Donald Justice

(12 August 1925 - 6 August 2004 / Miami / Florida)

Banjo Dog Variations - Poem by Donald Justice

Tramps on the road: floating clouds. OLD CHINESE POEM

1

Agriculture and Industry
Embraced in public on a wall—
Heroes in shirt-sleeves! Next to them
The average man felt small.


2

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
By Vassar girls surrounded.
They harmonized expertly; oh,
Their little true hearts pounded.


Joe went on smiling.

3


I thought I saw what Trotsky saw,
A friendly cossack wink;
And then his friends brought down their clubs.
Christ, what would Trotsky think!

4


Train had just slowed for the crossing when
Out from the bushes jumped a hundred men.
With baseball bats and iron bars
They persuaded us back onto the cars.

5


And out of dirty fists sometimes
Would bloom the melancholy harp.
Then low-low-low on the gon-doh-lah
We swayed beneath our tarp.


And far lights moving in and out of rain.

6


What you do with the Sunday news
Oh, citizens of the great riffraff,
Is you put the funny papers in your shoes.
It gives the feet a laugh.

7


We read our brothers’ shirts for lice
And moved around with the fruit,
Went north to Billings for the beets
And had three good days in the jail at Butte.

8


We chalked our names on red cliffsides,
High up, where only eagles dwelled.
Each time a big truck went by below,
The earth trembled like a woman held.

9


And we passed fields of smoking stumps
Where goats sometimes or ponies grazed.
Abandoned tractors stood against the sky
Like giant fists upraised.

10


But if we bent our knees it was
To drink from a creek’s rust-colored slime,
And splash our chests with it, and rub our eyes,
And wake into another world and time.

11


Let us go then, you and me,
While the neon bubbles upward ceaselessly
To lure us down back streets and alleyways,
Where we may wander and be lost for days.


Many days and many hours.

12


I miss the smell of the ratty furs
And saturday night cologne and beer,
And I miss the juke and the sign that read:
NO POLICE SERVED HERE.

13


Off Mission, wasn’t it? The old
White Angel Breadline, where we met?
You had just come west from Arkansas,
But the rest of it I forget.


A cup of coffee; afterwards a hymn.

14


Once we stood on a high bluff,
Lights fanning out across the bay.
A little ragged band of Christs we were,
And tempted—but we turned away.

15


And didn’t I see you Saturday night,
After the paycheck from the mill,
Bearing a pot of store-bought lilies home,
One budding still?
Ah, oh, my banjo dog!


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010



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