EPIC Poetry Group: Poet’s Corner — Cooper, Garbage Eve, Identity Theft

Here is the latest installment of Poet’s Corner, presented by the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group.


Beady-eyed DB sips a highball
tobacco-tinged like his fingers.
Eight Raleigh cigarettes
snuffed out in a tiny ashtray
in the armrest.
He watches the stewardess
work the drink cart up the aisle
pushing with her hips
back when stewardesses were stewardesses
to mostly rakish businessmen
like him who always asked for the aisle seat
for the fast getaway.
On the way back, she thinks he’s slipped her
his number the way guys like him always do.
“No, read it, Miss,” he tells her straight.

What is left for the FBI to work with?
A supposed bomb in a briefcase, a note,
dark sunglasses, a clip-on tie,
a composite sketch
distorted by a toupee and putty nose –perhaps.
Was he some angry vet with 14 months left
to live, heading from one gloomy city to the next?
What better way to die from cancer?

At Thanksgiving dinner,
my blonde and vapid cousins’
older husbands, a little looped,
toasted DB’s health
in my father’s house,
built on the edge of Jet City
financed with an airline salary.
“Fight the man,” they laughed.
My old man just shook his head.

A jump into the dark
out the back of a 727
on a stormy November night.
Whatever happened to
the great anti-hero of 1971?
Did he die hanging
high in a fir tree,
an effigy of cold
bones in a blue blazer?
Did he drown in the river,
weighed down with bags of money?
Maybe he landed like James Bond,
stowing the parachute
in the trunk of the Gold Camaro
he’d given to his beautiful, young accomplice.
Seedy DB, did you get to live high on the loot,
jetsetting to the Bahamas,
to keep close to your offshore money?
We hoped so for so long
in a broken world,
we made you legendary.

James Backstrom

~ ~ ~ ~

Garbage Eve

The moon dissolves in the mist like a tablet in water.
On garbage eve I haul our bins to the curb
A weekly ritual that always happens at night.
From the refuse and decay of this world
I sometimes stare up at the old wonder
as it emerges from the clouds
like a candle in a paper lantern
light diffuses across a starless night.
Dewpoint and temperature are close to meeting.
By morning they’ll converge in a kind of white blindness.

My neighbor stretches a bungee
to hold down the lid on his bin
from possums or racoons– the half nature that lives
always on the edge of us
finding some unbalanced barrel
to tip and scavenge.

We nod a hello.
I pressed down on the hinged top
even though they warn you to not fill it beyond capacity,
but there’s too much of my sad life that might
spill on to the street if I don’t–
half smashed cans of cheap beer and frozen dinners trays.

“I should recycle more,” I say to him
though I’m pretty sure he can’t hear me with his earbuds in.
He’s already opened the door to his empty house
where he’ll fall asleep in his recliner,
watching storms on the weather channel
only to wake up with a bad back and a sense of inadequacy.
He told me once before his wife left with the kids
if he got a do-over in life
he’d be a storm chaser in Kansas,
driving an armored Humvee into the path
of f4 tornadoes, swerving around sparking powerlines
and uprooted trees
to film where the stomping heel of God
turns to wreckage
all our little vanities.

James Backstrom

~ ~ ~ ~

Identity Theft

I’m going to send out a murder
of crows to scavenge what they can of me,
204 caws and claws for every bone big enough to carry
with two sparrows to recover the ossicles of my inner ears.

I’m going hire a hacker to spelunk into the dark web
and recover my name, address, and social security numbers
from a server in Nigeria where they dangle as jewels
around the thick throat of a great prince intent on reclaiming his throne.

No one takes out another credit card in my name and buys Walmart gift cards with it.
or files for a tax return in New York City and spends the money in Florida.

I’m going to clip the dream catcher from the rearview mirror
of the ‘71 VW my old hippy neighbors park on the street by my house,
and only drive on Thursday mornings to the co-op and the grass shop and back home again.
I’ve seen them take an owl feather to dust my thoughts from the hoop.
He played a song I wrote (but never shared) on community radio to murmurs of “nice”
and a couple of “yeahs.”  You can even download it from Bandcamp with the proceeds
going to the station. A worthy cause, but still, my song, not Eduardo’s.

Everywhere thieves lurk. Like the kids in school who copied your answers
to the emasculating jobs that squeezed a little more dignity from your dignity gland every day.
Shred everything. Cover your answers.
Go on and tell your boss she’s wrong.
Your unemployment benefits have been sent out of state months ago never to arrive.
No worries, you can join me in my cause.
I am going to unmask every cheat and con I can.
Just as soon as the pandemic ends.

James Backstrom 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

James Backstrom grew up exploring the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  His poems have appeared in Soundings on the Salish Sea, Spindrift, The English Journal, Poetry Seattle,and other publications. He is also a proud charter member of EPIC Poetry Group that meets monthly in the Edmonds library. A long-time teacher in the Northshore School District, he and his wife raised their three children just north of Snohomish. Whenever he can get away, you’ll find him hiking the trails of the Cascades and Olympics.



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