She filled her hands
With winter light and October's
Crows, a cacophony of wings
Against the blue of early evening.
Children used to come here.
There were hills and copses and woods
Challenging the imagination with shadows
Caught alive in stories of the Fall.
The road ended at her mouth,
Full of weeds and drifting terrors
Searching for a body to accompany
During the dark evenings of the waning year.
Shaken, she reaches for the twilight
As if it were a vessel of some kind,
Easy on any sea, unmoved and with sails
Painted in the colors of forgetting.
To dream was to vanish into memory,
The twinkle of an eye,
The brush of a hand across a shoulder,
No place for sharing stories, whispering.
This time of year is full of stuff
Like this, fine of hand and bathed
In a crystal construct made of wood,
Made of fire, made of singing.
She was not given to understand
More of this than her hands covered
With the cool and brilliant light.
She wishes us luck as we continue
Toward the shoreline, the same light
Glinting off the water, infecting
Our minds, making everything in life
A challenge and the turning of the days
Borne on the backs of black birds
Exploding time with cackling and shrieking.
A SONG THE DEAD SING:
A HALLOWEEN TALE
Charlie Bennet, he’s dead now,
Lost both his hands about
Halfway to his elbow
In a farm accident.
Some kind of chopper got him,
At the exact same spot,
He went to whispering
After that happened
And Darrell Miller was ‘bout the only one
Who Charlie talked to
At all after that.
Darrell told me Charlie
Said his dead hands
Used to come looking
For him. They never did
Find them. Chopper
Must have spit them out
Pretty far away.
Charlie said his hands
Could talk, a kind of
That Charlie said he
“Charlie,” they’d say,
“Charlie, come here.”
And Charlie hated it
When they’d call out.
He would get far under
His blanket and make
A moaning sound.
Darrell told him
“Hands can’t talk, Charlie.”
“Like hell, they can’t,”
“They can sing songs.
They don’t like folks
To know they can sing,
But I’ll prove it to you.”
So Darrell met Charlie
That night at
Morgan’s barn, right
Near where his hands
Got chopped off,
And they waited.
They waited a long time.
But finally Darrell Miller
Said he heard this
Scratching music start
Up from one of the horse
Stables below that wasn’t
Used any more.
“Listen,” Charlie said,
And he began to move
His cut-off arm stumps
Around, and the scratching
Sound seemed to move in
Rhythm with the way
Charlie moved them stumps.
“Stop it! Stop it,” said Darrell.
“I can’t,” Charlie said.
“Not when them hands are singing.”
Darrell said that, from then on,
He could hear the scratching music
Every so often, and noticed
His own arms began to move
Whenever he chanced to hear it.
Darrell died in a terrible car wreck
Out on old 95 and lost both of his
Own arms in the accident.
Cut off at the same place Charlie’s were.
Now I’ve started to hear the scratching
Music and I can’t seem to turn it off.
“I didn’t want to tell you this story,”
Darrell told me at the time.
I wish he had never said anything
About it to me. I wish he had never
Said anything at all. Last week, Morgan’s
Barn burned to the ground. In the ashes
They found Charlie’s wedding ring.
But there weren’t no hands there at all.
TOWARD A MODERN HALLOWEEN
The skeleton is dancing.
It holds a cane and wears a top hat.
It tries to show a hierarchy of the dead.
Above, the crows, the other dark birds
Wheel and squawk, barely sounding
Like birds at all.
We shall have a halloween soon, say
The witches, and prepare their cauldron,
Hauling the huge dark pots from summer storage
And cleaning cobwebs from their interior.
Children watch through bulletproof windows.
The scary crew is assembling in that
Kind of parade that starts at candy counters
And wide aisles in drugstores,
Motion sensors causing freaks to
Shriek and cackle, speak phrases
That are supposed to be frightening,
But sound as if the voice was generated
From a telephone receiver asking if
The doctor has returned from surgery
Or if they can make an appointment
For Tuesday, or simply saying “blood”
As if that were enough for a Walpurgisnacht
Far from the Brocken and the Hartz mountains.
