KR OnlinePoetry

Fifty Cents


After she got a job inspecting cigarettes for R. J. Reynolds
almost the first thing she bought
a fold-top desk, open at her elbow
bank statements and receipts neatly pigeonholed,
in a glass of water her dentures
her teeth waiting in case a tenant comes knocking
Granny saying she and Lawrence York
come to town without a pot to piss in
the apartment house she bought after she settled
with the railroad, after York fell from a locomotive


And grinning toothless at me, the long-haired college boy
come to mow her grass and eat her fried chicken
she said You know why women hate hard liquor?
Since when?
        Since the beginning—Listen here:
It goes back to the Flood when two of every kind boarded the Ark,
Noah took his razor and cut off every pecker
while Mrs. Noah sewed ’em up, even her three boys,
they didn’t know how long the Flood would last
didn’t want the boat overloaded with babies,
and when the waters finally dried up
as the creatures walked down the gangplank
Noah gave every male a silver dollar, said
Take this here silver dollar down yonder and find the angel St. Peter
go buy yourself a new pecker and put it to work,

so the bull the boar the stallion
they all went straight to the angel and Law, me!
their new peters just about dragged on the ground!
The boar had to tie his in a knot!
But them sorry old boys were waylaid by the Devil—who sold
each one a pint of corn liquor fifty cent apiece
so they all went back half-cocked
and women—they’ve hated the stuff ever since


Her last ten years she lived in a rest home
her life in the city gradually fading away,
she walked the hills again and searched for the men she outlived

for Papa, the foster father who saved her from hunger
the life of a moonshiner’s daughter

and Amos, who carved name verse date and flower
into granite into marble, who died of silicosis

and Floyd, who returned from war addicted to Camels
who died of lung cancer

And for that damned Lawrence York
who jumped from a train, who drowned in Badin Lake
The drunkard! the whore hopper!

Sometimes she saw his face in mine and glared at me, saying
So have you been down to see the Devil again?
Did you bring back any change?

John York's poetry collection, Cold Spring Rising, was published by Press 53, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2012. In 2011, he won the first James Applewhite Poetry Prize from the North Carolina Literary Review. York teaches high school English and creative writing.