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Camera Of The Mind

Camera Of The Mind

by Stephen Orr Manning

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Blues and birdsong flamenco and flowing rivers rain and restless feet storms and Southern "patois"

The poems of a young Southern boy who joined the military, travelled the world, got an education, made a whole big bunch of friends, came home to the woods and walks there often, happily watching birds and watching the world pass by, occasionally saying a few


Blues and birdsong flamenco and flowing rivers rain and restless feet storms and Southern "patois"

The poems of a young Southern boy who joined the military, travelled the world, got an education, made a whole big bunch of friends, came home to the woods and walks there often, happily watching birds and watching the world pass by, occasionally saying a few words at it, with a laugh and a shake of the head.

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Camera of the Mind

By Stephen Orr Manning


Copyright © 2011 Stephen Orr Manning
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4634-3885-2

Chapter One

        The Second Birth of the Grayhair

    Returning now on remembered paths
    can the Grayhair become once more
    a barefoot kid with muddy feet
    splashing up and down some river or creek
    or is it now just memory?

    Dim at best but just how different
    these mind movies of chasing crawdads,
    long legs and dragonflies,
    minnows swimming upstream,
    waterbugs floating down?

    Three kids on a swaybacked mule named "Mule"
    stop and cut a cane for candy
    on the way to the fishing hole.
    One of them brought bread
    so all of them would have lunch.

    Siblings not of blood but of the land
    who roamed the woods, listened and learned,
    who carried a line and hook, cut a pole,
    caught a bug then a fish or two to cook upon a fire.
    With the bread it was enough for all.

    The one who arrives at this moment,
    presents himself to the energy of now,
    has new tools but worn with practice,
    is not that same muddy footed kid,
    more's the pity.

        Late Shift at Maybelle's Diner

    The only Caution light blinked yellow
    adding color to the panorama of Bonnie Sue's visible world
    of a streetlight on the far corner
    and the neon "Vacancy" aptly describing the town
    at the crossroads shared by a gas station
    that closed at nine. The constable stopped in for coffee at 10
    unless Jimmy Joe was drunk and trying
    to beat up on Sue Emma which was a real dumb thing to do
    she being twice his size and real mean.
    Bonnie Sue liked shirts with those fancy pockets
    with snap buttons that looked like pearls.
    Bonnie Sue was a sucker for any smooth talker
    that had a story about "them is real pearls
    on them buttons, they is special made in Hong Kong
    by a little old man that uses silk threads
    to cut But wait there's more to this magic day.
    em into slices. It took a long time
    so they cost a lot."
    Bonnie Sue's prince had come, but the next morning
    had turned into a frog with beer breath
    and smelly armpits. And the buttons
    like all the others came from shells
    of freshwater mussels dug out of mud
    from the bottom of the brown smelly river
    flowing through leached out dirt
    of the dying no hope town.
    Bonnie Sue would sleep awhile before
    the late shift at the diner.
    Maybe, tonight Bonnie Sue's prince would come.

        Growing Up Southern and Poor

    In the cool morning hours after midnight
    of what had been hot Southern nights,
    the radio muffled under the covers so Momma would
    not hear and come to turn it off and make me sleep
    but if lucky the sound came
    "... from high on the mountaintop
    in Gallatin, Tennessee, bringing you the sounds
    of Red, Hot and Blue"
    or what grayhairs white and black
    call rhythm and blues and played it together
    in back rooms of music stores where
    Calvin played piano and
    taught us how to play the sound
    and feel the sound
    and love the sound
    which might be the Memphis Jug Band
    an old time down home bunch blowing on
    earthenware crocks, thumping on washtub basses
    and chanting and singing their field whoops and hollers
    or maybe the Memphis Horns
    which was a real old time rhythm and blues band
    but these folks just played their horns
    and bent their notes and flatted their fifths
    that cried about good times and hard times
    and night times and ain't no time to be poor
    'cause your batteries run low right in the middle of
    Muddy Waters singing Little Red Rooster.
    You children have no idea
    what music means
    to those who came before.
    Those black boys
    who walked the cotton rows
    and those white boys
    who walked beside them
    poor but yearning just as they
    for something better and sang along
    stoop pick and drag your bag
    to earn your fifty cents


    The story is not over
    while brainburn
    still forges white-hot memories
    now fitted with a context
    to give it meaning
    like a molded vessel
    gives liquid shape.

