rudely planed and sopped with bourbon,
and an empty jigger
at each fist.
Nothing’s simpler than this,
a sounding board
we’d sit around, sloughing
our given lives away
in coarse talk and bawdy song—
we’d done it again all night long.
sidled over the window sill
and made our faces up
in the bland grains
of a still life,
so still, so quiet,
with morning on us like fur,
I’d swear the table bucked
when someone finally had to say,
“So what’s it mean
to come from here anyway?”
A gang of crows
made a gaudy noise then,
a scale I knew
I’d heard before
in a measured acre
of mostly oak with a logger
in a white pine,
saw pitched to a scream—
and the air was sweet
with resin, the amber
blood of pulpwood,
blocked and dried
to whet that fiddle bow.
In some fashion, they taught that bear to dance,
to guzzle cokes and beers, to swallow cigarettes.
Kept in a cage beside the Texaco, it brought the tourists in.
Or stuck in that cage beneath the stars,
it sprawled in drunken sleep with restless dreams,
and it clawed at nothing, or perhaps it clawed
at all Mississippi.
Today I noticed last night’s rain had broken down
the laurel. Again Death has paused to give a clue.
But nothing’s to be done but for the laurel
to give up the only earth its roots have known.
Now, an indifferent guide, I’ll make
its essence born-again as firewood and smoke
as if to help it reach a goal.
Our personal god draws in
his drones and falcons to his hill.
At any moment he threatens
to mend a few of them
by his cleansing touch or by an unleashed night,
too late again.
Too late to learn our lessons, even
for the few instilled with grace enough
to bless a cell they can’t venture from
or to comprehend the random visitor who tarries
to feed a burning cigarette between the bars.
My child’s vocabulary
could not catch the words unholy—
how unholy you look out at me
until I recollect a childish way of gazing
upon brute unholiness
as one more roadside freakshow
beyond a ditch where cars speed past.
And the beast and its sluggish pain
cordoned off beyond the cyclone fence—
safely, safely locked away, it seemed—
where my young parents, grown tired from traveling,
stretch their legs and hold my hand, swept suddenly
far beyond the high and dark blue dome of memory.
I see us by our cage of twilight, each one alone,
near our bad dreams’ fence-line, laughing and pointing.