A Precautionary Tale

When I finally come down out of the mountains
I am holding hard to an empty whisky tumbler;
A frozen sprain in its side looks like vague lightning
Trapped in a glacier since the days of Genesis.

“You been up there too long,” one of my old neighbors says
As he meets me on the outskirts of town. He’s pulling
A wagon. “All your kin and blood is plumb dead, sonny.”
He says as we walked home. My house is bigger now.

“Your daddy and your ma got tired of waiting for you,”
My neighbor explains. “They had some more kids
After you cleared out that day you had your revelation.”
I thank him before he goes and close the door, walk

Through the cavernous halls of my childhood house,
And after confessing to the wallpaper about time
And the confounding of memories I find the back door.
Out in the yard, the wind blew on for so long

The trees are growing sideways. The dandelions
Must have sensed the futility that ransomed the spring
Because they all strike fey and tragic gestures,
Beseeching the crab grass to commit to a life of poverty.

As I look down at the dusty old whisky tumbler,
The sprain leaps through it and starts growing up
The bloodline on my palm. Before long, it settles
Down the middle of my wrist like it’s fixing for a fight.

There is no whisky in the house this day, and ghosts
Once swept its floors with the wind. Like a precursor,
A train in the next county is coming hard and fast.
Its whistle always sang the strangled anger of the Lord.

The house begins to rattle, and that’s when I notice:
“Yes, Lord, the ghosts are gone alright,” I pray.
The crucifix that hangs on the wall is made of rawhide;
It’s been there since the day my daddy smiled.

“But,” I continue, “at least they were kind enough
To dust my grandma’s teacups before they left.”


  1. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Good use of the imagination here, JOB. There’s some spooky imagery, and you do a good job of blending the alien and familiar — just right for a late visit to a place one hasn’t seen in ages. But can you give any additional clue as to the ‘something new’ you’re trying?

    Is ‘fixing for’ idiomatic? If so, it’s an idiom I don’t know. An (intentional?) conflation of ‘fixing to’ and ‘spoiling for’?

    Favorite line: “All your kin and blood is plumb dead, sonny.”

    • The something new is that sort of “vague lightning” which the poem proposes – the Gothic goes lyric – suppressing the narrative beneath the imagery. My children are learning St. James Infirmary on piano (and for voice), and I noticed how spooky the piece sounds on piano when you stress the black keys.

      I guess I’m trying to hit the black keys extra hard on this one.

      Also – yes “fixing for” is probably the way it would be said in a conflated universe such as our Rip Van Drinkle would inhabit.

      At any rate, glad you liked it.


  2. Papa,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this aloud to you yesterday. You should blog “The Digredio” as well. Still can’t believe how clever that one is!

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