“they come to us like the memories of our children do …”
Enjoy this poem from our Winter/Spring 2019 issue as a broadside that you can drag to your desktop and enlarge or print–or scroll down to read as plain text.
Cryptozoology in South Jersey
One night, our children see a creature move across the wooded edges of a parking lot
where tree leaves part and close again around the vacant form.
Sometimes they even hear this creature on the parkway, wounded and crying,
lost in traffic as our headlight catch it, its eyes shining back from a roadside ditch.
They stare out car windows on long trips looking for its lair, drawing pictures
of its habitat as the woods fill up with platted streets and cul-de-sacs.
When the tough old guy who lives next door with his hoppled walk
stops dragging a rake across the autumn leaves,
we mark his passing, who used to run our children off his lawn
like the guardian of his most secret self.
When we hear new neighbors, laughing and eating behind their privacy fence,
their yard lights bleeding through the crosshatched branches,
we see they’ve built a fire in a pit! They are grilling fresh meat!
Trees shiver around them as they dance in a circle!
One day our kids give us the hard news.
When people grow old, they go away to live
in parks or gnarled orchards, where it’s said that they
will turn into creatures, their old limbs weighed down
with overripe fruit. We don’t believe them.
But our children persist, explaining how
we’ll first become a shadow in a window,
a parting curtain, a place they say we never leave.
Roots grip the floorboards. Vines crawl down the walls.
The roof opens up. We’ll sleep out in the open.
It takes less than a year for a house to be digested by the woods.
Meanwhile, our children continue to warn us:
if you meet such a creature, hiding in a thicket,
beside the withered garden where it’s made its nest,
just put one finger to your lips and whisper, Shhhhhhhh!
as you inch toward it with open hands to show
you do not want to capture it: You only want to believe
it’s true. Every day now, we see whole families
crouching under a bus stop shelter, waiting out the rain
with shopping carts and plastic bags, the young and the old,
with their odd gait, hunched up in their shaggy coats,
living in secret. We see them bending over an iridescent
pool of bilge, while waiting for the light to change.
Some nights, we hear them tapping on our windowpane.
Or they come to us like the memories of our children do,
who’ve heard something howling in the empty house next door.
We feel them standing in the dark at the foot of our bed.
Ron Block is the author of the poetry collection Dismal River (New Rivers, 1990) and a book of short stories, The Dirty Shame Hotel (New Rivers, 1998). A former NEA fellow in fiction, he has published work in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Iowa Review, and many other magazines and anthologies. These two poems are from a projected collection, AZ: The Hieroglyphs of Silent Movies, an Alphabet Book w/ Index, Conjectures & Questions.