Two Poems by Eric Schwerer

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Master Lock

    Ferris'll crouch into the ditch line if you
drive by of an afternoon and he's feeling
    sociopathic. He's let the pig grass get
shoulder high so you might not even see him
    disappearing in the weeds, RC or spade
in his right hand, the left clutched in injury.
    Then, hearing only the hot bugs' hissing shake,
the creek pissing against its stony banks, he'll
    come back up, spit, tilt his head, sip his pop or grip
his spade up close to the working end and keep using it
    to hammer whatever the hell he was hammering
before you rounded the bend.

    What he’s hammering is a Master Lock
he's lost the key for, he's using the spade
    ‘cause he done locked the hammer in the box.
Just kidding. He's hammering the face of a
    watch. Look: now he’s heeling the tiny cogs and
shattered glass into the dirt. Listen: he’s
    fighting mad and out of breath …
The box holds
his dead sister’s things: a medal for being
    dumb enough to register, a gun that fits
inside your mouth, fingers of Iraqi men,
    a lump she’d sworn was a penis tip …. Here's a lesson,
a key: don’t hold on to the shit your kin’ve kept,
    don’t keep it in a box, don’t let no one catch
you, one-handed, trying to wind your old man’s watch.

In America, we, that is

stuck firecrackers up the asses of cats or
    buried them up to their narrow necks out back.
We either lubricated the colored wrappers
    or tamped the dirt so they couldn’t dig free, let the
lawn mower combust the pulse out of the breeze,
    the lit fuse spit its bright pins, then — poom —
the cats’ backs blurred terribly, got bloody and gray,
    became things they could barely drag away. 
U.S. boys did this once, got taught
    to love the loathsome days wasted
at some scrawny cousin’s upstate, embraced
    the whirling blade’s thrack, ears drawn back,
yellow eyes, instinctive hiss, tails black
    as snakes on forest floors, memorized
    the junk we needed to know to learn our cruel folklore.


Eric Schwerer is the author of two books of poetry, The Saint of Withdrawal and Whittling Lessons. His poems have been published in many literary journals, including Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, Paper Street, Fence, The Journal and Diagram. Eric teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. His teaching interests extend to writing workshops for adults recovering from mental illness and teenagers at-risk, as well as literary ethnography/service learning courses in Tanzania and Ecuador.