a Journal of Poetry and the Arts
Jerry H. Jenkins
A pack of coyotes yipped in the night's dead black,
and a gray fox died. They left him where he lay.
Green bottle flies attacked him by heat of day
and a resident called me to take the carcass away.
I shouldn't have wrapped him up in the garbage sack
to dump him like any old trash when the truck came round,
but one may not bury the dead on common ground -
the squeamish owners insist on their sterile lawns.
So I couldn't help feeling ashamed when the vulture arrived,
swooping low in his frustrated, looping glide
as if to tear at the sack and the carcass inside
and I thought about it after the truck was gone,
How the vulture and fox and the soil were all deprived
of the natural order of things by our human sense
that death is unnatural, how we will try to fence
the world from our lives as if we loathe and fear it.
When sunset came I went to the nearby pond
where the wild things live - heron, rabbit, raccoon,
gosling and coyote, turtle, snake and loon,
and I prayed to the compass points for the fox's spirit.
East for success, west for the life beyond,
south for peace and trust, north for travail.
When mist rose off the pond and the grassy swale,
a fox appeared at the tree line, silently.
We watched one another, caught in the moment's bond,
till the sun set, and the swale teemed with firefly light.
At last the fox turned west, to his den in the night,
and a meteor burned in the southwest sky for me.
Heat waves rise from the fields in tropic sun.
Along the dusty road the battered cars
lie in a field. These rusty skeletons
have been collected here and abandoned, far
from the emptied cities, their headlights blind as stone.
They lie unclaimed, their ownership unknown.
Skulls are piled on a table. Jawless and round,
some rest at an angle. All have eggshell cracks.
They stare into themselves, reliving the sound
of the hatchet, the crushing bar, the iron pickaxe.
Out of the grove and grave, they lie revealed,
stolid as geodes broken in the field.
The storm has receded now. The violence ebbs,
leaving a shoal of bones thrown in a tangle,
smooth and hard with the heft and weight of clubs,
in hexagons and accidental angles.
Their knurled ends are porous with honeycombs,
small cells filled with detritus, blood and loam.
Dark birds pick through the silent, polished tiers
of knob and shank and curve. Prismatic eyes
of waxy scorpions glitter and disappear
in this wilderness of jackstraw ribs and thighs.
A swell of pelvis rises as a wave
stilled in its cresting. Ribs curve up like staves.
A child meanders among a stand of trees
and stoops to pick up an object in the dust,
examines it, then gives it to her mother
who drops it back to the earth. Pity? Disgust?
The ground grows human teeth, and no one bothers
to mourn these countless anonymities.
Starlings twitter and squeak in the hot schoolyard.
Their chattering hints of what still lies inside.
Shuttered windows high in the gray walls hide
the cramped stone cells, the shackles and the barred
cell doors, the bloodstained tile. In silent air
there is a lingering presence of despair.
And there is a wall with nameless photographs,
each with a number. A woman with haunted eyes,
who lies somewhere in the bleaching cenotaph,
pleads from her photo that we realize
she was that mother whose child plucks at her sleeve.
She was alive, and she was here. Believe
These scattered ones, exhumed from the skullcapped ground.
Insistent, blind and dumb as the seasons' turning,
they whisper of dust, and the earth's relentless round,
and they will be heard again, urgent and burning
with what they have seen.
Like chattering birds, they will come,
full of their secrets, out of the hecatomb.