“Walkabout” by Glen Dodge

we came here to get away
to get past television reception
at the end of the telephone poles
a place that could be any place
with a cold winter
a hot summer
roads in need of repair
a rural population
focused on the past
letting the future take care of itself
you and I got over
our need for prepackaged comforts
to fasten closer
learn to bear one another
a tableau of immediacy
man woman house radio
savor each season’s flavor
fall reeds chiming hollow by the river
wind rattling the dead wasp nests
life gathering itself for hibernation
clouds tearing apart
on distant hilltops
walking hand and hand
watching leaves fall
from the stand of maples
not dead but glorious
winter ice on the power line
sheets molded to the car
coating the road
with ridges of knife-blade mud
inside wearing all the wool we own
wood stove smoldering like a cartoon
black iron ticking in the dark
gravid belly lit like a cherry
reflected on your thighs
your bare abdomen
breathing steam into each other
spring cloudbursts
fertile snapping wings
return of birds and odd men in bright hats
shotguns in the crooks of their arms
asking to cross our land
the surging river straining its banks
volunteer daffodils punctuating
the verdure to the near horizon
a green beard growing to obscure
the stoic bones of the Earth
then the rain slacken
days lengthen
in those hints of gathering summer
we sleep apart more and more
I wake to find you
in the baby’s room
naked on the bed
empty and small like an ethnic joke
blankets on the hardwood
I can’t help but spoon you
reaching to stoke your core
my hand in your hair
as you wake from what dream
soft pinks and blues
to this unwashed brown lust
we never speak of that act
in that vacant room
turn our thoughts to the silence
as the season ripens
in between typewriter hammers
ice clinking
in the vodka and lemonade
you’re done teaching
and I trim the lawn with a scythe
reaping dandelions
terrifying the moles
leaping hill to hill with a cry
like a man with a barbed mote
in his eye
can’t look at one place too long
unless I dare
to look upon a shadow of truth
implacable appetite by day
hunger tempered at night
thrilled to hear the bats
take mosquitoes and crane flies
tonight it’s mid-evening
in the forge of summer
you’ve washed your hair
abide alone in the kitchen
with a glass of ice and a novel
licking the rim
mind far afield
I sit on the porch
watch the black tableau
differentiate in starlight
grass to road to trees to hills
listen to that single long stitch
the river parting and healing
but mostly calling
bodywarm now I know
luxuriant and mud-bottomed
you turn out the lights
no goodnight
climb the stairs
pull down the shade in our bedroom
to sleep alone
I know the sound
of your bathrobe on your calves
just as I know
the sound of my shirt
pulling up the stubble on my chin
I’m naked too
padding careful
not wanting to stir the flaking paint
alarm the loose porch boards
the toads swallow their boasts
when I ghost out to the road
my own aboriginal ritual
painting my sunburned skin
with powdery road-dust
from the orphaned artery
a county project of long ago
connecting the county seat
with God knows what
the dream of a sister city
a camping ground
archeological site
or just a make-work for layabouts
and so all layabouts get their revenge
they drank their wages long ago
never imagining me
their brotherman
as I slouch through the windless dark
rain has abstained for weeks
the countryside smells like paper
and the stealthy life
heartier than tenant farmers
rustles in the windfall of abandoned apple orchards
I’ve walked this line
rough bent and bending
parallel to the river
by day and by night
and never met anything
that didn’t slink away
to burrow in cottonwood drifts
or flit like a dappled dream
down the scars of wheel ruts
heralds of the dilapidated hovel
flaccid with decadence
stinking of castaway dreams
sometimes there’s a mason jar
crushed into the yard near
a warped and innocent lilac
whose musk starts me salivating
a babe hungry for the tit
but no lust can survive
those castaway clearings
and now at night
those dark mouths are mute
and even the specters
haunting lath and plaster oblivion
have lost the will to frighten
there are little bridges
over barren ruts that once ran full
one day I searched a long-dead eddy
to find a blocky wooden boat
etched in smut
in front of a derelict manor
where a cobweb hand
traced silhouettes
in glassless upper windows
some of the locals at the county seat
eating their grits swimming in butter
tell about goat suckers in these woods
not nightjars but proper legends
bogey men, chupacabra
all hungry mouths and hollow spines
longing for a one-way embrace
with a human full of sin
to drink their shame and blood away
though right now
there is nothing abroad
in trees or air
there is hardly a breath
and distance has shrunk
takes no time at all
to journey back into
a closet memory
from when I was four and hiding
in the rubber raincoats and workboots
worried about my Uncle Russ
his booze-swollen face
the back of my head still aching
from where it hit the ceiling
I walk and dream
distilling my visions to match the night
air the temperature of blood
blood the temperature of desire
desire for some woodland nymph
paler than moonlight
naked aside from her wide eyes
clothed time to time with long lashes
and her own dreams
of a city man smelling of soap
and the woman who no longer shares his bed
she dreams of a moss pallet
the urgency of breath and fingers
fucking that takes all night
finally filling the ache in her jaw
raw as a rotten tooth
and of a dawn at the river
that leaves her cleaner than she’s been
since her birth blood
was wiped away by splintery hands
such a nymph never appears
and each step I take I become
further away from you
and older
and lighter
as our gravity ebbs
but I still want to come home
I contain an element
that smiles about you
when you are not around
reminiscing about our awful dates
the fools we both knew
the New Year car trip
through the high desert
no company but a wavering radio signal
a pair of lanes and a wavering
painted line
that blew with the light dry snow
both of us wide awake
