Rue St. Famille
PICTOU COUNTY ESCAPE
“We are all haunted houses.” H.D,
Paul snatches my dinner plate
before the last, boiled carrot’s eaten,
plunges it into the soapy dishpan,
and squints suspiciously out
a kitchen window into the dark
jutting from the overhanging cliffs,
where yesterday he hunted quail.
It was then he saw the ghost light
bobbing feverishly up the glen.
He didn’t take aim, as Jake Ferguson
did, a dreamer and drunk of sorts,
busting his rifle, retreating in terror
to his house. Spine-stiff, teeth
chattering, he collapsed in the up-
stairs bedroom where Paul, when he
bought the Ferguson farm, found
piles of breast bones and rabbit thighs.
To ward off the enclosing dark, Paul
lights a lamp, sits at the pine table
redrafting a poem, week after week,
editing down a year of his life
into seventeen Japanese syllables,
polished and scrubbed like the dishes
and floors he returns to on hands
and knees, looking for traces of blood.
So after dinner on the porch I rock,
no one to talk to but a spotted cat
whose unfed litter mews. Refusing
my touch, they dart under the shed
where they eyes glint like marbles
partially buried in black earth, as Paul
goes on retelling how he waltzed
the bride of Bonny Prince Charlie
through the apple orchard, or was it merely
a brocade gown he glimpsed
like a white wing grazing a window?
From an upstairs window,
I see something skimming the ground
in white taffeta, or is it an animal
gliding through the fog? In my mother’s backyard,
the foxes gulped down table scraps
and their eyes, reflecting light,
glowed from within, showing no feelings,
simply open like Paul’s, as he reaches for me,
creaking the ravaged bedsprings.
Calming myself I count the freckles
on his shoulder, as moonlight splinters
through the crazed windowpane,
stains the musty wallpaper like the last
drawings Ferguson sketched there:
charcoaled faces, half-skin, half-skull.
Morning’s downpour dents the car roof
with a rockabilly rhythm that I
cannot control, as I cannot Paul,
who drifts across the white line
of a road that ends in ruts of earth.
Downshifting past the ditch where last
week he rolled the car, smashing
headlights and his glasses,
he weaves on down the dirt lane,
seven more miles to the sea, while I,
braced on the ripped front seat for the bumps,
keep wanting to escape like the screams
I wash down with warm beer, as the rain
drums everything into silt-red waves.
Discarding my clothes on a granite cliff,
I sink into a cleansing tide,
red silt renewing my skin,
as thunder threatens overhead
and lightning strikes, flicking the surf
with its hard, metallic tongue.