Fall 1988, Volume 5.2

Rawdon Tomlinson

Of an Evening

Grandmother would roll the stockings down
around her ankles, sip Coke, and read the news
while kept us gliding, pushing back on my toes
watching swifts flitter above the town,
cicadas droned and ebbed from sounds.

Grandmother slipped from her body clean
as a cicada, taking dreams of her mother.
Light holds onto the bone-white sycamore;
the lawn is smooth in shadow, velvet green,
neighbors watch TV behind their screen.

A grown-up would float by in a big automobile
absorbed, mysteriously important with purpose--
all streets dead-ended in sky and prairie.
It took me all afternoon, playing tag with girls,
to walk to grandmother's after school.

Sunset strikes the white from houses golden;
the grackles yak and splash in the bird bath,
and the toy sidewalks run into grass footpaths.
The old actors have been replaced by children
who, oblivious of their bodies, won't listen.

The neighborhood softens to undersea blue;
a breeze goes out of the trees like a guest from his body.
Sometimes we would sit awhile in the dark and be
silently taken in by the stars, excused
from death--allied with dreams, renewed.

Sunday After the Tornado

This world is miniature.
The meadowlark's burst of song
carries a half mile.

Wheat broods evergreen
against a sky the color
of bruise--as though the neighbor,

loved and trusted for years,
inexplicably shot
his wife then turned on the children.

I recall the sermon with rainbow
and dove; being forgiven.
The confused heart takes measure:

collage of splintered boards,
twisted sheets of tin,
bricks, glass, pipes;

a car set down in a field
without a mark, but smeared
like a pig with straw and mud;

a prodigy of the dark,
still present in motionless air,
practicing technique.

Look at the derelict schoolhouse--
doubled-up under desks,
children scream as windows

explode from baseball-hail
and the funnel's roaring freight
sucks the roof to sky.

Father points to a pink
trailer, overturned,
battered, the door flung open,

"That's where the people were killed."
Thrown from ceiling to floor,
they went end over end

with TV and dishes,
landing contorted as dolls,
eyes sprung, ears bleeding.

Now, the farm pond reflects
a wasted light; men stand
in the middle of the field looking

at scraps of evidence,
trying to make sense.
Though I don't understand

I answer Death. I take
another piece from the toy
church, prayer, belief

and let it slip from heart.
For years the absence fills
a black reservoir of fear.

Easter 1954

The giant rabbit ate the cookies.
Everyone kneeled, drinking blood from shot glasses.
Over the hill the sky grew bruised
with thunder and lightning. Women wailed.
A ghost walked among the olive trees talking.
With our Easter baskets full of shredded
cellophane grass, we hunted eggs in city park.
The ducks we never named were purple and orange.
They didn't do anything but squeak
inside their little wire cage with their little bowls
of meal and water. I took a stick
and poked out eyes; the other escaped
into the teeth of the dog.
Father whipped us with his black belt.
Mother said it made her sick.
The ducks went to heaven.


"You must learn to live in the world."
Robert Penn Warren

Bodies made of velvet,
a geometrical configuration of black boxes,
the fire-bombed, gassed, strangled, and bludgeoned
insisting quietly on voices,
skies of them
soft as tides at your back,
multiplying nameless, faceless,
discarded and unfillable,
wanting voices in blood
and dream--
so many
you cannot move without them.

And contrapuntal to these,
the devils hammering you flat
with spikes of fear
beside your wife, a stranger
in a senseless play going back years
and as recent as yesterday,
repeating your failures in detail;
the petty self-indulgences,
vivid as neon vomit and squawking vultures,
drumming suicide into your plans,
shouting the antichrist through every pore,
paralyzing you, rendering you carcass,
brainless, heartless, spaghetti nerves,
betting on your speedy inevitable demise,
total collapse,
repeating the stranger-wife, rebel-daughter;
mother and father who never were--

the two presences--you must learn--
weaving suffering--to live--
necessary as sweat and teeth--
in the world.