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Saturday Afternoon

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"NOW YAHWEH ORDERED THAT A GREAT FISH SHOULD SWALLOW HIM."

Into my backyard’s six fat squares of concrete rigged with clothesline,   
Charlie the Cop swung gunnysacks convulsed with Jersey chickens.   
From the open view of other yards, unfolded down the block,   
neighbor women watched ours boil tub water; the barechested men,   
laying out knives and cleavers, fumbled the animals into daylight,   
in the middle of my world, my certain place, not stump roots   
on the cold Atlantic floor of mountains I’d imagined,   
one week every summer, from the hot Wildwood boardwalk.   
But just then Charlie lifted me above his head, saying   
“O Billy Boy you've never in your life seen this! Want it?”
The ground gone, steep drag of thinned air, chicken squawk
tingling in my ears with dim human voices. Charlie threw me in the sea.   
The underplace, swallowing my heart, opened like a horn of plenty,   
blood channels lit blue and red like pinball arteries, flesh-motes,   
mucus, sinew, pulsing viscera bits dripping from clothesline.   
Missile tracks horned across the ceiling. In the ribcage,   
stooped beggars crowded, kicking spongy gouts of something;   
deeper in the tunnel, toward the tail, in files winding out of sight,   
shaved heads, men and women in pajamas. Spear carriers paced the walls.   
Into my vaulted space came words not really words: shades, images   
with a worldly shape of meaning, but beyond me, aloof and hysterical.   
The silence wrapped me like a prickly woolen sleeve knit   
by my women’s voices, shouting, out there, unrecoverable, dense,   
while their horny hands plucked and the sweaty men teased,   
stuffing tacky down inside their headscarves. Inside,
blood cells combed my walls, unfinished patterns seeped through   
as picturegrams that glided across the whale’s belly. A still life   
with ginger jar and pomegranates. A flayed, ripening Christ.
An Ohio puddler stirring pigiron mash, whose back is the same one   
in Giotto’s Gethsemane that stays the hand slicing off a soldier’s ear.   
Mercury, my heart, the sickening beautiful shiftingness of things.   
Kettles steamed, tin basins quivered with guts, my dear hell’s bloodglyphs   
in things, in me. I’d not be whole in and of the world again.   
Quills cracked when Charlie put me down. In my backyard, in my head,   
women sang under a pier to the unformed sea, an unvoiced song   
I’d heard inside the monster, breezing now through clotheslines.   
Men scrubbed their hands at the spigot, the women sighing.   
Flies left charcoal scrawls on the air and grazed old stains;   
they lighted on my arms, not waiting, but constant, my familiars,   
until their manic newsiness went away. Then, in that twilight,   
slow, shadowless lightning bugs appeared, going on and off.


W. S. Di Piero, “Saturday Afternoon” from Shadows Burning. Copyright © 1995 by W. S. Di Piero. Reprinted with the permission of TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, http://nupress.northwestern.edu.
Source: Shadows Burning (TriQuarterly Books, 1995)
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Saturday Afternoon

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