bedrooms, 5 baths?
Who could keep it clean,
living on campus
in the Headmaster’s house,
myself master of nothing.

I always wanted to write
poems of place,
but having lived
in 14 cities, 34 houses,
I never knew
which place to write about.

Nearing 48,
the seventh year in this house,
the longest I’ve ever lived
in one place, I undertake
the permanence of a treehouse,
the only structure I’ve ever made.

Even as a child I knew,
left alone, I would walk out
in Cade’s Cove and lie down
and wait for deer to consume
my body turned to grass.


Two Poems by Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on July 23, 2011 by Scot

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sir (or Madam),
The life that you sent me doesn’t work.
I’m returning it herein
and expect a full refund.
Please find enclosed the following:
One clueless mom;
she tries but really can’t manage
(perhaps future models
should come with fewer children
and greater self-esteem);
Three men who want to be called
Daddy but don’t deserve the title
(please note the cowardice,
drunkenness, rage and stupidity
they bear were not of my doing);
One tattered file of memories
undoubtedly inaccurate and incomplete;
One crummy job after another;
One string of failed relationships,
all my fault;
One disappointing body wracked
with pain, guilt, confusion;
One shattered set of ideals;
An indeterminate number
of vague promises, uncertain
answers; One bag of dreams,
empty but unfulfilled.


Just What the Hell Is

black and white? I mean
Billy Mays is dead and still
trying to sell me armbands
that hold nails and hammer,
Jupiter Jack, Awesome
Auger, Instant Scratch
Remover, I mean we
celebrate Christopher Columbus
because he discovered
a continent already populated
by millions and then  tried
to kill, rape, convert, enslave
those millions, I mean
what part of Christian theology
isn’t prefigured
by stories from other religions
condemned by Christian theology
because their stories weren’t
Christian, I mean is everything
as arbitrary as one-fourth
human, one-eighth black,
one-sixteenth native-American,
and I had a student once
who claimed pure blood
because she was descended
from the von Trapp family,
I mean am I the only one
who remembers
that Maria was an orphan?

Do me a favor,
if you’re not comfortable
with the definition of river
being constantly changing
molecules of water roughly
bordered by eroding banks,
the pull of gravity,
and the saturation point
of muddy soil, then just
shut the hell up!

Featured Poet–Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on March 27, 2011 by Scot

How to Make Sure Your Boys Stay Boys

Raise them to be tough
and self-sufficient.
Don’t coddle them
or accept excuses.
Don’t dote or pamper
or get excited
about anything they do.

Demand persistence,
ambition, grit,
and absolute obedience.

If they fall down,
tell them to get up.
If they get hurt,
tell them to toughen up.
If they cry, tell them
If you don’t stop,
I’ll give you something
to really cry about.

Never talk about anything
but sports and how they are always
wrong, how they are too young,
too naïve, too idealistic,
too stupid to understand,
how they’ll think differently
when they’re older.

Never hold them.
When you get that urge
to touch them,
use punches instead of hugs.

Make sure they know
no matter what they do
it will never be good enough.

And when you leave their mother
for the third and final time,
don’t call or write,
offer no apology
or explanation, no heart
to heart, man to man.
Offer, as always,
nothing at all.


Repeating a Word Doesn’t Make It So

He likes having thought of it so well
he says again
–Robert Frost

He could have stayed
to begin with,
four simple rooms,
an easy smile,
good intentions,
farmfed beauty.

He could have been more
instead of wanting
more. Pudgy fingers
holding pages open
should have been enough.

is a place that when you have to go there
there is no one to take you in.

Light. Light! he screams,
as darkness
to fall.


I Know People

I know people
whose parents nailed
them beneath the floorboards,
locked them in trunks,
left them in darkness for hours.

I know people
whose mothers hung
themselves in the barn,
slit their wrists,
swallowed the barrel.

I know people
whose fathers beat
them to unconsciousness,
raped them repeatedly,
left them before they were born.

Still, I know people
who inhabit my darkest
nights and place their hands
on the back of my neck
to rub my fears away.
Farm Story

Otis tended that mare every day
for three years, called her Darling, Sweetie,
Sunshine, hugged her neck, cleaned hooves,
gave her fresh water, hay, apples,
hummed a lover’s tune while brushing out
every knot and burr.  She had cost
him plenty, and he was proud to have her, thought
he might even breed her when time and sense coincided,
but then, when she kicked Brenda full in the chest
for nothing more than walking too close behind her,
he hardly lost the time it took to see her
safe in her mother’s soothing arms
before returning, rifle in hand,
to leave no doubt where his allegiance lay.

13 Ways of Using a Big Backyard

Children swing from limbs
of maple and oak.

Under the trees
a hammock out of sight
of anyone despite
the absence of fence.

Yesterday two Cooper’s hawks
chased each other from maple
to pecan to housetop
while I stood silent below.

Tree fort, canebrake, grape vine hideaway,
tunnel beneath acuba hedge,
endless source of secret worlds
without ever leaving home.

Lying on my back
in this year’s vinyl pool,
I teach Sawyer to see
dragons swimming in the sky.

After midnight the boys
have friends over again,
building a fire in the detached porch
safely away from lethal roads.

