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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 10: October 2021
Poem: 267 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Baby Blues Birds

Under an anarchy of thunderheads, the blues 
birds return, bathe in befouled fountains, gather 
at festering feeders, peck at darkling grubs 
of yesterday’s regrets, bloated raisin wrinkles 

of tomorrow’s sorrows, the hollow rind of 
moments present, tensed participles dangling, 
sharp words of not-so-loving songs that up and leave 
you flat, sling the sludge of quagmire tears 

and oh I waited at the Mississippi crossroads 
		oh Lawd I waited 
guitar in hand 		and no one 	showed up 


changes his tune from Wonderful World 
to Potato Head Blues, nasturtiums shrivel 
cold against a trellis, beach umbrellas cry 
icicles, the sun bumps into the moon 

and a brawl breaks out, celestial bodies 
bruised and bloodied, the vintner serves 
no wine before whatever time it is 
five minutes from never, ten seconds 

from now, and the babies, the babies, 
	oh Lawd the babies 

lucky, they fall from the nest and starve 
luckless, they are Promethean liver fodder 
for that winged carnivore King Oliver Zeus, 
fresh from his Black Bottomed swan dance 

with Ma Rainey, See See Rider spitting, pulling a 
sweet Jesus mud miracle on Blind Lemon Jefferson 
and here I am, here, over here Christ, sitting white-
caned in the temple portico, waiting for spring to fall, 

for anything at all to drive away these blues, 
this eternal twelve-bar nothing, the growl and slink of 
empty days and empty nights, O Lead Belly, croon me 
a tune and see that my grave is kept clean. 




“See that my grave is kept clean” is the title of a blues song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, who first recorded it in October 1927, then followed up in February 1928 with a slightly different recording.

[See YouTube for audio of the song, posted by RagtimeDorianHenry (14 March 2009).]

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 10, October 2021

is the author of two full-length books: The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020), and a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). His chapbook, Pulp, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in July 2022.

Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2019 and multiple times for Best of the Net, his work has appeared in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; Mocking Heart Review; October Hill Magazine; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project.

A native Kansan, Dean studied music composition with Dr. Walter Mays at Wichita State University before going on the road as a bass player, conductor, and arranger; he was a professional musician for 30 years, playing with acts such as Jesse Lopez, Bo Didley, Frank Sinatra Jr., Vic Damone, Jim Stafford, Kenny Rankin, B. W. Stevenson, and the Dallas Jazz Orchestra. And he put in a stint with the house band at the Fairmont Hotel Venetian Room in Dallas. While living in Dallas, he also worked 20 years for The Dallas Morning News and made the transition from music to writing before moving back to Kansas in 2007.

Dean is a member of the Kansas Authors Club, and the event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music, held annually in Wichita, Kansas. He lives in a one-hundred-year-old stone building in Augusta, Kansas, along with a universe of books, CDs, LPs, an electric bass, and a couple dozen hats. In his spare time, he practices the time-honored art of hermitry.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Hopper and Dean: Interview and poems in River City Poetry (Fall 2017).

Metal Man, ekphrastic poem inspired by a 1955 photograph of Dean’s paternal grandfather in the Boeing machine shop; published in The Ekphrastic Review (28 July 2018) and nominated for Best of the Net.

Windmill, ekphrastic poem inspired by Dean’s maternal grandfather; published in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019) and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This poem is among half-a-dozen of Dean’s ekphrastic works published in KYSO Flash (Issues 11 and 12).

Llama, 1957, ekphrastic haibun inspired by Inge Morath’s photograph A Llama in Times Square; published in The Ekphrastic Review (13 January 2018).

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