As he moves the mine detector A few inches over the ground, Making it vitally float Among the ferns and weeds, I come into this war Slowly, with my one brother, Watching his face grow deep Between the earphones, For I can tell If we enter the buried battle Of Nimblewill Only by his expression. Softly he wanders, parting The grass with a dreaming hand. No dead cry yet takes root In his clapped ears Or can be seen in his smile. But underfoot I feel The dead regroup, The burst metals all in place, The battle lines be drawn Anew to include us In Nimblewill, And I carry the shovel and pick More as if they were Bright weapons that I bore. A bird's cry breaks In two, and into three parts. We cross the creek; the cry Shifts into another, Nearer, bird, and is Like the shout of a shadow— Lived-with, appallingly close— Or the soul, pronouncing "Nimblewill": Three tones; your being changes. We climb the bank; A faint light glows On my brother's mouth. I listen, as two birds fight For a single voice, but he Must be hearing the grave, In pieces, all singing To his clamped head, For he smiles as if He rose from the dead within Green Nimblewill And stood in his grandson's shape. No shot from the buried war Shall kill me now, For the dead have waited here A hundred years to create Only the look on the face Of my one brother, Who stands among them, offering A metal dish Afloat in the trembling weeds, With a long-buried light on his lips At Nimblewill And the dead outsinging two birds. I choke the handle Of the pick, and fall to my knees To dig wherever he points, To bring up mess tin or bullet, To go underground Still singing, myself, Without a sound, Like a man who renounces war, Or one who shall lift up the past, Not breathing "Father," At Nimblewill, But saying, "Fathers! Fathers!"
James Dickey - 1923-1997
The Shark's Parlor
Memory: I can take my head and strike it on a wall on Cumberland Island Where the night tide came crawling under the stairs came up the first Two or three steps and the cottage stood on poles all night With the sea sprawled under it as we dreamed of the great fin circling Under the bedroom floor. In daylight there was my first brassy taste of beer And Payton Ford and I came back from the Glynn County slaughterhouse With a bucket of entrails and blood. We tied one end of a hawser To a spindling porch-pillar and rowed straight out of the house Three hundred yards into the vast front yard of windless blue water The rope out slithering its coil the two-gallon jug stoppered and sealed With wax and a ten-foot chain leader a drop-forged shark-hook nestling. We cast our blood on the waters the land blood easily passing For sea blood and we sat in it for a moment with the stain spreading Out from the boat sat in a new radiance in the pond of blood in the sea Waiting for fins waiting to spill our guts also in the glowing water. We dumped the bucket, and baited the hook with a run-over collie pup. The jug Bobbed, trying to shake off the sun as a dog would shake off the sea. We rowed to the house feeling the same water lift the boat a new way, All the time seeing where we lived rise and dip with the oars. We tied up and sat down in rocking chairs, one eye on the other responding To the blue-eye wink of the jug. Payton got us a beer and we sat All morning sat there with blood on our minds the red mark out In the harbor slowly failing us then the house groaned the rope Sprang out of the water splinters flew we leapt from our chairs And grabbed the rope hauled did nothing the house coming subtly Apart all around us underfoot boards beginning to sparkle like sand Pulling out the tarred poles we slept propped-up on leaning to sea As in land-wind crabs scuttling from under the floor as we took runs about Two more porch-pillars and looked out and saw something a fish-flash An almighty fin in trouble a moiling of secret forces a false start Of water a round wave growing in the whole of Cumberland Sound the one ripple. Payton took off without a word I could not hold him either But clung to the rope anyway it was the whole house bending Its nails that held whatever it was coming in a little and like a fool I took up the slack on my wrist. The rope drew gently jerked I lifted Clean off the porch and hit the water the same water it was in I felt in blue blazing terror at the bottom of the stairs and scrambled Back up looking desperately into the human house as deeply as I could Stopping my gaze before it went out the wire screen of the back door Stopped it on the thistled rattan the rugs I lay on and read On my mother's sewing basket with next winter's socks spilling from it The flimsy vacation furniture a bucktoothed picture of myself. Payton came back with three men from a filling station and glanced at me Dripping water inexplicable then we all grabbed hold like a tug-of-war. We were gaining a little from us a cry went up from everywhere People came running. Behind us the house filled with men and boys. On the third step from the sea I took my place looking down the rope Going into the ocean, humming and shaking off drops. A houseful Of people put their backs into it going up the steps from me Into the living room through the kitchen down the back stairs Up and over a hill of sand across a dust road and onto a raised field Of dunes we were gaining the rope in my hands began to be wet With deeper water all other haulers retreated through the house But Payton and I on the stairs drawing hand over hand on our blood Drawing into existence by the nose a huge body becoming A hammerhead rolling in beery shallows and I began to let up But the rope strained behind me the town had gone Pulling-mad in our house far away in a field of sand they struggled They had turned their backs on the sea bent double some on their knees The rope over their shoulders like a bag of gold they strove for the ideal Esso station across the scorched meadow with the distant fish coming up The front stairs the sagging boards still coming in up taking Another step toward the empty house where the rope stood straining By itself through the rooms in the middle of the air. "Pass the word," Payton said, and I screamed it "Let up, good God, let up!" to no one there. The shark flopped on the porch, grating with salt-sand driving back in The nails he had pulled out coughing chunks of his formless blood. The screen door banged and tore off he scrambled on his tail slid Curved did a thing from another world and was out of his element and in Our vacation paradise cutting all four legs from under the dinner table With one deep-water move he unwove the rugs in a moment throwing pints Of blood over everything we owned knocked the buckteeth out of my picture His odd head full of crashed jelly-glass splinters and radio tubes thrashing Among the pages of fan magazines all the movie stars drenched in sea-blood Each time we thought he was dead he struggled back and smashed One more thing in all coming back to die three or four more times after death. At last we got him out logrolling him greasing his sandpaper skin With lard to slide him pulling on his chained lips as the tide came, Tumbled him down the steps as the first night wave went under the floor. He drifted off head back belly white as the moon. What could I do but buy That house for the one black mark still there against death a forehead- toucher in the room he circles beneath and has been invited to wreck? Blood hard as iron on the wall black with time still bloodlike Can be touched whenever the brow is drunk enough. All changes. Memory: Something like three-dimensional dancing in the limbs with age Feeling more in two worlds than one in all worlds the growing encounters.