Illegible November of smoke and ash
Here is the trigger
Guard against the hours
& on the tag tied around a metal ring
Brother tag smeared red with thumbprint
Our name misspells us
Where someone killed the swollen bottle fly
Dear cages over the reliquary
The line reads on and on dear cages
Over the naked man
Cages to shelter racing dogs
Who race no more
Weariness of the grey muzzle
Weariness so thin it might be paraffin
Or rough fur or a hundred dollar bill curled by flame
Not knowing what it’s doing
Money burns inside its own gutted clock
On a weedy lot
Of scattered pills
O my wineskin o my shekinah
Look inside my greyhound’s mottled ear
To see its tattooed number
The animal won’t lift its head
Heat opens like a vault
Dispatching currents of sunlight and shade
Across the body of a naked god on his feverish cupola
Thresholds dappled with fill-in-the-blank
Having pulled the iv’s from his body
My brother climbs from his metal crib
To escape the ICU
Picc line catheter this is a good story
A god’s story my brother’s story
And I’m sticking to it read the entrails
Follow the pills they will tell you where he is
As they tell you the one story
His and mine
He walks the road until I find him
The broken guitar made desert feel nothing
Like night on earth you kept asking broken
Questions can I stay here are you
Alone are you sure you
Want to die alone will you please
Answer me I screamed no until my answer woke me
Was there always one lit house
In the grey circuitry of the master-
Planned but never finished community?
As if draws & ranges were a reflection
Of a desert I couldn’t see
Your hand held out a cup of water
Houses floated in the smeared chrome
Of office furniture left in the street
Old music played think glow line over hills &
Nightfall smoothing edges
No lights to greet us back think of me
& a child across the cul-de-sac waiting for his mother
To come home from the dollar tree on her bicycle
Cobalt sifted through missing frets
Tension wires & ditches across chaparral
Penumbral & half-charred
Harmonics rang out from the little boy on his front step
& the tinny echo of Duane Eddy crackled
From speakers on a timer in a model home
Were we really living in the capsule of dead astronauts?
Each night it happened poorly improvised as a tragic dream
Your appearance at my bedside & the expansion
& contraction of the quiet before chain finds its gear
As if crossing conductive traces
My voice still lashing out at your angry wake
From bleached bone, sandstone bank before dawn,
Steep where drought had dropped the water level to
Canyon depths, someone hiding up there
Looking down might see us — two bathers
Wading out into the reservoir — first me,
Then you. Was there a shadow loose on the hinge of the wind?
Maybe a windmill, rust that heat
Warps back into place, a voice to call me back,
A gloved hand to seize me?
There was a time in my life when I could
Hope for a grackle trapped in ductwork and little more
Where sharp wings wheeled behind window screens
As something larger pursued me, a lash
Of falcon from ornamental gray
Lung-work in a fenced-in garden a lifetime ago,
In a garden my tired father kept where our bad dog
Burrowed and ruined row after row
Radishes and bean tendrils, lattices and poles
Upended. Consider the axe handle — crude tool
Ancillary to memory’s hot metal, a sharp wedge
That slips away from wizened pine.
It could kill us both. In a rage my father grabbed the nearest
Thing to beat the dog. His rage I bear
As my own, my ratchet, my talk radio.
How to leave the air drills of rage and talk?
Used tire centers mistook for heartbeat
And blood where the father’s headless torso and legs
Take long strides across the landscape
In my bedroom window, how he keeps searching for me.
And the dog barks and snaps
Where I bleed as I try to save its life.
So I wade out and wait for a hand
To press upon me, to push me beneath the surface,
For a faint guttering at the end of dirt roads,
For the mind’s clenched fist, an animal fist
To loosen, fingertips spread.
For your hand, my hand’s companion, to form
A muzzle of fire to reach into a cry’s fissure,
Water’s skin, horizon, sky, spreading inside us.
As I look away you touch my shoulder
And not a father’s voice says wait for me —
Green water around our thighs
Brimming with a stranger’s weight —
Hold your breath. Open your eyes.
Can you hear the hammers?
Blood still warm
Stirred with warmer forearms
Let thicker and darker cursive
Encircle and enclose
Obedient to its wheel the axe is a tremor
And the hammer a tiny bell
But not the kestrel you thought
Stigmatism against white field
Macula against a policeman’s winter
Gone as you look right at it
No second thought
Who doesn’t want to protect a child?
You’re holding it wrong
Where is your body
To mantle his body from the gunman?
No second thought
Let the axe be river the river’s half-built bridge
Or a stalled train or a mirror
See the snow falling on the old Amtrak observation cars?
You are on the wrong side of it
Where is the angel against anything?
The hand to stay the blade
Think of it like a sharp hammer do you know
How to hammer a nail?
No one wants this
Your one verb broken
Over the back of your throat
Not your mother not the officer behind bulletproof glass
Driving you through the frozen rain
Let’s let the verb go on
Screaming a place inside
The animal assigned to you
After it’s all over
You can bathe by candle and bucket
And listen to the workers as they free jezebel and her dogs
There she is there’s the sound
Of your heart
As for the angel’s hand and the father’s axe —
Can one ever exist without the other? — the stone
Is still blind and uncut
But they’re close
Can you hear the hammers
Your heart beating?
Miles Waggener is the author of three poetry collections: Phoenix Suites (The Word Works, 2003), winner of the Washington Prize; Sky Harbor (Pinyon Publishing, 2011); and Desert Center (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2016); as well as the chapbooks Portents Aside (Two Dogs Press, 2008) and Afterlives (Finishing Line, 2013). Since 2006, he has been a faculty member of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Writer’s Workshop.