Mudlark Flash No. 13 (2001)

Walt McDonald

Walt McDonald was an Air Force pilot, taught at the Air Force Academy, and is Texas Poet Laureate for 2001. Some of his recent books are ALL OCCASIONS (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), BLESSINGS THE BODY GAVE (Ohio State, 1998), and others from Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, and Harper & Row. Four books received Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His poems have been in journals including AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW, THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, FIRST THINGS, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, POETRY, THE SEWANEE REVIEW, and THE SOUTHERN REVIEW. E-mail:

I Can't Believe It,

he says. Sixteen, and gets his license,
so they triple our premiums.
Taxes on two cars are bad enough.
He shakes his head. Lights up a cigarette.

Don and his wife take turns each night,
ears tuned to catch Rob's cry. Last night
Don rose, shifted the boy in bed. Waited
until his son breathed deep. The muscles disappear.
The doctors shake their heads. How long?
It's hard to say.

Ray's son got into drugs and cursed and ran away.
Ray's wife stayed up for weeks. He carried her
like sackcloth to the car. Two nurses met them,
wheeled her away. Ray placed ads in papers south and west:
Ricky, come back, for Mother's sake.

In Iowa, the newswire says, a quiet boy who caused
nobody trouble took a shotgun, waited for his parents,
and shot them both. The boy sits quietly in his cell.
Holds a Bible in his hands. Stares at the wall.
Sometimes shakes his head.

The Ryans have no children, dined out nine times a week.
Drove twice a month to Dallas—operas, galleries,
museums. Carl lost his license years ago:
can't see beyond his hand. Marie lost hers in May.
They sit at home and play their stereo. Around the first,
a retirement check. Carl holds it on his robe
like a lap dog. They sit without a light, except TV.

There is a clapboard house on a cliff in old town,
next to an empty store. The trees around this house
are dead, the grass is dead. Weeds struggle
in the brick-baked earth. One window in the front,
dark curtains closed. Sometimes, a face appears.

Nine-hundred million live in India. Names:
India, Bangladesh. A face appears. A child
cries to be turned. The doctors shake their heads.
A quiet boy in a cell. Come back, for Mother's sake.

Copyright © Mudlark 2001
Mudlark Home Page