Ron Houchin

Knife Fighting in the 50s, Another Appalachian Spring & My Father's Coat

Ron Houchin

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Knife Fighting in the 50s

No drugs to speak of, very little alcohol,

only “joyrides” in cars we stole, and plenty

of hostility for strangers, redheads, and homos.

Lefties had an advantage, striking from the same

side as the opponent.  I was left-handed and still earned

eleven scars on my right arm.  Nine of them from blocking knives.

Any night, but especially Fridays, sometimes Saturdays,

were fight nights.  While our fathers, stale from WWII, watched

TV, Gillette's “Friday Night Boxing,” we went at each other with thin edges.

We met in ball fields, vacant lots, and cat alleys with our pigstickers,

flip-knives, and switchblades to parry and thrust like gawky fencers

at torsos, necks, and blocking arms.  We were the good guys, my friends

and I, because we didn't want to kill you, for the most part, just give you stitches.

Another Appalachian Spring

When I see the fern just unfurl

like the banner of a fey army

crossing in crisp breeze of forest,

when I see the river's teeth 

sharpened by the brisk, cool wind,

the winter's driftwood freed

from stiff mud, when I see others

seeing as I do and no one

looks away to frozen memory,

when I begin again to see

the coming distractions of leaves

and how the naked tree arms

in slow sleight-of-hand produce

their long sleeves of green, when air rests

easy as a clear balloon on waking grass,

when I see gaunt squirrels fresh

from the apocalypse of ice rain

and hard snow dart across yards,

I look down at Earth soil and know

I gaze at myself and all

of us in the endless future.

My Father's Coat

When my father leaves, I am half a dozen

years older than nothing.  He does not take

the sky with him.  My mother is still around

for now, but he does take the cloudless part.

Since then, his stiff khaki jacket has hung

on the last hook near the back door of memory. 

It hangs and hangs, a crisp, tan slough from one

of those ghost locusts that cling to trees.

I never heard him sing, dance, skate, tell a joke,

or do any of the other things I can't do.  Twenty-

four years later, he came back to fall in a hallway

and die in his night watchman's uniform.

My father's coat never did fit me.  Forty-two years on,

I still can't take it from the hook or let its husk blow away.

Ron Houchin

Ron Houchin lives on the banks of the Ohio River, across from his hometown Huntington, West Virginia, in a haunted house built by the grandson of an ex-slave, located near an opening to the Underground Railroad of the Civil War era.  He is a retired public school teacher whose work has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, The Galway Review, Acorn, Alaska Quarterly, the Southwest Review, Five Points, Midwest Quarterly, Birmingham Poetry Review, and others. He has eight books of poetry published (including four from Salmon Poetry), as well as a collection of short stories and a novella. The Odyssey of Homer Atkinson is his new novel-in-progress.