Southern Gothic

The field spread, wan and wilted, wallowing
like a pale corpse before the front porch,
beneath a gloomy gray sky, swallowing
the sun like a fog-shrouded torch.

The old man sat in his rocking chair,
grinding the planks with a scraping screech
and his wife sat on the steps, hands in hair,
plaiting it as she ignored his speech.

“Don’t go runnin’ ‘round no more,”
he said, the rifle loaded in his lap,
“‘cause I won’t be married to no whore.
I’d rather be a widower than a sorry sap.”

The woman only giggled, and continued braiding
while he upbraided her with his threats—
at her back the house paint was chipped and fading,
the windows cobwebbed with dead insects and regrets.

The second storey window was dark, the kid’s room
empty, ever empty, since they were married—
and in the haunted silence of that gloom
all of the past and future and hope were buried.

With a sigh she said, “Nothing ever grows here.
None of my vegetables and none of my flowers.”
She blinked away a single bitter tear
and sighed again. “Ain’t nothin’ here really ours.”

“I’ve got some good roots here,” he said,
“and they got a taproot to our hearts.”
She scoffed. “But the flowers are all dead,
so who cares about the other parts?”

“You just think you’ll be happy flyin’ free,”
he said, “like a seed on the sinful wind,
or you think someone will pluck you from me—
maybe a rich fool wanting a cozy friend.”

He lifted the cold-barreled rifle in each hand
and felt the reassuring heft of the stock
and, with a curdling frown toward his wedding band,
he aimed it toward her, listening to her talk.

“Your gun don’t work no more,” she said,
“no more than the one between your legs.
Go ahead and shoot me in the head—
your gun ain’t nowhere near big as Greg’s.”

“Woman, you are tempting the Devil,”
he said, his voice as a whetstone on a blade.
She stood up, smirking, ready to revel
in the roughspun hatred they had both made.

Her dress was white as dandelion seeds
and clung to her body loose, a dress
hinting at the yet-youthful curves, and lewd deeds,
of a breeze fluttering higher at that airy access.

“Should have known you were a dead end,”
she said lightly, patting down her skirt—
she was a lithe flower, but she would not bend.
“You’d think after all this time it wouldn’t hurt.”

He smiled sourly and the porch’s light
drew a shadow mask down to his jaw line.
“All I gave you was cleaning vinegar, right?
And all you ever wanted was fancy wine.”

A cow lowed in the distance, a moan
carrying on for a long time, as if to splurge
upon the wide-mouthed vowel, maudlin, lone
as a farewell song, a Southern Gothic dirge.

“Think you can bolt from me?” he growled.
“I got your number, Missy, with this Winchester.”
“All you ever had were guns.” She scowled
and thought of the first time he had undressed her.

He could smell honeysuckle in the air
and it stayed in his mind, for a time,
but he also smelled lavender in her hair
and on her neck, soon to be a kissing crime.

His finger gradually weighed upon the trigger,
the muscles and sinew tightening with death.
“You think you can just leave me for some nigger,
but you ain’t.” The rifle exploded its gunpowder breath.

The world was deafened, silenced, slain,
and her eyes closed to utter void,
yet she did not blossom from her brain
and instead saw a doe, far afield, destroyed.

She watched in horror, and in relief,
as the doe collapsed, rose and fell and rose,
scrambling and moaning in its grief
before bleeding out among the fallow wheat rows.

“Go on, get,” the old man said. “Go to your buck.”
Wide-eyed as a doe, she hurried toward her car
hoping she would start a new life, with a little luck—
but she did not get very far.

He aimed the rifle and fired again,
a grin spreading across his empty-eyed face.
He said, “I wanted you to see how I’d win.
Did you honestly think you’d ever leave this place?”

He watched her crawl, her dainty daisy dress
now a crimson-and-white tie-dye,
and when she stopped moving he said, “God bless”,
lipped his rifle and kissed the world goodbye.

The True Spirit Of Christmas

When they think of their holly-jolly season
have they not the wherewithal of reckoning or reason
to think of the jolly fat man with his rosy-cheeked smile
but an avatar of delusion, an effigy of denial?
Think back to our ancestors and their bitter winters
that bit with winds and snows, the icy splinters
of that fanged desolation with its arctic blasts
and the famine and the silence, the starvation that lasts
much overlong, as a cruel-clawed hag of want
whose every kiss leaves us shivering and gaunt;
and so do not deceive yourself with dazzling lights
or warm fireside carols, or candied chocolate bites,
nor smile in cheer of a frosty-bearded elf—
rather, see it from the distant ancestral self;
look back through the cold and the darkness
to see black and white, life and death, in all its starkness:
see this wendigo calamity of each passing year
returning round again with the gift of fear,
and humility, and the keen awareness of Death
as they huddled in huts together, their communal breath
heavy with cold, an apparition of prayer
frosting upon our lips, stillborn upon the air,
and recall, too, the jolly saint withered, frost-bitten,
his fingers fallen off after he has eaten each mitten
and his red suit now white with the furious blizzard
while he wanders, snowblind, like a deranged wizard.
See him burn down a whole forest of Christmas trees
to raise his body temperature by a few degrees,
and now he calls out to children, shakes his sleigh bells,
and hungers for youthful meat while the wind wails.
His reindeer shun him, for they all wisely know
not to trust a starving man, or his laughing “Ho ho ho…”
I suppose we ought feel merry for a bellyful of Christmas hog
rather than long-pig roasting over the cruel yuletide log.

