Augury (at childhood’s end)

Something covered his face,
a flash of green, of something grotesque—
something cartoon bright and monstrous,
like a grinning snake
or sharp-chinned goblin.
The screen door’s springs screeched, rusty.
The hard slam sang out a full acre,
calling rise to the cricket
and frog songs
from the marshland nearby.

Fresh windrows were long, thin slashes
between the house and the thicket line,
and the land looked
as if it’d been raked hard
by a set of ragged claws,

even in the gloaming.
Lightning pulsed in arteries,
flashed crooked across the sky,
illuminated
the sickly white on the figures
where they stood among the trees,
where the glowed, softly,
in the growing darkness
so that he stumbled, fell looking up
to see them, again, so near.

His knees marred into the dew-damp
soil—bones on cloth, popping popping,
too young to be popping,
he was cast down like the cards
he wouldn’t touch.

He didn’t seem afraid of them,
though he should’ve been.
Someday, they’d slice away his soft edges
to get inside him. Someday,
they’d burn him out like a cross
planted in the copper-red ground.

They said his daddy drew lightning,
that the man drew strikes like flies,
honey, they said, like honey, and grinned,
and that he was hit ten times by twenty,
dead by twenty-five—

so he’d better watch out,
Boy, watch out. He just might
set himself alight.
They’d all laughed that time
before they yelled, RunGo on. Git.

That memory set him running
under the storm, so he took the lead
they gave before,
though there was nowhere go.
Soaked-through, the thing
on his face caught rainwater,
sloshed about. When the hail fell,
it was the size of cherries
and the plastic shielded his face.
Red welts sprouted beside the dark marks
already there, clustered like grapes.

Through the field and back,
circling to the front,
he sought the way clear, the old man asleep,
the front door open, the stairway empty.

He sought the quiet of his room,
the dusty corners and torn pages,
the squeaking springs and cotton sheets,
the little dusty boxes filled with paper,
the scrawny cat both yowling and purring
from the bedside.

Someday, they’d try to set him on fire
to burn him out like a field full of muscadines,
take a scythe to his pride
and fill him back up the right way.
But he’d rip himself open
before that, lay his own bones,
like a goat’s shoulders,
across black silk cloth,
so they’d be too scared to touch.

But God was missing. And a big shadow
took his place, filled the doorway, back-lit
by porch light, and straightening, stiff,
so it was clear the moment the boy was seen.

He slowed a glance at the stones
beside the porch, could have picked one up
to swing, to shatter
the big stained teeth so the old man’d spit
soupy Chiclets in handfuls,
choke on his liquored blood
while the blackeyed specters
closed-in from behind.

He stepped onto the porch and whispered,
crimson and whiteon the inside. Long letter I.
Why have such pretty, bright colors inside?
He sweated and smiled.

Blood and bone. The fist against his throat
cracked, his lips dropped
pink spit. Then red. Red.
The blood would feed the bugs,
grow the grass, so he bent
for a smooth stone
of his own, laughed and laughed.

If he used it
to beat the old man to death,
chipped-away at his skull
like peanut brittle,
pounded until there was nothing
but shell and wet, the red and the white
would seep slowly into the earth,
and the others might let him be.

If he killed him there
in front of the nowhere God
and everyone, and fed the hungry worms,
they might pat his back hard,
wink, and then call him a Man.

 

© Rainbowchaser | Dreamstime.com – Gloomy landscape (illustration)

Abattoir

It was a country road, turning on too-fast tires
and no power-steering—that old ‘76 Ford,
with rust above its wheels and dragging a muffler,
sparks;
with crumbs on the seat and eight-track ribbon
unwound into mounds, tucked
under the dirty bench seat
beside candy wrappers;

dust clouds kicked-up and made a gritty fog.
Headlights flashed to catch some surface
but snagged trees and disappeared
into the empty spaces instead.
The beams flickered, then,
like on a movie screen.
That haunted house strobing turned
slow, slowed time
somehow.

I saw a body hanging limp
from low branches–
a dark figure lit from behind
like revelation hanging, swinging, silhouetted
then suddenly bright
colored, fiery red in a burst of flesh.

In a moment,
it was made real and dripping,
then just a part of the darkness again
in an instant.

