The Detective on Elegy
for Austin, my neighbor and dear friend
A half-lick from the hunting shack, no blood trails. Only the sprayed up
snow. Smoking wheels. The four-wheeler resting on the ice. All I know:
it always happens in November, every year Thanksgiving changes days.
These nylon bags, I’ve stopped tallying them, and the phone keeps ringing.
My wife has reupholstered every couch pillow with her teeth and still shakes.
My son, a pallbearer at twelve. Questions he’s stopped asking, are you working
a double tonight? Why him? Why her? How did it happen? When he goes
swimming, I say, don’t go past your knees. When sledding, the lake pumps
out snow that looks like ash when we step in it. When he unearths blocks
of wood from the pile of train-ties, when the porch planks bow and bend,
that’s enough, that’s enough. Not all at once or the deck goes. Wood we use
to heat wood. The fire inside, barely visible through the mantle smut,
the fingerprints facing us. Dangerous work, these stories I’ve given him.
These coffins he’s too young to carry. After the funeral, we find the chainsaw
hanging in the garage. Its steady jaws rubber his hands. In the woods,
the biggest tree we find dies open. Sap, still frozen, scabs up the sawdust.
I teach him this: see the tree not for rings but places it will fall.
Elegy for Man Up North
for Andy, 1991 - 2013
On the hard back of Lake Superior, two bullet casings. Some small mercy.
The trussed shadow. The rail bridge, that tangled plate of iron. Pine boughs,
ice-crooked trenches. The plow making a road again. The creaking cold metal
rattles some ghoulish step: Andy out on a walk with the Lord and a gun. Its butt,
a phantom pain: Sarah’s head asleep on his shoulder, pickle juice still thick
on her breath, those last drops of August milked from the jar. Legs out
over the water, they pay no mind to the lake below, to the dusty bridge crotched
across their jeans—a film of smoke on candle glass, the dark haunt of flame
not yet lit—a time before this, where she hasn’t left him yet. A time before
his neighbor’s garage, where his teeth ground down the bottle’s great sour lip.
Where he held the rifle end, the bloody slender leg, over the wintered slab.
Where his neighbor’s jaw—broken, spread out red and wide across the floor—
steamed, outlined a man’s begging. And once again, the night turns to the rust’s
slow tuning, those old and flaky notes, the music of road salt and melting snow.
Sirens on alto, the chorus in full swing: the shouldering of a gun, Andy snapping
a safety on, a cop pleading, son, pleading, drop the gun. Year after year,
the snow leads this gluey dance, the plow’s peppering. What of a slow and hungry
healing? This steel cord, this tongue wet with memory, its stripped buds lapping
with their crosses what they can. The lake smoothing out what it catches.
Blood, snow, chips of iron. A summer long ago when two diving bodies softened
into each other sometime before the shore. This prayer—