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Cagney, James

Cagney, James


James Cagney is a poet and writer from Oakland, Ca. He has appeared featured poet at venues and museums throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. His first book, Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour of Chaos Theory, will be published by Nomadic press in the fall of 2018. Visit his blog at

The Fire In Her Eyes Redefines An Apple

The ritual of fruit beings again in June
when buckets of smiling plums and blistered peaches
arrive for her in cars altering our kitchen into a
steaming workshop. Soon,
blackened pots boil with our
life’s winter blood. She quickly
buries the dead in a cemetery of
sugar where apricots and pears await to be
baptized and born again
as jam and jelly.

Late summer brings chopped
cabbages, cucumbers and ancient
spices, all bathed in a sauna of
hot vinegar and crushed red peppers.
The walls of our kitchen come alive
with the sweat of our ancestors
who live again through annual recipes.
The dead continue to feed the living with
greasy fingers, stuffing our mouths
with the sweet cuisine of history.

She leads us to her garden and motions
over a brief field of greens. Their vibrant
tongues lap sunlight like thirsty dogs.
She tells us, “This is a lost art,”
and warns that our wives will be useless to our children.
Weeping, she lets us smell her hands,
and the odor of 40 years-worth of
stewed tomatoes, summer squash,
sweet corns and candied yams
comes to us like saddened ghosts.

She instructs us, at the moment of her death,
to sprinkle her body with salt
under her skin becomes white with dandelions,
place her in our biggest pot
and simmer to a low gravy. Seal her up
in the tomb of a glass jar, store her
in a cool, dry place,
and save her till the fog of poverty
settles in the valley of our ignorance,
when there’s only rainwater, credited bread,
and the memory of meat.


The word for a planet
Concealed within another
Planet is ocean

As the word for one entity

Concealed by another is


The ocean has no ghost
And plans on living forever

It is, in fact

Indifferent to death
Which makes its choral ohm


And seductive


Beneath dawns blush
The oceans’ skin shimmers

with opulent intelligence

like millions of silver
school fish turning pages
in millions of books


I once thought the ocean
Was a dream the earth was having
Or vice versa


But now I see the ocean
As doorway to someplace else
Without debt to gravity

Or conversation

Veiny rivers

Cellular rain


Our relentless ocean
Is a boundless illustration of eternity


Its flavor profile may have changed
But it appears exactly how Jesus once saw it


A wrinkled wedding veil

Ripped in half

By the libidinous appetite

Of the bridegroom sun


How to operate heavy machinery –Be A Hood Mechanic, 1978

1. Think of yourself a kind of doctor, puzzling over a machine’s stubborn silence.
2. Dip the doughnut of your torque converter into a steaming cup of black oil.
3. A bowl of lug nuts bubble the red milk of transmission fluid like tadpoles.  Brackets and spark plugs breach the greasy cookie jars on your automotive spice shelf.
4. Diagnose through a stethoscopic Marlboro, its sheet of smoke an x-ray on a light-board; translate the fevered gibberish of an engine in idle.
5. The sun pauses before your open workshop curiously, hanging stars above the door.  Forget the son.
Consider you might be a type of god over a fickle society of steel. Know how to put them in their place.
6. Lunch of bourbon on kerosene rocks.  Brake Fluid ice cream.  Fan belt licorice.
7. Witchdoctor with a ratcheting wrench through your nose – You assemble metallic dreams with ignited blue hands.
8. There is no better mattress than a sidewalk, or


Rorschach patterned in oil, a crunch of sand sprinkled as before an old tap-dancer.  Your wife and

son know this, too… Stranded on the porch,

watching you,

ready to run


Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour of Chaos Theory (Nomadic Press, 2018)