River Stones


"How can you love," she said,

"People who did this?"

I looked across the chairtop

Down along her shoulder

To the book flat in her lap.

Her right hand lay

Spread upon the text,

A witness's on a Bible.

The left page was a photograph,

Antique, the image indistinct

Until I moved my head, focusing

My glasses for the range.

It sprang to detail:

The body of a man on barren ground,

In chaparral. A distant tree.

Two soldiers in attendance.

And a saddled horse, reins dragging.

A Matthew Brady look disclosed

the picture's age.

The corpse was naked, bearded, prone.

Wounds ran down the thighs

Like open zippers.

On the torso, piled a jumble that

I understood was organs.

The face seemed poorly focused.

Eyes? Black blots of shadow?

Mouth? All wrong. Something

Not a tongue lolled from it.

I measured the meaning of a black mass

Where legs joined torso.

A hand, palm down, was fisted

or truncated to a fist.

"Savages," she whispered, like an oath.

He's standing in, I thought to say,

For men who sabred children,

Men who fashioned keepsakes

Of the breasts those children nursed.

But I did not.

I thought then, while she waited,

Of Donatien Alfonse François,

Philosophe and gentleman,

Cause celebre de belles lettristes français:

A hot wine flask, procured him

By his doting wife, warming

The pleasure that his hand massaged—

Pleasure he could not complete

Until he had imagined

The imagined boy's head severed.

Then his dribbling semen

Mingled with imagined dripping blood,

Oiling his real knuckles.

I thought of Teddy Bundy,

Young Republican and lawyer,

Gentleman, raping his last victim,

Parting her young hymen

With the rhythmic plunging of

a six-inch knife.

I thought of Gladstone's England,

The gentleman, a prince or prince's surgeon,

Who for two months roamed Whitechapel,

Laid his purchased lovers,

Unlanded, undignified, and poor,

Out on beds like luggage,

Organs set about like unpacked

Clothing, cluttering the bed;

a kidney

waiting for the bobbies

in a kitchen pan.


I thought of lampshades, mangled

Fetuses, and mounds of teeth for melting,

Moans and quick, efficient silence,

A Christian woman choosing from her children

who should die.

I murmured to her hair,

Where she sat there,

so patient, certain, waiting,

that we take bad with the good.

Poetry Writing Dancing Badger