The Absinthe Literary Review

Poetics by Kathryn Hawkins
  

In a Graveyard

1

Gathering moss from the walls,
the sick-white boy
opens his terrible mouth.
He cannot scream:
the tongue is gone.

Blackbirds build their nests inside
the broken windows of the mausoleum.
They do not know him.

Neither do the girl and boy who squat
on the marble steps before the tomb,
eating Red Vines, kicking rocks.

2

The words we uttered at the burial
were barely of this world: ashes, dust,
thy kingdom come. It must be magic:
a man inside a box.

How long can he hold his breath in there?

3

A man kneels on the grass
before a plot, tending to the lavender
that he planted last year, dropping prayers
into the dirt above his fatherís head.

He counts each bud
as a whispered word.

4

In olden days, we used our bare hands
to throw down dirt across the grave.

Now, we shake it in
like salt on steaks.

5

Across the field, a woman tapes
a sheet of paper to a tombstone.

With a stick of charcoal, she begins
to rub the contours of the rock.

The name becomes clear
in the absence of color.

6

The service ended. We pulled away
before the earth was filled back in.

I turned my head to watch the man
with his shovel grow small against
the ground, until he was nothing
but form: bent back, clenched jaw.

The gravediggerís son was dancing.

The Scream

Turning thirteen, he stuck the poster on his wall:
a white-faced man, an open mouth, a pastel mirror.
He studied it solemnly, learned how to scream
without making a sound. At nineteen, he packed
the picture up, moved out of town. He left it rolled
in a cardboard box, a plain white scroll, and muffled
the moaning man inside. He hid his yellow walls
under black metal banners, and hung up crosses
that doubled as daggers. He found a girl whose spine
was sharp as knives. She smelled like vinegar
and turpentine. One day he pinned her down
and tasted that scream, stashed just behind his tongue,
aching to come free. It echoed out of her, that wide mouth,
white face like new snow or death, the painting come alive.
They let it burst into the room, then closed their lips
and fell silent together again.

© 2006 Kathryn Hawkins

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