Mama's Last Love Song, poem by Joe Samuel Starnes

The sun goes down and it gets cold.
Our chil­dren are behav­ing like dogs.
The snakes are sleep­ing deep in their holes,
fiery red and orange has fad­ed from the leaves
and our cups are brim­ming with bour­bon.
A blue sky is slow­ly set­tling to dark.

I escape the house out into the field after dark.
I’ve for­got­ten my coat and shiv­er cold.
In my pock­et I’ve got a flask of bour­bon.
In the dis­tance I hear your wild dogs
bark­ing and crunch­ing in the leaves.
I’m watch­ing out not to step in gopher holes.

Across the road I hear a shot­gun blast holes
into a road sign or beer cans lined up in the dark.
The wind back and forth flut­ters the leaves.
My hands and feet are numb with cold.
I’m glad to be ignored by your dumb dogs
who rely on warmth of fur instead of bour­bon.

No win­ter coat can warm me like bour­bon
and fill up the many lake-sized holes
in my heart not filled by the love of a good dog.
I walk to the big oak and stand in the dark.
My dog froze to death last year in the cold.
You buried her some­where under these leaves.

I wish I could go but I can nev­er leave
so I stand here sip­ping this warm bour­bon,
my only pro­tec­tion from lone­li­ness and cold.
My mind is turn­ing into a sink­hole.
I paw my shoe at the earth brown and dark.
You love me much less than these dogs.

Our chil­dren take after you and the dogs,
root­ing and scroung­ing in the leaves.
I wish they would fall down into a deep dark
well and get stuck; I’d drink bour­bon
gaz­ing, laugh­ing down into the hole,
not giv­ing a damn if they were wet and cold.

I’m out of bour­bon and get­ting cold.
The dogs are dash­ing through the leaves.
Tonight I’ll take down your gun and shoot holes in the dark.


Joe Samuel "Sam" Starnes was born in Alaba­ma, grew up in Geor­gia, and has lived in New Jer­sey and Philadel­phia since 2000. New­South Books pub­lished Fall Line, his sec­ond nov­el, in Novem­ber 2011 (view the online book trail­er).  His first nov­el, Call­ing, was pub­lished in 2005. He has had jour­nal­ism appear in The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post and var­i­ous mag­a­zines, as well as essays, short sto­ries, and poems in lit­er­ary jour­nals. A grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia and Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty in Newark, he was award­ed a fel­low­ship to the 2006 Sewa­nee Writ­ers' Con­fer­ence. He is work­ing on an MFA in cre­ative non­fic­tion at Gouch­er Col­lege.

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2 Responses to Mama's Last Love Song, poem by Joe Samuel Starnes

  1. Big Ed says:

    Drink­ing bourbon,shooting dogs? Is this the Sam Starnes I know?

  2. big Ed says:

    Drink­ing bour­bon, shoot­ing dogs? You were not raised like tha.

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