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Hangman


ISSUE:  Summer 2000
Harpers Ferry, WV

High on a roofer’s scaffold
I connect the far dots of Orion,
The Great Bear and The Swan,
but I also invent The Gallows

from a dozen scattered stars
and see Osawatomie climbing
the thirteen steps to heaven,
as Miss Isley’s hand appears,

sketching a gibbet, scrawling
white chalk on slate, trapdoor
dashes for the secret word.
Just after lunch, we had to guess

the letters. With each mistake
she’d add a limb as the stickman
we called Old John Brown
swung into view. Whoever solved

the puzzle got to dust erasers,
instead of feigning a nap.
A skinny kid with questions
and first in my class to mess

with codes and tangles, I was
the last chosen for softball
or folk dancing on rainy days.
Eager to hear my name

called out, I knew how it felt
to be strangling, but at hangman
I was quickest.”An l,” I’d say,
“a t.The word’s assault!”

Again tonight, I imagine Brown
outlined in white, a riddle who
believed in taking truth by storm.
In fact, clouds muster

to the west, and thunder
seems to ask if I would dance
on air to know the answer:
how can a grown man

be saved by games? The world
is less stable than a scaffold.
Then the first spatter of rain
disspells the constellations.

No stars, no names but blurry
night and I am sentenced again
to earth. I come down counting
my blessings, bone by weary bone.

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