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
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
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.
Four majestic words, these.
So, four abreast we walk,
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.