Charles Halsted is a retired academic physician at the University of California at Davis. His poems have appeared or will appear in Blood and Bourbon, Blood and Thunder, Clerestory, Contemporary Poetry, Degenerates, The Gambler, The Ghazal Page, Haibun Today, Hektoin International, Poetry Now, Snapdragon, Tule Review, Words Apart, and Yolo Crow. Several of his published poems have a medical focus in keeping with his past profession. One of his poems was among the winners in the 2017 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest of the Great River Shakespeare Festival.
My Garden of Earthly Delights
My garden is one of earthly delights.
Its just-turned loam, made warm by sun,
fertilizes all creatures that dwell within.
Spiders weave their intricate webs
between flowering trees of dormant fruit—
traps for voyeurs who happen by.
Preening lilacs and redbuds stand still, while
thick-stemmed succulents remain upright,
blooming for all who come by to see.
The pale purple primrose and orange poppies
lean gently towards the brightening sun,
await pollination by patrolling bees.
The furry flesh of the golden yarrow
that rests gently by the garden wall
invites gentle strokes by those who linger.
The kumquat tree displays full fruit,
ready to pluck for the suck of its juice
by passersby in this springtime of the year,
while the opened trumpets of bright red salvia
entice penetration by hummingbird beaks;
each bird hovers close, awaiting its turn.
The Monster of Darkness
As a child, he was warned not to seek the Googeebocky,
a beast half human, half spider that dwelled in the dark
of the attic closet where the end was inky black.
The door screeched on its hinges, had neither lock nor key.
Whichever child entered would never more be seen,
swallowed up with neither trace nor spark
of life, no opportunity to embark
on childhood, of which the monster made a mockery.
As a man, he learned that a cancer had appeared,
the kind that would quickly spread throughout his stark
naked body if not cut out very soon, he was told.
He trusted his surgeon, though frozen stiff with fear,
since he knew he must pass through a tunnel so black
that the monster of the dark could devour him whole.
Voice from the Grave of Reverend Reeb
I was summoned to Selma in March ’65,
tearful Marie and four babies left behind.
I flew to that hellhole in Alabama to live out
my dream, to march for racial justice.
Dr. King had told us the way to freedom
is to conquer the fear of death. I prayed,
as he had taught, “for fearless courage to contend
against evil, to make no peace with oppression,
to strive for justice among all men and nations.”
With Dr. King at the lead, we marched onto
the Pettus Bridge across the serpentine river
that winds through that hate-filled Southern state.
Exuberant Black and white ministers from all
across the nation, we marched in solidarity,
each of us mindful we might together bend
the arc of racial justice toward full equality.
Though stopped by all-white police mid-bridge,
we knew in our hearts that our march for equal
voting rights for all races must soon become
the law of the land.
Walking down a dark street after dinner
with two other Unitarian ministers, we heard
the shouts: “Hey, nigger-lovers!” Four men
crossed the street, raised weapons in hand.
With a face of pure hate, the one in the lead
swung his bat full force. It crashed onto
my skull, crushed my life for equal rights.