See now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which,
as it could, loved them... — T.S. Eliot
Nobody is ever missing. — John Berryman
Crows file in from Kansas fields, hundreds,
a column that reaches back and ahead to distances
where even the black point that may or may not be
the beginning and end disappears.
This reminds me of the leaves
the starlings replaced in '72,
a canopy that hung over our neighborhood
as Jack D. and I killed them with our .22's.
We watched them death-spiral while the sky rose
black with beating wings and bleating tongues
then settled like before, a Hitchcock scene.
On one of those killing days
we learned Jack's father was MIA.
Shot down in some Asian jungle.
They found the plane. No pilot.
Soon after that, Jack disappeared.
Traveling home, I attempt to travel
backwards, trying to remember faces:
my father's and mother's, my brother's,
my own. But I need markers
to migrate the course absence creates.
Along I-35 I count hawks instead of miles,
43 clipped on phone lines
like mother's clothes pins.
This connects me, keeps me
from going too far.
In a truckstop outside Kansas City,
a man plays peek-a-boo with his infant.
A handkerchief is all it takes
for the father to vanish.
He drapes the cloth, no longer white
but aged yellow like scrapbook clippings,
over the child's face. Then silence.
Laughter stops, and for a moment
the infant pulls at the cloth, then stops even that.
If the father holds the handkerchief between them
too long, his son will forget the game,
forget the face on the other side.
Rick Mulkey '92
from Before the Age of Reason