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James Robert Campbell


Midland, TX, US

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The Ghost, Melchizedek


James Robert Campbell

Into the vale of the human wreck
Drifts the ghost, Melchizedek.
In his native garb, he sniffs
Mephitical smoke along the cliffs,
Hears the demons babbling madly,
Turns his face and shields it sadly
As the demons and the king,
Juxtaposed, fulfill the ring:

This far into our lives, less
Enthralled are we to contemplate the coming
Purity than to hear and feel the humming
As it heightens with such a subtleness
That we perceive the changes in a kind
Of retrospect. And it is not a pit
Nor something we fell into. The gist of it
Is in converging circles in the mind.

Do we deserve, O king and priest, the blessing of your hand?
What now do we owe for what we are?
Abraham is not among the flowers of the land,
And you have heard the muses, the bizarre

Voices that we hear.
If you would touch me,
I could veer
Sublimely, swiftly
Far from here!

The Gates of Jerusalem


James Robert Campbell


Artaxerxes Nehemiah served.
Cupbearer to the king, he was concerned
That the walls of Jerusalem were broken down
And all the city’s portals had been burned.

With Artaxerxes’ blessing and his letter
Telling the forest keeper to yield the wood,
Nehemiah rode from Susa ready
To start the work the Spirit said he should.

The Valley Gate, the Serpent Well, the Refuse
Gate and walls, the Fountain gate, Jeshanah
Gate, the King’s Pool and the towers fell to
The brethren’s hands. Sanballat and Tobiah

Despised the cause, laughed at "the feeble Jews"
And tried to stop the work; but Judah came
Together as one man, saying, "We will
Restore it as you say." The Arab Geshem

Joined the Horonites and Ammonites
And accused Nehemiah of suborning
A rebellion. But the leader refused to run
And finished on the fifty-second morning.

Whaling their way toward the House of Heroes,
The goldsmiths Uzziel and Malchijah
With Zadok the son of Baana and Jehrico’s men
Joined the perfumer Hananiah

At the Broad Wall, East Gate, Water Gate, Horse Gate, Fish
Gate, Sheep Gate, Inspection Gate and the Wall of Ophel,
Fixing the parts at the Ascent to the Armory
And resurrecting the Towel of Hananel.

The Law was read by Ezra the priest in the square
By the Water Gate. A feast was held and then
A meeting where the Levites prayed, recounting blessings
And asking God’s forgiveness for the sins

Of the people -- their stiff necks and stopped-up ears.
"You gave them kingdoms and nations," they said, "but they
Grew fat and disobeyed, cast down your Law,
Killed your prophets and sinned against Your Way.

We’ll make a sure covenant and sign it. Our leaders and priests
Will seal it." And so they did. But Nehemiah
Returned, rebuked Eliashib and ejected
From the courts of the House of the Lord Tobiah.

Humbly asking God to be remembered
For good, the builder made his history.
Preaching the Word after the Crucifixion,
Peter and John explained the mystery

Of salvation for everyone. They went to the Gate
Called Beautiful at the Temple at three p.m.
And said, "All those who repent and are baptized
In the name of Jesus Christ will live through Him."

A crippled beggar asked for alms, but Peter
Commanded, "In the Name of Jesus Christ, arise!"
On his feet and praising God, the man
Leaped through the Beautiful Gate. Caiaphas’ spies

Tried to turn the crowd and called the priest;
But the forty-year-old man held onto them
Who had summoned the power of God to end his woes
And skipped through the loveliest gate in Jerusalem.

Solomon’s Colonnade was where
They took this pivotal affair
In the story of Christianity,
Peter and John, the apostlery,

To tell the throng the Son of God,
Rejected, flogged and crucified,
Afforded all the promise of
Salvation and Jehovah’s love.

Elders, teachers of the law
And rulers called them forth and saw
They were uneducated men
Who’d walked with Him who had no sin.

Filled with the Spirit, Peter said
The One arisen from the dead,
The holy, righteous Lamb of God,
Now holds Heaven’s staff and rod.

"If we be struck by the chastening hand
For a good deed done to a helpless man,
Know it was through the sacrifice
And power of the Name of Jesus Christ

That he was healed," he said. Let go,
They returned to the colonnade and lo,
Five thousand in their absence had
Believed and the church was being added

To each day -- the bride of Him
Who had come to the gate in Jerusalem.

