by henry kearney, iv
One by one in August they visit. Always the dry time, before the leaves
change and death is everything. They bring nothing with them: no baggage,
no wrongs to be righted. Justice is irrelevant to the dead. They carry only the hollowness
of their eyes, and it is the heat that draws them, not the living, not the offerings
we have so long forgotten to burn for them. No, the dead do not miss us. They have
happily forgotten what we cannot: that somewhere right now waves
keep running into the shore and there is that hush that comes from knowing
this could all be swept away while youre in bed asleep and you'd never
know, could not be held accountable, not even to yourself. Somewhere
a small child is catching a butterfly, saying, "Look at this! Just look at it!" Perhaps
that child will grow to be always amazed. Perhaps. Tonight the ceiling fan will have to be
our ocean. There are so many things I want to tell you and so little air is left in this world.
I pity any of the dead walking home tonight.
The hot breeze in the reeds is a ghostly flute dreaming rain. We walk
the same earth. The same earth. These are the fairy tales we would tell our children
if we were honest. These are the fairy tales our children tell each other. In the tobacco
where I grew up a 57 year old man split his father's head open with an ax
for crack money. In the town where I grew up, I grew up, and as far as I can tell
its all the same. As thick as the veil God wore to the funeral, this night, this night
that must be coming to something, will be "the night we should have known"
when they write the history books, but tonight is only the night we are not prepared for.
So many things. Give me a drum deep enough and I will shake the abyss, but for now
I will sprinkle salt on the steps and leave wine by the door, so the unwanted will not
but will think kindly of me anyway. I will sprinkle salt in my wine and drink of both.
In the hallway I will light the candles beneath the portraits and wait. While she
was in the hospital giving birth, he packed a suitcase and closed a door, and that is
how it was. The Angels of this Harvest are still being born, but the dead are
notoriously impatient. Fall is a distant shore sprinkled with cornhusks and virgin nymphs,
its winds we hope will blow the dead back from whence they came, so we
can walk again without their burden in our lungs, the pressure that oxygen assumes
in midsummer, at midnight, in the humidity of God's regret.
It is a strange thing to map your life by stars. Stranger still to ignore them.
Once, a European astronomer sailed for ten years trying to find the perfect
hill from which to witness the Transit of Venus, which he had correctly predicted.
It was cloudy that day in the Southern Hemisphere, and his instruments had been
from him anyway, lost in the maze of ships he'd left behind, captains he'd confused.
He died soon afterwards of a tropical disease. I have wanted to speak
of him for some time now, but don't know what his story means.
But it does mean something, as it does that once in my travels I saw the Transit
of Venus by accident, in a village where, the same day, I stepped on a snake
in the garden. What is to be made of this stained glass world? Like so much else,
the Transit was distinctly unimpressive, and I will never forget it. Much like I will never
the man in that village who drank too much and would pass out with his lights on
and door open while his dog barked all night. He had sailed from the Cape of Good Hope decades before and had never gone back, not even to bury his mother. His days
of reading, herbal whiskey, and sometimes a lover among the hill tribes. It is frightening
how easy life can be when it becomes torturous, how even eluding the heavens is
a submission to them. I left there in a hurry to follow a woman who eventually left me,
my work, this work, half-finished and set aside. The work I have returned to, the village
and the woman I fear I have lost forever in the maze of cots and floors I've slept on,
goodbyes I've left unsaid. But who knows? It is a fact of this world that one must look
to the sky to divine the tides. Eyes upward at the seer's table, we lift
the simple cup from the ragtag assortment of small bones that map our future.
Henry Kearney, IV is from Robersonville, North Carolina. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: Another & Another: An Anthology from The Grind Daily Writing Series, New England Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, The Collagist, North Carolina Literary Review, The Cortland Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and Spoon River Poetry Review.