To Join the Lost – Canto XXV

May 21st, 2010

Canto XXV

At his order, fifty yards back there I’d
fallen belly down on the rock
behind the crest between the trenches, and wriggled
up the shale to here, “Head down, no
peeking over until I give the word.
The other side’s the swale of thieves.
You don’t want them to know you’re here too soon.”
Awaiting commands, then, I remembered:
The dust my rusty light blue Saab 96
kicked up from Addison County’s dry

dirt roads hung back of me so dense I checked
it now and then in my rear view mirror,
just to see the trail I made, dun billows
bright in the treeless stretches; fields of
corn and cows, the Adirondacks blue and
distant, the Greens, well…midsummer green, the
empty seat beside me weighted with sun in the
treeless stretches, full of dancing
shadows when there were leaves to cast them, and all
along the drainage ditches barbed wire

made good neighbors. I had been sent on a mission.
Adrift a year out of college, I’d beached
on that dryest of strands, a lawyer’s office, hired
at poverty wages in lieu of the budget
for a professional to investigate the
stories our indigent clients told us,
routinely lying. Just as routinely, despite
our advice to take advantage of
the humane fiction whereby innocence
persists until it’s otherwise proved –

that is, clam up – they spilled the beans to the cops,
confessions they confided from a
lack of confidence as many-layered and
deep as the Appalachian rocks whose
spurs, petering northwards to the plains of
Quebec, they poorly dwelt among.
What vision of beauty guided this tenant was not
apparent from the patch of dirt,
an outgrown shoulder, I pulled to off the road
and sat upon, my engine idling,

half a minute while taking in the weathered
clapboards, formerly painted red, and
broken plastic children’s toys, doorless
refrigerator lying face up,
coils of chicken wire, a dark green bag of
styrofoam chunks, a stainy mattress,
his life’s random etcetera that littered the
weeds and grass his stoop, a sagging
board on cinder blocks, descended to.
I called through his screen door, and he came.

But not until the stoop creaks and we’re almost
nose to nose across the screen does
unease vent its weary, suspicious “Yeah?”
“I’m from your lawyer, about the case.
I’ve got some papers for you to sign.” Flattened
against the screen, the bona fides.
We’re team mates, like in gym in high school, chosen
to sweat through a game we have to play
together although you’d rather hang out in
the boys’ room, smoke and talk about girls.

Me, I’d do this even if they didn’t
pay me, almost, which they almost
don’t. Unlatched, the screen door slowly sighs
towards me. I back two steps down,
step three steps up, and reach behind to shut it.
A few steps in, he waits for me,
stoop-shouldered like some tall men, crew cut, silent,
by the cluttered kitchen table –
breakfast dishes, cereal box, a cup half
filled with coffee and a butt.

“I thought you were a girl,” he says, but mildly;
almost intimate, this moment.
Mildly he moves the dishes to the sink
with hardly any clatter,
mildly draws a chair back – tube frame, torn
nylon upholstery – sits and
mildly gazes at me, eye to eye
almost. My gosh, he’s big. I fumble
papers, stoop to pick them off the floor,
give them to him to read, and ask him

while he’s reading can I look out back?
Portentous unfamiliar words
engross him. “Sure,” he mildly says. Back out, then,
clumsily dropping to the plank and
stumbling off it, screen door slamming shut,
I pick my way through the junk, around
the house’s side into a maple’s shade
that hasn’t helped the scraggly rose bush
someone planted under the dryer vent,
emerging again into unveiled sunlight

that falls directly down upon an emerald
patch of grass so very gently
sloping to the water where the creek
extends an elbow at the house
no bank or muddy shore line intervening.
It’s at its very fullest flood.
The ground is hard right down to where there’s liquid
gleaming among the blades of grass.
A sheet the color of Sicilian olives
mirrors sun, the skinny birches

clumped inside the horseshoe curve a hundred
fifty feet away from me,
the long thick swath of graceful, unbroken stems
that bows above the almost
stagnant flow they stand within, the brilliant
damsel flies and drabber dragon
flies that flit and rest among them. Going
back inside, I saw he’d read the
papers, signed where he should sign. I thanked him,
gathered them, made for the door,

left him hunched at the table. I was halfway
to my car when his chair scraped the
linoleum, then slow footsteps, then, sadly,
“Whaddaya think my chances are?”
Unviolated reeds and tranquil waters
made it unlikely the boat they’d accused him of
stealing had floated innocently to his
backyard, as he’d claimed it did.
Turning to face him, I cheerily replied,
“Oh, that’s for the lawyers to decide.”

Our eyes met, his within the screened shade, mine
all drenched with light, but for one second
I felt the punch of a common understanding.
The shale had just about warmed to me.
So close and quiet my ear felt his words
as much as it heard them, my guide whispered,
“Follow me when I run. I won’t fool them for
long, so follow close. Keep running
straight ahead, whatever happens. Never
mind the boat, it has no bottom.

Run as fast as you can, and don’t slow down.”
As quick as smoke, he rose to his feet,
and waving his arms and yelling went over the top.
I lost a beat to surprise, then scrambled
to my knees, into a sprinter’s crouch and
launched myself after. Like a snapshot,
what I saw is fixed in memory: a
lawn the length of a soccer field,
tilted gently downwards to a wetland
twice that width again, its slate-grey

surface sharply etched by cat-tails, grasses, and
drawn up on the shore, a wooden
dinghy’s bottomless hull through which ferns grew.
Dante was about halfway there.
In northern Maine and Minnesota, I’ve seen
golden-brownish halos veil the
rumps and flanks of moose. Just so Dante,
and he matched the ruminants’ stately
unconcern. The winged scourge swarmed off him and
hovered in my path – no time to

swerve – I hit them and was encircled – from then,
visual memories are disjointed:
Dante, running knee-deep without splashing;
the nauseous bubbles that bellied my pant-leg
when the muck sucked the shoe off my right foot,
then my left; the black dots swarming.
They went for my eyes, invaded my nostrils and ears.
Their buzzing and humming drowned out my splashing.
Wherever my skin was exposed, they landed and bit,
crawling through my tangled hair to

welt my scalp, and penetrating to my
back and shoulders, chest and stomach
through my shirt, its rents and holes, and
thick on neck and face and arms,
injecting with each bite a bit of their substance to
thin out mine, and with this awful
addition I was forced to carry their stories –
I had no choice: their tiny itching
voices were under my skin, imperious selves,
inflammatory, in every tongue.

In all their multiplicity of mood
and personality, like the huge
and overwhelming drone their wings made,
so dense and intricate, but mindless,
so their voices obsessively converged
upon one common theme: their theft
of someone’s labor, freedom, sexual being.
Under my skin, the mindless song of
slavers – hunters, traders, masters, drivers,
black, white, red, and yellow.

It maddened me. And when I’d sloshed across,
and firm ground met my feet, and the water
inch by inch unveiled my legs to the onslaught of
unslaked swarms, I flailed my arms
against my body, bruising myself as I ran
and smashed the greedy swollen bodies
that covered me like teeth on a rasp, laughing
with rage to feel them crush and pop,
until a hot breeze drove away my pursuers
and I was coated in my own blood.

One Response to “To Join the Lost – Canto XXV”

  1. To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor Says:

    […] Seth Steinzor has been writing poetry nonstop since his teens. To Join the Lost is his first book.  Visit his Website.  Here’s a preview of one Canto. […]

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