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Tom Conley Feb 2018
It wasn’t the stirring songs of night-bound birds,
which hid in the blooming apple tree to rest —
or the mellow drums and bronzed music we heard,
or the cloudy-red aroma your roses left.

It wasn’t the dancing, the soft-stepped unfurling —
the twirling or the gold champagne after,
swirling in our cups, or when I said, “Your girl’s
so tired. Your girl’s all ready to go,” and you laughed
at my bluntness, or at the way I tripped and fell
through the swinging silver-***** glass doors.

It wasn’t the way you picked me up, or the swell
of your arms as we pulled apart — or how you snored.

But when the church bells cried midnight, I sighed
in surrender to a surreal host of lives.
Tom Conley Feb 2018
The difficult thing about a love poem
is that it doesn’t want to be one.
You see! I’ve already let the meter go
wherever it wants to roam, for the sake of fun,
and to make my point. It’s sort of like the way
our feet get tangled when we sleep, and we trip
into each other’s dreams. Poetry can’t contain
how gently you kissed me — even when I was sick.
This type of love requires an honesty
that poetry can’t express. A careful glance,
chocolates, red wine and all the rest
can’t capture the drunk-in-love ways we’ve danced — 
or the magic of long plants. But who’ll blame me for
trying to count the ways that I adore you?
                                           —and in fourteen lines, no less.
Tom Conley Feb 2018
We slept on rocks, chased pink flowers
and brushed our teeth with ***** fingers
while hitchhiking back in time
on a pile of your stuffed animals:

the next time we find each other
let’s be children again, eating
strawberries and chocolate kisses — 
not these half-slurred hateful words.
Tom Conley Jan 2018
You know we used to go swimming
down in the quarry holes all summer
out near the bend in ****** Creek
on Highway 60, where the trees were wide
and the woods were thick. These weren’t the Bahama blue
pits you see in the movies and on TV —

they were deep dark-green pools like the holes
in your great-grandma’s gums — been around
forever too. If you swam down deep enough,
you could see the scars still carved into the stone
where they pulled all that white-rock
out with axes. But I went deeper once,
way down where the water was black and cold
and you could feel it crawling in your ears.

We were in a large pit called Half-Moon,
one so deep it had no bottom, and it’d been
around since who knows when — it seemed natural
anyways, not something man-made,
and my father used to tell me that it was
the first hole to flood, back when they didn’t know
how deep was too deep to dig, and they hit
Bluesprings Caverns or the Lost River,
one of the two. I’m telling you though,
that I know different after tasting
all that salty water near the bottom —
it’s not ripe for life down in that pit,
the way it is, so deep it’s like swimming in ice.

I was fishing with a friend on our day off,
throwing ****** chunks of rotten-smelling
week-old chicken liver out as deep
as we could toss them, when I got snagged
on something fifteen feet or so from
where the shoreline dropped off a cliff
down to the water. And I had fancy hooks
tied on my lines back then, so I jumped in
hoping to get myself untangled and save
the new tackle strung up on my line.

I must’ve been in ten feet of water,
just past where the algae sticks like tape
to the back of your knees, when something that felt
just like the biggest fish there ever was
took hold of my foot and pulled me down
even deeper than where the divers
training in their sheriff’s scuba gear
to dredge the bottom for a pruney body
say they’ve seen catfish the size of cars
or bigger — I could hear those big fish grunting
as whatever-it-was pulled me deeper,
moaning just like diesel engines — and we kept
going further and further, like we were in
the caverns now, or lost like the river,
until I couldn’t see the sun at all,
just the foggy glow of an old oil lamp
half-tied with a rusted chain around
the broken axle of an upturned buggy
rising up from the red sediment where
the horses should’ve been before it sank.

And there beside the drifting lamp, wrapped
in tattered clothes that waived like seaweed,
was the bleached-white skeleton
of some boy, with his head turned backwards
on a broken neck — and he was looking at
the largest pile of gold I ever saw,
which filled the whole buggy and looked
as new as yesterday, it was so bright,
but it could’ve been pyrite or spray painted
for all I know, because I never touched it.

And if I did bring that gold back with me,
you can bet I wouldn’t be here today —
or at the very least, I wouldn’t tell a soul
about how I came across it all
in the bottom of that pit — that’s how you know
I’m telling you the truth about it now.

I woke up on the other side of the lake
with my tackle in my hand, and the start
of a headache that lasted two weeks — but I would’ve
jumped back in to find that hoard of gold
if my friend hadn’t called the cops, and if
I knew for sure exactly where it was
and how to get there without drowning
before I got to that endless stretch of water.

But listen, if you’ve heard about this place
and know the things that happened when it was wild,
you’d say it had to be the gold Sam Bass
and his gang of bandits got off the train they robbed,
and I don’t know what evil kept it there
just to tempt a kid to drown, but
there’s a reason everyone is filling
all the quarry holes with limestone,
because I’m telling you, what flooded them
wasn’t a river or some cave they cracked —

it was a dead man’s greed that dragged me down
like all the other kids that have drowned since then,
and those jealous waters don’t end until
you’re **** near through the other side of the earth
or more, if you believe the stories they tell
about the Donaldson Cave at Spring Mill.
Tom Conley Jan 2018
After you spilled hot cider
on the opal-purple plastic

sequins of the dress our great-
grandma bought you, we ran

down a cigarette-smoke
saturated neon alley

that dripped red blues and greens
between ivy-wrapped cracks

in the antique-brick buildings
across the lopsided street.

Carnies barked over plywood
counters draped in tablecloths,

shouting, “Prize every time!”
at kids grabbing pink ducks

from a foodcolor-blue model
of the White River, while other kids

popped balloons with darts like
the syringes our town is famous for

stabbing like stakes into undead
methed-out arms, and we hid

behind a coffin-shaped green porta-
***** near the chain-linked swings.

You held your nose in a gloved hand
and tried to dry the steaming cider

with a napkin I found hanging
half-out a yellow trashbag

full of skunked beer and flies,
and you said, through mascara-

poisoned bubbling black streams
and sour-pink lips, “Mamaw’s probably

mad enough I only won
Miss Congeniality — just imagine

how mad she’s going to be when mom
goes to the hospital tomorrow

and tells her that the cocktail-
dress she worked to death to put

her spoiled great-granddaughter in
smells like rotten apple pie!”

— The End —