Haskell: Race War

Filthy, bird-murderin Satanists,
cats wait like bloated bankers
hunkered in the hostas till they perch,
then burst forth like banshees
to lock jaws on poor feathered critters
tryin to survive in a world hostile
to things like angels that fly.

I’s ready for that one-eyed stray tom
blacker’n the bottom of a mine.
I loaded my .22 and swore I’d pour
it to him ‘fore the mornin was out.
Last time I seen him, he had a mouthful
of baby nuthatch, and all I could do was cuss
his kind for killin mine. (No, I don’t belong
to the birds, but I’m their ranger, keepin
the unfledged and fragile out of danger.)

I’s waitin at the winder when
he tried the same deviltry today.
While I took aim, he squinted that one
good eye at me and dared me to try.
(Ha! He had the chances of a fly.)
But then it hit me: a cat for a bird?
Who says which is worth more to the world?
I lowered my gun and the bastard slunk
away grinnin like a gambler with an ace.
I’ll let him live one more day.

about Haskell
Haskell T. Phillips, the subject of my 1987 chapbook Haskell, is a 93-year-old southern West Virginian. Father of thirteen children, innumerable grandchildren and husband to his beloved wife Brownie (deceased), he now lives alone in his own home, making observations about his life, past and present, in the Appalachian dialect that I heard growing up, typified by modes of speech that crossed the ocean with English, Scottish and Irish immigrants—words, phrases and even grammatical constructions which, like many songs and stories, are no longer found in the British Isles but still live in the hills and hollers of Appalachia. To some ears, these locutions will sound odd, even incorrect, but, to me, they’re the sound of home. I thought Haskell was through speaking through me until my friend Dave Garrison suggested I begin listening to him again.

about the author
West Virginia native Ed Davis recently retired from teaching writing full-time at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He has also taught both fiction and poetry at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and is the author of the novels I Was So Much Older Then (Disc-Us Books, 2001);The Measure of Everything (Plain View Press, 2005); and The Psalms of Israel Jones (West Virginia University Press 2014), which won the Hackney Award for an unpublished novel in 2010. Many of his stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and journals such as: Evansville Review, The Vincent Brothers Review, Appalachian Heritage, For the Road: Short Stories of America’s Highways, Aftermath: Stories of Secrets and Consequences and Wild, Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry. Four poetry chapbooks have been released as well as a full-length collection, Time of the Light (Main Street Rag Press, 2013). He lives with his wife in the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he bikes, hikes and blogs mainly on literary topics. Please visit him at http://www.davised.com.

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