We’d been traipsing the long afternoon
through the bramble, when we came upon
him hanging from the oak, his black boots
almost scraping on the ground, bowing
down a branch half-cleft from the oak’s crown.
His hands seemed to take back what he’d done,
they at least had wanted life, clawing,
frantic to unknot the fraying jute,
his thick, blackened nails cut and bloodied.
Now the arms hung loosely at his side.
His trousers were stained dark in the crotch,
the eyes in his ancient face held watch
on the air where the black crows circled.
I’d never seen a body before,
cut down and laid out in the stinkweed.
He had no kin, so he was buried
with our own, the only name he bore
the name we gave him and had chiseled
on his headstone at the spring solstice:
“Billy Gawain, A Stranger to Us.”
From Swimming the Eel; first appeared in
The Evansville Review, Spring 2011