The Blue Collar Poet. Bill Cushing


Cue balls scatter,
clicking through the Marlboro haze
thick enough 
to choke a horse.
He wheels around, bearlike hand
gripping the edge
of fading felt.
He stops, says,
“Let’s put that puppy right there.”
Then, aiming from
an otherwise
awkward angle,
slaps a clean crosstable shot into
the side pocket.

Three girls, sitting
on a bench, watch
as the winning continues.
He is handsome:
Broad shoulders, a square 
face, framed by
a dark beard, breaking into wide smiles.
And were it not 
for the broken
lower half
of his body,
he might have left the place that night
and gone home 
with any one of them—
or all three.


Coaxing myself to place a foot on
that hesitant first step 
of the crossing, a journey with outcome
neither known nor guaranteed. 
Isolation is a very shaky place
where circles of behavior echo
or resolve into a hydra or, worse,
demons of solitude.

Stopping on this wobbly avenue, 
my feet feel vibrations deep in their soles, 
making me wonder: Where is the tipping point?

Peeking down to see a drop deeper 
than that uncertain climb 
to the other side, to the safe haven 
of the forest veiled in mist.
Then vertigo, fear of failure, overwhelms
so that retreating into the numb 
appears an easier alternative 
to taming the dragon.


Getting old: it is indeed
“the passing of an era.”

After all, the last munchkin 
has died, and while I sit, stuck 

in neutral at a traffic 
light, an emaciated 

Santa stands at the curb where 
Concourse crosses Olympic,

eyeing the entrance to the 
free soup kitchen in the church 

across the street as he plays 
his own version of Frogger, 

avoiding a pickup piled high
with aging washing machines 

and weathered desks trapped behind
wooden slats while two modern 

hausfraus traverse the crosswalk, 
each gliding in Stepford chic 

to the beat of the light’s pulse. 
I wonder of the drifter:

Does he take the exact same 
route daily, a commuter 

of his own sort? Inhaling 
the smoke of the cigarette

he bummed earlier, his face 
wrapped in a walrus moustache, 

all his belongings hang, bagged 
at his side—almost a part 

of him, clutched by shaking hands 
mottled and tobacco brown,

this traveler—this vagrant 
wreckage, this canary in our

coal mine—signifying the times
we find ourselves dying in.


The moon hangs suspended
balanced between three stars
this autumnal February evening.

He’s Libra, balanced; you, I,
Pisces—water signs:
tonight a lunar Trinity.

And I’m thinking of him
and you, and his eyes—
your eyes when you allow,

And I think how when 
I hold him, I hold a part
of you, and sometimes

that’s enough.


The first greets those who promenade 
through the foyer to a sunken 

living room; its steps—wide with 
carpeted tread—ease beneath gilded panels 

lined with portraits of staid patriarchs 
long dead. Bright red lips brush fair cheeks,

besitos de cultura alto, 
as these elegant guests parade 

through the living room past a massive 
dining table and walls affixed 

with innocuous ceramic buttons, 
doorbell fixtures to summon the help 

from the kitchen hiding a second staircase: 
steep, jagged, and above all concrete. 

Servants—rough hands wrapped in skin darker
than the mahogany furniture 

they rub to a high shine—trudge between floors 
carrying the weight of meals, loads of laundry, 

flutes of lemon water, and whispered curses, 
triggered by constant buzzing commands. 

Meanwhile, quiet worms of hate burrow, deep
yet imperceptible, into their hearts.

About the contributor

Bill Cushing lived in several states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico before moving to California; he now teaches at East Los Angeles and Mt. San Antonio colleges. As an undergraduate, he was referred to as the “blue collar” poet based on his previous years working at shipyards. He earned an MFA from Goddard College. Bill has been published internationally in journals, sites, and anthologies, including both volumes of the award-winning Stories of Music. His collaborates with a musician, “Notes and Letters,” has links on Facebook and Youtube. His full-length collection, A Former Life, was recently released.

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