Pastoral – Kevin Rippin

Love is not worth so much…
 I regret everything
–James Tate–

It’s not so wonderful here on the fringe.
I turn to rake a new row and there he is,
coiled green on a rock, drinking in the blistering sun.
My spine jolts—some racial memory or primordial fear—
I don’t know. I was a blank slate then, a cipher.
Over the last hundred years, I’ve learned a thing or two
about them: they can hypnotize their prey. They can
grab their tails in their mouths, form a hoop, roll down a hill.
They can milk cows. This one crushes its victim;
that one spits poison. In one family, bright bands
of crimson and yellow in a particular order mean nothing;
these same colors in a different order on a cousin mean trouble.
So much to learn just to survive. Lately I’ve noticed
I’ve lost my quiet speed, my street smarts.
Parts of me have started to droop and sag,
and a new toothache persists in my upper right molar.
Days are like this and nights are worse.
I despise my wife and kids—the youngest violent, a troublemaker.
I keep thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking.
The more I think, the more I know. The more I know,
the more I worry. The more I worry, the worse
my chest seems to flutter. I can’t catch my breath.
On bad days it feels like something’s growing in me
I can’t stop, eating from the inside out, like the fulfillment
of some promise, the teeth of some curse, taking hold.
These last months I’ll stop in the middle of doing something
and start to weep for no good reason. Can you hear me?
I live here on the fringe with my enemies and garden—
ten pitiful rows and barely enough to eat. Don’t believe the optimists—
one bad decision can ruin your life. Love is not worth so much.
I regret everything. Therefore, to compensate,
I’ve appointed myself lord of my ghetto, king of this crib,
annihilator of all who venture into my minor domain.
There’s no question. I wheel my sharpened shovel
and chop off his glittery head. This I’ve learned
along with everything else. It feels good. The rush makes me
forget where I am, here, tending gardens, where it sucks.

Richard RippinKevin Rippin earned an MA in writing from the University of Pittsburgh. He currently teaches writing as a full-time lecturer at NC A&T University, in Greensboro, NC. He has published articles, reviews and poetry in magazines and journals across the country, including Southern Poetry Review, Prime Number, Poetry East and Pittsburgh Quarterly. “Amber Drive,” a full-length poetry collection, has been selected for publication by Main Street Rag Press, and is scheduled for release late summer/early fall of this year.