Mike James

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Artwork by Gene McCormick

Political Poem 

There once was a man who knew almost nothing. He would have been fine left alone, growing old under a tropical sun. Unfortunately, the people asked him to be king. Most knew he knew nothing, though some knew less than him. (That’s not mathematically possible, but it is metaphorically true.)

People thought he would be like them and, in many ways, he was.

Whenever he travelled, which was often, he shook hands with almost anyone. When he shook hands he leaned in too close or stayed back too far or squeezed too tight or held on long past when he should have let go. 

His mind, a blue blanket on the ground, held every shadow which came past. Shadows frightened him even more than stairs.

Alone in his castle, all he ate was ketchup and mushrooms. Ketchup was his favorite color and vegetable. After a while, after years of such a diet, the king died.   

Before he was king, there had been many good years. 


People Who Should Have Been Hung By Their Boots, Like Mussolini

Idi Amin. James Buchanan. Henry Kissinger. My great-grandfather, Ted Wade. (A true, hateful bastard who was not loved by his family and is not missed.) Pol Pot. Pope John XII. Stalin. (Feel free to say of course to this one or any others.) Nathan Bedford Forrest. John C. Calhoun. Alexander H. Stephens. (Anyone who ever thought slavery a good idea.) Ivan the Terrible. Frank the Suspicious. Joey the Peevish. Leopold II of Belgium. Andrew Jackson. (Hung by his boots and painted Cherokee red.) Augusto Pinochet. (His deadly name always sounded like an umbrella being opened.) Not Jack Wolford, my late poet friend. And no women listed, since history’s greatest forced errors are owned by men.  

The Guitar Lesson

            after Balthus

She scrapped her knees running to, what she knew, was her last lesson. She never cried.  Her body, half numb with anticipation. Her teacher cleaned the blood away before they started. Tenderly, dabbed each knee with a handkerchief until only a plum’s redness remained.

Knowing the lessons were about to be finished, they said almost nothing. Went right to the reason they were now together.   

In her rush to her teacher she almost forgot her guitar. 

Mike James lives and works in Chapel Hill, NC with his wife and five children. His poems and reviews have appeared in numerous magazines throughout the country with recent work inNegative Capability, Chiron Review, and Soundings East. New work is forthcoming in Iodineand Birmingham Poetry Review.  His eighth poetry collection, The Year We Let The House Fall Down, was recently published by Aldrich Press.  A new collection, Peddler’s Blues, will be published in 2016 by Main Street Rag.  He’s previously served as an associate editor at Autumn House Press and as a Visiting Writer-In-Residence at the University of Maine, Fort Kent.  Currently, he serves as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review.