It is dark, but not the dark that carries
Only night, but dark, the dark that moves
Itself to dreaming, and we are too long
On the road as she comes around us
Bringing her own air, her own beasts,
Horses unlike horses that we’ve known
Who stand at the corner of the streets
Where we can see their large eyes. They
Seem to know us and make horse sounds
To one another, leaning toward the fog,
The coolness of the evening, and blow
Steam that seems to glow from their great
Nostrils. They paw the ground as if in waiting.
Then bats, as if the night had tongues,
Course just above our heads with squeaks
And clicks and sudden flash of reddish eyes.
They too have a sense of purpose to detain
Us on this night and swirl in flocks and bunches
Keeping us to the sidewalks, weaving light and shadow.
We have heard that it is Halloween. The
Jack-o-lanterns with their grimaced faces
Flicker from the porches of the neighborhood.
The cats of no color but the night move, too,
Around us in this night as if they wait for something.
Perhaps they think that we are creatures like themselves
Acquainted with the night and ready for its fierce
Devices, the howling of the wolves, the mocking
Face the moon makes to our wandering, looking
For a house we are not sure will be there, close
We hope, but hope is not a part of what we are.
Tonight is Halloween, a witch’s night. The roads,
The streets are for the ghosts and half-seen children
Of the night, whose music has been foretold, who
Gather toward us as the spider weaves his web
And calls us in the only haven left in this damp cold.
This iron-crowned king I see
Down on his knees picking up pieces
From a shattered afternoon does not
See me standing on his shadow.
His gaze is the gaze of a dreamer,
Forcing events back through me
That spike a deep fear into my heart,
Leave me trying to move away but unable to
Unlock my feet from the marble floor.
I have no memory of time here.
Even my breath breaks into hexameters that lie
About the shouts of men,
The snorts and exclamations of the horses.
I beg for a cause, a fear of wolves,
Coins upon a dead man’s eyes,
Migrating flocks of great birds,
The open sea, a Taoist priest making
A line I am unable to follow.
I cannot bear this kind of nightmare any longer.
I am being dreamed by a colony of ants.
My throat opens like the morning.
I open my eyes, stare back into the mirror.
The history of the night
Adjusts my clothing, points me
Toward a different eternity.
I recall the white horses of the Chaldeans,
The whistling of their dark riders.
FROM A NIGHTMARE
I noticed a dampness in the grasses
And footprints embroidered in the mud,
As if tears could
Be pulled by a needle
Driven by the wind.
Somehow I must have carved
A dream from it, for in my sleep,
During a nightmare,
A stranger in tatters
Approached me to ask
If I has seen them, knew where
“They” had gone.
I stopped. Cars whizzing
Past on littered streets.
“Whom?” I asked
“The ones with the ointments,
Or have you forgotten already?”
I began to weep.
“Do not confine yourself
Follow me to my rooms
Near this place.”
“I cannot,” I replied.
“I am committed to simple
Things. Empty jars and mud.”
“You lie!” she said, and ran
AWAKENING FROM A NIGHTMARE
While I was sleeping
They unlaced my dreams.
What was it that slipped
Away from me? Guards abandoning
Their posts. I saw their swords
Flash. I had never been to
They whispered that I was blind anyway.
Why would I care. “He has
Dreamed enough,” they said.
The shadow of a lover
Slides away across a floor
I no longer recognize.
What is clear now? Moonlight,
So slow it can reach out and take
My breath away while it fills
Room after room with the still smell
Of flowers and the sea surrounding.
I break away from my body.
But it is only the morning.
“Remember me?” it says,
Its splendid mouth resting
Close to my ear.
It’s this road. No, it’s that one.
I enter the room. It is a huge
Open room, all wood, with a bar
At one end. Two or three people
Are drinking, one of them is standing.
“So, did you find your mother?”
The men in the gray suits inquire.
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“Look at your hands, boy,” someone says.
I do. They are red with blood.
It drips on my pants. I begin to cry.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming
In here,” he says. “You need a lot
More than just a drink.”
I look across the room. A heavenly
Light pours in through the door.
“This way please,” the light says.
“We will all be home before morning.”
Bright orange CALTRANS
Trash bags piled on the side
Of the freeway: Seasonal garbage.
—Medusa, with many thanks to D.R. Wagner for his fine Halloween extravaganza this morning!
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