Poetry Showcase: Jason Ryberg inspired by Tom Waits

Bio: Jason Ryberg is the author of eighteen books of poetry,
six screenplays, a few short stories, a box full of folders,
notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be 
(loosely) construed as a novel, and, a couple of angry 
letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. 
He is currently an artist-in-residence at both 
The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s 
and the Osage Arts Community, and is an editor 
and designer at Spartan Books. His latest collection 
of poems is The Great American Pyramid Scheme 
(co-authored with W.E. Leathem, Tim Tarkelly and 
Mack Thorn, OAC Books, 2022). He lives part-time 
in Kansas City, MO with a rooster named Little Red 
and a billygoat named Giuseppe and part-time somewhere 
in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also 
many strange and wonderful woodland critters. 

The Island of Lost Personal Items and Effects

He told us he came from the Island 
of Lost Personal Items and Effects 
and handed me an ancient cigar box 
lined and padded with crumpled receipts 
and scraps of scratch-paper with phone numbers
and addresses hastily scrawled on them.

In it were nested keys, gloves, driver’s licenses, sunglasses, 
and three fairly expensive-looking Zippo lighters. 
Whenever he closed and reopened the lid,
different items would be contained inside:
pens, cell-phones and wedding rings, earrings 
and cufflinks, pocket-knives and pocket-watches.

He carried a fancy oriental parasol
which he claimed gave him the power of flight
and wore hip-waders which he said allowed him
to stroll freely around in the fabled River of Time
as often as he liked (and with little fear
of being pulled under and swept away
by its notorious undercurrents).

He also had an old cane pole
strung with telegraph wire which he baited with 
glittering baby dreams to lure variations of the Truth 
(in all its slippery countenances and for his own 
personal and unspecified use, I would assume).

The candlelight in our kitchen made his shadow 
dance a curious dance along the opposite wall and 
made his face seem like the face of a grinning 
bone china Buddha.

When he got up to leave he stopped and said to us,
I wouldn’t put too many of my eggs (golden or
otherwise) in with planets and stars, nor with lucky 
numbers and fortunes, no more than I would 
on dogs and horses ...

We never saw him again.

Big Sister Wind

Man oh man, only 10am and I can tell you already, gonna 
be one o’ them days when the temperature’s climbin’ 
steady and the air is a thick and heavy sludge. One o’ them 
days when the neighbor’s always-yappin’ mutts lay 
neutralized and sprawled about and all the birds refuse to 
budge, when the sun and the ground aspire to conspire to 
boil us down and sweat us out into the churning, bubbling
atmospheric soup above. But Big Sister Wind with her 
gears and cranks and her cast-iron tanks and her pneumatic, 
automatic, operatic bellow-fulls of cool basso-profundo
aint never gonna let it go that way (well, not today, anyway).

Dinner With the Devil (Sleight Return)

Without so much as a warning, an unwarranted weather-front 
of attitude is just now swoopin’ down; yes, a dark and snarly 
storm (with roots reaching deep beneath the norm) is about 
to come biblically floodin’ out from some meta-psychic-al 
steel drum into this tiny china tea-cup of a town. 
                                                                                             And the 
wind is nervously squirming and moaning and pacing around, 
lookin’ for a quiet corner to piss in. And over at the Congo 
Room (way out there by the tracks), the Stoics are demanding 
that the Taoists let them pass, but the Taoists are just hangin’ 
ten, man, cuz those guys know when it’s all been done and 
said, neither they nor we nor you nor them ever beats The 
House: naw man, no one ever really wins (you just hope to 
cut your losses and call the whole thing even). 

                                                                                 And everybody 
knows (that is, everyone that’s in the know), the Devil, he’s out 
there cat-scratchin’ somewhere, shuckin’ and jivin’ and makin’ 
the rounds, hemmin’ and hawin’ and playin’ the clown in the 
ever-increasingly sinister most interior of a broken-down 
                      He’s rackin’ balls and talkin’ trash, punchin’ tunes 
and pinchin’ ass, tryin’ to sniff out a good time or maybe just  
shadowin’ the sidelines, sippin’ on a scotch-and-soda, chewin’
out a toothy grin.                                   
                        Yeah, he’s rode into town on crow’s wings 
and a cloud of Oklahoma dust and he knows just what to
say and do to turn the burner up a touch (beneath a city 
already close to boiling over with ids and egos and ill-
advis’d lusts). 
                         And the wing’d monkeys are circlin’, and all 
your sources  and connections are layin’ low, and the cops 
are all out in force tonight, and the city’s fixin’ to explode. 
But, as everybody knows (that is, everyone who’s anyone 
who’s even slightly in the know), Taoists never spill their 
drinks crossin’ a crowded room, and if you’re gonna dine 
with the Devil, brothers and sisters, better bring yourself 
a long motherfuckin’ spoon.

Truly a Feast

There’s always
a serious swinging
and flinging
in her stride,

a flurious fountain
of sparks in her skull,

and a rich ruby radiance
serpentining wildly
through her veins:

truly a feast
for the hands,
the mouth
and the mind’s
x-ray eye, as well.

But please,
will someone tell me
how the hell
I’m supposed to crack
the shell

of her hypnotic
and confounding

Mr. Grey Skies (Sleight Redux)

Don’t you come ‘round here, no more, Mr. Grey Skies,
Mr. No-Heart-And-All-Lies, Mr. Fork’d-Tongue-And-
Snak’d-Eyes, with your no-more tomorrows and your 
low-down tonights, your goat’s feet and your crow’s 
wings and your icicle-daggers always refracting a, some-  
how, unnatural light, your gibbering devil-monkeys  and 
third-rate conspiracies and your spindly spider-web 
dreams spinning from the fat, under-belly of night. No 
one wants to see your cockroach of a heart pinned to 
your sleeve. No one wants to smell the unhealthy funk
of your ragman’s bag of miseries. No one here wants any- 
thing to do with what you got to offer, Mr. Black Hand 
Man. So, get your shit-house rats and your loaded dice,
your hangman’s noose and your butcher’s knife, then, 
take two steps back and turn away, turn away, turn away 
from the river of life (in which you may never, ever again 
step twice). Now go get your shine-box, boy, pack your 
bags and PUT THE GLASS DICK DOWN! Go wait 
shamefully at the station (with a dumb look on your 
face) for the last bus out of town. And you best not be 
seen creepin’ ‘round here no more you dirty little whore, 
Mr. Grey Skies, Mr. River-Of-Tears-And-Halo-Of-Flies,
Tries. No-sir-ee, Stagger Lee, from this day forth I break 
with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee. I reclaim 
the body, mind and soul that I once mortgaged to thee.
I spit fire at your cold fish’s eye. I kick hot sand at your 
sly gargoyle face. I kick dog shit on your fancy shoes. Not 
one more time will I hand over my money and my keys 
to you. Not one more time will I sacrifice my precious 
time for you. Not one more time will I follow you like a 
little, lost lamb or a red-headed stepchild into your forest
of black, creaking skeletons. Now take it on the heel-and-
toe, motherfucker, before I whack ya one!