ISSN 1551-8086
return to home search for a contributing writer

seach for poems by title

archive of previous issues submissions information mailing list online store links to other interesting sites contact us  
  November 2004
volume 2 number 4
-table of contents-
  home   (archived)
  contributing poets
  Matthew A. Barraza
  Tom Berman
  Jack G. Bowman
  Quiana Briggs
  Tony Bush
  Joseph Camhi
  Velene Campbell
  Michael Ceraolo
  Rosemarie Crisafi
  Dan Danila
  Francisco Dominguez
  John Feins
  Daniel Garcia-Black
  Ursula T. Gibson
  Larry Jaffe
  Donna Kuhn
  Marie Lecrivain
  Sharmagne Leland-St. John
  Laura A. Lionello
  Harold Lorin
  Rick Lupert
  Stosh Machek
  Kelly Ann Malone
  Terry McCarty
  Tim Peeler
  James Pinkerton
  Beverly J. Raffaele
  E.W. Richardson
  Ken Scott
  Wanda Vanhoy Smith
  Rev. Dave Wheeler
  Robert D. Wilson
  mailing list
Joseph Camhi
November 2004



Theo Diamantis

   Joe Camhi has published poetry, fiction, and excerpts from a screenplay in various magazines, including Exquisite Corpse, Street News, The New Press, and Far Gone Magazine.
    He won the graduate poetry contest in The Southwestern Review at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he received his Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing.
    Joe Camhi has performed his poetry at various clubs around Manhattan, including CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, and the Nuyorican Poets CafĂ©, where he placed second in one of the semifinals of the poetry slam. Joe Camhi is a co-host at the Rapp Saloon open mic in Santa Monica.



The Ballad of Joe Bell

Does the world seem like a cruel cold place?

Do you feel you'd like to hide your face

Behind a mask?

Does God hate you? And if that's true,

Do you wonder why he created you?

And may I ask:

Do people whom you once held dear

Now look away when you come near,

And nothing's said?

Does everybody want to see

You swinging from a gallow tree

Until you're dead?

Whenever your dad hears you're around

Does he cringe, spit mucus on the ground,

And divert his eyes?

Does your mom talk weather, and when she's done

Does she hug you and say you're still her son

As she cries?

Did the sheriff slam your bedroom door,

Pull you from bed—you're on the floor,

Hands cuffed behind?

All this because of who you are?

They're after us! They're so bizarre

And so unkind.

Behind steel bars there's only time,

So grab a chair, sit back, while I'm

Telling a tale.

The tale of how I came to be

Convicted of a felony

And thrown in jail.

Sweet Georgia in the hot South sun,

Where you say hello to everyone

As the Hooch flows.

Atlantic City, Savanna Beach,

Piping hot grits, an ice cold peach

Where the cotton blows.

My name's Joe Bell. When I was ten

I began to look at older men,

And this scared me.

And on my block was a girl named Jess,

And for just two bucks she'd lift her dress

And let you see.

I was ten; I stole my old man's twenty.

She laughed and said, "I'll give you plenty.

More than a peek."

She took me to a broken shed.

We lay down in a broken bed.

My knees got weak.

She kissed my face, she kissed my lips,

My inner thighs, my chest, my hips

Again and again.

"It's not supposed to stay this size!"

She said. I closed my tearful eyes

And thought of men.

So no one knew till age fourteen

When John Smith found a magazine

Under my bed.

"I'll never tell on you," he swore.

"You're queer. You ain't no friend no more,

To me you're dead !"

Sometimes some friends would want to know

Why is it I don't ever go

Out on a date.

I'd tell them I was very shy-

One day the right girl will come by-

I'll have to wait.

I had a teacher at age sixteen.

Girls said he looked just like James Dean,

But he was cuter.

Tenth grade English, my grades were high-

It surprised me when he asked if I

Needed a tutor.

While walking to his house that night,

There was tense fear, immense delight.

I couldn't wait.

My knees were weak, my heart was pounding.

I thought I'd puke while I was rounding

His front yard gate.

Before I knocked on his front door,

He opened it and stood before

Me with a smile.