ready for the coyote
that would spring
from the navel of Creation
crush the grill
sends us spiraling
into the arroyo of no return
when we arrived at the truck stop
I remember marveling at you
embracing you by the dry goods
kissing your cold soft lips
smelling your hair
the dust on the road here and now
smells like rain
how that can be I don’t know
a well-placed bolt of lighting
would denude the whole county
the landscape a firework
while all the smart and living things
would become as leeches
hunkering down in river mud
until succor arrived
the bare muscular hand of help
to gnash into and anesthetize
with woeful tales
mud-streaked cheeks
perhaps you would die
as the house grew hot
bedclothes became tinder
and your bones cracked
as your water exploded back into the atmosphere
in such a story
perhaps I am able to save you
perhaps
I stopped walking
and now I start again
the road goes up a little rise
into a stand of pecans
in near-regular rows
the work of a phantom husbandman
wizard of arboriculture
I picture him bred perfect to his calling
skin nutbrown
fingernails pared to points
all the better to crack the bones
pick out the meat
chewing it as mash to ferment
liquor and cheese
a genius of economy
broad and hard for having eaten bitter
slept rough
he harvests here still
unseen and ages old
thus only his grove is seen
sighing where the first breeze of the night
carrying the soft chuckle of his sleep
he is strong alone
and I am a bag of sticks and mud
realizing I must return home
though the rut continues
I am leashed
I am collared
if the moon were out my neck would glitter
the golden promise
that my throat is yours
older and more significant than the ring
that cracked while I was chopping wood
and sits in a jar
beneath the bathroom sink
waiting for an alchemist to heal
it is a symbol of my pledge
to the judge who married us
to pay the proper taxes
but the necklace marks me property
and every time I move
to unclasp it
it burns me
a sparkplug to the engine of Us
I must return home
so when I clear the pecans
I lean left and find the decrepit gravel path
that leads through a bramble
of blackberry and morning glory
to the old slumped dock
timbers soft as good dark rye
the river is a suicide
damned to wander the same path
a lesson to avoid, a tool to use
it has no hunger no desire
but when I step in it enfolds me
examines me thoroughly invades me
we have met before
though neither of us are the same
and the act it performs on me
so intimate
is a whore’s trick
impersonal and easily forgotten
come the moment I step ashore
it will not remember my flavor
I swirl in the piss
of numberless transients
fish and faceless people
rise to the surface
nose above the water
hold my body cruciform
and begin to drift
slow homeward bound
with each breath I take
the river cools me
leaches my heat and without welcome
reminds me of where
my body was born
not in spark and spasm
but in the interplay of wet things
taking their course
making their miracle
a slow fission leading
to my foot-weary mind
the river licks the dust from my pores
smoothes my hair from my brow
unfurls a rich black cape
miles long upon my shoulders
and calls the river cats
up from the gluey depths
they spark a dim electric retinue
chamberlains who recall
all the twists the river once had
and all it has today
to shepherd me to my own domain
the current is slow, smooth
without eddy or dimple
the insects of evening have been eaten
the birds of morning are yet to stir
I am a deadhead
a dully phosphorescent corpse candle
a malignant berg
no less menacing for being
the only conscious thing abroad
a bomb, a mine
what thing have I touched
which I haven’t ruined
and the slowness of my trajectory
inexorable
gliding to you
to your harbor
your hair and memory
the things you consider true about me
what a faithless dead fish I am
all our programs to create
to improve
have led to a mostly empty
half-painted house
I can see you now
legs tangled in the limp comforter
eye gently closed
aloof in a dream that doesn’t include me
so why don’t I keep floating
what hot gravity draws me in
I conceive the plan
but I know I’m too weak
to see it through
I am a poor singer
you are my audience
listening to my single note –
I am alive
It is now the time of night
directly before dawn
there is a pause in the air
and upon the surface of the water
something walks across it
delicate and heavy
and suddenly I am neither tired
nor awake
osmosis has changed me
to the temperature of the river
into a state where everything
is believable
Death sits on an old black piling
a rotten tooth
His dog Time
lies leashed up on the bank
watches me with beautiful green eyes
and I know
he is a true gourmand
but in this hour of armistice
he is obliged to only watch
as my possibly toothsome carrion
drifts past at walking pace
a veil has dropped from the face of reality
I know I have seen Truth
that the right thought is in my head
that the finale of seeming
is within my grasp
but as I am hardly a human
a kind of mongrel
cursed with the power
to only half succeed
I shy away
from framing the one answer
to everyone’s question
afraid of what I would become
afraid I could not tell you
or show you what I had become
take you where I could go
there is a light near the horizon
it holds the entire night pinned around it
a bird chirps tentative
and something lithe and small
slips into the water
I can see the tree
with the old rope swing
we tied together
our first autumn here
the tree the rope the knot
they are all still more than strong enough
to bear my weight
and yours
I lower my feet and stand
I move my feet and walk
the grass is warm
and the crickets are all asleep
cowed perhaps
by the porch light you turned on for me
there is a towel next to the door
and a glass of lukewarm lemonade
which I can barely drink
through my tightening throat
I rub myself dry ghost up the stairs
to the hall and its happy portraits
your smile my strong jaw
I open the door to our room
listen to you breathe
move to your side
then very quiet very soft
moving slow in tens of heartbeats
I kiss you
your forehead and mouth
and you do not know

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