    What were before
    onerous chores,
    some job of work
    thought hard labor by
    a child struggling
    with the heavy pail
    full of needed water,
    or the armload of firewood
    that was actually arms load
    leaving no hand free
    to open the screen door
    without dropping a few logs,
    or the mowing of grass,
    or raking of leaves,

    may now be thought
    in manhood to have been
    strengthening of muscles,
    learning and practicing of lessons,
    disciplining of character,
    contributing of self
    to the work of a family.
    What better chore
    than the early gathering of peaches and berries
    when no wind stirred but the
    mists were moved
    and a young boy given
    to a sense of wonder
    was ready to believe
    what moved them
    were fairy wings and butterflies.

        The Big House


    The Grayhair rocked the cradle
    long before some loose-hipped country boy
    kicked down that split rail fence
    in the country of white folk and
    black folk playing music from
    wherever it was they came from
    before they decided they came from here
    but hearing it all and playing all
    the licks in the style of the most players
    at this particular hootenanny, ceilidh,
    getting down blues jam, or djembe circle
    and some could only dance but
    no one could keep still feet
    in the presence of the driving beat
    and a coal shuttle voice
    sometimes singin' 'bout
    "Annie May's Cafe,
    there's one in every town.
    .38 special behind the bar
    another in the pocket of her gown."
    Some hand-lettered board or
    half broken neon sign might say
    Gutbucket Blues Hall, Rib Shack,
    Uncle Milton's, P. J.'s,
    Big Mama's Music Hall, or
    something close to it
    if they could spell at all.
    Singer, mouth harp, guitar
    maybe squeeze box and a walking bass
    shufflin' on, and every hot night
    was a long good night to
    drive it on down,
    take it on home.


    The young folk followed that
    loose-hipped white boy
    away from Beale Street
    towards the Sun on Madison Avenue,
    had to call their music
    something else to make it
    acceptable, respectable,
    connectible, bookable
    in southern-state Holiday Inn
    lounges and convention center
    ballrooms in Bible-belt
    county seats patrolled by
    blue-nosed prudes, blue-rinsed matrons
    and newly self-ordained and self-annointed
    storefront preacher men who
    talked to old what's his face
    just last week and was struck
    deef and dumb for some number
    of hours corresponding exactly
    to the time it takes to sleep off
    a three day drunk. (Glory! He is risen.)
    And he will share his great new revelation
    in a spirit of jubilation and in
    anticipation of remuneration, (Hallelujah!)
    for the inspiration provided by the
    deification of old what's his face.
    (Somebody gimme an Amen!)
    brought to you now through
    the magic of radio, the electrification
    of superstitious farce. "Send 5 dollars
    and I will pray for you. In the meantime here is
    a good old time Christian gospel tune
    for you to handle snakes by."


    All Robert Johnson's chillun heard it all
    and all the childeen of the Scots-Irish way back
    up in the coves of Appalachia
    playing mandolins, banjos,
    dobros, zithers, fiddles
    and the 'small box' that survived
    the salt spray below decks
    on the long boat ride to Amerikay!
    The troubadors sang about
    Six Black Horses and
    Brown Mountain Lights.
    The black orphans in the marching bands
    struttin' on home to honor the dead
    Way Down Yonder in that once great city
    where it came together and started
    a long boat ride upriver.
    THE river. Ole Man River. The Big Muddy
    flowing through cotton fields with
    bargemen chanting, field hands whooping
    and hollering work songs that sometimes
    turn to rain-makin' god-praisin' gospel singin'
    just like Sunday mornin' go to meetin'
    music. And that early mornin hurryin to Jesus is
    still a little bit too close to that
    Saturday night hurryin to
    'get some of that ole sweet roll,' when
    the spider-skinny men get to struttin
    and the sticky-lipped gals get all twitchy-hipped.
    Beat's the same, maybe the words are too,
    four-beat 12-bar boogie with a thumping bass
    'Comin on home to the promised land.


    At Memphis, barges landed on the cobblestone bank
    near the old Cotton Exchange at the
    foot of Beale Street to take on
    bales and lumber to carry north
    and let the bargemen visit the ground-floor
    blues parlors and the
    upstairs pleasure parlors.
    Some went further north
    some in freight-cars,
    some on the back seats of Greyhounds
    as far north to where the land
    quit fighting the cold winds and
    swirling snowstorms off the lake,
    and let the water have it.
    Those raw winds off the lake
    chewed the ears and chilled the brain,
    gave urgent reason to hurry up and
    take it inside like those
    steel-string electric guitars
    of the Chicago blues players.
    Keen leading edges of notes like broken ice
    slice through electric space.
    They zing, hiss and buzz
    crack and spit, cut and sting
    like mean fingernails
    flicking frozen earlobes.


