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Going Under


ISSUE:  Autumn 1996
The blue dirt black dirt
black hair blue hands
of one descending,
sealed in glass,
his heart slowed to the edge
of dying, the blood
oozing through the body’s branches
like mud, a violent red
spreading underneath
with the delicacy of spiders
traversing a thread.
Two men from the audience
that gathered by the trees
let the brass handles drop—
A woman fell to her knees
and crushed a flower to the lid.
A child hid his face in the bushes.
On each eye lay a cold penny
with the smell of metal and blood
that a factory worker dug from the deep
darkness of a warm pocket beside his leg:
two copper circles heated by his thigh,
drawn out by his dirt-creased hand,
now resting orange-gold on Pasha’s eyelids
like twin brilliant suns.

Late afternoon; he’ll be dug up by eight,
after dinner, when the people come flocking back
with their bellies full of grits, tomato, and fish roe,
black coffee on their breath. It’s not dark yet,
but soon. . . . They’ll all be gathered in the graveyard
with their lanterns swinging and pipes lit,
the thick smells of white wax, coils of burning wick,
tobacco, horses, kerosene, the smell of their own
dingy houses clinging to their clothes—but underneath
a sweetness so sure and intoxicating, it makes the heart
leap at the profile of a young woman,
her breasts lifted by the glowing light, her soft lips,
soft throat, or to witness the flex of muscles
in a man’s neck, the darkness of hair at the opening
of the collar. The woman aches with her own emptiness.
The man grows hard. Tonight the light is too enhancing,
the denseness of trees too inviting.
Skin’s proximity to skin maddens. It’s the gardenias
blooming over the babies’ graves, the wisteria creeping
lavender up the willow’s trunk. Desire, the scent-drenched
flower that never closes, never dies, craves flesh
to feed its hungry eye.

The dirt is shoveled, a pile on either side.
It takes four men to lift Pasha out again.
Through the glass, in his moon white turban,
thin wrists crossed at the chest and tied
with white rope, he is an exquisite worm
come up for air.

His red silk sash divides his body like a gash.
Lanterns held low by the coffin: is he breathing?
Is he alive? Watch for the fog of his breath
against the glass. Emmeline Walker,
standing near the head, wishes her own dead
husband could come back like that, after six years,
unearthed and whole.
His bones hang from a tree on strings
in her dreams, the skull she can never see,
somewhere in the leaves talking,
high up on a branch where it sits like a bird.
It has told her its color. It is red.
As red as the hole that opened its stomach,
the hole in the mattress of their bed
where the bullet lodged, silver and perfect and small.
There were white feathers floating,
the room full of snow and gauzy sunlight.
The rope wriggles off like a snake
and his hands escape, black wings rising
to his eyes. Two men take off the lid,
his face a shining mineral, obsidian.
He climbs out. Not as tall as they had remembered
and very thin. Wound in his bulging turban
the secrets of the underworld.
The heavy cloth could unroll like a scroll.
His hands are delicate. He wears rings.
By the thick glass lid two pennies laid.
A child takes one, Emmeline the other,
quick into her dusty pocket.
At the bottom of the hole, the flower
is crushed and covered with dirt.
It is red. Is it his heart,
given up for eternal life, cut out
of his chest? People clap, talk
under the summer trees, attend their horses.
Two shovels, handles crossed, lean against a tombstone.
Pasha lifts off his turban and a collection
is taken—from person to person, glowing like a moon,
it passes, fills, jingles. It is soft and smells
of lime water, mystery, and death.

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