Open Season


Summer doesn’t end;
it spills as an upended
cinder pail, hot coals
mixed with cold clinkers,
and like any muddle, it turns
sinister the more it sprawls.
So the world conspires
to end before fall.

Four boys drowned late last summer, one at a time
in three bodies of water. One stood on his head
at the bottom of the public pool. One floated,
a shadow, about the bridge’s stout legs,

and the lake ate the other two. The Rotary raised funds
for signs that read: Swim at Your Own Risk,
posting them at every creek and fishing hole,
every boat ramp and oxbow, as if anyone could swim

at any risk but their own.
A small town consoles itself
like a country at war:
with plaques, parades,
and the police giving
a pass to boys rolling
bottles back and forth
in the cemetery grass.


Summer will retire each of its debts. So it was
a second plague was required to repay the first.
Our mayor, a farmer, offered a dime for every starling,
a dollar for nine, a call the boys answered. Silent,

they cat-walked through fields of straw and sorghum
rifle arms akimbo, as if escorting a woman.
Aimless, they fired BBs into the black river of birds,
whistled when one tumbled like a maple seed earthward.

The birds seemed to choose
themselves, or choose
the path that invited
the bead. The boys slung
the winged and plugged
bodies into pillowcases,
quickly lost count and so
knew they were winning.

They chased the bird river from bough to bough
until the last singing trickle was wrung from the wind.
Then smiling in the gore of the setting sun and drunk
from charging and spinning about, the boys marched home

with black feather pillows planting red poppies
on their white cotton backs. At last the days grew cold,
but summer never took its finger from the scale.
Boys died, men were born, black wings reclaimed the air.

First published in The Pinch, Spring 2011.