- Wherever the Carcass, and: Augury
Wherever the Carcass
How quietly now the schoolhouse gives upits century, resting humped, vestigialon the church’s spine.
For years the pipes beneath the boys’ urinalsemptied nowhere. An ammoniac sump seepingat the foundations. The well corrupt, poisonous.
So it is, the creeping way of hardship,how it festers like mold in the primersand catechisms. There is no one left
to tell them they have forgotten the Old Ways,only widows doddering at the coffers,to whom they will not listen.
This is how the Spirit descends:not as a dove, but a kettle of vulturesfunneling the updraft.
Round the steeple they plume and settle,make their roost and vernal quarter.They will not be rid.
So it is. The young pastor teeters on the roof,strings of compact discs and cowbellslooped and clanging against his clerical collar. [End Page 61]
The birds, serene, shift easy in their bulk,and do not dazzle, though Sundaysthe bells clamor above the benediction.
Amid the glittering cacophony,the pastor baskets greasy feathers.In a shed behind the parsonage he sews
rudimentary decoys, splashed at firstwith corn syrup and food coloring,later with chicken blood.
The vultures blink, the threat loston sometime cannibals, and anywaythe carrion counterfeit.
His wife will not have him for the stink.Electric wires hum in his dreams, and the pop of birdshot.But law, being with the birds, forbids it. So it is.
Come a Saturday evening in spring, along a roadthat curves between the field and a creekskinned with ice even in April
a farmhand and his family turn overtheir Bonneville. In the morningthey are dead: the mother threaded through
by tree limb, the father draped over a toddler.An infant blue in its car seat. The headlights winkand peter out. [End Page 62]
Near dawn two great birds alight.One nestles in the mother’s lap, pickingat the bloody skin behind her ear. It is almost a kiss.
The other sidles to the infant. There, pausing,it tilts its meaty head, troubled notby breath sounds but a faint, milky scent.
When the ambulance arrives, sun glistensover the asphalt. The second vulturecurls still around the infant, tucking the head
under its wing. The paramedics prod and shoutuntil it rises. Beneath it the infant, pristine,gathers her face and squalls.
The vulture scuttles to the ditch,and begins his labored, flapping ascent.The lights flash. The siren screeches.
Far off, the wind-whipped Kyrie riseson the plain.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
After Easter, 1865
When he has put up his horse,he finds his wife in the hearth lightboiling her monthly rags.
Twelve days it’s been since Easter,since they woke in murk to ride [End Page 63] nine miles to The Settlementfor sunrise service.Twelve days since they fell backinstead, hungry, into the quilts.
And when in the aqueous, predawn light,he propped the Bible against her sacrumand read die Evangelium, his German clottingin the sunrise, she swore she sawThe Angel sitting, look there,on the stone in the pasture.
They did not know it—Lincoln then, already cold.
He waits. In the flickering,in the flecked foam, he recognizesa scrap of gingham—last he saw itcupping her hip, before the war. It vanishesin the souse and sopof this night chorehe has never witnessed.
How often men and women go separatelyto their violences. Rife, each, with private deaths.
Later, he will tell her about Pleasant Valley,sparked and silent, the low-bellied trainsquatting in the shifting glare of bonfires.The flower-glutted track. The catafalque car.
But now, remembering the gingham,he must have her, even in ashes,with his little English, he must have her.The scent of blood risesin the wood smoke. [End Page 64]
The trains, late, resumetheir schedules. Their long whistlescore out the night,exposing that raw, abraded placewhere worlds scrape together.
When it is over, she will go againto...