What Bonnie Parker Must Have Thought When She Saw Old Methvin's Truck


James Robert Campbell

On the one hand it was inevitable, on the other perhaps an illusion,
For after all they still ran free with the cops in apparent confusion.
Clyde Barrow had thought he might go on forever as long as he had them out-gunned.
He had Bonnie Parker and a fast gray Ford coupe and he knew he could keep them out-run.

They had been to the showers; they ran spic and span on the morning Frank Hamer lay waiting.
At sixty they came to the top of the hill, then saw what was left for their baiting.
Bonnie Parker was always more watchful than Clyde and she worried as he slowed the car down.
He was doing what most country people would do, but old Methvin was nowhere around.

The ecstasy of outlawry,
The fear and sweat deep in the night --
The pride restored with the morning light
Recedes with the horror of perfidy.

Clyde still considered himself one of the folks and Bonnie was a one-man woman.
She let him keep going till they stopped by the truck and by then was too far in the omen.
She finally screamed; Clyde went for his gun -- the toughest bad character running.
Three pair of lawdogs in the grass at the rise with BAR’s, too, started gunning.

They took it and took it, Clyde’s BAR jammed and he somehow came up with a pistol.
They did the death dance, the whole thing was a trance; enormities
splattered like crystal.
It was only the start of the gruesomeness; the cops were the fugitives now.
Folks saw they had to take Clyde that way, but they couldn’t explain Bonnie somehow.

The politics of retribution,
Counter to the cultural norm,
Take an especially lurid form
As Al Capone-style executions.

Young Methvin did time in McAlester’s pen, but he never was tried back in Texas.
With a restaurant in time for the second world war, he was back in Louisiana for business.
But he never could shake it, that Bonnie and Clyde were dead so that he could be living.
He came to his end at the head of a train -- avenue to a worldly forgiving.

Loud Raymond Hamilton went to the chair. Only W.D. Jones made it through.
Nine of the twelve the gang killed were cops, so you see how it flew.
The dubious logic made of the thing was romantic, yes, that was the caper:
"A gritty ex-con" with a beautiful woman and poems ’bout them in the paper.

The story had started in the cement
of Dallas’s poverty row -- the raw
Deal of the Depression and the law
Fed the demons of discontent.

With your life on the line, you fight to the end; it’s a notion we all understand.
But seeing it carried as far as it was fascinated the average man.
The guns and the guts and the rural mud ruts are all now a part of history --
The summers they tried to catch Bonnie and Clyde, when all of the blacktop was blistery.

There is no way for a poem like this one to find satisfactory
Except inasmuch as the game in the clutch has a way of embracing confusions.
Bonnie died second before standing up in the arms of Ted Hinton -- a gasp!
Clyde lay back happy ‘twixt seat and the door, having once more evaded the grasp.

Parallel realities
In different spheres of circumstance
Sometimes briefly merge by chance
In the context of finality.

Children came quickly to dip in the blood and look at their fingers of crimson.
A dozen farmhands had leaped from a truck and made their way out of the jimson.
A long line of cars followed Bonnie and Clyde in their hell-blasted Ford to Arcadia.
Folks came by the thousands through the funeral parlor: a mob fit for several stadia.

Their families took them home to Dallas and laid them in separate ground.
The crowds again were catastrophic; revenge tales made the rounds.
Some of the story was well-known fodder, some of it only guessed;
And with it the ineffable, something that can’t be expressed.

Honk to Make the Buzzards Fly!


James Robert Campbell

Honk to make the buzzards fly
As you traverse the Great Southwest.
Gourmets of guts, they're loathe to leave
The fecal stench of their repasts.

No, not eagles and not cranes,
Bedraggled wingspans black as sin,
They launch reluctantly, the weight
Of moist satiety on them.

Maggot- and intestine-glutted,
Packed like Dumpsters, buzzards need
Consideration of their hygienic
Value and exigencies.

Heavy, yes, and slow of wing,
They fly too late unless you warn,
Sometimes to the windshield only
Sans the sounding of your horn.

Bursting buzzard, bursting glass --
If you know worse, then spare the lie.
You're fifty miles from town, remember:
Honk to make the buzzards fly!

