Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Triptych for the Days Before Her Passage


We walked into the valley of dark, our sight

                           pinned to the ember of the single star the falcate moon
could not douse. That was the dusk we learned the blue bowl of air

               had tipped and littered the valley with grass, delicate as hair
and changeable as water for the shuttered eye (changeable as stone,

rhythmic as blood-crux in the salamander or goat,
rhythmic as the green-core of moss or elm).

- - -

For years my mother smelled of sour bread.
I'd carry her down the mountain in the blue dark
on my back near the swale where we'd build a fire
in the summer cold.

The bones behind her face had sunken, and I saw her pulse
tick shallow in the shadow of her throat.

Her voice was no more
than leaf-crackle,
no more than kindling.


What she remembers:

That in the summer of her seventh year, 
storms slanted in and engorged the rivers
and creeks until all waters buckled high,

shattered the levies and bit to the quicks of berms:
Houses that did not kneel and drift away moldered.
They moved the whole town eight miles north--

- - -

That in her ninth year she came back to the creek
then in drought and walked barefoot
the dry bed's limb-trash and alabaster--

That something in the slim sun-spears made
her look up into the unshackling of April
and witness a horse skeleton, brown-white

as the soles of her feet and silty hands.
She looked long at how vines twined its brisket,
at the strange philodendron head, drained

of flesh, brainless and almost comical in
its stillness, staid and smiling long with gothic
joy at the sheer oddness of how the Earth had reined it. 

 - - -

That the winter of her thirteenth year
in the frigid mineral-scent of dusk, the Harman
boy breathed warmth on the small hairs of her neck,

the whiskey on his child's breath, how they leaned
into one another in the blindness and purity
of the killed grass beside the creek, the water frozen

pure to the floor, where stunned curves
of minnows flashed tinny and motionless
under the stars' arc-light.

That the thaw snapped and pocked the air like gunshots
so that in the first hint of spring the Harman brother
slew the boy she kissed and dragged his kin down into the gorge.


What she cannot foresee:

That centuries the warped door of the moon will open,
house roofs will crumble as the horse bones gripped
in the long-fallen oak will fall themselves, then grind

down with years, fold as dust and meld with the specks
kept there of the murdered boy, millennia-old, both
now in the earth proper, slack and slow as a laggard.

WILLIAM WRIGHT is author of eight collections of poetry, four of which are full-length books, including Tree Heresies (Mercer University Press, 2015), Night Field Anecdote (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011), Bledsoe (Texas Review Press, 2011), and Dark Orchard (Texas Review Press, 2005).
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