kevin ridgeway, four poems

the sound of ugliness

I was grateful to hear music
on the county jail bus
after weeks of listening
to my fellow inmates’
screams in their battles
with the clubs and tear gas
from deputies who controlled
what we listened to on
our way to court when
“Gimme Shelter”
got my yaya’s out,
a favorite song of my father’s
who at the time was
serving a life sentence upstate.
When the deputy changed
the station over to country music,
that made us all too deaf to fight
over the sonic expression
of our rebellion from a society
that didn’t want to give us
a chance in hell. We were
terrified of who the judge
might be and they could
have sentenced me
to a lifetime of silence
while I tried to remember
the songs I missed the most,
and not “Elvira” by so and so
while the deputy at the wheel
began to sing along.
One of my fellow inmates
told him to shut the fuck up.
The music was turned off
and the deputies came
into the back to beat
the living fuck out of him,
but he kept singing music
that is known
to kill fascists
like the ones
who strangled him
for all the joy he got
caught trying to steal
from everybody else
to soften the blow
of his miserable life,
in a world where pigs
think they can sing.


was shorter
than all of us
but bigger than us
from deep within
a body affected
by dwarfism.
she called
the shots in college:
she wrote epic poems,
and she yelled at us
for writing bad poems.
She taught me
who to read
and who and what
to listen to,
music, art and people
we all looked at each other
and said we had
never heard of,
when she told us
to shut the fuck up
and let her finish
what she was saying.

hot stuff

the smut shop
sits unscathed
in a gentrified neighborhood
painted in the war paint
of individuality.
Dildos and other types
of artificial genitalia
and vibrators,
plus rubber nipple gag gifts
for any discount motel fuck.
We stare over at the shop
from the balcony
of our motel room,
two leather clad lovers
who sheltered
from the falling rain

with a new assortment
of naughty gifts stained
by the novelty of love.

when her father thought i was a dope fiend

He looked at me with a screaming sunburn
courtesy of the Long Island sun.
He gasped and frightened me
from ever showing my face around
his house again, dressed in a cardigan
I stole from a young girl
who said she didn’t love me back.
My arms were never visible
to authority figures dethroned
by my rejection of the lies
old people tell themselves
when they are too afraid
of young people like me
who aren’t the devil
they thought we were underneath
all of the second hand layers,
surrounded by stacks of used books,
books which wrote out
my entire post-adolescent destiny
in the rebirth of a misguided rebellion
her father would never understand
in his search for needle hype
track marks he believed
I hid from him. I remained
stashed away in his
daughter’s bedroom
during summer break
from a school where
we learned that
men like him ruled
a hateful past
that punks like me
were born to run
away from.

and all through the house

it was a silent night:
no lights, ornaments
or festive sounds.
Christmas died
with my recently
deceased mother
in its arms.
I was the only one
in the haunted
suburban darkness
of our empty house,
the walls bare
and no Christmas tree
to be found. I went
to sneak a peek
at my presents
in her bedroom
cupboard but
it hid no gifts,
her ashes
sitting there in
an unwrapped box.
The living room
fireplace was
naked without
our knitted
stockings from
grandma, who
was long gone.
Nobody was around
as I searched for
my dead mother
after she got lost
inside of an
uncertain midnight.
Joyous carolers
sang in the distance,
but never again
on our front lawn,
and the only thing
Santa brought me
was an existential
lump of coal to play
within the dark.

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