Once fixed,
the dog never
had a need
to leave.

The herb garden grows
basil and oregano,
rosemary and thyme,
amid things
I’ll never use,
mullein and valerian,
wormwood and heal all.

Even this close to downtown,
three rows of corn
can’t ruin the landscape.

When the peach tree
arose from last year’s
discarded pit
I let it stay
where it started.

Even in a yard this big
the imagination fears
what might not happen, what days
may never be dreamed.

In the backyard
on a night when sleep
seemed as far away
as whippoorwills
he counted stars
amid the white
noise of cicadas.

If he winds up alone
he knows it will take days
for anyone to find him.

Three Poems by Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on December 14, 2010 by Scot


Nothing smells as wet
as peanuts boiling
in a blue metal pot
on an iron woodstove
surrounded by old men in overalls
and farmboys in caps
in a country store named Crooks or Norman’s
at an intersection with no light
in a place that couldn’t be called a town
but still has a sign that says
Midway, Stony Point, or Mock’s Corner.


Misunderstanding Elvis

We’re raising Sawyer Jewish,
but living in the South,
you can’t escape Christianity,
and she’s heard enough of Christmas
to know a bit about elves,
so when we visit Dairy Queen
and the local Elvis is singing
along the edge of the road,
she concludes he’s too big for an elf
and asks why Santa Claus
would call someone a Hound Dog.


According to Hollywood

They don’t ever get it right in the movies,
the places where poor people live.
All the dogs there have mange
and most of the houses too,
crumbling foundations, paint
cracked and peeling, blinds
that won’t close, front porches
packed with worthless junk
they’d never throw away,
yards cluttered and bare.
Even some of the people have mange,
missing arms or eyes,
smelling of booze and diesel fuel,
fingers stained by cigarettes,
faces older than their days.

We never owned a lawnmower,
not until I was seventeen.
Apartments never had lawns,
and nothing but scattered weeds
would grow from rock yards
along the tracks or up
from sand beneath pine trees.
And something was always broken,
reaching through the hole in the screen
to open the door, carrying
water from stove to tub,
leaving the lights on in one
room to illuminate another.

According to Hollywood
being poor means little more
than no shoes, a single-wide
trailer, clothes that are too big,
and a smudge that only helps
to make you even cuter.
In the movies, even the poorest
of kids are miraculously clean
and always happy despite
being hungry in all the ways
a child can be hungry.

Haiku by Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on November 7, 2010 by Scot

yellow porch light
illuminating darkness
swirl of candle bats


wildflowers in bloom
the tractor stops a moment
then plows them under


dressed in flannel
autumn maples before
they turn to grunge

council of crows
dead on the road
poor choice of venue

whippoorwill, cricket,
howling dog, screech owl,
quiet country night

strops the much-stropped edge
racing blowflies

mountain shadow
fiddle music
sings through the trees

Two Poems by Scott Owens

Posted in Scott Owens with tags on May 30, 2010 by Scot

Leaving Eden

Being awake and alive
she spoke the meanings of flowers,
she said the birds held thoughts in their mouths.
Being new
she pressed her face against the windows,
imagined paths unwinding before her.
Being young
she lay down on the rocks
hung her feet in the stream.
Being kissed by the wind,
being under the sky and stars
she rolled over, she said the trees
bore heaven in their arms,
she said the weight was sometimes too much.

Being with him
she said her hands smelled of living,
she said things had to get better.
Being in pain she cried.
Being alone
she spoke of night’s ejaculation of stars.
Being amazed
she said the darkness breathed dreams in her ears,
she said the sky was full of holes,
she said she almost saw through them.
Being the spoken, being named,
being always the spoken to,
she wandered off to tracks behind the house,
caught the metal fish-tail leaving town,
screamed against the wheel’s turning,
never looked back, spoke her name
into night’s incessant unfolding.



First Peanut in America Grown Near This Site
from a marker near Waverly, VA

Not on this spot, you understand.
Not even in some primordial field
here lost to roads or billboards,
any such marker of community progress.
Not specifically north or south of here,
not exactly 1 mile, maybe 10,
roughly rounded to the nearest whole number.

Such wonderful vagueness makes anything possible.
Anyone standing on any inch of soil,
arms akimbo, might say, “Here it is,
the X of my body marking the very spot.”
Or everyone for miles might claim
fame by association.  Near here
Andrew Johnson was born, or James K. Polk,
George Washington slept, 22,000 died
in one day. Near here
Jack Johnson beat a white man,
King was killed or Kennedy or Garfield.
Near here Philip Freneau wrote
a poem, maybe leaning against this tree,
or that one, or one that looked like this one.
Near here a nation was born,
men were hung, something or someone
great was conceived in the back of a Buick,
something else given up as hopeless.

I felt power once when I stood
on the very spot Orville’s wreck
left the ground. Now I wonder,
a barrier island, a dune of shifting sand.
Near here my uncle is buried.
Nearer he fired a shot somewhere
behind his left ear, his wife and daughter
nearby. This ground is nothing
like what they threw over him
as a preacher spoke his careful words
evading a hot August day
with sweat dripping from each pallbearer’s
precisely stony face.