blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
print version

The Dead Man, 1958

Home through the heart’s forest after so
many little glasses of sherry, each sweet
as a headache, round and brown as an eye.

I’ve been dancing at the hospital again
with Paul. No father is waiting to chide me.
My mother is dead asleep.

When we miss the last bus together and trudge
down the middle of Aigburth Road
as if we’re the only souls in the city,

we find the body, an ordinary man
shining in a suit and overcoat, no blood, 
his hand a sliver of moon, one arm twisted

back, face down. It’s a dangerous district. Sure
that we will meet a policeman, we both keep
hiking, but all but all the miles home we never do.

No kiss—Paul must find a phone. I hang up
my red macintosh. In the starry kitchen
I light the gas, boil water for tea

in the iron kettle, find bread under a cloth
and butter on the marble slab. He was like
a fallen tree, hollow, our fears crawling

over his flesh. He was like anyone.
The crumbs dissolve on my tongue
in distinct grains, butter slick and salt.

It takes a long time, learning something awful
but true. I pull my sister’s shoes off.
They have rubbed raw spots on each heel,

the skin blistered and lifting off like haze
from the sun, two red-eyed suns. It’s getting lighter.
The pain is a kind of warning and a kind of relief.  end

return to top