R. Michael Oliver


I am unwanted fruit,
a warden's son--not strange:
my family tree sprouted
in a barbed-wire manger
girdled by corn stalks
dipped in silk, by hills
rolling and ripped gullies.

In summer I dreamed:
a dragonfly hovers over
a pond stocked with cloud;
a wreath of cottonmouths
consecrate the pier:
rowboats bob and muck-
thick algae mature in heat.

That fall I fog a pane's
cracked stained glass, write
my alphabet in streaks,
playing "count the convicts":
ten, twelve, twenty-seven scythes
singing through tall grass;
guards puff cold blue smoke.

Come winter, I contemplate
a Sunday School massacre
and a bloody body politic:
a suit like zebra skin,
a serial number stamped on neck,
I board a Greyhound;

I leave the bloodhounds
and brickyards--prisoners
grunting in Virginia red clay,
turning the wheel, pressing
suburban brick out of sunshine.

On journeys home that spring,
I measure on green road signs,
the space between a semblance
of rape, a silhouette
of seduction: a universe
nestled in that shotgun's cradle,
the wild-eyed innocence
I pretend with children.

An African bled on granite,
chiseled to perfection; a quarry
regurgitates his grief.
I am occupied by a history
no one wants, by spoils
no one claims--this memoir
of fetters is meant for no one

but me.

R. Michael Oliver is a long time poet, playwright, theatre artist, and educator. He lives in Washington, DC and is currently the director of The Performing Knowledge Project, a new initiative of The Sanctuary Theatre, which he and his wife founded in 1984.

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