The Need for Secrecy

“Teacher, why do you speak
in mysteries?”
“Lest they understand me
and so be saved.”

Crushed flat and boneless,
a squirrel’s pelt lies
on the white line. The road’s
shoulder, crumbling into

a tangle of kudzu, sweats
tar. The trees’ dry leaves
shade what they can.
A man parks his car

on a stretch of packed
clay. A path begins
out of nowhere, leading
through lush underbrush

and tall cane into
the woods’ spare light
where fern and bark moss
sparkle next to a boulder,

pocked and worn as an old
shoe heel. The path to the creek
zigzags down slick red clay,
its steep bank thick with pink

and white rhododendron.
Gnats swarm over
the trickling water
where skates dart frantic

as trapped flies. He can see
the cave where, years before,
a child, he dragged
the body, its face slashed,

its flesh torn, a rust red
wound in its side wider
than a bullet hole.
But he looks no further.

In the clearing beyond
the woods, a dirt road
curves along a field,
the dry corn only hip high.

Yellowed, stained,
a farmhouse’s shades
are drawn, its old paint
curled like wood shavings.

A sallow woman answers
his knock and with a long
wood spoon points
to an ancient plank bridge.

When he reaches it, thirsty,
he scrambles down the bank
and kneels on a rock.
Reflected by the creek,

his face scares him. He cups
some water to his lips.
It tastes like brine or blood
still seeping downstream

from that bad old dream
he cannot forget. Real
or not, what’s done cannot
be undone, no slaughtered

lamb unslain. He swallows,
washes his face, and, cooled,
refreshed, walks on. With luck,
he’ll reach his car by noon.

number 22 in the 2River Chapbook Series