John Spaulding

John Spaulding holds degrees in English and psychology and earned a PhD in psychology from the University of Arizona, Tucson. He has worked as a psychologist for the Phoenix Indian Medical Center and the Puget Sound Service Unit of Indian Health Services. He teaches writing at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of The Roses of Starvation (1987); Walking in Stone (1989); The White Train (2004), chosen by Henry Taylor for the National Poetry Series; and Hospital (2011). He also coedited the cookbook Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book (1999) with this mother, Lily May Spaulding, a former nurse and restaurant owner. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Hunger Mountain, Rattle, Nimrod and many other periodicals.

Other Work:

To Rose Brodell

Today I thought of you, fast woman of Tucson,
near where you slept with coyotes howling
in your dreams.  Near where you walked the desert
with your brown hair blowing all night and the church
turned black against the burning mountain.
You have been gone too long.  I have
seen your white fingers snap chicken bones
your beautiful lips suck marrow from the night.
I have watched you dance until my face hardened
in the wind.  Mine is an old family.  Our tree
is full of hanged Apaches--their hair
sweeps the ground where we walk.
And none of us have many years left.
But you have been gone a long long time.
Just today I thought of you, fast woman of Tucson.

Dyer’s Weed

I am a crawler, a wingbone, a lover
of cats, a rasty fighter, and an ingrown
part of this very very earth. An old mole
whose cry is a whine, but I’ll sell you
a fistful of my spare, rank weeds
and useful vegetal dyes
to quietly madden a fibre red
by cochineal and berry or
fashion a stable of sallow gowns
with urochrome and root,
patiently steep out an old dark song
from sunflower seed and bark.
You lovers of change and disguise
draw near to these dyes I display
for locked within a shell or pod
lies a taint to use without—
bleed the bark of rabbitbrush
to stain an old gray rag,
wrest a chrysalis of paint
to sleep tonight in green.
Come fill your bags or baskets full
of seeds, root parts, and wort,
find a lonesome, twilight spot
and dream of what could be.

“I’m Just a Bad Boy All Dressed Up in Fancy Clothes” (1957)

I’m just a bad bad boy
all dressed up in fancy clothes
a jive bomber a rocket 88
a war baby a cherry bomb
a rebel with no cause but me
The newest thing under all the trashy stars--
hotter than Tab Hunter, James Dean,
and, Sal Mineo, better start movin on
I’m a man lover who understands
the only real cupcake
is the cupcake of death
Johnny Ace got nothing on me
I am Xmas Eve in your home town
& all the animals that live
in that deep hole underground
I’m just a bad boy bad boy bad boy
ready to take away your summertime blues
Tattoos you can’t believe tattoos you can’t see
The darkness you dream of
The dreamboat you can’t have
I’m just a gay boy a gay boy a gay boy
Whose ass looks jacked in tight black slacks
I’m sweet as gumballs stolen from a candy store
I’m your peanut butter and jelly sandwich baby
your sugar daddy your 60 minute man
who loves to hear you cry
a real bad boy ready to pop your bubble
bring you trouble then say good-bye
and if you can’t dig that, Jack, you dead


The honky tonk sound was before us.
The cowboy sound was here with
His fringe jacket, cowboy boots & hat.

Liked girl singers who could yodel
and wore cowgirl clothes.
Hadn’t yet met Patsy Montana.

Left his first wife when she
stabbed him with a doughnut fork.
Got drunk. Didn’t go to bed

till 5 a.m. Puked his guts out but
still showed up for his day job at 8.
Always fights in the Matador Bar

where he played weekends to jack Mormons,
rednecks, ranch hands, drunks.
Friday nights off-duty police stood

in the hallway of the Matador Bar
beside pictures of Cowboy Copas,
Jimmy Wakely, Ernest Tubb,

Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys.
But none of him. On the wall
of the men’s room of the Matador Bar—

“Little Vi has a tacky ass,”
“Mexican boys is pretty boys” &
“Too bad they sons of bitches!”

“Still, life can be beautiful,” he said
while drinking a bottle of Schlitz,
“if you don’t expect a beautiful life.”
And his arms were covered with tattoos
demanding revenge.

Country Music


Hidden like the wings of the moon,
a large wooden barn creeps out of the fog
as the stars turn to Russian gray. Winter
orchards of black cherry trees
sing to each other across the dark
valley. The day stands ahead, massive
and stubborn, but somewhere voices
of women speak of the night filling
with snow. A man outside, alone,
chops wood among the cold blue pines.
A crate of oranges has arrived
from a distant relative. Also
Rockford socks, raisin bars. Inside,
a small tree is covered with wax
candles, but dark clouds threaten
outside. It is morning, and children
emerge like exotic pale fruit from
worn-out quilts into the heat
of the kitchen stove to breakfast
on bread with maple syrup. But it is
not until the boy is walking to school
in red knitted mittens and scarf,
making deep footprints in the blowing
snow, that he will discover the covered
bridge, from the farm to the outside world,
has collapsed into the deep gorge, and he
will stand on the elm-covered bank,
unable to cross, unable to believe,
staring quietly into the chasm before him.

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