Elijah-John the Baptist


James Robert Campbell

Elijah, when he ran from Jezebel,
Having lost composure after he had slain
Four hundred-fifty advocates of Baal,

Dejected by his flight across the plain,
Asked God to take him from this evil world,
For Ahab’s queen had proved herself the bane

Of the holy prophets sent there by the Lord.
Elijah had been zealous, but his fear
Prompted this ironic exchange of words:

God asked, "Elijah, what’re you doing here?"
Then said, "Now go outside while I pass by."
A mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire --

But then a whisper as the Lord came nigh
Put ‘Lijah on the path that Enoch walked:
The only two men who didn’t have to die.

Ahab and Queen Jezebel had stalked
The men Jehovah sent with His commands,
But because the Tishbite never balked,

The end of her would come by eunuchs’ hands:
Face-first to the cobblestones and hooves
To be dolloped out across the land

By a pack of dogs. Watching from the rooves,
The hoi polloi took in the hellish scene
As the great adultress proved that it behooves

Everyone to understand God means
What He says. Don’t subtract or add a thing
To Scripture, not even to please a king or queen,

For we have seen what happens to the kings
By example after example in the text.
It was time for the chariot to bring

Elijah home to Heaven and for the next
Prophet of the Lord to take his place.
Elisha now would doubly move to vex

The enemies of Jehovah and His love.
Elijah would return as John the Baptist,
Awaiting Him who merited the dove

While living on wild honey and some locusts.
Baptizer of the Savior of Mankind,
He came back yet again, transfigured with Moses.

Elijah-John the Baptist, yes, would find
And testify of the Savior of Mankind.

The Robin Who Is Bolder


James Robert Campbell

The pods of April manifest
Themselves upon the branches
And out across the ranches,
The mares begin to foal. The best

Are up and running within minutes.
You can tell which ones have got
The speed -- knock-kneed at first
But then a burst of speed. In its

Ancestral need, it keeps up with
The mother, traveling farther
In a day than the young of other
Species. The only reason life

Is dull is the fault of the beholder.
We don’t perceive the brightness;
We cannot hear the rightness
Of the Robin who is bolder.

The Last Long Ride of Jesse James


James Robert Campbell

Harken, settlers! The rustic poet declaims
About the last long ride of Jesse James.
Wood Hite, a kinsman, o'er the cut from the Blue Cut Job,
Took on, alone, the Ford and Liddel mob;
Shot Liddel in the leg, but Bob Ford from behind
Pulled the same trick he pulled later on Jesse's mind.

He rode out from Missouri to Kentucky and back,
But the people at the boy's home were also in the black.
Dick Liddel was away somewhere, but the Ford boys were around
And Jesse planned with them to rob the bank in old Platte town.
Zerelda, Jesse's mother, warned him not to trust the Fords;
But he thought, she's an old woman, and ignored his mother's words.

You know the rest about the guns and the picture on the wall.
The public thought it a sickening thing to see Big Jesse fall.
Bob Ford was not a coward; he was a killer without a code.
He lost the draw to Ed O'Kelley at the Colorado Lode.
Jesse Junior was the clerkish type, and Frank became a barker.
The Youngers rotted in Minnesota; Charley paid his marker.

But I wonder about the people who saw and met him on that ride,
A killing man who nonetheless was famous for his pride.
He took his last long ride to fight for Woodson Hite, his cuz,
And I will bet everyone he met knew who or what he was.

The Beautiful White Spats


James Robert Campbell

How can Slick Slack heal his heel,
Bruised by a worn-out loafer,
Chilled in the gurgling gutter,
Aggravated by the pull

Of a tender tendon? He limps a lot
Each morning, but new shoes
Ameliorate the abuse
Of sidewalks during the day. Not

For lack of circumspection does
Slick’s heel stay sore.
The mornings of before,
When his physicality was

Flowing from his feet -- nostalgic,
Rueful memories
Of well-being, geez,
A contrast to Slick Slack’s neuralgic

Truism of the stride that
Is poignant in the extreme.
Boy, the memories seem
Beautiful like the white spats

Of a Jazz Age gent striding forth
Onto Forty-Second
As the lady beckoned,
Luminous in their mutual mirth!

Billy the Kid's Last Dance


James Robert Campbell

Billy the Kid was a wild Irish boy from the rundown streets of Manhattan,
Coming by way of Arizona New Mexicans’ hatches to batten.
Some say his notoriety is not much deserved, but I say ’tis well he’s respected.
He liked the gunplay and the Mexican maidens and there never was a pal he rejected.
Billy looked like a kid but was tough as hard leather; he could ride a rough saddle forever.
Quick in his movements, lithe as a snake, he could shoot you and laugh ‘bout it after.

