In a year,
the king’s good son will bear his people
back into the current like a school of fish. Through
the gantlets of wrecking crews, up hill all the time
till we’re sweating with bitter vomit in our throats,
we’ll be giving thanks like a vibration in a magnetic
field, even in the final, burial-in-the-prison-camp
scenes. Most of our chain-gang disappeared years
ago, all the main characters gone, even the hangers-
on, the stunt doubles who loitered at the edges of
the night-time sets trawling for freebies—all hurried
away like ghosts, like wind through a dusty valley.
One old man still sat on a wooden box at the intersection
of the highways, playing a flute into the blasting traffic.
“He’s going to get hit by a car out there, or run his mouth
till somebody does something stupid to him. Do you want
to talk about funerals?” No. Well, they’re understood
to be coming, prophesied by the plague of squashed
toads circling out from the pools at the cool edge
of the desert, by our impulse to find their grave markers
and sing the memoriam. A camel stepped in among
the stones, silent black trumpets dangling from the
leather straps on his saddle, and finally my brother
showed up, on foot, his car and its bad clutch allegedly
bottomed out in the cul-de-sac behind the cemetery.
My brother had been the one to feed him his ensalata
negra, sauce packets, hop clover and crackers, anything
he could think of to keep him interested—in his mind,
good for nothing, a sprinkling of nutmeg. We decided
to let the grass around him grow back to seed, then
lurched back to my brother’s house like drunks, our
fields seeming to stretch before us like the jaws of an
alligator. We imagined ourselves swallowed, digested
by the rhizomes of swamp grasses, and within minutes
of our crawling up out of the cypress jungle, the first
of the old-town church ladies rang my brother’s bell.
She handed me a casserole spiced with some ancient,
unbearable vapor, and we smiled the best we could,
but another of them had already let herself into the
kitchen. She was reconstituting dried mushrooms
in a giant pot of water.