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The Black Dove

ISSUE:  Summer 1980

That summer it was the castoff
hundred pounds of Idaho reds
sizzled in Crisco, salt
a mainline luxury, it was
a repetitious dry tickle in the throat
numb to water, our
armpits smelling of rotten
apples, your
belly swelling
with the child I’d planted in you,
however “impossibly.”


Simmering mornings I lined up
at the sawmill for “the unemployed.”
As the wiry foreman, Sol,
picked us over like livestock.
I cringed against the chalky wall
like a suspect—it had to be
some kind of privilege
to inhabit the inside of a hive
while planks collapsed and split
and saws broke their teeth on steel.
At least I was blessed by the salt
that crusted over my skin—
it kept the smell of my own
contracted sweat
away from my nose.


Numbed by then
to easy omens, spring’s
most cherished inheritance,
a pet duckling no
fledgling anymore
waddled splashing
into a drainpipe at
yard’s end never
to emerge. Sprawled
in muddy water, desperate
as a father to find him,
I aimed my head
through the opening
to no end,
thrust my arm in
up to the shoulder,
to the limit of my tendon’s pull
to touch
nothing, to see
nothing, a
trickle of black ditchwater
oozed up my flashlight’s
scalloped rim, that
and a pungent rot
gathered over how many years
I tried not to breathe.


Later that summer
I missed the last train
and could not pull myself away
from the shattered
glass of a phone booth,
trying to fix the broken fan,
telephone dangling
from a rusted iron cord,
the one sound left in the world
to free me was the one I heard—
busy, busy, busy!


It was this dream released me:
a thickset bald headhunter,
dull yellow snakes
tattooed on his forearms,
paddled a canoe up a slow
waterfall with the wrong
end of the oar, getting
nowhere in pursuit of me,
and as I plunged into the next
maelstrom to be spewn
into the next he never moved
while the current rippled
around him in silence,
and a black dove hovered
overhead like a hawk, treading
air, shedding
feather after feather,
and each one
took instantly to flight.


in the tepid, portentous
summer of ‘76,
after witnessing
a Puerto Rican kid
wave a tiny plastic American flag
from the roof of a ‘58 Chevrolet
in full warpaint, in full
view of the Hudson as the tall ships pass
and their masts
drag the clouds upriver,
I come home
and rummage through old luggage,
to unearth a glossy blow-up
of you, hugging
the edge of the cliff
that jutted over the glass city
like a gangplank,
and for the splinter of a moment—
rubbing my thumb over the dull, hard
edge of the photograph—I think
that the Amoco sign, deeply
submerged in the background, shaped
like a heart is still


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