blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



The Stigmata Rather than a Punch on the Nose

If you'd asked my father when he was nine
why he beat up a kid for calling him Little Bo Peep

he would have beat you up too. Not because
you would ask in that superior way you always do

but because he couldn't understand the difference
between hate and pain and for that he'd sock you one.

It had nothing to do with being a bonnet-headed
shepherdess forever afraid of wolves or communists

hiding in the chicken-coop, forever coming home
empty-handed. It was the destruction

of the one word he knew better
than any other that got to him.

Imagine: 1952, summer, an over-ripe pear
in each pocket, furiously defending his name

and his nose and no sheep in sight
down the sweet-leaf rows, no relief

for the wretched in Maysville, N.C.
He tried to picture himself leaving town

on the sorrel's dewed back, early morning,
the long-throated birds asleep in the sourgrass

and the sorrel wading into the horizon,
but all he could think of was a wonderful scene

in a movie and as always would become a spectator
of his own life. You would have thought

that the other boys (Marion and Steamboat and the rest),
shirt-tails open in the wind, would let up,

forget about it. They kept coming,
waiting for him on the back road beneath the willows.

Their fascination with seeing blood pour from a nose,
even their own, became not just blood

but the reconstruction of it.
Not love, but the forgetting:

a yellowed calm breaking over the leaves
and their faces as dusk did then.

This was not dusk or locust though.
It was the yellow that memory

brings to a place, carrying a kerosene lantern
lit for a boy stuck on the roof

of a grain silo, too afraid to climb down in the dark.
The yellow my father saw in his fists

as he would light up one boy after another
like a cupped match, making whoever it was pay

for the blood of his good name.
Little Bo Peep. Poteat.

It was a simple mistake to make,
but what does reason have to do with instinct,

with a stain on a boy's palm, the sow in her trough
bleeding out of her eyes for want of darkness

or rather a light luminous enough to see
the pear trees at the rim of the meadow

one last time? The sick sow he fed mornings,
combing the lice from her brow,

speaking his own name as a question to her. Poteat?
Our ruins follow us, that much he told me,

later, after our good-byes and our kind sirs
quickened in the clay, red at the heart of it,

the deepest well of it, the sow that rubbed
her ears raw on a fence post, long gone by then.

Calm yourself. Give in.
And that is where you find him, in the fields,

a muslin of rain delivering the ancient scent
of tobacco. Where else would he be?

Born in a field at the edge of a ditch he would tell her.
This is a story without surprises.

The formality of a swallow's nest falling
from the ruined rafters of a silo didn't confuse

or sadden him, he just didn't want it anymore:
the dying becoming dead, and the dear old summer

washed up on the river's bank,
dear sweet summer.

The stupid pig lying there. Fuck you. Fuck you.
You don't know him at all.  

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