Witnesseslisten to this poem
They appeared suddenly, as if out of thin air:
two men covered in filth, long of beard and tooth.
Gaunt and jaundiced, they followed us with clouded eyes
unblinking from church steps to liquor store,
from parked cars to post office. We meant to tell them
transients weren’t welcome, but we never got the nerve.
They never addressed us. When they bent to whisper
in each other’s ears, small black puffs wafted up
and their fingers grew red with the glow of something
hidden just behind the cupped hands hiding their mouths.
Last week, when those three teenage girls were found
dead, cigarettes still pinched in their teeth,
we tried to find the strangers—who else could we
suspect?—but the corner they’d been standing on
for what had seemed like years was empty except
for two bent walking sticks left leaning on the wall.
Outside, the air was beginning to shift—to cool.
In the far distance, a cloud bank darkened. Moved closer.
just last week the river turned red
got a rust look and a crowbar flavor
someone told an uneasy joke that ended with
the good news is she was covered in crabs
but nothing rose up, not even the bodies
of perch we expected I don’t know what
but it was the silence, the smooth look
of that stained-glass ruby water
that unnerved us most frogs we can handle
horse flies happen everyday and a few more
wouldn’t hurt us even boils we could cure
with a compress of hickory and sassafras
but that slow-turning ochre sings out to us
draws us more closely to its lip
a kid with a wreath of pansies
pressed over its ears: firstborn
driven forward into the streets.
rough effigy sent out with our sins
appended, what drains from its throat
smeared across our foreheads.
if we don’t offer a sacrifice, it will be taken.
this is the deal we’ve accepted.
we have seen the dark hosts looming,
seen mothers wailing over emptied cribs.
we have seen the pillar of fire
burning in the distance,
the smell of charred flesh
carried back to us by the wind.