A Scavenger’s Song
I met a man who worked the plain like me,
Who farmed the fruits of human ingenuity,
And I tattooed him in my brain with dotted lines for cuts of meat. //
We sat together, compared notes,
On men who bleat and fall like goats.
His head was tufted, poorly-weeded hair, his
Eyes were clear and beautiful, irises like cups of
Blue, with care
We picked as carrion storks do, helping soil, helping worms. //
His camp ended first, the prairie turned
From rest-ling men and churned mud to first green
Headstones, shoots of bayoneting grass. //
And I moved on well, I moved on
With many moving on below my feet,
Many moving on in my pockets,
Clouds dozing like sheep across the redness of the sky.
We will meet again, I’m certain,
Burning daylight, looking for buried gold on the beaches of the night.
It is late, in the tent, and Jeb is trying to tell a story about a man he watched bubble up through the meat of the plains and eject black blood like a geyser. He keeps returning to these images, flailing around them, stuttering. He is so poor in speech and is so hungry, Jeb. I do not want to be at war. Jeb’s hair is black and matted and lionlike and when he stands out in the wind looking out for fires on the prairie his mane blows and his whole head sighs like the old oaks in New Paltz when the stormclouds roll in. His face is long and he keeps it cleanshaven with the razor he keeps cutting himself with. He craves a wound. He has not yet been hurt in war although he has fired fifteen bullets and the agony of that is killing him and I watch him and I do not want to be at war. His nose is Semitic but it begins to turn upwards at the front, Jeb. Jeb has black eyes that are brown around because they are always dilated because he is always looking for the war and has not found it. He has seen the man bubble up and die and he has fired fifteen bullets and only one of them has hit. It hit an old man with a rifle in the brush who had three pairs of glasses on his bald head as if they would stop the bullet, it hit his shoulder. He fell and wormed and Simon took the blade of his bayonet and dug around in there like he was searching for potatoes. We got the bayonet from an old farmhouse up the way. Jeb is claiming that the bubbling man shot him, as he had claimed the old man shot him. I caught him a few mornings ago, by the washbasin, with Simon’s bayonet, the bayonet we had gotten from the farmhouse. Trying to dig a hole in his lower side. He was breathing deep as if to inhale a cigarette and the tip of his left boot was worrying and fidgeting at the dry earth until a hole was there too. As above, so below. And I do not want to be at war and he is still speaking: “hecameupfromthedustandhecameupfromtheground,man,heaimedhisgunatme,hehadbeendigginghisowngravewithitanditjammed,man,andthenitdidn’tjamandthenheshotme,seehere,andhewaslookingupattheskyandhethrewupbloodalloverandIwashurting.”
You can see stars outside the burlap.
The Execution of a Dying Thing
Hear of the bushranger:
He lives in a metal suit,
He lives in the brush and desert,
He lives in tunnels and burrows he digs underground.
He has fitted to his hands great claws of prehistoric moles.
He devours deer raw.
He digs for salt and he chews at it.
He has been without water for so long his lips have fallen off.
He has done many horrible things.
No one alive yet has met him or known his acts.
THE CRIMINAL, STOPPED
I met the bushranger across the road from me, in the field in Autumn, while the military police exhausted him. Welded into his suit,
A great tawdry scarecrow of metal.
He had enormous shoulderpads of diamond glass to reflect small rifle fire back at those who hunted him.
Not a single part of his body could be seen.
They circled him in the field,
And something in between, howling two faced,
Drunken wobbling paws stuffed in boots.
They moved as satyrs around his wreck,
I saw a minotaur of sorts among them.
Shadows of hay,
Pig iron yellowed by their embrace.
The whole suit wanted to become small and hide from this day and it was crushing him
Like it was some deep sea submarine and had just remembered how far down it was.
There was a hole in the metal of his chest
And it tore outwards like it hadn’t been a shot,
Though it had,
But instead he’d exploded from so much heat and pressure.
He stood tall like the start of a bonfire or an effigy naked of flame,
WHAT HE SAID TO THE VISITOR
There is light and it is
All the light in the world, and
It’s flowing out through my fingertips.
Thank you for meeting me here, you’re beautiful
And I hope you know
That this isn’t up to you. Are you
There’s a hole in my heart and I’d like you to shoot me there again.
It’s the color of a rose garden in there. Please
Put another one there, in my heart
It’s so lonely in there and the loneliness is what’s killing me.”
He had made his head to look like someone else’s head.
The base of the helmet was two welding masks caulked together and the glass hiding
his eyes was rose,
pupils frantic going back and forth and rolling down his face.
There was no oxygen in the suit I think,
or he had made himself alien to our atmosphere.
The rest of it was cloth stuffed with straw and it had great goggling eyes and a nose made from a tree branch.
It had a slight curvature but it was focused besides a single slight fork in the path, which had been cut short by a saw.
It was connected to the cloth with a band of metal, I could see the screws glistening in the sun.
The top of the helmet was flat, he looked like a mesa,
There was a painted frown on it, and
The whole thing was unnatural in a way that suggested not machine but biomechanical life
without the spark of life.
Some museum exhibit.
It tottered back and forth gasping and opening its mouth before he fell and was silent.
AN EXHIBIT OF HIS REMAINS
They laid out his body on a table borrowed from a farmer down the way.
They charged 25 cents to see him,
children kicked his armor and jumped back because his strength even in death stubbed their toes through their mud-boots.
Besides the tunnel to his heart the armor was only dented,
perhaps that’s why there wasn’t any smell.
The sun was so hot,
I looked at the tips of my fingers and found that the sweat had turned them to shining puddles of light.
Then it was night and I could not see my fingers anymore,
They were lighting fires.
An old man was eulogizing him, and his crimes in the war,
though I never knew what those crimes had been.
His eyes turned to stars and his mouth towards the future: he told the children that
“Once bullets had been used to kill,
they have been used this way again today.
But that was the domain of past men, and
the last of us will soon move on.
Soon you will do no such thing.
There will be bullets whizzing around the air and carrying messages, like pigeons,
and you will love them.
This I see.”
— Noam Hessler is a poet from New England. They are currently a student at Vassar college, and can be found on Twitter at @poetryaccnt1518.