Clothes Like a Dove

City folk. A car idles at a bridge.
Its driver in a dustcoat fetches water
for two ladies wearing broad brimmed
hats, their lace veils sewn with roses.
As they drive off, the wheels splash mud
on the boy’s coveralls. He washes them
in the river where he waits for hours,
hoping to hear above on the old planks
the drumming of their tires as they return
from touring a lake’s breaking ice.

Her son refuses to smile. His hair glitters
with sawdust. His forearms are tapered
like a baseball bat. He leans on a garage
door that’s weather-worn and overgrown
with wild roses and vines. The sun glares
in his eyes. In the photograph his mother
snaps, they look black, suspicious
as a bird’s. A rip in his coveralls reveals
a worse hole in his drawers. His pale
hair blurs into the flare of his shiny shirt.

Dust clogs his nostrils. The air tastes
like tin. The tobacco shrivels into weedy
stalks. The corn looks trampled. The hens
have quit laying. The cows’ ribs protrude
like posts. His older brother develops
a cough one night, dies the next,
grown so thin so quick his daddy
must bury him in his younger son’s
clothes. The boy steals his brother’s
old torn jacket to wear at the funeral.

“Live shall your dead for your dew is
the dew of light and Sharon’s land
shall give birth.” The preacher kneels,
fingers the earth, crumbling it,
scattering it like seeds. A wind topples
his bowler off his head into the grave
where Father’s shoveling dirt in fast,
a hundred times quicker than it took
to dig. Home, the boy takes a hat
off a hook and tries it on for size.

His ears ache. His vomit is cow-cud
green. He hides in a closet. When his father
sticks the hog its squeal pricks
the boy’s eardrums like a pin. The slaughtering
done, his dad showers off the blood
as the boy tries on his father’s drawers,
wearing them round his neck like a bandanna
or on his head like a baseball cap.
His old man’s slap spins his head
like a sudden snap in crack-the-whip.

He carves creatures from wood--lifelike
doves, titmice, blackbirds, orioles.
But wooden ones won’t fly by themselves.
His mother owns a fur-lined cloak
he wears as Superman or wraps round
his birds so that they some day might soar
in the sky. He’d like to see them twirl
faster and faster in smaller and smaller
rings until, sun-bright, their flight
would blind the sight of every unbeliever.

Woven from cotton or wool like clothes,
carved from hard wood or soft, chiseled
from stone or marble, moulded like clay,
wrought like a poem from words, the body
rises to paradise dressed its best, light
as dove’s feathers, the boy’s mother says
as she knits him a pullover warm enough
for any winter storm that might rage yet
that year. No need to fear the iciest cold,
she says, wearing so loving a sweater.

number 22 in the 2River Chapbook Series