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Chalk Line
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Chalk Line

Everything necklaced with yellow caution tape,   the theater seats with teal fabric, cupholder     chair arms, circles immense to permit the insertion

of Big Gulps, one of which is spilled, congealed against   gray cement, a chalk line encircling a floral-     covered iPhone, which begins to chime the start

of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” causing the CSI sergeant   bent to her seat, tweezers in her latex-gloved fingers,     to startle, dropping a box of cotton swabs.

She readjusts her ponytail, tweezering a forty caliber   bullet from a chairback & sealing it gingerly     within a baggie. Spread about the auditorium,

mainly in the aisles near the exit doors, a dozen   shapes of human forms, rendered also in chalk,     twelve Giacomettis & Fallen Gauls,

chiaroscuro-ed, ectoplasmic, the half-corporeal shades   of Vergil’s underworld. Princely Aeneas—his hands     can pass through them, his hands can pass through

the sorrowing shade of his own father. Chalk line   rivering the dank cement, chalk line threading     innumerable needles. Chalk therefore the tenor,

bleeding out the vehicle. The Dark Knight rising   at midnight above the Cineplex neon     is the tenor, a gun show m&p15 the vehicle.

The sergeant sips a Diet Pepsi; another cell   begins to blink & vibrate. Before her, sixteen     uniforms, all bent to probe the theater seats & floor, [End Page 142]

the blood-spray patterns’ turbid action paintings,   documented, digitized, the minute endless research     meant to redescribe suffering, encase it

in a seven hundred page report. Bewilderment   the tenor, justice of a sort the vehicle.     She remembers the October she was seven.

This was Nebraska, the ’70s, the one weekend a month   her father had custody. They paid five dollars     at a makeshift booth & before them the corn-maze

seethed & hummed in the autumn squalls,   the brown stalks looming, the path all switchback     & sinew. In the truck, he’d been sipping from a flask

& when they stopped—it must have been   the exact center—he pulled the flask from his pocket again.     Cover your eyes, he said,& count to fifty twice.

He let go of her hand; she counted. & now came   the endless minutes of scurrying alone, dead-ends,     crooked bypaths, the crackle of dead stalks beneath

her shoes, the mole-colored ground, wet with a soft cold rain.   She lay down & wept. Two women found her—     one, she remembers, wore a yellow baseball cap.

Back they led her through the hell-mouth   & they found her father passed out in his pickup.     A State Trooper took her home. She saw her father

a few times more before he drank himself to death.   But they never left her alone with him.     & now her double shift is over; the sergeant packs

her tools into a gym bag, the latex gloves unpeeled   & deposited into a trashbin formerly meant     for popcorn cartons, used 3-d glasses. She walks

the cordoned, guarded halls into the lobby   & the stabbing glare of Colorado summer sun, past     the endless flower ramparts—floral wreaths twice [End Page 143]

as large as a person, day lilies hissing with bees,   7-11 roses, all piled half a story high, from the doors     to the end of the parking lot, everything in various

stages of rot, a blossom charnel house, a floral Great Wall.   They tell her that tomorrow or the next day, the county     will come at night with a trash truck & a backhoe

  & bulldoze the festering heap away. [End Page 144]

David Wojahn

David Wojahn’s eighth collection of poetry, World Tree, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2011 and was the winner of the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize. A new collection of his essays on contemporary poetry, From the Valley of Saying, is forthcoming. He teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and in the M.F.A. in Writing Program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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