"You'n make a magpie talk
you just catch 'em and split
his tongue; when
it heals, he c'n
In 1968 a twelve-year-old boy
killed a neighbor child.
In the must damp of a backyard
from one window grey with dirt,
he had gently bullied her into
the shining marvel of her hairless, breastless
body in that
He put no hands upon her,
but his neck gleamed cold with guilt.
When she slipped from her panties,
graceless as a child beside a bath,
she saw then, reading fear and hunger
in his face
that he was naked;
she, just nude.
He said, "Don't tell no body."
She held both their lives
in her hands then, and felt
the innocent power of a child
who knows matches make fire,
but has never felt
the melt of polyester on her skin.
She said nothing.
"Don't tell no one. Okay?"
She began to dress.
"Jesse. Don't tell my mom. Okay?"
Her silence was ominous
with power. She
knew that surely she had not wanted
to do this thing; surely
she had been violated.
"You won't tell, will you?"
"I gotta go home now."
"Say you won't tell?"
His eyes were stark,
she was frightened then.
She would tell.
"Please, Jessie. Mom'll really whip me? Don't tell, huh?"
"My dress got cobwebs on it."
"Jessie." He held her arm, fierce and desperate.
"Don't say nothin'. I'll give you
I mean it."
Then it was time to be afraid,
and she invoked the only power she knew:
"Lemme go, or I'll tell my mom."
When she thought to say she would not tell,
it was too late;
His hands were on her throat and
strangled her too well,
faster than she could speak,
lost at the end in
the wonder of watching
death shine in her face,
more real here, in Jessie, than
in birds killed with rocks,
in mashed bugs,
in carp stoned at a neighbor's pond.
Two weeks they kept the frightful hunt
they offered unasked bribes to
they sought degenerates and walked
their children home.
They dredged the river, scarcely deep
enough to hide her,
opened every freezer at the dump.
Then a white-lipped boy
told his mother why
the back shed smelled so strong, what
ripened, wrapped in gingham,
underneath the floor.
The dead child had her requiems,
all the mourning we could give, and more,
though not enough.
There could never be enough.
Her parents still wake now, when she would be
and imagine still
her terror when
the young, strong hands
closed her throat finally, when
oxygen in her chest burned out,
and the pain under
spun-silk, straw-blonde hair when
her head stuck dirty planks,
the futile gestures groping at death.
And I woke this morning from
this brother clawing free of his moist grave,
eyes seeking mine.
Flesh slick with rot, he came at me and
sought my eyes with his
still whole in greasy rims.
He said to me, impossibly:
"Give me your tongue and let me speak."
Hands reached toward my face.