William L. Alton
Times were that we would run
off to the woods below the house
and play in the dump next to the creek.
Old refrigerators toppled against dead mattresses.
Mason jars and naked tin cans, sharp-edged
and wind-polished, pulled holes
in our jeans and legs. Blood from the lot of us mixed
with the ashes from the burn barrel,
chrism to anoint an afternoon’s recklessness.
When dust bled the day red we walked
over old Indian graves back in the woods.
Maybe Cherokee or Seminole,
maybe Creek, Choctaw or Chickasaw. No one knew.
Rough concrete squares with odd names,
hidden in the shadows of the woods.
I made up stories of their lives:
Pierson Bear was killed
because he wouldn’t be a white man.
Lily Mankiller bled out
birthing a son after clubbing her husband in the bed.
Joseph Raintree, influenza fell him.
That one was my uncle,
sent back in a shoe box from Khe Sahn.
Close on supper-time, at the bottom
of the green rise with the persimmon tree
I swam with my brothers.
The three of us, young and scrawny,
red across thin shoulders, along sharp forearms,
leapt from ridges of sandstone
and lichen matted gray stones.
Old elm trees and oaks threw shade
on the spot where the creek grew fat and slow,
the water moving with the grace of leaves falling,
not quite as dark as the soil of the banks.
Sometimes, I slid down and buried myself
in the algae and mud on the bottom.
I stared up at the rippled, dappled day,
watched the perch and frogs
fly in the thick water.
The water was always colder than we thought it should be,
squeezing the breath from us, sending our chests
thumping up to our ears, a rhythm all at once hard and fresh.