Pat Garrett was a smart one, figuring Pete Maxwell was the key to Billy’s protection.
He knew, somehow, Billy would come to Pete’s bedroom each night for a quick salutation.
Paulita, Pete’s sister, was a problem and Billy was staying close now that he’d killed ‘em,
Olinger and Bell, the ones Lincoln County’d had watching him till he could thrill ’em.
But the rope never held much atttraction for characters like Garrett or the tigerish Billy.
He waited for the right time to move and he got ’em, then went out and talked Lincoln silly.

The foothills of New Mexico
Are a beautiful place for a man to die
With the deeper blue of the mountain sky
And fissures of the drifted snow.
Fight for land like this and find
The darker places in your heart
Where enmity and murder start
And passions of the moment bind.

Neither was tough; he got Bell with the handcuffs and waited for Olinger loaded.
Importunately loud, Olinger caught it when the two-barrel ten gauge exploded.
They were not the first; there were eight or ten more and who knows how many uncounted?
To Billy ‘twas horseplay, though seriously countenanced and most satisfactory when mounted.
One interesting aspect of the war and the time after, while usually not much considered,
Is that Billy rode with and faced off with some people as bad as or worse than he figured.

Rudabaugh, Roberts, Garrett and Bowdre -- they all got their shots in or better.
Kinney and Dolan, Frank Baker and Spurlock were in it, too, all to the letter.
Most of the people pitched in and took sides, largely on relatives’ bases;
But many took Billy, seeing that he was bereft of a power oasis.
He had many friends, but they weren’t the kind who could help with a trial or a ploy.
They rode with him, laughed with him; some even died with him, failing to stay with the boy.

Companions of the dubious sort
Will lead an upright youth to ill,
But the livelier disposition will
Go further than from where they start.
Friends are friends who love your life
And shield you from the killing wind
And agents whom avengers send
To seek you with the gun and knife.

Lew Wallace was writing "Ben Hur" and he thought that Billy was detritus best wasted.
"I gave him his chance," he opined, "but Bill Bonney’s a phenomenon unfortunately fated."
Garrett to his credit gave Billy a chance, waiting to draw till the throwdown.
With the Thunderer in one hand and a knife in the other, Billy never did think he would go down.
"Who is it?" he whispered, not knowing ‘twas Garrett till too late, he thought to shoot him.
A blast to the middle and he was well-wounded before the Colt pistol could scoot him.

The women were wailing and showed love for Billy by standing up candles around him
On a bench in a work hut in the dark of Fort Sumner with the righteous and wicked surrounding.
He had hid in the yard after traversing pasture and waited till midnight brought safety,
Then run up in sock feet, armed and expecting that once again, he would prove crafty.
The bedroom of Maxwell was one place in the world where Billy didn’t want to do battle.
Garrett and Poe were hoping they’d get him before he had sense to skedaddle.

There is no place to run for those
Pursued by trackers of the kind
Who shrewdly choose and await the time
When they can overwhelm their foes.
In the shadows, they bide the night,
Letting the fugitive play on.
When the dancing ends and friends are gone,
They come at last into the light.

For Billy’d killed cops and the New World was waiting to see how much longer he’d fade ‘em.
He was such a celebrity, not in Old Mexico or even the East could he evade ‘em.
Romantic and doomed, he went to the dance, or baile as folks then would call ‘em,
Hoping the fiddler or man on guitar would somehow prefigure to stall ‘em.
Leaping up here and swirling around there, in boots and sombrero he charmed ‘em
And no thought of jail breaks or shootouts or posses or anything else could alarm them.

The time was when Garrett would have been dancing with him, quick Billy and the tall, regal horse thief,
Not knowing that before two years passed they would meet up and set off a cascade of grief.
He danced on and on, his boot heels commanding the beat of the music to sway ‘em.
They remembered in watching that Billy had never been one to let anything dismay him.
He was the most helpless, although the most dangerous; for him nothing’d ever been right.
They put up the candles and guitar and fiddle, and the dancers told Billy goodnight.

