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Wabash Banner Blue
by Bill Ratner
Listen to Bill Ratner reading Wabash Banner Blue
A night of trees and winds
a dreamless sleep
a shutter opens
nursing in brumal air
moans of the slowing Wabash train
a stretch of Pullman cars
the house cracks
all is weightless
out my window
coiled on the lawn
a behemoth with a witch’s purse
a sack of stunned blood in a thicket.
I must not stir I must not look
I must not wander on this night.
Damn the ones who taught me
If I should die before I wake.
To alarm the daemon I clap like a blowout, sing arias,
scuttle down the stairs to the steak knife drawer.
Careful not to rouse the creature’s eye I flee the house.
At the edge of the wood a skeleton rises shrieking Emergo!
Skeletons don’t scare me
I sniff for meat,
bullets don’t scare me
I survived one for my mother’s breast
one for my brother’s kidneys
one for my father’s heart.
And they will aid me now.
I scale the cemetery wall,
at my father’s grave
I kick aside a clump of grass.
In the ground on a Bible-sized stone
my stepmother’s name
her oblivion, her coffee cup reeking of whiskey
all the good cooking and car rides.
I didn’t save her jewellery
I sold it for blow.
My father died on his stairlift
a copy of The Raven in his lap.
I pulled him down, laid him out
and breathed into his blue mouth,
nothing but the sound of soup inside him.
I want to hear his voice
his South Chicago twang
the word car as hard as ore
I want to sleep in his bed
he might call at a late hour.
My mother’s grave surrounded
by old stones of family I never knew,
I see her, the vividness of her
bubbles of mercury
the green flash.
A cavernous scream slashes the air
behemoth on the graveyard floor
pulses its stunted wings.
If fate rips me like a leaf
I have made arrangements with my family.
In that final blaring moment
throttled by monster death
my mind will make myth
and I will see them all again.
They will gather in a sleeping car
aboard the Wabash Banner Blue
gingerly pull closed my compartment door
my fear of monsters and the dark no more.
Cover Photo by Roger Puta via Wikipedia Commons