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The Petersburg Dawn


ISSUE:  Autumn 1996

Seconds before the explosion,
crickets were chewing the thirsty air with their legs,

thousands of them together; the air screamed.
Silence. A spark

could’ve touched the grass off.

He was thinking
of mother’s forehead, furrowing slightly

as the bullet buried itself with a thud
in the temple of chestnut, his childhood horse.

He must have believed the crickets

would put even them to sleep,
four gauzy cottonfields away:

against a leaning ash-tree, half-cocked over his gun,
he fell asleep.

Seconds before the tunnelled earth
flashed below him,

seconds before the sun broke its chains,

he was back in the old barn again,
stretched out in the hammock,

each crumbled tobacco mote drifting,
suddenly alive in that pigeon smothered loft.

A moth lit on his shoulder.

Exploded into his ear,
and father jerked him up by the wrist—

think of family Bible leather, cracked, unkind—
he woke alone,

“Isaac, Isaac,”
the sweaty leaves burst into ash

where they found his papa’s voice.

The tents had hardly become lanterns,
when the air was snatched

from him:
feel your lungs expanding now, collapsing.

Hear it with him,
the first four notes of his watch

chiming the quarter hour before
they snapped, roaring into an ocean in his torn ear.

Just between us, the air kissed itself.

Kissed his entire body in sudden daylight,
a public gesture somehow made secret,

a sheet of honey soaking his wool pants,
molding the coins into a silver lump.

Now that he’s lifted by a monstrous falling
from under this scorched wing

we can feel his incandescence, wet heavy hay
falling forever, at his body’s insistence

we believe the rain evaporates
as it breaks, lifting the smell of burning horse:

Lord, Lord, they are all free now.

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