Peddler’s Blues


Mike James

64 pages, $14 cover price
ISBN: 978-1-59948-581-2

 Release Date: August 2, 2016


MJames_Px_bookstoreMike James has appeared in numerous magazines throughout the country. The most recent of his eight poetry collections are Elegy in Reverse (Aldrich Press, 2014) and Past Due Notices: Poems 1991-2011 (Main Street Rag, 2012). He has previously served as an associate editor at Autumn House Press and as a Visiting Writer-In-Residence at the University of Maine, Fort Kent. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for The Kentucky Review. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Georgia he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife and five kids.

Gritty and courageous poems of place and family that inform a life. “Epithalamium” uses the metaphor of pool to say “…gravity’s wonderful/holds us to where we are/which is/sometimes/where we/should be.” “Coffee and Bus Fare: concludes “same number of hours in tomorrow as yesterday, today.”  These are wry deep-seated poems with heart. –Joan Colby, author of Ribcage and The Wingback Chair


Peddler’s Blues examines the ghost towns of the heart, where shadows give birth to teachers, to fathers, to mothers, and to all of the little things that add up into our daily miracles that often go unnoticed. Like the late great Everette Maddox before him, James is a keen observer of those lost souls that history might otherwise forget, telling a story, sometimes personal, always relatable, every poem gleaming with a small piece of legacy. –-John Dorsey, author of Tombstone Factory and Appalachian Frankenstein


Whether he’s detecting traces of the night in morning diners and train stations, or the below-the-surface terror in grocery store lines and deserted bus rides, James works deftly with paradox, irony, and our American idiom. “The Peddler’s Blues,” the title poem of the book and a touching song about the speaker’s father, are our blues, too. We are all peddling something, James’ poems suggest, in towns where the closed factory “produces darkness and weeds.” This finely wrought collection captures everyday moments of beauty and desire “brief as a feather / falling past a kitchen window.” –Peter Blair, author of The Divine Salt and Farang

The Belt


some nights, mill tired or drunk with
payday laughter, he never touched it

so it hung on a wall nail
a skinned snake done striking

there was never a full week though
when his grip didn’t feel that cracked, black leather

when a goddam didn’t preface
the clear wisp of breaking air

a small bird, i knew little
except the sky and one tree

still, i knew when it was all over
and every tear had left the river of my body

he would gather me from the floor
into the dark, hairy nest of his arms

hold me chest close
say, it’s alright boy, it’s alright

as he tried to whisper light
back into my eyes



Peddler’s Blues


a beggar
offers thanks
perhaps a
blessing if
that’s his caste

a peddler
sells what he
can (cheap wares
throughout the
county or
town) one poor
neighbor to

my father
told me the
when i was
seven and
he quit the
mill to work
from his old,
blue ford van

i’m it, son
my own boss
it’s all me

those phrases
with either
laugh or frown
that day’s luck

after school
i rode with
him (never
doubted my
fortune) knocked
door to door
to gather
see what could
be had for
a good price

he set shop
opened van
side door to
apples, sweet
oranges, grape
fruits, candy,
watches, toys,
jewelry and

seemed to want
at least a
bit of what
he had…but
on credit
which, after
a while, he
gave and gave
(though it’s not
selling if
no one pays)

when his van,
at last, quit
his old boss
at the old
mill welcomed
him back…but
for night shift…
a penance
dad called it
for leaving

sometimes he’d
mention that
greek who flew
near the sun
say wings are
made for use
if you fly
go far, long



Off Interstate 95


a good town to get your nails done in
or pawn a guitar

it’s a place for stop signs and exits

people hope for jury duty
‘cause it’s a job

in the civil war sherman just rode past
burned nothing
a little fact the locals still mention

if you are young and spend the night
in the motel
you’ll dream you are old

in the morning that dream won’t linger
like a heat wave over the road

a long way back dreams learned to go

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