Will H. Blackwell, Jr.: Four Poems

Scattershot

they call it—as the sharply-recoiling
double-barrel 12-gauges
swung into arcs of action, spraying
the birdshot broadly—like slicing
water drops, pressured
through arms of a rotary yard-sprinkler.

The covey of quail had lifted off
explosively, almost frighteningly, from the
thin cover of brush—where we had earlier
scattered the coaxing corn. They sailed upward
in formation, wing-on-wing, like a bantam
fleet of Blue Angels—for seconds, still free—
set to challenge
the dome of the afternoon sky.

All fell, but one, to the piercing
spread of shot—the final one escaping, only
grazed—a flight-feather, severed
by a rocketing pellet, sifting to the ground
through the proximate span
of newly nitrous air.

The lethality is in the “looseness,”
you see—the random, yet quasi-
continuous, array of discharge, leaving no
significant gaps—Makes up for a certain
need for precision.

That night, along extended leaves
of an antique dining-table—angled past
the intermittently spitting wood-stove—pieces
of shot fell, sporadically, harmlessly it seemed, from
available spaces around our teeth—amid gaping bites
of gamey avian-meat, and manly conversation—All
segments of machine-rounded shrapnel,
that had been temporarily impounded
in bird flesh and bone, accounted for
and placed back in order, centered
on a centered plate—a miniature and non-
menacing pyramid of oversized
BBs—except for the one
that little Quinton bit on, that put
mirrored chips
in two of his recently formed
and, to that point, perfectly calibrated
permanent front-teeth.

The robust images of the prior 12 hours
soon drafted into an unsettling sequence
of fragmenting dreams. And near
daybreak, escaping from increasingly
uneasy sleep, I rolled out of my
bunk-bed—well before
the rest arose—to find an old
overstuffed dictionary, its page-edges
folded, almost in invitation,
and, haltingly, parse
the camouflaged but sharp
spokes of meaning
of the little-used
but decidedly disconcerting
word, “internecine.”

**

Watching the Radio

Fireside, 1945, gathering for
“The Family Hour,” viewing the deep-grained
mahogany entertainment
of the proud old Philco—a small cathedral
within the private theater of our drawn
living-room. Granddad (with whom we lived, and
the only one allowed to operate the revered radio) deftly
dialed its dark, musical face—the amber but lively tones
soon emerging, like connected crystals, through a
random surfeit of static, readily controlled
by the new-fangled rheostat installed. These are the sounds
of the great bands of swing—and then—The Great
Gildersleeve. After the conclusion of the most recent
episode of Fibber McGee and Molly, we are again
back in tune with swing—the Tommy Dorsey trombones
projecting “Over There, Over There.” But suddenly—this evening—
the unexpected interruption—a penetrating
precise noise, like the technology
of an age already passed—Bleep—bleep, bleep—
bleep, bleep, bleep—simulated telegraph—Morse Code—
from “all the ships at sea,” announcing
Walter Winchell announcing, at long last, the first end of the
Second Great War—always distant, but nonetheless unsettling,
like muffled gunfire—The Yanks (and others, mentioned
incidentally) had prevailed—The Führer was finished—And, for us,
with the second end presumably in sight, there would soon be
no more rations, or hiding under tables to sirens
warning of air-raids (when there never were any
enemy warplanes over central Mississippi).
Throughout the evening, we continued to watch
the radio’s implacable, yet increasingly
peaceful profile—joyous, and visualizing
giddy scenes of many others around the world,
almost as if we were seeing them
across the limited scan
of a grainy-gray TV screen
only a few years later—Or recently
I did, on the
even sparser, plasma face
of my rammed-up laptop-computer—amid a now
entirely subdued
galvanic-dwell—in a far
less compelling, if more
perfectly seen, color-added,
digitally-remastered replay
of the greatness
of these former times.

**

Waiting for the Word

The end of twilight dims the vision
of clouds, circling
like a floating wagon-train, preparing
for the coming rain.
I am once more
on the back-porch, caught vicariously
in a limbo struggle, somewhere
between life and death—though
who could tell, and who would
really care? I am again aware
of the contradiction of the night’s
growing vital signs—moon-flower vines
that thread their funnel-flowers through the tall
flanking trellises, exhaling seductive
jasmine scent into the soft, evening air.
Heavy-bodied moths, in veiled moonlight
pale as the funnel-blooms, weave through
the vertical rugs of vegetation
to perform needle-point searches
for waiting rewards of nectar. The stars
spin slowly above me through the night, eventually
distilling through the clouds, gathering
in illusions of designs, suggesting portents
by ancient constellations of signs.
Inside the old farmhouse
the oil-wick flame tapers toward
extinction, sending faint ripples of light
across the flame-grain of the red-oak desk—his
wire-frame glasses still at rest, on its waxed
surface, by the book he read last.
Standing by the bed, in the next room,
the circuit-doctor is down to his final
thrusts into the little black-bag of hope,
trying, somehow, to retrieve life
from nothing—much like a stubborn
magician, attempting to extract
a vanished dove from the depths
of a dark hat. Soon, the parson will
come out of the room, and say, “The old man
has passed away”—probably adding,
assuringly, “He has gone on
to a far better place.” I will then go in
and place a closing kiss
upon his now permanently stern
but very mortal brow—and then
walk back out,
into the nascent light,
probably without a word,
and certainly without a vow.

**

Driftwood

has been gathered
for our beach-fire, at dusk—
on the point
of the capturing curve of Hatteras—
and set ablaze
to lap at the uncertain bases
of marine moonlight. This almost
artistic, twisted wood
seems provided, here, tonight,
for us—just combustible stuff—
ordinary enough—to use as
we might like. But we did not consider
the tale of these tiny galleons
that have ridden the gales—the foaming
sliding wave-planks
of the Spanish Main—to arrive,
dauntless as any skull-and-
cross-boned pirate ship, full-sail
to shore. Their messages remain hidden
within the slender bottles
of their inner xylem-veins. They have
securely transported their cargo
of snails, amoebae and worms, drifting
in the whimsical trade-winds, north
from the Sargasso Sea—protected
by a brine-darkened periderm—these
small sea-mummies, smoothed
and sealed by soft films of plankton.
The insular treasures
of these shrunken water-chests
flame away, unnoticed, before our eyes,
and ride rising air-currents
up, then out, in the Capricorn flow
of recycling skies.
The ocean of air
has now reclaimed
the prodigal
drifting cinders. And somewhere
on a tropical, mangrove coast—
along the strong bend of Darien, perhaps—
it will soon
begin to rain.

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