By Frank Stanford 1948–1978 Frank Stanford
I   Or Your Woman

The night was a bad one.
I only saw one other person out:
A big black man on muleback
Riding along the levee, marking the water.

There was a lantern in his hand
And what you could call a grim smile on the lips.
I shifted down gears,
Rolled down the window, turned the radio low.

And said, “Say there, man, how goes it?”
But he couldn’t hear me for the rain
And the song on his transistor radio.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but it’s raining,

Raining to beat hell.”
Said I, “Do you think it’s going to quit?”
“Friend, I couldn’t tell you.”
When big water will, you call everyman friend . . .

We said our goodnights,
Went on, by mule and flatbed truck, wearing black
Rubber, cold to the bone,
Like divers from different ships meeting below.

All you can do is nod, some of the times.
At least, we spoke, knowing that living
Anywhere near the river
You speak when you can; the only thing you try

To hold is your liquor,
And we had none, that bad night on the levee.
Always down the road, I looked up
In the mirror.  And I’m sure he’d a done the same.

II   Midnight

I almost slid off, once
Imagining this cloud was a pall
And the moon was a body.
I don’t know who put coins over her eyes.

When I got to Rampion’s Ferry,
I thought I was the only one there.
I mean it was quiet,
Except for the current, the cables, and the rain.

I got a piece of rope
Out of the back of my truck, and wound it
Around the generator
Engine; it kicked right off the first pull.

The yellow bug lights came on,
And I saw a body move under a purple blanket.
He cussed me out
For waking him up, pulling his old self up.

There was some kind of fish
In the weave of his poncho; other figures
Of snakes and birds, too.
I didn’t mean to wake the awnry fellow up,

I wonder if I did.
A strange odor came from underneath him
When he dragged out his towsack.
It didn’t smell of something burning, but of

Something that was singed.
Like the rain, it didn’t let up.
“Are we going crosst it, or not,”
He told me in a voice, half-blooded song.

III   Some Past Twelve

Someone with a light
Rode up before I could see what all
He was pulling from the burlap:   
Blue calling chalk you find in pool halls, ivory

Tusks, a stringer with rotten heads
The good book and another I couldn’t pronounce—
Just as worn,
And one of those paperweight crystals that snows.

He had strummed the mandolin twice,
A couple of sounds blue as a fox in trouble
In a snowdrift on a ridge, like weeds
Burning underwater, a few licks of silent fire.

When I recognized the lookout
The ferry wasn’t more than a few feet off the bank,
So the mule made it aboard, easy;
Its hooves on the planks like a mad, rough carpenter

Nailing driftwood together.
Oh, we made it across.  We didn’t exactly
Hit the dock on the head,
But we floated on down to Vahalia’s Landing.

We had a good time.
The foreigner played the mandolin, the river
Reached its crest,
And the man on the mule and I drank way into the morning.

They heard us, the ones on land.
“We’re a floating whorehouse, without noun women.”
And in the dead of night,
Rain and all, we motioned them on.

Estate of Frank Stanford © C.D. Wright

Source: Mad Dogs (Unpublished Collection, )

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Poet Frank Stanford 1948–1978

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Born in 1948, Stanford was a prolific poet known for his originality and ingenuity. He has been dubbed “a swamprat Rimbaud” by Lorenzo Thomas and “one of the great voices of death” by Franz Wright. He grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, and then Arkansas, where he lived for most of his life and wrote many of his most powerful poems. He attended the University of Arkansas from 1967-9 and studied engineering while continuing to . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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