When Joplin smiled, birds fell dead.
took Daddy’s rifle as always.
This time we saw a man on a horse
walking slow through the woods.
Watch, Joplin said.
One shot. The man went stiff,
pitched back and fell.
Joplin shouted at his bullseye.
The horse reared once and ran.
man was alive, his jaw
working to catch air like a catfish.
The hole in his neck bubbled.
He held crumpled flowers in his fist.
Joplin swung Daddy’s rifle
till nothing in the man moved,
till there was calm and a nice breeze.
Joplin’s eyes were falling stars
leaving trails as he turned away.
went through the pockets:
two dollars, a watch, a picture
of some woman leaning on a birdbath.
We kissed the picture, then burned it,
swearing that woman was ours.
I whistled a lick of Skip To My Lou.
Joplin hooted, kicking the man’s legs
until I pushed him away.
He slapped me to my knees and spat.
pulled the man into a wet ditch,
covered most of him with branches.
Joplin made me scoop mud for the rest.
I finished as the moon yawned
high up on its string in the dark.
Joplin cursed and howled, fired at it,
insulted its light couldn’t be rifled out.
I squeezed a rock and waited,
his smile burning the back of my neck.
The beehive-haired lady in the gift shop says
this Christ, though sixty-seven feet tall,
is only half the god he was meant to be.
The builders ran out of money
and had to make do with a seven-story leg.
Still, tourists come to arch their backs,
shade their eyes and contemplate
the crude stone giant. Arms outstretched,
robe of a beggar, crow’s nest for a halo,
he might be a pissed-off hobo
conjuring plague out of a boiling sky.
A child wearing a red cowboy hat
points his half-eaten chocolate bar and giggles.
His mother slaps his smeared face to tears.
Boy, it aint nice to laugh at Jesus she says.
On full moon nights I am the storm,
lightning fingers cracking midnight’s door.
I am the old barn, planks peeling, roof a mouth
open to rain and hail. Thunder is my song
of blood dried hard in dirt, black dirt dogs run,
black dirt cut by plow and combine, corn
burnt black by the sun. Lark and locust
know my name, their wings carving it in air,
in this cloud heavy and low. And I send
my hope in wind, heal you with a poultice of mud,
drown with you in the pond my heart leaves behind.
I follow as you walk the curves of this road.
Look for me in treestumps, catfish, cows mourning
their shadows in the heat. Look for me in the well,
the shed, the collapsed house on Signal Hill.
Look for me, love, in the secret life of all you see.
From the entire city I chose her,
nameless, buying aspirin
at a corner drugstore.
She had the face, the brown
birthmark above her chin,
long hair black and unpinned.
held the door open, smiled,
followed her to an ice-cream stand,
to the subway, then to St. Michael’s
where she knelt at the rail
and touched her lips to wine.
All day I stood invisible
outside every place she knew.
one saw me climb trashcans
in the alley, my fingers cut and numb.
The window finally gave, curtains parted
and her apartment glowed. I kissed
her ceramic eagle, rubbed my cheeks
against her bust of Beethoven,
shed my clothes and settled into her couch.
sunrise I pushed her bedroom door
and entered on my toes.
Her eyes were closed but she lay awake,
the corners of her mouth trembling.
I fell forward. She screamed and trapped me
in a knot of thighs, hips thrusting
until everything inside us collapsed.
slid broken from her bed, my knees
and elbows sore, my back shredded.
She wouldn’t roll over to help.
She didn’t like to speak.
As always before leaving, I placed
the white feather next to her head.