A.E. Hines

AE Hines is a poet who grew up in North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Winner of the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow prize, he is a recent Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, and was a finalist for the 2020 Sewanee Review Annual Poetry Contest and Montreal International Poetry Prize. His work is widely published in anthologies and literary journals such as Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, I-70 Review and Hawaii Pacific Review. He is currently at work on his first full length manuscript. www.aehines.net

Give Me a Dog Named Outrage    

first published in Hawaii Pacific Review and nominated by the editors for The Best of the Net prize 

No fuzzy face  
resting on furry paws,  
no whimpering from the floor.  
Give me a fury,  
with rusted metal whiskers  
and nostrils heaving flame,  
something nether-worldly and gnarled. 
A beast, that dare I give up on the world, 
stares from the darkened corner 
and considers eating me  
if I do.  

It’s true:  
we have given ourselves over, again, 
to the rule of evil men.  
So we need a dog that bites.  
A dog that gnaws us to our bones. 
A three-headed hell bitch fit  
for the River Styx, with brass bolts 
in her collars, and bristling black fur 
sharp as broken glass. A dog  
that spits and snarls and snaps  
at our ears  
so we can’t — won’t — don’t dare 
look away. 

What I Learned

first published in the anthology Voices Amidst the Virus (Lily  Poetry Review Books, 2020)

Most people fight the intubation,
our anesthesiologist friend tells us. Others
remain conscious for days, still willing
to gesture thanks to doctors and nurses,
offer thumbs-up to family on screens
at the foot of their bed.

But it’s tough, he says, the constant rub
of the tubing, urge to cough and talk,
the sensation of choking. Most prefer
the cottony silence of the drip, being lost
in dreamless sleep for the long weeks
of mechanical respiration, for however long
it takes to survive or die in that little room

They’re not really there to notice the irritation,
gradual scars building in the chafed reed
of the esophagus, the inevitable tracheotomy,
the new tube pushed into the split flesh
at the center of the throat.

I ask our friend to promise he’ll report stat
to the ED, if ever I’m brought in
with the virus. “Give me the drip,” I tell him,
“straight away.”

I pat my husband’s hand, as I say this.
Repeat myself twice, so I’m sure he hears.
“Consider this our goodbye,” I tell him.
I kiss his hand and hold it until I see
he understands. Until I know he knows
I have no desire to be brave.

The Devil’s Bartender  

a finalist for the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize and is also forthcoming in the prize’s annual anthology in 2021

I serve the booze, but know 
never to play cards — he always wins, 
and every man here owes him money. 
He’s good to have around — 
all those sweaty jokers coming in thirsty,  
to cut their deals, clamoring to refill 
empty pints and vacant accounts.  

Like the rest of them, he can’t shut up 
about his girl troubles. Goes on 
about that first woman, who still won’t 
return his calls, can’t forgive 
that long ago madness with the tree. 
“Hell hath no fury,” I finally say, 
laying down another round.  
“To forgive, is divine,” he says, and then  
we both laugh.  

Of course, he’s got his Daddy issues.  
Hated the family business,  
hated it so much, he went  
into competition. Not the first kid  
kicked out of the house, not the first 
father to not understand. 
But the way he talks 
and talks, you can tell  
he misses home.  

One time, he brought the old man by.  
Short, thinner than I imagined, 
and although he smiled when I spoke, 
deaf as a rock. I poured them whiskey 
and listened as the son bragged 
about work, the state of the world,  
then talked about the good old days
back before the fall. It broke my heart, 
to see how much the son 
cared, how he rambled on,   
as if the old man, nodding, could hear.  

The Last Men On Earth  

first published by Flying Ketchup Press as winner of their monthly poetry contest, themed “Hope,” and is forthcoming in their anthology,  Night Forest, expected spring 2021

Because the blooms come first  
and later the leaves, by the middle of spring 
you might not know the magnolia flowers 
are dying. Bright pink blossoms dropping 
petal after petal, not just falling in the breeze, 
but falling apart, falling like a flutter 
of butterflies to settle on the damp ground.  

Some mornings, the sun breaks through 
the sky’s wool blanket and beckons us out 
to the terrace, and for hours we lounge there 
in just our boxers. The air still cool enough 
to pimple the flesh, raise the hair on our legs, 
but the sun so warm, we linger.  

Our fourth week hiding from the virus, 
and the blossoms all fallen.  
We sweep them up, place them like a sacrifice 
into giant paper bags, and leave them 
by the curb of our quiet street.  

We could be the last two men on earth: 
lovers, husbands  
this morning sipping coffee,  
adjusting face masks for our afternoon walk, 
doing our best with stay-at-home haircuts.  

Today, you sit on the bathroom stool 
and stare into the mirror in horror  
as the electric clippers buzz.  
I cup your ear in my hand, rake  
my fingers through your hair, and wonder 
how long it will take to sweep up these flowers 
which fall over your shoulders and rise 
in tiny drifts from the cold tiled floor.  

White Privilege  

first published in the anthology We Are Antifa: Expressions Against Fascism, Racism and Police Violence in the United States and Beyond (Into  the Void, 2020)

I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 4/16/1963 

If I could, I’d bottle it — open  
whatever organ or vein, start filling vials.  
Form an assembly line, ship it coast  
to coast to every urban center,  
every corner convenience store  
and give it away for free.  

This is not complicated. The man  
is dead. The man should not be  

Which is another way of saying:  
something is very wrong  
with our country.  

I will never be a black mother,  
never know what it means to lay  
a black son to rest, or push a new body  
through my own body and weep  
at what awaits him.  

Is now the time to tell you  
I’m white? Is now a good time to say  
I have my own brown son?  

And what do I tell him? My boy?  
Don’t run, Son, you might die — but —  
don’t stop either. Don’t run —  
they may kill you —or, you run,  
my dear sweet boy, you run  
like hell. They might kill you  

I’ve given up on the world being fair. 
Can I instead give my son a card  
he can hand the police — a card that says: 
My Father Is So White He Glows?  

Can I give one to every brown  
and black boy in America?  
Tell me, and I will charter a plane  
and litter them like snow from the skies.  

The mayor says, “Please, let there be peace.” 
But look at that video — look at all three. 
Look at that man again, tell me how 
it makes your own heart ache.  

I can’t even say the man’s name. Even that 
would be appropriation. I have not earned 
the right to that name sitting inside 
my embarrassed white mouth.  

Which is another way of saying: something 
is very, very wrong with our country.