Words

The Undercards

The Mayor of Kingman


His skin is like loose leather
or an oversized raincoat.
Shirtless, he walks it around in the sun
along the drifting dirt roads.

Children scuttle behind worn trailers
or flee for the cover of boulders in the wash.
They run up monster stories from the sand
and float them one on top of the next.

In waves, the heat climbs
from the only blacktop road around.
The sun bakes the tires on the roofs
finger press soft.

The mountain to the west looks
like a great feathered chief asleep on his back,
but beneath the brown, cracked rocks of the eyes
there are only cracked rocks.

A stray boy fashions the man,
into a lost grandfather who walks
to him with a secret
he almost forgot to give,

or a wooden ship
pushing through endless blue, a ship he’s seen
only in books, a ship now cursed into the skin
of this man who presses on in dirt.

– from James Jay’s first book, The Undercards (2003), Gorsky Press, Los Angeles

Mars Hill

for Alyson

That night-hike up Mars
Hill, a flask of John Powers going
down fast, my finger brushing
your hand on the exchange,
big full moon, and light-rain
that morphed to sheets
of snow as we climbed
to the log where we found
ourselves a seat.
You leaning in
to kiss me, me too scared to go
first, wet lips, snow drenched
faces and heads, followed by the firm hold
of hands as we leapt back down
the trail like
Jack & Jill: the tale revised
as if by dumb angels who scribbled sweet,
naïve edits with no flare
for drama; simply stupid enough
to wish to help; who worked
the soles of our feet to keep us
from falling  familiarly down; who erased twisted
ankles; who brushed aside sticks, stones;
kept our shoes tied; our strides in step.
The angels whose pens are filled
with the ink of surviving
so many
falls before, the dumb angels
that earned the calluses that guide
us;  the light of stars caught
in the scars of their barely visible cheeks!

– from James Jay’s second collection, The Journeymen (2010), Gorsky Press, Los Angeles

Mountain Rivera
Mountain Rivera made it
most his career as an undercard,

broke into the top 20
on the World Boxing Conference rankings

once. Big Mountain never threw nothing
but big rights, gave it his all each punch,
each fight, and was offered plenty
to go down to the pretty & promoted boys.

But the Mountain never flopped, kept slugging,
lumbering forward in half steps.

He got a crack
at a kid who used to be

called Cassius Clay. And that was the end
of the Mountain.
This kid, Cassius, kept landing
jabs, jabs. Detached Rivera’s retina,

broke his nose,
stubborn jaw, until in the tenth

from his trainer’s hand the towel flew
like a shot grouse.

.
Later, Mountain cleaned up, covered himself
in a King-sized Italian suit, made

his half blind way
to the unemployment office

for a job, one that was “legit.”
His paws too specialized for
construction & White Collar was a joke
where the funny landed on him.

Where was the drywall job
that could have saved him? Nothing.

So Mountain went to Rasslin,’
lost his Rivera somewhere

in a headdress of red
and white feathers fanning

all the way down to his ass, became
the promoter’s “Injun,” whoo hoo whoo hoo’d

his way into matches every night
where he’d be cowboy’d out of there,

hog tied, his pride flopping on the mat
like a fish in an old story
where we all know the hook
has been set. Still we all pull
for Mountain to make it. Don’t we?
His pride a gift:

an unreasonable thought
in our head that if we stick and move

long enough our finest hour is ahead
of us, slugging its way into the bruised
and busted future. For the Mountain
is long gone from the ring
(boxing, ‘Rasslin, or otherwise),
replaced by a guy named Rivera
who lives in the run-down shack of cliché,
whose 2” by 4”s are warped,
whose flooring complains
from each step we take across it,

whose shingles have been blown
onto the dead grass of the lawn.
But this, of course, is all the wood
and the steel and the concrete

of a good old fashioned Tragedy.
The only hitch —Mountain’s no pug,

never was no Shakespearean bum.
He knows the fix is always in,

and the last thing he’d do is play
the Baby Face of a poem.

He looks in the smeared mirror and sees
the Hamlet his cousin acted

in high school performances in the gym.
He delivers fragments of soliloquies

he hasn’t heard in decades. Interrupts himself
sometimes with the answers:

“Something is rotten in the …
Oh, you’re telling me? You’re telling me?”

He goes on and on.
No one punched that blank verse
from his brain,
and he’d rather have iambs

than rent. So finally, he retires
to our thoughts

where his legs are agile as language:
the fix is always in, baby
.
His arthritic fists swing
in looping arcs of thought:

the fix is always in,
as he just misses that newly
found uppercut
to the horizon’s jagged profile.

– from James Jay’s second collection, The Journeymen (2010), Gorsky Press, Los Angeles

Mountain Rivera

Mountain Rivera made it

most his career as an undercard,

broke into the top 20

on the World Boxing Conference rankings

once. Big Mountain never threw nothing

but big rights, gave it his all each punch,

each fight, and was offered plenty

to go down to the pretty & promoted boys.

But the Mountain never flopped, kept slugging,

lumbering forward in half steps.

