Charles Cantrell, nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, is a retired English professor. His published work has appeared for over forty years, most recently in Wisconsin Review, Stoneboat, & Ayris,with others forthcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, Mudfish, UCity Review, Confrontation, Quarterly Review of Literatrue, & Soundings East.


Birds for Aliens

The “expert” on the radio
swears that aliens are holed up
on the moon’s dark side and visit us
from there. I’m thinking this over
in my cabin, while hornets pester
my window—apple core on the sill
drawing them in. A mockingbird
in a dogwood answers a cardinal.
A chickadee chimes in—a vituperation
as every blade of grass is lit in the field
clear to the mustard patch.

Come on, aliens. Whether you’re coming
to save us from ourselves, or to inflict harm,
hurry up; I’m not afraid. Several months ago
the radio guy predicted you’d arrive
and you never showed. I’d show you
viburnum, sometimes called honeysuckle,
and I’d show you Virginia creeper—never a threat
to you, and I’d lead you away from poison ivy,
maybe take you to a barbecue, like the one I went to
last week, where Carl bit the cap off beer bottles,

even after his gums bled.
His wife, Linda, showed her new breasts to Earl
while Carl was flipping burgers.
All the kids scratched itches from mosquito bites
because their parents had depleted the bug repellant.
I’d have to find some jeans for you.
Assuming you don’t look human, I don’t know
if a mask would work
because everyone would want to know what’s up.

All hell would probably break loose
if I broke the truth to them. Oh, well,
it’s a fantasy. Let’s stick to the woods,
where we could walk and I’d say the names
of other birds, pointing out bluebird,
goldfinch, indigo bunting, sparrow,
sometimes all calling toward a crescendo.
And though we call it singing, it’s more or less
like Carl’s weekly barbecue: nearly everyone
swearing, one-upping one another, showing off.

Crushed Blossoms

The last time I smelled mock orange, I was hauling
a bunch in my back seat down I-90. My car broke down.
I sat in the air-conditioned Volvo and just inhaled,
waiting for a tow, feeling stupid.
A few cars honked. One boy, about eight,
in the rear of a station wagon, popped up the finger.
I shot back two, then closed my eyes and listened to
Beethoven’s Ninth on headphones and remembered
the week I subbed as mail carrier in rural Georgia.
I brought packages and orders for a woman
who ran some greenhouses—mock oranges
her specialty. My last day there she invited me in
for Crème de Menthe, since I had told her
that my job was done. I can’t count the times she said,
“I love their fragrance and beauty,” as she got drunker.
Before I could say anything, she was unbuttoning
my shirt, crushed blossoms and leaves from trimmed shrubs
sticking to our skin.
The scene comes back and comes back,
with its intoxicating perfume, and the break
in routine—no promises made to be broken—
flopping among cut stems, bleeding,
that one and only time,
in that sweet deciduous space.

Copyright 2014 Charles Cantrell

title photography by Amber Casperson