When they wakened
in the gray
of just after dawn
and knew the birds
were gone and saw
the diesel fumes
gathering above the trees
and felt the cold anger
of machines that have to eat,
did they come hand
in hand through
the bare wood halls
to sway above my bed
and call me back
to the small damp body
curled in dream?

He pulled the long socks up
and eased his feet
into the narrow shoes,
tied the laces, and stood
staring down the hard creases.
“Roses are blooming
in Pickardeee,” she sang,
and looked sideways
at herself in the mirror
drawing her cheeks in.
“But there’s only one
rose for me,” and stood
smoothing the wrinkles
from waist to knee.

If they left,
whose hand cupped
my forehead when I lay
in fever? Who moaned,
“Help me, help me”?
Who lay full length
beside me, belted and all,
and let his tears
pour over my hands?
Who huddled beside me
whispering like a sleepwalker
in the wet grove
north of Anniston?
Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!
I might have helped.

This Issue

December 11, 1975