The Placeholder, poem by Carol Alexander

Old man in a car­a­van

grease-stained cov­er­all

retired lo lo nine point

three years now.

 

On the short­est day

of the year

shimmed down

to a dec­i­mal

elec­tric fires spark,

smol­der,

the trail­er fills

with cre­osote smoke;

a bird’s nest ignites

into a crown of thorns.

 

The whipped cur of oily dawn

slinks around this trail­er park

as Ori­on dis­ap­pears into white,

gird­ing his rusty belt.

The gun­ning of a motor,

the shriek of a shiv­er­ing girl

five point two bared,

legs shim­my­ing

as the finned leviathan

inch­es toward the marsh,

creep­ing….

 

On the flac­cid wire

rides the black­bird,

the dec­i­mal of its eye

unseen

except by the coon­hound

piss­ing its load

against the trail­er

so labo­ri­ous­ly,

the way it hap­pens

with old dogs.

 

But the black­bird,

hav­ing naught to do

with any of this,

sub­tracts itself

from the wire.

 

The cloa­cal marsh,

rimmed with tires

rust­ed parts

reechy weeds

gal­lant­ly

cleans­es itself

of rot and reek.

 

Woman gone,

girl blind

son in the field,

wired and mined:

zero to do

with any of this.

 

The old man

on the short­est day

of the year

cleans his gun–

but it’s not

what you think,

he’s miles to go–

 

whis­tles up the hound

shiv­ers and slips

on sliv­ers of ice

but rights him­self

 

and it’s off

into the marsh

to shoot some­thing

love­ly.

 

The frogs under ice

don’t mut­ter a croak.

 

There’s a stub­born per­sis­tence

in flesh and fowl:

why some don’t leave

but linger

in the blast of wind

the frozen shal­lows

the absence of

berry or worm.

 

Place­hold­ers,

like us.

 

One of them today

will meet

its nat­ur­al ene­my.

A good old fel­low

for all of that.

 

Teasels grow around

the marsh.

Lone black­bird

unher­ald­ed,

the hiss­ing of dried grass

unher­ald­ed,

the veins

in his gnarled mus­cles

burled, lath­ed,

flesh sub­tract­ed–

 

first two black­birds,

now, none.

 

Car­ol Alexan­der is a New York City-based author and edi­tor. A writer for trade and edu­ca­tion­al pub­lish­ing, she has authored numer­ous children’s books, served as a ghost­writer for radio and trade pub­lish­ing, and taught at col­leges around the met­ro­pol­i­tan area. In 2011–2012, her poet­ry appears in lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies pub­lished by Chi­ron Review, Cave Moon Press, The Canary, Danse Macabre, Earth­s­peak ,Fade Poet­ry Jour­nal, Fat Daddy’s Farm Press, Mobius, Numi­nous, OVS, Red Pop­py Review, and The Whistling Fire.

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