On the porch, unbreeched shotgun dangling
Across one arm, just after the killing,
The murderer, Billy Winkles, made polite
Small talk with my father while we waited
For the sheriff to come. The reek of cordite
Still loomed above the sheeted corpse, his uncle
Ben, whose various dark and viscous organs
Jeweled the lawn. “Want some coffee, Von?”
I heard, and thought, A man is dead. And then:
Why had my father brought me there to stand
Alone, out of place, half-terrified, bored
With the slow yammer of weather and crops?
I stepped carefully across the rotted planks
Toward an oak where an engine block
Depended from a blackened limb and watched
A dull dazzle of horseflies, a few puddles
Hounds had dug like chocolate ruffles
Hemming the chicken yard. “I told the son
Of a bitch, come back, I’ll shoot you dead,”
And he sure had, for sniffing round his wife.
He said, “It just ain’t right.” He rolled
A smoke and dragged a steady flame alive
While neighbors shyly stomped from pickups
And lifted the sheet to poke and peek.
“That’s Ben,” one said. “That’s Ben to a T.”
But was it? Was any of it real, the empty
House, the creek? My father saying, “Now
Your mother, she was a Partain, wasn’t she?”
“Naw, she was a Winkles, too. My wife was
A Partain, she’s over at Mai-Maw’s now.”
It went like that, and this. The wind drove
Up and set the shirts to popping on the line.
A red tricycle leaned above a one-eyed doll.
The mountain’s blue escarpment unwound
Green bolts of fields, the white shelters
Where we lived, all of it somehow wrong,
And magical not to have changed while
Trucks backed up along the ditch and men
With their grown boys clambered uphill
To gawk at Uncle Ben who lay like shortcakes
Lined up on sawhorses on decoration days.
How strange, I thought, that no one prayed,
And strange that I was there, actually there,
With grown men, not sad or happy, but proud,
Knowing even then, the years would mostly
Amount to sleep, my father would come back
As history, and still there would be
To say the strobe of the ambulance light;
The sheriff, a tall, portly man, stooping
To help the handcuffed killer into the car;
And on the grass, bits of liver or spleen—
Whatever I’d dream, the world is not a lie.