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Your children drive away and the river runs dry.
Everyone in town is watching, everyone
ready and willing as the cop next door
who told you once he’d shot a child
whose father everyone knew
beat the boy for years, before the kid
took the stock of a twelve-gauge
and smashed the old man’s face.
Jason arrived then and the boy
begged for it, right here, he shrieked,
pounding his chest, brandishing arms,
by which example your neighbor meant
whoever fails to contrive a tribe,
lights their own bed on fire.
You started reminding yourself not to
stand before windows, bunkered all day
in blue light, drawing the shades at dusk.
I can’t read people anymore, you said,
and it seemed clear you’d flouted
the margin of error, mistook tolerances,
as when the district judge warned
not to try and Jew him down on the sentence.
What to think then of your wanting to
appear diplomatic about a shove from behind
or who to trust when every face in a room
blanked and you could smell the unease
everybody felt about your asking why.
What’s the half-life of pretending you’re alive,
of being lulled every time the white pines
filled with mourning doves you never saw
arriving ahead of winter storms
and suddenly they were at the window,
perched on limbs, shoulder to shoulder,
backs to the wind, at ease, eyes half-closed.
You can almost feel them now
purring through the glass, the radio bulletin
warning the passes are drifted shut
and the highway blocked.



David Axelrod’s Skiing with Dostoyevsky: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming in April. New work appears in December, Poetry East, Sky Island, and Willow Springs. He makes his home in Missoula.



Photo by Wade Lambert on Unsplash

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