Joe Cottonwood | Quantum poetry

JoeCottonwoodWorkshop croppedBoy, Almost Six

You are five or as you say, almost six.
You have a toolbox
like me.
You read books in bed
like me.
You even make up poems
like me.
I am thirty-five which is almost forty.
I wish I could cry
like you
and scream at people when I’m angry
like you
and heal my wounds with a blanket
like you.
With your eyes through which
I am learning to see,
take in our redwood mountains,
our blackberry hills,
quick squirrels.
Brake for them, please, when you drive
when you’re sixteen, which is almost
Learn to love moss
and fat spiders.
Feel the fungus feeding on decay.
I am rotting, my son, as you feed on me
and I would have it
no other way.


One Nail Driven True

Scoop iron ore.
Crush, then fire.
Add carbon,
form a wire.
Machine cut, point chiseled,
forklift to truck, teamster grizzled.
Store shelf, boxed and sold,
tool belt pouch
to fingers, hold,
left hand.

Hickory handle, blunt face
callused grip, knuckles’ grace
right hand.

Tap to set, then squint of eye,
swell of muscle, nerves fly —
Exquisite, the
arc of hammer.
Gift of labor.
Forget glamour.
Honor the artistry, honor the crew
for one nail
driven true.


Bust And Boom

After some fracas
that nobody remembers
Oscar was arrested and committed
to a ward for the incurable where he never spoke
except to say “Money talks; I listen.”
His clothes rotted on his flesh
as his shoulders grew short
while his nose hair grew long.
They called him Oscar the Grouch.

I solicited clothes
from Elmer the retired banker
who was just Oscar’s size. To my surprise
Elmer donated a three piece suit.
“Call it a bad loan,” said Elmer with a wink.
I call it a magic wand.
Bedecked in Elmer’s bad loan, Oscar spoke:
“It is high time we refuted Keynesian capitalism.”
He spoke for hours, days, for a week and since
we couldn’t tell if he was right or wrong,
we released him. One week later he made
three hundred dollars on pork belly futures;
two weeks later, six million on soybeans.

He now has an office in Washington D. C.
a city of incurables
where he is quoted in newspapers.
Senators seek his advice.
Nobody can refute him or stoop his shoulders
because his money talks, and we listen.


Three Tons

On pallets at roadside, a load like
dead elephants with pink stuffing.
For me. Alone.
Sky is dark, air has that damp feel.
One hundred twenty sheets of gypsum.
Thirty rolls of fiberglass.
To move, before oncoming rain.
To carry down the hillside, then up the front
steps into the house of no doors.
Six thousand pounds. Me. Alone.
One hundred fifty trips from roadside
into the newly framed house of bare walls.
To become a new home. For us. Together.

Sore, returning, half hour drive
to the cottage of our imminent eviction,
the mist begins.
Kids in bed, asleep.
You rub my muscles and we soak together,
crowded but no complaints,
in the one-person tub.
Gentle rain drips.

Through black of sleep comes
smack of water on windows, howl of wind.
My every joint hurts.
Three tons moved, stacked under tarps. Safe?
Roof, no doors.
Driving through fire-hose gales to the construction site,
I find the plastic sheets are anchored and holding.
Add another tarp, more bricks, then back to the cottage
where at dawn you lift the covers as I slide in.
Warm, soft. Snuggle. Ah, God.
Three tons of love.

Monopoly, Monogamy

Drinking wine they play endless Monopoly,
the board game, on the ratty oriental rug
in the empty nest. Fingers roam. Attention wanders.
Theirs was always a slow romance,
small steps, a touch, a pause.
They reminisce:
She remembers the first time he held her hand
as teens while walking; he doesn’t.
(“I was thrilled!” she says. “How could you not remember?”)
He remembers their first kiss; she doesn’t.
(How lame!” he exclaims.)
There’s no stopping now.
She remembers the first caress of her breast; he doesn’t.
Neither of them remembers the first touch down there
but they both remember the first naked embrace,
a sensation like no other.
For the first “I love you” they recall
different settings, irreconcilable,
though they both remember the same physical
reaction to those words, a warm melting
below the belly, not exactly sexual
but not exactly not.
Odd bits.
They have history. Their bodies a small empire.
Her Boardwalk, his Park Place,
the slow merge of estates.


Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life. Nights, he writes. His most recent book is 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses. He lives in a house he built in La Honda, California, just a stone’s throw from Ken Kesey’s old cabin.

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