He got a crack

at a kid who used to be

called Cassius Clay. And that was the end

of the Mountain.

This kid, Cassius, kept landing

jabs, jabs. Detached Rivera’s retina,

broke his nose,

stubborn jaw, until in the tenth

from his trainer’s hand the towel flew

like a shot grouse.

.

Later, Mountain cleaned up, covered himself

in a King-sized Italian suit, made

his half blind way

to the unemployment office

for a job, one that was “legit.”

His paws too specialized for

construction & White Collar was a joke

where the funny landed on him.

Where was the drywall job

that could have saved him? Nothing.

So Mountain went to Rasslin,’

lost his Rivera somewhere

in a headdress of red

and white feathers fanning

all the way down to his ass, became

the promoter’s “Injun,” whoo hoo whoo hoo’d

his way into matches every night

where he’d be cowboy’d out of there,

hog tied, his pride flopping on the mat

like a fish in an old story

where we all know the hook

has been set. Still we all pull

for Mountain to make it. Don’t we?

His pride a gift:

an unreasonable thought

in our head that if we stick and move

long enough our finest hour is ahead

of us, slugging its way into the bruised

and busted future. For the Mountain

is long gone from the ring

(boxing, ‘Rasslin, or otherwise),

replaced by a guy named Rivera

who lives in the run-down shack of cliché,

whose 2” by 4”s are warped,

whose flooring complains

from each step we take across it,

whose shingles have been blown

onto the dead grass of the lawn.

But this, of course, is all the wood

and the steel and the concrete

of a good old fashioned Tragedy.

The only hitch —Mountain’s no pug,

never was no Shakespearean bum.

He knows the fix is always in,

and t

Mountain Rivera

Mountain Rivera made it

most his career as an undercard,

broke into the top 20

on the World Boxing Conference rankings

once. Big Mountain never threw nothing

but big rights, gave it his all each punch,

each fight, and was offered plenty

to go down to the pretty & promoted boys.

But the Mountain never flopped, kept slugging,

lumbering forward in half steps.

He got a crack

at a kid who used to be

called Cassius Clay. And that was the end

of the Mountain.

This kid, Cassius, kept landing

jabs, jabs. Detached Rivera’s retina,

broke his nose,

stubborn jaw, until in the tenth

from his trainer’s hand the towel flew

like a shot grouse.

.

Later, Mountain cleaned up, covered himself

in a King-sized Italian suit, made

his half blind way

to the unemployment office

for a job, one that was “legit.”

His paws too specialized for

construction & White Collar was a joke

where the funny landed on him.

Where was the drywall job

that could have saved him? Nothing.

So Mountain went to Rasslin,’

lost his Rivera somewhere

in a headdress of red

and white feathers fanning

all the way down to his ass, became

the promoter’s “Injun,” whoo hoo whoo hoo’d

his way into matches every night

where he’d be cowboy’d out of there,

hog tied, his pride flopping on the mat

like a fish in an old story

where we all know the hook

has been set. Still we all pull

for Mountain to make it. Don’t we?

His pride a gift:

an unreasonable thought

in our head that if we stick and move

long enough our finest hour is ahead

of us, slugging its way into the bruised

and busted future. For the Mountain

is long gone from the ring

(boxing, ‘Rasslin, or otherwise),

replaced by a guy named Rivera

who lives in the run-down shack of cliché,

whose 2” by 4”s are warped,

whose flooring complains

from each step we take across it,

whose shingles have been blown

onto the dead grass of the lawn.

But this, of course, is all the wood

and the steel and the concrete

of a good old fashioned Tragedy.

The only hitch —Mountain’s no pug,

never was no Shakespearean bum.

He knows the fix is always in,

and the last thing he’d do is play

the Baby Face of a poem.

He looks in the smeared mirror and sees

the Hamlet his cousin acted

in high school performances in the gym.

He delivers fragments of soliloquies

he hasn’t heard in decades. Interrupts himself

sometimes with the answers:

“Something is rotten in the …

Oh, you’re telling me? You’re telling me?”
He goes on and on.

No one punched that blank verse

from his brain,

and he’d rather have iambs

than rent. So finally, he retires

to our thoughts

where his legs are agile as language:

the fix is always in, baby.

His arthritic fists swing

in looping arcs of thought:

the fix is always in,

as he just misses that newly

found uppercut

to the horizon’s jagged profile.

he last thing he’d do is play

the Baby Face of a poem.

He looks in the smeared mirror and sees

the Hamlet his cousin acted

in high school performances in the gym.

He delivers fragments of soliloquies

he hasn’t heard in decades. Interrupts himself

sometimes with the answers:

“Something is rotten in the …

Oh, you’re telling me? You’re telling me?”


He goes on and on.

No one punched that blank verse

from his brain,

and he’d rather have iambs

than rent. So finally, he retires

to our thoughts

where his legs are agile as language:

the fix is always in, baby.

His arthritic fists swing

in looping arcs of thought:

the fix is always in,

as he just misses that newly

found uppercut

to the horizon’s jagged profile.