Kevin Grauke ~ Five Poems

The Final Quarantine
It don’t take long to kill things. Not like it does to grow.”
                                      —Homer Bannon, in Hud

Bulldozers dig a pit wider and
deep­er than any swim­ming hole
and four cowhands on horseback
dri­ve the dis­eased beasts down and
in until hide rubs against hide,
with­ers to thurl, flank to dewlap.
Necks strain above the convulsing.
Eyes bulge and swiv­el. Muzzles
sling snot and bellow.

The gate swings closed and is secured.

In silence, a dozen men in dusters
step to the edge. Dirt loosens beneath
the toes of their boots and dribbles
down like unfil­tered ash. Their rifles rise,
and the air shud­ders. Until the guns’
smoke gets too thick, the morn­ing sun
casts twelve dark columns
across the tremors of the dying pit.

After the final shot comes
a silence, fol­lowed by the true
final shot, and the truest silence.
Heavy bags of lime replace rifles.
White chalk pow­ders the air now,
not smoke, though the sun
is shroud­ed just the same.

And then, before a wake of buzzards
can come to gorge on a boun­ty of
pesti­lence and warm death,
the bull­doz­ers return, to make
what was once a pit a grave.


Sam the Lion Rolls a Cigarette Beside the Fishing Tank
for Billy

while you keep an eye on them bob­bing corks just like he
told you to. Sitting on dead mesquite next to Sonny,
he talks of old times, back when he once owned this very land,
how he and this wild young thing used to come out here to swim
with no clothes. This was more’n twen­ty years ago, after
his boys had died. After his wife had lost her mind.
Clouds drift, and he stares, breath­ing smoke.
Whatever hap­pened to her, Sonny asks, this wild young thing?
Coming up from dark water, Sam blinks.
A cloud’s shad­ow swims across the tank, sinks.
Oh, I sup­pose she growed up, he says.

But you’re not lis­ten­ing. You’ve been giv­en a job,
so you’re doing noth­ing but watch­ing them corks.
You’re not even think­ing about how all the boys chipped in
so’s you could climb onto Jimmie Sue, who then bloodied
your nose and called you hate­ful names while they laughed.

On a cold and windy morn, after a cat­tle truck flat­tens you,
the boys’ fathers will mut­ter and spit, won­der­ing why the hell
you were sweep­ing in the mid­dle of the street in the first place,
but Sonny will know and he’ll tell them, and he’ll curse them
for call­ing you the same names Jimmie Sue used,
and he’ll bear your blood­ied, stain­less body
through the blow­ing sand to the curb and cov­er you,
not with linen, as you deserve, but with his let­ter jacket
full of loss­es, leav­ing him with noth­ing to shield himself
from the cold now that you’ve joined Sam in death so far away.


A Crucifixion West of Marfa
for J.B.D.

It was the boy’s idea—
they were just hors­ing around
next to the tour­ing car while the camera
trot­ted about them both, pant­i­ng like a dog.
With his shirt unbut­toned to the navel
(still lashed to Indiana, so far away now)
he just had to do some­thing to enter­tain himself
in this ungod­ly heat. Placing the rifle across his
shoul­ders, he dan­gled his right hand over its stock
and his left over its bar­rel, a pinched Chesterfield
between two fin­gers. His head drooped.

Had he not done what he did next, he would be
an old man now, but no, he rest­ed the heel
of one dusty boot on the dusty vamp of the other,
thus cast­ing (just like that) his body, the rifle,
the very day itself, into some­thing else entirely—
some­thing old, some­thing ageless.

Iron nails, unseen and unfelt, sunk them­selves into
famil­iar places and com­pelled his vio­let confidante
(who knew of the min­is­ter when he was eleven)
to kneel, to gaze up at him in only some­what mocking
ecsta­sy, not know­ing how their tableau whispered
to the sow­er of his own par­tic­u­lar para­ble, a man
far to the west with a name like a turnip, telling him
to turn onto Route 41 at a quar­ter to six on that fall day,
to fin­ish the boy on his rush­ing way to Paso Robles.


Elegy for the Bloody Porch
for Pike, Dutch, Tector, and Lyle

We four are rot­ten, worthless,
will­ing to betray and kill
for met­als of any sort. But
we’re not the most rotten
nor the most worthless.
Though our hearts are
des­ic­cat­ed hearts, something
akin to penitence
has tak­en pesky root
in their dust and refuses
to drown when we loose
the floods of woozy denial.

Let’s go.
Why not?

Four majes­tic words, these.
So, four abreast we walk,
glo­ri­ous­ly unhurried
through the day’s dif­fi­dent glare,
each of us in rhythm with
his heart’s pri­vate requiem.

Angels can­not be saved, you see,
and we know this.
They are always doomed.
And yet …

We round the final cor­ner in
shad­ow, emerge into light.
Nothing is preordained,
espe­cial­ly not a sacrifice
such as this.

Yes, the world is a scorpion
devoured by ants and set
afire by laugh­ing children,
but even in such a world
mean­ing can be made, called
into being by mouths, ours,
push­ing sounds into deaf air.


While Toots Plays and Harry Sings
for the man in the fringed jacket

You’re a hus­tler, a stud who ran from Big Spring
to make it big in the biggest city doing what she said
you did best, but here you are now, on a bus heading
south, sit­ting next to your sick friend who only wants
to be known by his Christian name on the beaches
of sun­ny Florida, a place that you know must exist.

In a hotel room, you killed a man to make this happen,
but didn’t he prob­a­bly deserve to choke like that?

As soon as the bus cross­es over from Georgia,
you buy your friend clothes to suit the weather,
and you push your boots and hat into the trash
with­out a thank you or good­bye. While you tell
him about the job you’re gonna get, out­doors work,
the palm trees on his shirt bright­ly echo the ones
glid­ing past like dark sen­tinels along the highway.

But now the dri­ver stops to tell you to close
his open eyes, and so you do, and until the wheels
stop for good, you’ll hold him tight about the shoulders,
pulling him close, some­thing you’ve nev­er done before,
not with any­one, and you curse the cat-eyed
looky-loos strain­ing for a glimpse, but you know
they’ll nev­er turn away because they nev­er do,
so you pre­tend it’s only him and you sit­ting there,
because this is the only way to keep your­self moving
away from the hells of home and the hells since,
and onward toward the fad­ed promise of Miami.


Kevin Grauke has pub­lished work in The Southern Review, Fiction, Cimarron Review, Story Quarterly, and Quarterly West, to name a few. His col­lec­tion of sto­ries, SHADOWS OF MEN (Queen’s Ferry Press), won the Texas Institute of Letters’ Steven Turner Award for Best First Work of Fiction. Originally from Texas, he lives in Philadelphia and teach­es at La Salle University.