    And then it spread east and west
    back down to barbecue land
    like blood oozing
    over uneven sidewalks,
    over curbs into gutters
    with the mud and unlucky
    numbers slips down the
    drains into the rivers
    upstream and down,
    gushing from the cracked skull or
    bullet in the chest of
    some faithless lover who
    won't be kicking in her stall
    NO MO,
    tumbling splashing roaring crashing banging
    twanging yodeling sliding picking and chording,
    No matter how far they went,
    coming back home.
    The Big House was always big enough,
    as big as it needed to be.
    How big does it need to be to
    hold all that American Music?

        Southern Thunderstorm

    Lightning confuses the clock,
    we watch the display and do not sleep.
    Dark thunderheads delayed dawn,
    under the canopy it is still dark,
    gentle rain for hours
    the thirsty earth sighs relief
    and then the leaves will drip
    and the creek will rise.

        Significant Other

    Perhaps "significant other" is
    a bit adventurous if
    not downright pretentious
    for one having dumped a third husband
    and met this guy in a bar.
    After six drinks or so or
    was it seven anyway who counts
    anymore if you've still got money
    and can still walk. They
    were both sure they had found
    true love at last.
    Anyway, having spent at least
    three hours together and they were
    not getting any younger,
    it was high time to pursue
    a meaningful relationship
    which they proceeded to do
    by retiring to the nearest
    hot-bed motel to
    discuss Neo-Platinist
    philosophy, always
    more effective in the nude
    sort of like buying Playboy
    for the articles.
    Owing to their state of
    inebriation and even more
    to the sharp penetrating
    thrusts of logic distracting them
    from trivialities like buttons,
    took longer than expected,
    leaving them three minutes
    to complete the deed before
    the rent expired. It's
    all a bit hazy from there,
    did they or didn't they,
    who cares anyway,
    but one thing for sure
    he's still got gas in his pickup
    so she'll be damned if
    she lets him get away.

        Geezlin Brothers Fish Camp

    They sure weren't much to look at
    these brothers of the deep woods
    by a river in Mississippi

    named something strange
    ending in—hootchie or could
    be—hassee or maybe—loosa

    that flowed wide and deep
    enough to host the river
    catfish big enough

    to make it worth a living
    to set and check the trotlines
    then make a run to town with

    that day's catch all cleaned
    and white and cut to suit
    the restaurants on their routes.

    They lived in a big Army tent
    banked with earth half way
    and heated by an old wood burner

    as centerpiece, lit by oil lamps.
    Bunks, chairs, tables, cabinets
    made it seem otherwise normal.

    But I was young then
    and this is but a memory.
    I will try to make it true.

    No matter, I lived there
    and knew these men
    or men like them.

    I was young and went where taken,
    one such place was the Magic Stump
    where we stopped on the way to the camp.

    A bill was left inside the stump
    before the curve. Then on
    to camp for a bowl of stew.

    The pot simmered all the time, they
    added this or that, rabbit made it
    rabbit stew, possum or squirrel

    made it something else with a
    few potatoes and a handful of flour.
    Some water when it got too thick.

    They taught me to skin and
    clean the critters, to cut and
    cook, and cure the pelts.

    Granddad collected Mason jars
    for some odd reason,
    we always took a box to them.

    Coming home the Magic Stump
    would once more earn its name.
    A jar of "catfish milk" appeared.

        Train Boy

    In summer, the Train Boy helped
    in the general store at one end
    of the small Arkansas town.
    The train was big and loud and
    so unlike the mundane things
    that filled the summer days
    in a small town where
    small boys were bystanding observers of
    haircuts, horse trading, and horticultural
    swaps of sweet corn and strawberries.

    The train came from somewhere
    out there, maybe behind the woods
    past Cecil's barn where the pony was kept,
    or the other side of the tracks, or down
    the old dirt road into the swamp,
    and it went somewhere else out there.
    Maybe it went to see Ernest Tubb and
    Minnie Pearl at some place called
    Grand Ole Opry that lived in the radio
    wherever that was.
    Out there. Where the train boy
    did not yet understand.