Vixen

Headlights glinted in a pair of mischievous eyes
before the fox turned, disappearing behind her own tail
and into an overgrown field, the tenebrous skies
falling heavy over the blackened backwoods vale.
Headlights dimmed and died and the man stepped out,
gazing across the glass, darkly, of a reed-riddled pond,
and walking down from the dead-end lane’s turnabout
toward the driveway, and to the farmhouse beyond.
The house was large, old, three storeys tall
and its porch had but one outside light shining
to glow across the porch, peeling back the pall
of Night as it weighed upon the horizon’s lining.
Each window was a skull-socket in that half-lit facade—
all but one on the top floor, in a far corner where
a single foxfire candle burned; and so, with a nod,
the man approached the tree that stood parallel there.
As he looked up he remembered her freckled face
and her pink lips as she had waved goodbye,
riding her bike away from his much-maligned place
after promising a taste of her wild strawberry pie.
He had watched her while his blood burned and rose,
Lust a devil that had taken to rutting inside his head
and he grinned like an ape to think of her clothes
torn to reveal strawberry-and-cream flesh outspread.
So he climbed the oak, rising with a lust-feverish grasp
on branches and twigs and even the bark’s scales
until, at length, he came to grab the hot window clasp
and raised it, hearing, for the first time, fairy bells.
“I’m comin’ in, darlin’,” he said, his breath lurching
as he gazed into the candlelit room, his grin so wide
that he looked like a beast upon that branch, perching
like a Nightmare astride a dreamer with nowhere to hide.
He was so startled when the rifle met his eager eye
that he lost his grasp and fell from that tall tree,
tumbling headfirst into his final bed, to forever lie
while a fox laughed, as a girl, with glee.

Woolgathering

The shepherdess is out of breath
while gathering wool beneath an overborne sun,
stooping near the Valley of the Shadow of Death
to gather armfuls while the lambs, nearby, run,
and though memories are warm and soft
against her sagging, mottled breasts
they weigh too much to hold aloft
and so she sits with them a-lap, while she rests;
her legs dangling over that dark valley of mystery
and, gazing down, she wonders how far is the fall,
but thinking the fleece will cushion her misery
she leans forward, into that shady pall…

Cold

Standing in the cold,
I watched snow fall last night,
white specks drifting down
from a great black height
and stared at one snowflake
twirl-tumbling down,
inevitably, its uniqueness
arrayed as a crown
lost in the distance, the dark,
obscure in its detail,
its fractals of personality,
its soul, as it fell
to the wet, glistening ground,
on the hard concrete,
and it melted upon impact,
next to my unmoved feet;
and I wondered if Someone
in that black-and-white starkness
looked on as we all fell,
from darkness to darkness,
and, bundled up warmly,
cocooned indifferently to all,
it did not deign to catch us
as it watched us fall.

For You

For you I would delve into the blistering sands
and face the sandstorms of ancient Egyptian lands,
dare the trek to Duat, realm of the bandaged dead,
where kas fly in spiraling flocks overhead
and I would worry bones against the Jackal-faced god
to find and raise you from that land, fleeing abroad.

For you I would walk beneath the onyx vaulted skies
of stone-cut Mesopotomia, where the ziggurats rise,
and I would drain the Euphrates River utterly dry,
digging deep for the caverns of Kur, where shades lie,
lorded over by Lion-headed Nergal, his furious roar
sounding as I raised you toward life once more.

For you I would sail to Styx-split Tartarus
and wager grim-grinning Hades to barter thus
as Orpheus had done, with Persephone’s favor,
leading you beyond Lethe and Cerberus, once again to savor
the warmth of sunlight, of happy life in the open air
of the Mediterranean—beyond Death’s dark lair.

For you I would ascend the lofty ladder to Heaven
and beg at the throne of God, arrayed by the Seven
of Seraphim and wash the feet of Christ, repenting my wrongs,
don a halo, a pair of wings, add my voice to their choir songs,
or be at peace in Purgatory, or even the hottest pits of Hell,
looking up at you as you fly beyond the luminous veil.

But this is not myth, nor a story, nor a happy ending,
and whether it be by prayers, sacrifice, or moral mending
I cannot exhume you from that echoing tomb of Time—
it is such an unwelcoming and distant chthonic clime.
What hope have I to rescue you from where gods, themselves, die,
buried in the Past, that dusty necropolis of sarcophagi?

The Threefold Veil

The funeral bell knelled
and threefold widows wailed,
though whether because he’d thrice wed
or woeful for the dead
wherefore none could reward him Hell
for herself, none could tell.
The Will that he willed, thus,
’twas split with much of fuss
for he willed that they each
should live within each other’s reach,
the three in the same home
or not one would but roam.
‘Twas much ado among the three
to which they said, “Fiend, O thee!”
and yanked benighted lace
away from one another’s face,
showing tears, at last, when
flowing belike forever then,
though for beloved spouse
or his wealthy farmhouse
the executor could not say,
disturbed unto dismay.
The widows raked and clawed
and did unto as ’twas outlawed,
scarring miens most meanly
so veils were needed most keenly.
None received house or land,
but naught in either hand
save lace and flesh and blood
which they chewed, like the cud.
The gravediggers later that night
laid the dead man out by moonlight,
but grabbed the box by a lax grip
so it did thereby slip,
tumbling down with a plop
and opening wide with the drop.
There he sprawled, all ‘a grin,
having tricked his wives, once again.