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Epitaph


Because I could be written anywhere,
I loved the hard surface of the blade,
my name carved into barn doors, desktops,
the peeled face of a shag-bark hickory.
I pressed my whole weight into it, letters

grooved deep as the empty
field rows along Tri-Lakes where I'd seen
my cousin Nick buried in ground so hard
they had to heat the dirt with lamps
before they could dig. I gutted squirrels

my grandmother fried, hanging
skins from the window,
and with the same knife gouged a B
at the base of the frozen creek bank,
the season breaking

like the rose our teacher, Miss Jane,
dipped in nitrogen so it would shatter.
There were more atoms, she claimed,
in the letter O, than people in the entire state.
I could feel God inside that letter,

the vast sky refigured, buds scrawled
on the black limbs of trees.
Trucks carried spring feed down
Highway 9 as I wove through headstones,
tracing names in the late frost,

looking for Nick's plot
with the wax white roses,
his lucky fishing lure. I could sense
him down there, satin-lined,
curled like the six-toed cat

we'd found bloated in the creek, alive
with lice and maggots. Sometimes
I was sure I could hear him, restless,
waiting for me, the Wabash
pushing its icy waters, my tongue

humming with the fizz. It never ended,
that stretch of road snaking back home
like an artery through my own heart
where an owl gripped a rat in its claw
over I-80. I'd put my hands in my pockets

and walk, dreaming of the places I'd go,
the things I'd do, the dump rising
to meet me at the edge of town,
chrome bumpers twisted as the owner
himself, withered arm swinging a fist.

I waited for something to escapeó
mouse darting from a glove box, oil
from a cracked sump. I could stand
on a crushed Chevy, feeling it all
thaw inside me: asphalt

and barbed wire, cows and steaming
pails of milk, even the graveyard
rising, new stones nursing old griefs,
slow bones and winter's cherry trees
making their long walk to leaf.


Bruce Snider

Paradise, Indiana
Pleiades Press


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