"How are you Joe?" He said. "Come in.

I'm glad you came. Soon we'll begin.

Let's talk awhile."

He caressed the couch, said, "Sit by me."

And as I sat he brushed my knee

With his left hand.

Then as his right hand brushed my cheek,

He said, "Tell me a secret, speak.

I'll understand."

I broke into tears and told him how

I never told a soul till now

That I liked guys.

And as I spoke he took my hand,

Said, "It's all right, I understand."

He wiped my eyes.

At seventeen, I took a trip

To Atlanta where the bars are hip,

And the men are gay.

I met a man. His name was Mike,

Said, "Sleep at my place if you'd like."

I said, "Okay."

I'd see Mike weekends. Mom demanding,

"Stay home!" But Dad so understanding,

"Leave him alone.

When I was his age I had two."

"If he knocks her up what will we do?"

My mom would moan.

Late one night, the stars were out.

Mike's hand in mine, I heard a shout.

I turned my head.

A swinging bat, a blinding light,

We fell down hard, and all that night

We bled and bled.

At twenty I was a bartender

When Fred walked in, a real big spender,

An older man.

Drinking scotch and leaving tips,

And watching me while taking sips.

Gray hair, dark tan.

A banker for the Midland bank,

As he left the bar my stomach sank,

But he returned.

He said he'd stop by Saturday.

He shook my hand and walked away,

And my hand burned.

Saturday night, a dim lamplight,

My bedposts shook with my delight,

My room was spinning,

My apartment-a crashing, storm-crazed sea.

"Was it good for you?" I asked, while he

Just laid there grinning.

"WELL, WHAT'S WITH FRED?" my dad would yell,





I already know."

A beer can in a paper bag.

Bright sun beats on a thirsty fag.

A policeman saw

Me outside with the open beer,

Said, "Son, you can't be drinking here.

It's against the law."

He read my license, smiled real wide,

Said, "Here's your ticket. Drink inside.

Have a nice day."

When I got home I looked at Fred.

I threw the ticket on the bed,

Yelled, "I won't pay."

Two months. My party, Friday at eight.

"Fred," I said softly. "I can't wait.

Time we departed."

Slipped past the guests, slipped to my room,

We closed the door, and I assume

That's when it started.

He either rang the bell or knocked.

Sue heard, put down her drink, unlocked

The door. "Oh dear,"

She gasped. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes ma'am," he said. "I don't have long.

Is Joe Bell here?"

Gray uniform, white cowboy hat,

He was huge and strong, his stomach fat

From drinking booze.

A Sheriff's badge pinned on his chest,

An official warrant for my arrest,

And steel-tipped shoes.

"I need to take him in today.

There's a ticket that he didn't pay.

So where is he?"

She pointed to my room and said,

"I think they're in there, him and Fred,

But I think they're busy."

He cracked the door and peeked inside;

He saw, then slammed it open wide.

Pulled me from bed.

I hit the wood floor painfully.

He cuffed my hands in back of me

Then went for Fred.

Friends, straight and queer, sat row by row.

Mom wasn't there 'cause Dad said, "No!"

The judge looked grim:

Black-robed red eyes stared hatefully.

And the prosecutor winked at me

When I looked at him.

The judge said, "Jury, before we start,

Please use the law and not your heart.

Let's get this straight-

Fellatio is sodomy,

And sodomy's a felony

In this here state."

The prosecutor began to cite

Bowers v Hardwick, where Justice White

And the Supreme Court,

After a vote of five to four,

Said privacy doesn't exist anymore.

My trial was short.

Bowers v Hardwick, a case like mine-

It's still the state's right to define

What's moral, what's not.

A fascist state where they hate queers

And can lock us up for twenty years

To rot and rot.

Inside this cell I curse my fate.

They say I'm an enemy of the state,

And now I feel

Their hatred pounding through my blood.

I'd kill them all now, if I could

Break bars of steel!

Does the world seem like a cruel cold place?

Do you feel you'd like to hide your face

Behind a mask?

Does God hate you? And if that's true

Do you wonder why he created you?

Just thought I'd ask.

copyright 2004 Joseph Camhi