James Dunlap  is an Arkansas poet. He studied creative writing at University of Arkansas and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in  Nashville Review ,  storySouth ,  The Journal , and  Copper Nickel . 

James Dunlap is an Arkansas poet. He studied creative writing at University of Arkansas and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Nashville Review, storySouth, The Journal, and Copper Nickel



At a certain point I found that as I was writing poems and collecting them, I had lots and lots of immensely sad, tightly-wound poems. And I was thinking at the time about how I hoped that from this book a clear picture of my rural Arkansas life might emerge. I was thinking it was always so grave. I was thinking there was a lot of interesting people out there. I was thinking that there was bad, but plenty of joy. And that’s what spurred the ghazal. I didn’t mean to write in a form, but the repetition worked well with the vernacular and made a rhythm that felt good to me. This poem is part of a larger series of ghazals that is a prominent section of my current manuscript. I wouldn’t have come to write these poems without first reading Josh Myer’s Poem "Fire Essay."  


The strangest place I like to write is in the tub. Not while taking a bath. I just sometimes sit in the tub and write. It’s comfortable sometimes. My favorite place to write is outside, but I rarely get anything done. I usually get distracted by dogs or squirrels or funny looking leaves.


Beatrice and Cloy’s
Essay on Night

Every year the cemetery creeps a little closer and one day it will be backed up into the yard.
They were happy. Morning light rained through the window. When they was married, Cloy drank all night  

and the next morning, he puked in the collection plate at Second Baptist Church.
Maybe it was all he had to offer God besides his strangled, Oh Lord of light, Lord of night,

a tune his momma sang to him in the crib. In the raw stage lights he thought he saw her,
hanging clothes out on the line at the old house. Would his name be in the book of life under Knight?

Maybe he spent too many years stuck in the muddy roads between doubt and bent knees,
but when he was a kid, he knew the rules: keep out of God’s crosshairs, even at night.

In the ringing of his cast-iron head, he thought: let my wheezy prayer make it up in the weather. Beatrice was queen of the dancehall, she’d churn up the saw dust and drink the boys under the table any night.

She still fried chicken every Sunday morning. But now the hitch in her hip galls her every day,
and sweat glitters like fish scales on her forehead. But she ain’t the quitting kind in the long night

of her life, she never asked for a hand out. Damn proud of it too. Cloy believed he’d worked
long enough to have some fun. Beatrice had a distaste for fishing and never would swim. One night

she told Cloy when he was chest-deep in the lake, if you seen as many bodies pulled out of the water
as I have, you wouldn’t swim neither. Not on the hottest sumbitchin day of summer, much less at night.

To Cloy, she never did anything but shine like a five dollar lure. He always remembered her barefoot,
pregnant in his yard asking for enough gas to get down the road, saying his dually looks like a cat in heat.  

Cloy didn’t know she smoked in the bars and out in the shed, leaned between ricks of firewood
and hanks of hog-casing strung up like Christmas lights and each Sunday she prayed a little less. 

They never made a fuss anymore. Even when Cloy came to his reward after a catfish dinner.
They was settling in the way they did. She with her wood whittling, him with his rat killing. Nights 

like that made Cloy grin like an old mule chewing briars. The pines all jeweled up in stars, wind
settling in the garden. God hisself ain’t never laid a better patch of tomatoes on this whole damn earth.

He fell asleep on the porch and never woke up. The sheriff hauled his body to town that night.
He saw Beatrice whittling on the porch, asked what she was making. I’m making crosses. Beautiful crosses.