    The train came through midmorning.
    Its whistle blew first outside of town
    alerting loaders, drivers "Here I Come!"
    And the train boy in the Racket Store,
    one of those who waited for that
    distinctive sound unlike the
    tame dogs and cats more like the
    wild siren scream of coyote, bobcat
    or other wild things that could come from
    another strange place and go to some new place
    and announce "Here I come. Here I am!"
    The Train Boy ran the length of town,
    a long block to stand and wave.
    Hello, we are still here and all is well.
    And they waved back,
    the daily summer ritual fulfilled.

        Bottleneck Blues on a
          Broke-neck Guitar

    He heard his momma singing gospel,
    fell asleep to her soothing lullaby.
    His daddy's deep bass voice
    led work chants in the fields.

    He heard cows and frogs and barking dogs
    and older kids playing hopscotch, and
    skipping rope on the hard baked dirt
    near the stoop where Granny's rocker squeaked.

    He waked to the trill of wrens, fell asleep
    to questions of secretive birds he had never seen.
    He punched the bag of herbs
    Big Mama Lil tied to his crib.

    He heard the tractor growling louder
    as it climbed the slope, the rattle
    of lids on boiling kettles, and the
    flapping of sheets drying in the breeze.

    Big Mama said we got us a music man!
    Daddy bought a guitar with a broken neck.
    It was the best this field hand could afford.
    He boiled hides and bones for glue.

    Daddy pegged and glued and strapped the neck.
    The neighbors brought some strings.
    Big Mama knew a bluesman
    with an extra RC bottleneck.

    The boy began to play and
    mimicked music of the birds and of Momma
    and of Daddy. With that slide
    he played the sounds he heard within him.


    I listen to flamenco guitar
    hear that one-note walking bass
    that is still a melody enough
    to call up from memory
    the delta blues of field hands
    akin to grape pickers of Jerez.
    They may also share those
    high tremolo runs of busy fingers.
    The sounds so different
    the feel so much the same.
    "My baby don' lef me,
    Please come back home."


    Young southern boys just learning
    to play the blues and rhythm and blues
    on hot Southern nights in
    small Southern towns in
    cotton country or rice lands,
    could not go to the
    front door even to sit
    on the sidewalk to listen
    to the big blasting boogie
    spilling out the front door
    because the Sheriff was watching.
    It was still too soon to dream
    of playing tenor sax in a band
    with Calvin in that town,
    except in music store back rooms
    or late night jams when
    sound trumped color
    and soul trumped skin.
    We were too young but mostly too white
    to be allowed to listen to, let alone play
    this music that might sully
    the souls of future overlords.
    But the pull was strong. We found
    the alleys, listened at the back door
    always left propped open so the
    girls could get in without paying the cover,
    and the white boys could sit outside
    and hear the music where
    white faces wouldn't shine.
    But when Houston Stackhouse came to town
    and if Calvin was playing piano
    he'd give a high sign and
    you could sit inside behind the stacks
    of cased beer and watch the band until
    the bottles flew, the knives flashed
    and the fat man in the corner
    pulled his .44.

        A Day in the Country, June 6, 2009

        Part 1, Cattle drive at the old home place

    In common with the cattle
    a cecropia moth
    visited the castle
    on this day.
    The dog heard them
    coming down the drive,
    the cattle not the moth,
    invading his territory
    which is off-limits to squirrels,
    crows, wayward horses and
    cows but especially obnoxious
    sissy-groomed lap dogs but that is redundant
    isn't it? You get the idea.
    Paddy proceeded to herd them back home
    with a minimum of human assistance which
    no doubt he would rather have done without
    but recognizing the inept assistants
    as those who filled the dinner bowl,
    he did not protest too greatly.
    The cows ran back up their own drive kicking
    but missing and mooing to answering barks.
    Thinking we had taken care of that little problem, we returned to
    more productive pursuits
    but prematurely. Cattle are dumb but these at least
    had learned to turn the other way
    and ran down the road back onto our neighbor's unfenced land.
    At least we've kept them off the highway of which more later. We
    called all the available numbers, left messages and were about to
    alert the National Guard,
    when the wife happened to spot the moth.
    No Dusty Miller this, but a five inch behemoth
    that viewed upside down
    owing to the spots on its wings
    could have easily modeled for the monster in
    Alien 17 or so. Stop everything, we have
    a genuine creature conundrum! What is this?
    Call the neighbor, she'll know, and if she doesn't
    she's got a butterfly book.
    Sure enough, she knew so we spent some happy time learning
    about this new winged friend,
    cattle forgotten.
    But wait there's more to this magic day.


Excerpted from Camera of the Mind by Stephen Orr Manning Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Orr Manning. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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