Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rodak's Writings: Boundary Violation

Note: the following poem has been extensively revised from an earlier version, entitled "Down By the River."  The bulk of the revisions were suggested by my Facebook friend, poet and scholar, Aliki Barnstone, who generously took the time to read and make editorial suggestions which she felt would tighten up the piece. I am pleased with the result:

Boundary Violation

I was six, maybe seven,
headed across the broad lawn
beyond the parking lot
from where my father’s sedan
stood witness to my transgression;
the Midwestern morning sun
reflected disapprovingly
from its bisected early post-war windshield.

I stood for a moment on the brink
with its long prospect over the valley,
gazing across to the green hills beyond.
Snug within whose leafy mounds
a lone house gleamed, tiny, white,
nestled deep in mysterious distance.

And then down the long, eroded slope
within whose grainy, rain-riven fissures
could be found fossils, shaken like crumbs
from the bounteous folds of the river’s apron,
more wonderful even than a grandfather’s
gratuitously proffered coin:
the mineralized ghosts of trilobites,
which had waited, dormant in their three dimensions,
beneath these sandy sediments since dinosaurs had grazed,
to be found only now, and held in the palm of my hand.

And at the foot of the slope, a grassless waste,
the sun-baked and redolent plain
adjacent to the university’s landfill,
edged in green, where stood a tangled copse of sumac
with its maroon-colored, lop-headed fruits.

I knew that I mustn’t go down there alone.
There were men who lurked,
who did ‘funny things’ to little boys.
I might lose my way and anxiously wander,
lost and alone in the witchy woods.
I might fall in and be swept downstream
as winter snows are swept away
by the swift campaigns of relentless spring.
I might break my mother’s heart.

The river called, its flavor on the air,
a redolent voice that whispered,
‘Come and see.’
So, through the tangled scruff of brush
that scratched my arms, I fought my way.
And there it was: brown and green and
thick with motion; the channeled mirror
of an awful sky; lazy as a minor god
with no celestial task.

I would have gagged, had I then knowledge
of the source of the stench that engulfed and assailed me.
I suddenly entered an olfactory place,
as into the tent of some hideous sideshow;
a smell that was darkness, that rang like a claxon,
that called out a warning…

By the bank, slowly bobbing, lifted, then dropped,
as if rhythmically forced by the spirit of the river;
black fur soaked in a scum of green algae;
Oh, horrible—a head, with holes full of maggots,
teeming and boiling where eyes had been, feeding;
open muzzle, teeth bared, now long beyond biting.

It’s a dog, I admitted. I had to admit that:
a dog in the river. Or, what had been a dog.
Behind the crooned consolations
of priests and morticians; regardless
of philosophy’s water-tight propositions,
or clinical psychology’s most revered rationales,
still the dog’s story stood as stark fact and portent:

the tale told by that dog, down by the river,
the story that was told there was mine.

It was mine.

Note: the original poem is available for comparison in the left sidebar.