“Down in the country, it almost make you cry”
I said her smile was an ivory bird from
the mouth’s garden, but she made a sound
like winter and went deeper in the pines, a path
trimmed to the onset of early dark.
I could just make out some shapes, mostly
the sound of silver, like her eyes turned to river.
Like slow water, an old prophetic medium, like
children who walk blind to teach the body
its obligations. Even with the world in tears,
just look at God with His starburst heart of leaves.
Dry branches won’t bend to make a crown and
heaven isn’t a reflection of an ancient mountain.
I’m the fool following the last dust of ore
shook loose by a quake a hundred thousand
years after the fact. Broke as I could be,
Delta luck, a drink of the cheap stuff, money
a mockery. I began to look like a drowning.
You can believe I went without supper.
Going down the country, finding my head
in the mouth of the Gulf’s oven. Finding
the temptation of a railroad bridge.
The old world was on fire, its round
hunger darkening, its night
disappearing into thundershower.
I had taken my bike down to the rest home,
its old tires slouching along the macadam.
Walked it through the cemetery, as one ought.
Grandad couldn’t speak by then. Acted like
he seen a holy being, maybe even
the ghosts of my two dead girls.
But I knew enough to know what he’d say,
spirits or not. He’d frame it all with some calamity—
a man lost in the logging fields, baby sister
down with the cancer. Or his favorite story, the quail
on the icy lake that starving winter. The one we wanted
to hear was about the boar that nearly tore his guts out in
the woods behind Trout-Goodpine High School. Or
we liked just to sit in his quiet, watch him watch nothing
in particular. Watch him study the treeline like it was alive.
His clothes smelled like eucalyptus leaves, which always
made it seem he had stepped through some door that never was.
That land was green and sideways enough to hide just out of view.
This land is wrong. A buried town beyond the horizon isn’t
a hope we can hold. The older you get, the less the way seems
passable in any season. Ice begets ice in a childhood tale,
white scent like the space between a lake and the wood.
But stories die a little each godforsaken year, and the newspaper
says every tree on the windward side is now just ash.
Imagine what it means if just one survives. That’s something to hold,
a thing beyond things. A life beyond time. Lightning is a measure
of breath, a secondhand rounding the foot of the clock. Not even
Christ can look away from the horse’s silent path.
Autumn burns with its own discovery—
man’s eyes as brittle as mothwings,
fear buried like a yellow diamond.
Fear of the end rising like the congregation
for the reading of God’s word. Old age calling out
like the rasp of black lungs.
Feel it take shape like a hole in the ground.
Feel it like the last stair in the dark.
Kyle Vaughn’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as The Shore (2021 Pushcart Prize nomination), A-Minor, Adbusters, The Boiler, Drunken Boat, Poetry East, and Introduction to the Prose Poem (Firewheel). He is the author of Lightning Paths: 75 Poetry Writing Exercises. www.kylevaughn.org / twitter: @krv75 / insta: @kylev75