R.T. Smith

Vesuvius
December 11, 2011 Smith R.T.

Vesuvius

 

No gazette ran the story,

but where rails cross and the post office

is ever under threat from an absence

of correspondence, the past was touched by blood.

 

Though most landowners

and tenants whose opinions are rented

will scowl and swear Never,

a few local tongues promise they know better,

 

that rain rinsed the ties and steel by morning,

leaving only absence and of late, a ghost

 

most evident in winter.  All this in the wicked

fifties, nightriders rushing down unpaved lanes,

 

some say Nash and others Mercury,

always in a whisper.  High summer,

light in the sky waning, dust like a drought storm.

Sisal rope or trace chain?  A gun butt,

a boy from the shadows shoved under.

Roar and rattle of coal cars, then the hush,

 

all because a girl with ginger hair

listened to her sister who said a week after

the midnight encounter,

you better claim FORCE if you want to live

 

this side of New York City,

so force it was where before the culprit was more

gin and moonlight,  I was so lonely

he had such lovely skin like creamed up coffee

his taste more sweeter than any honey,

and gentle hands, so gentle.

 

The sheriff’s guess: Missing?  Lazy.  Most likely

waited till the engine slowed on a steep, went north

in a open boxcar

with his all sass and hunger for easy money.

Good riddance and not missed by nary soul.

 

Now along the river’s meander

after the locomotive’s shrill has faded

 

the general opinion is the so-called ghost

is no human cry at all but a fox

red by nature and not a racing train,

though the ghost rumor persists

 

especially on wintry nights like this –

moon red and even the shadows shivering

as the mail truck pulls in, breaks

locking on freezing rain,

till it skids to a stop in the silvered dark,

thanks to its chains.

R.T. Smith has taught at Auburn University and was coeditor of the Southern Humanities Review. Since 1995, he has been the editor of Shenandoah, the literary magazine from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where he is writer-in-residence in the Department of English.