I thought it dripped its gore
into silvery buckets,
nearly full to their brims.

I screamed,
then clapped a hand over my mouth,
but he slapped me anyway—he slapped me so hard
my teeth tore my cheek.
It shredded
into hanging skin I would toy-with, wiggle.

My mouth was bloody
and filled with a dull ache
I called survival back then.

They said it was a deer,
trussed to drain,
pinned like a heavy butterfly,
exposing the meat for hands–
its stomach flayed,
muscle cleaned to cook.
It wasn’t a man.

They said it, and I heard
when the ringing in my ears stopped,
when my ears popped like mercy.
They said it
when I’d calmed down and was silent,
again, like I should be.
It was a creature turned meat,
and certainly not a man–
certainly not a man hanging there
from a tree.

Now, hush.

Hauntology

I don’t want these words wet on your tongue
or nestled, like hair, between your teeth.
Keep them inside, unspoken.
Bury them in your memory
like childhood, like need.
Slice-open your tongue,
dig into your gums, into your throat,
if that’s what it takes to make some good silence.

Don’t build your temple with my bones
or sew vestments from my skin.
Don’t turn my skull to reliquary,
cover it with gold and jewels,
shine it with chaste, priestly spit.
You use your spit for sex and when you lie.

My blood is not yours to drink
in your silver cups, nor is my flesh yours to eat
with your stale bread and wheedling guilt.

There is nothing to me other than air
and ash, so I am not responsible
for what you make of me.

You will see what you want to see.
I cannot save you.
And even if I could, I would not.

Enola Gay

I. Mother

The steel woman ate the air
with her big red lips,
with her sharp teeth.
She shredded morning air,
gossamer clouds
and carried a man inside her,
in a clear bubble shell.

The other men touched her
constantly,
and so she was made property–
polished, sleek.
She opened herself up
to give birth to annihilation;
that was purpose, good use.

Her son called her
Death,
Mother. It didn’t matter.
For a life,
he gave her billows of black dust,
flecks of skin, and bone powder.
He clung to the moisture near her belly
until she was used-up.
He made her immortal,
but only a name.

II. The Children

The children sat on doorsteps.
They rolled toy cars on concrete, hummed,
made noises like traffic, beep-beep,
played at their future selves
as if they could see already.

They willed-away years
the way that children do
but were hopeful
just before the world cracked wide.

A few thought someone took a photograph.
Some thought themselves caught
in a lightning storm,
and most simply longed to crawl back
into their mothers’ wombs.
They sought the places they were
before they were,
and they found them.

III. Lost City

Those who lived along the edges of the city
wore plasticine smiles when they were frozen.
The fathers wore their hair molded into vinyl side-parts
like businessmen, like ventriloquist dummies.
They commuted each morning,
but not too far.
The mothers’ too-white teeth peeked
from between pink lips
that smiled, smiled.
It was always good to smile.

Their hands froze mid-wave
when they watched the silver glimmer,
its mercurial spark turned everything summer.
In an instant, their necks locked
looking up, all.

Some were cut in half, sliced even at their waists
as if with wire, cauterized.
Since there was little blood,
the bodies were mannequins, broken
with pieces scattered.
Later, the scavengers
would lift a torso, an arm
and think it hollow but scream once
they realized the weight.

The citizens, those at the center,
turned to dust.
The city collapsed.
The people turned ash,
and they coated everything gray.
After, it was difficult
to keep it, to keep them
out of their mouths, out of their noses.
Young men and women wiped their chins
and did their best not to think
about what they tasted on their tongues.

IV. Invocation

Women like the old mother,
before she was the Death mother,
knelt and ripped grass from riverbeds.
They pulled passage with their fingers
until the tips were raw
and their nails hung bloody
by the end of the working day.

They pulled wet clumps of earth
and tossed them to the banks.
Those banks
spawned life from the muck.
And life dragged itself onto new feet
and began to speak with authority. Of course.
It stood where life began and ended–
where it repeated again and again.

The women slid backwards on their knees
and knew nothing of the times before.
Like them, they birthed passages,
squatted in rosy-stained canals to let blood
feed life hidden below the surface
black and brown.
They had names, and names were important.
They had names, but few remembered
and even fewer would remember
once they were gone,
once it was all gone.
They had names,
and names are invocation.