I kick the mix of dirt and gravel to cover
the hole we dug, raise a puff of red
the wind casts away, a discarded veil.
A cigar box buried with photos, a lock of hair,
some chicken bones, and powder, black, purportedly
goofer dust, a ticket from the county fair,
we have it on negligible authority the devil desires
these tributes, that given faith and the patience to wait,
for days if need be, here the spell may work.
You tuck your braided hair up into a ball,
gaze down the eastern road, your back to me
as it seems it’s been throughout our travels,
drinking the bitter lagers of townie bars
often without towns, the roadsides depressed
in apocalyptic splendor—the caved in roofs
of doublewides, the packs of dogs that appall
the civilized suburbs back home. The gas stations,
few and far, found our gaping stares risible,
it’s never been otherwise here. The registers work.
The cokes are cold. And what are you folks
doing in these parts? A kind of welcome,
we supposed, and so grew cautious and polite.
You gave up changing clothes a while back,
the same pair of jeans mile after mile,
and I gave up trying to explain what we’re about.
To call on the devil, to devote to superstition our tithes,
is necessary to say that we’ve tried everything.
A white barn, a water tower with rusting legs,
a copse of trees, these people our gray horizon
and bear witness. You held me while I wept
for the home we lost to hospital bills, for the kids
we’d never raise, for the lightning strikes that lit
our dreams with static. I remember your touch
as clear as the slick tape I used to seal
our casket for ritual grieving. My thumbs smoothed
surface to damp surface, and I prayed
it would never open again, that, demon come,
you’d turn, entwine your arms through mine, my waist
in the cups of your hands, and my sandpaper cheeks
clearing your tears as you pushed the bundle of shadows
from my hands. Let it break on the hardened ground and dump
its entrails in full view of those who might read
our past and future mingled with tire tracks,
some their own, the skins of everyone’s lives
woven together for a purpose, to call upon
whoever waits where the roads meet. Give us
the child we murdered in sleep. Give us the guitar
we picked into wealth. Give us the bullet back
that put our brother in jail, that spurned the girl,
that robbed the bank when we should have been CEO,
and give us the pickup truck that will take us home.
Kevin Oberlin is the author of one chapbook, Spotlit Girl (2008, Kent State UP). His poems have appeared recently in The London Reader, Ghost Proposal, Roanoke Review, and PacificREVIEW. He lives in Cincinnati without incident.
© 2019, Kevin Oberlin