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Joe Cottonwood – Arrival, SFO

Cottonwood profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume Two, December 2020.

Joe Cottonwood is a semi-retired contractor with a lifetime of repairing homes by day, writing by night. He lives under (and at the mercy of) redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His most recent book is Random Saints.



Arrival, SFO

She is texting outside baggage claim
in a FUCK YALE sweatshirt
her hair the scent of cedar smoke
dark-rimmed eyes like a meerkat
one hand on a floral garment bag.
“Will you watch my stuff? I need to pee.”
She dashes in short steps, stiletto heels
below frayed blue jean cuffs.

The garment bag, could it be a bomb?
Me, the old creep nominated for smithereens.
Wait. Look — sticking out of a pocket of the bag —
a copy of a book. My novel!
From 37 years ago which is twice her age.
Portrait on the cover, a younger hairy me.
When she returns I will speak of it.
A bevy of bluebirds will fly from my lips to her ears.

An SUV stops, a burly man in sloppy necktie
opens the tailgate, throws the portmanteau inside.
I ask, “Are you sure you have the right bag?”
The man says, “Fuck Yale?” as she bursts
out the door breathless, not a glance to me,
not a thanks for guarding the bag, for authoring,
for appreciating her blooming effervescence.
Uh-oh: the book has fallen from pocket to pavement.
She hops into the shotgun seat. I wave the novel.
She shouts “Fuck it!” as the SUV lurches into traffic.

Through how many hands have these pages passed?
Passages highlighted in pink. Others bracketed by pen.
Sketches of horses in margins of a non-equine tale.
Spine cracked falling open to a sex scene,
the paper smeared yellow by something
I hope is tea. So: no bomb.
Mm-hmm. Fuck Yale.

Deli Grab & Go

Skinny meth guy darts past you in line.
Lunges over the deli counter
to the cash drawer, cobra strike.
Turns to flee clutching a greenback
but you grab his wrist.
Reflex. Not thinking at all.

Other sandwich-seekers back off,
no help. Moments like this,
core programming acts by default.
You learn something about yourself.

He tries to shake you off.
You hold, wondering why.
The bill, a fifty, flutters to the floor
but still you have his wrist as he hisses
See! Asshole! Lemme go!
Somehow he breaks free, hoody flapping,
races out the door. Gone.

He coulda had a gun, sandwich man says.
You coulda been killed.
You hand him the fifty and order
turkey with tomatoes. He shakes off
your own small bills. Gratis. Thanks.

Only then, as adrenaline fades,
as you take the first bite, does it jell:
You stopped a robbery.
You never thought.
You wonder in your soul
if you’d do it again.


Fannie and Corydon crash my wedding party

He’s been dead 117 years but
Corydon’s old-time photo flash powder
lights up the room as he asks
How much are you paying the waiters and cooks?
Fannie wants to know Are you pregnant yet?
Matter of family history, they birthed
my grandma six months after marriage,
same year President Garfield was assassinated.
Corydon published a newspaper,
Democratic in a Republican town.
The printing plant later burned down.
Go figure.

Corydon parts his hair wrong side, against fashion.
Fannie has a lap sought by children.
As a hobby she crochets homilies
for the Presbyterian ladies such as
STOP THE RAILROAD BOSSES.
Corydon offers a toast:

May your love bear fruit.
May you nourish the poor.
May you poison the rich.
Tell lies, you will be elected.
Tell truth, you will be shot.
May you tell truth regardless.

He leaves a silver dollar
under his plate.


© Joe Cottonwood