The Most Beautiful Word


James Robert Campbell

"Cuspidor," James Joyce averred,
Is English’s most beautiful word.
Eschewing the romantic, "Mary,"
"Crystalline," "pristine" and "aerie,"

"Amaranthine," "alpenglow,"
"Whippoorwill" and "mistletoe,"
The maestro used his ear and wit
And said it’s a can where people spit.

Nothing, Now


James Robert Campbell

A rich man who had been born poor
Died and stood at the River Styx
In the Land of the Lost.
Squinting across, he asked Charon,
"How much will this cost?"
With oar groaning across the prow,
The boatman answered, "Nothing, now."

Blue October Light


James Robert Campbell

In every exhalation,
Every breath of blue,
The azure conjuration
Of the wind
Is changing hue.

The bluest of the patches,
Parlors of the sky,
Show bluer by the snatches
Of the clouds
Proceeding by.

The blue in the eyes of notions
In a face of pinkish white
Is as blue as the deepest oceans --
October light.

The Seven Sons of Sceva


James Robert Campbell

Sons of the priestly Sceva, they
Were exorcising people when
An evil spirit in a man
Answered as it heard them say,

"By Paul and Jesus, we command
You, come out and go back to Hell!"
"Them I know but all too well,
But who are you with such demands?"

The demon asked. Then the one
In whom it dwelled rose up and thrashed
The seven sons, beat and bashed
Them bloody and naked until they ran

Out of the house. The story spread
In Ephesus and fear went through
Magicians among the Greeks and Jews,
Who piled the sorcery books they’d read

And burned them in the sight of all,
Fifty thousand silver, confessing
The Name of Jesus Christ and blessing
The work of His Apostle Paul.

Froth Is Made of Boulders


James Robert Campbell

Sticks and froth shoot forward in the river.
Boulders sway and tumble on the bottom.
Even the fish cannot resist; they stop
Inside the calms to let their colors bleed.

Even the bed and bank are soft to the river’s
Rub and cut. Nothing the river touches
Holds itself in place. Sticks are bright
From river fish. Froth is made of boulders.

The Girls of Shiloh


James Robert Campbell

Reclaiming his unfaithful concubine,
A Levite from the hills of Ephraim
Spent five days with her father, making merry,
Before departing in fear of Jerusalem.

They put into Gibeah, where a man,
Alarmed, said, "You can't stay in the city square."
As soon as they had washed themselves and eaten,
A crowd of the depraved besieged them there.

"Give us the man who came of late!" they shouted.
The old man begged his townsmen, "No!" and offered
To make his daughter go, but the mob roared on.
The Levite and his host finally proffered

The concubine, who suffered all night to
The death. Her master cut her up and sent
A piece to each of the dozen tribes. Asking,
"Who has heard of such a thing?" they went

To the Benjamites to demand the guilty but were
Refused. In that time of judges, there was
No king, and so from Dan to Gilead
And Beersheba, four hundred thousand for the cause

Took up arms, inquiring of the Lord, "Who shall
Go first?" He sent Judah, and on Gibeah's
Sand the truculent tribe of Benjamin slew
Twenty-two thousand. The Spirit's advice to lay

An ambush at Baal Tamar finally
Reversed the fight, and fifty thousand fell.
The last six hundred Benjies fled and made
Their stand on the Rock of Rimmon. The Scriptures tell

A tale of national insanity
As the victors voice their grief all night and ask
God why a whole tribe should be missing, then
Because Jabesh Gilead is absent, task

Twelve thousand to slay those brethren, too, and bring
Four hundred virgins for the rebels, who,
Still two hundred shy, are told to lie
East of the road to Shechem for the Shiloh

Girls, absolving their fathers of the oath
That none would ever join the scandalous tribe.
When the girls come dancing out, each man
Grabs one and takes her home, and as the scribes

Impart, peace is restored. The cataclysm
Over, there is little else to say of it
Except to repeat it was a time of judges,
When every man would do as he saw fit.



James Robert Campbell

To their deaths,


Like Fizz From a Dr Pepper


James Robert Campbell

Desire of blood, spectacle of ideal --
The flood lifts the flame to snowy peaks.
Mountain goats with sharp little feet
And prickly pink tongues come down to drink.
Hail pocks the river and they ascend.

The season is beatific and cannot be
Repeated. Streets of anger pull jaws
Masticating the cud of territory.
Whipsawed notions spray out like fizz
From a Dr Pepper on a hot, hot day.