the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




FOUR WORKS
BY JOHN KILGORE

BICYCLING AT NIGHT

I was not your husband
Or nearly sure about this, Honey,
On the floor, insane, with a kid
Upstairs and the driveway only empty
Till dawn or so. Sears portraits
On the wall, boots under the table;
A Household Prayer, a Big Bird.
You all alive in my arms
On a night so warm that nakedness
Was like something else—
New clothes, new skins—
While flowers outside breathed
Jungle music through the screens
And the cricket-crazy moonlight
Striping us both like tigers.

                        So afterwards,
Hunting underwear and conversation,
Blinking in light from the next room
At what might be already over,
When you confessed another bad
And dangerous habit, could I say no?

Gliding, my legs wrapped around
Your husband's bicycle,
I followed your pale blouse
Flickering like some night bird,
Owl or bat, enormous,
Through the velvet dark
And unsuspecting streets,
Past the old town square
The factories and last houses,
Out to the lumpy country blacktop
And fields where the last streetlights faded.
Pelted by moths, towing the moon
Like our private kite, we pumped
Through parted seas of corn,
Past ditches grown bottomless in the murk.

Finally you stopped,
Grinning a moon-damp grin.
"This is it. Stay close. An un-
Believable fucking rush."
Ahead, the road glimmered down
And down into complete dark, a
Ravine sealed under sycamores.
"Ready-" you said, and disappeared.

So with a kick I launched
Into the dark, the road
Changing to pure theory as the moon vanished,
And the bike vanished, and my body
To the shoulders vanished
And I became a bat, a wolf, a meteor
Flying through the solid black,
The wind warm in my ears,
Jubilant brother of snakes and scorpions,
Wild and wicked and free forever.

================

AT THE TOWN DUMP

Something to think about, anyway,
While I drop off a load
Of last year's garage clutter
In a borrowed pickup: the boys
Of Alex-who-owns-the-feed-store,
Not fifteen yet, shooting at dump rats with their .22.

Not a scene for the 4H Calendar, or what
Sixth Avenue Baptist recommends
For kids on a spring morning.
Still, rats: it's hard to feel sorry.
In jeans and John Deere baseball caps,
K-Mart running shoes and pocket-T's,
They have that patient, small-town look
Of kids raised calmly as the corn, with
Tested methods, belt and Bible and evening chores.

Walking down old 316,
They get here in the chill and quiet
Before the 'dozer starts, settling
On an old refrigerator chassis
With a can of Skoal between them;
Then wait in the stink

For the almost silent blur and flicker,
Dream-motion of foot and fur, slither
Of the naked, inexcusable tail;
Then whirl, whip-limber, freeze-and fire-
Thundering the birds to silence.
"A hull foot to the left, you faggot!"
"Hail, the sucker moved on me!"
Now it's your turn with the rifle,
Mine with the Skoal.
Watch and listen, spin and shoot.
"Shee-it, you must be blind!"
Finally they get one. A quick
Scramble over bones and boxes,
Hefty Bags and orange peels.
Crouching, absorbed as surgeons,
They stare and poke, admiring its size,
Its filthiness, the needle snout
And queasy suggestion of the teeth.
"Them paws 'er just like hands,"
One says, so solemnly you think
He'll doff the hat and hold it to his chest;
Or have a sudden change of heart,
Swear off .22's and keep
To the ratless straight and narrow from now on.
Instead he kicks a little grave
Into the shifting soil, dirt
Mixed with everything dirtier; his
Brother puts in the carcass
And they leave a Stroh's can for a marker,
Even bowing their heads a moment
Though then they snicker.

Then back they go to their iron perch
To start the whole thing over again;
While I try to remember: what's it like
To have a day you want to spend like that
Or feel that nameless way about a rat?

================

MISSING PERSON REPORT

After you, Babe, sex
With anyone else is a Band-Aid.
I'm in hock
To your nifty little brown body.
Honey, all those nights
Dragging it home through the angry streets
Loaded and low and wrong again—hey!
It wasn't my idea of fun either.
Now I read these other women's faces
Like out of town papers
Hunting for news of you:
Gone. Still missing. No word yet.

================

ANNIVERSARY SONG

They say marriages are made
in Heaven, but ours
seems to come from a tougher place:
some afterlife equivalent of a biker bar,
where they beat up Seraphim, throw them
out the door with smashed harps
and bloody wings. Oh, I've seen
these angel-guarded couples,
all eyes and sighs, cooing and stroking.
Five or ten good tiffs, and they're off to the lawyers.
Kids, dog, house—all of it shitcanned. Then they go do it again.
Babe, we're made of sterner stuff.
God I treasure the time
you broke the stool on my head, and I
knocked you through the window, while
all our tattooed, gap-toothed
friends in leather shrieked for joy.
Bonding, is what it was; and then
we partied till the cops came. For
what we've got, the jealous world
locks you away, but in the same cell
and you don't want parole.
Darling, it's a life sentence.
Get used to it.