Gene Justice is an American ex-patriate, currently living in South Korea. He was one of the editors for the online journal, Triplopia.
His prose and poetry have appeared online in Lotus Blooms Journal, Writers Against War, poeticdiversity, and in print in In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, Vol. 6 (MW Enterprises 2005) and Literary Angles: the second year of poeticdiversity (Sybaritic Press 2005). He also maintains a semi-consistent blog, where he collects thoughts, ruminations, and resources of interest to the working poet.
Echoes dreamed silver on sheer canyon walls,
carved out winds and rain and moonlit disguise—
stubble and smile tobacco-stained
gold tooth wearing dust dirty brown boots—
2 bucks a head / 10 a carload
and the voice of Vengeance
rising tinnily from seventy-five separate drive-in speakers
I watch Vengeance embodied
strung up from some dead tree
in a sea of black cowboy hats,
my 8-year old trusting
in dashlit glow knowing,
along with everyone else,
what a terrible mistake the other cowboys’ve made.
Thirteenth summer, the whole family packs in
and moves west, shot out of SLC
past the Bonneville Salt Flats to Wendover,
a desert berg on the Nevada/Utah border.
Here, my third step-father dealt blackjack
in the neon shadow of a 40-foot-tall cowboy
waving at cars speeding by on the way to Reno eternally
with one giant dust-pocked hand,
pointing, with the other,
to the First Casino in Nevada.
Crouched in the flimsy shacks of sheetrock
where the casino workers lived,
I was just beginning to search, a summer
spent blinking in relentless desert noons
with the cast-off, hushed spawn of day-sleepers.
At twilight, our parents would begin to wake,
my step-father, his silver hair slicked back
in brylcreem wave, driving each evening into the desert
in my mother’s panelled station wagon,
shotgun in tow, and loosing blasts of scattershot
over salt-ravaged sands and cacti. This to relax,
imagining gravity’s pull on the bullets,
praying in his secret heart they might escape
into sun-beaten blue stretched skies always,
knowing they’d fall to earth.
My own dream, calm in rising neon, the wish
that I’d been born with Arabian blood.
Watching the sun set, the day’s heat sloughing off
into cool winds thin as despair, dreaming,
while my step-father worked, of the dark crowding
around a campfire, & the stranger’s approach
—dreams hammered thin, earth hours enthralled
held stunned in the poisoned and unquenchable presence
of a god that refused me a name,
cactus-shadowed night and clear starred horizons
catching me unaware,
crossing its thirsting grains and dry rasp tongue
what it knew,
dried to cracked
so that no ocean
could pierce its midnight
By the time I turned 14, we’d left Wendover
and my third step-father was gone for good
or ill, woke up one evening and drove into the desert
just like any other evening, only this time,
he didn’t come back.
It was years before I saw him again—
40-feet-tall, his voice tin-shrouded,
his grin dust-whetted tied behind cowboy bandanna,
crouched at the campfire of fate, rising wordlessly,
pointing westward to the invisible crosshairs
of longitude and latitude resting on the horizon
where I dream him eight days
shattered cacti bleeding in his sun-scattered wake,
station wagon steaming 30 miles from anywhere,
shotgun dusted over, lizards creeping across its cooled snout,
sky weighed down with sunlight, stretched out further than hope,
teeth clenched in a whistle,
Sweet Adeline escaping from between his hard lips
in a soft cowboy prayer to the night
for escape from the mortal and ever pull of gravity
and inertia on bullets.