Cygnets as Two Ghosts

by Matthew Wimberley

Out of a lattice of poplar
onto one road
banked by a thunderstorm—
a burden of new leaves in the boughs
and below fresh wildflowers cover the dead,
drones of ants hold their music—
laugh, the voices of birds chant
around the bend. Cropless hillsides
tracked through by rib-shown cows,
a lame mule hobbles
toward a pond
where two cygnets splay
their necks. They take shelter
from an early night rain, bob
toward shore—water
blue as the air-starved lips
of a child.
It’s summer again.
Moths slip through open doors
and land on shuteyes—
cold ash. The orange groves withered
down south, and now peaches
are picked one at a time.
Over a wall of spruce
stars rattle the ichorous dark—
the crane-fly orchids
spear up,
the spotted touch-me-nots
cover a blinded black snake
one thread of blood drawn from its mouth.
Above me the moon holds light through mist
like a fingerprint. Wrapped up
in mosquito weed and mud
my boots scrape away
at ground.
The rain takes a breath.
Across a creek
one bridge stands with names
cut lovingly into the rails—
it’s not true,
whatever promises
were carved back then.

Once I watched my grandfather
cut through a nail-spiked board—
a shower of sparks
over his hands. I thought
he could hold that fire
up against the sky forever.
But after his death
I walked circles
through a snow-filled parking lot
until my feet turned purple.
Later I would think—
shadows of beech trees
are not the same as the shade
of clouds over stone-bald mountains,
a deep green under a banded sky
of late day—the twilit glow:
hot irons pulled from flame.

Hours pass
while my mother and stepfather
sleep above me.
In the kitchen
light breaks into wisps
across tile floor
like hooks
thrown from a boat
to drag a lake bottom.
I’m thinking about the ground,
how I’ll be taken apart
and the space of my body
will be left
as night crawlers
pick clean my skull,
until the bone
so over-white
resembles a thicket of blackberries,
or a pale dog
who unknowingly
beds down
in sweet grass sprung out of me.



Read Matthew Wimberley’s “North”

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