Al Maginnes


In last evening’s ticks of dusk, police pulled three juveniles from
            the Confederate cemetery, where they’d knocked over

some grave markers and graffitied others with an odd mix
            of swastikas and peace signs. In the half-light left,

their damage was hidden, but its shadow lingers between
            the oaks, sharp burn of tobacco smoke in the air, heavy feet

dragging uncut grass like the retreat of unbroken infantry, firing
            backward as they go. Battlefield or cemetery, the living

demand more fear than the dead. They are the ones who appear
            out of corridors we thought abandoned, wearing faces

we’ve lost the name to. There are always birds,
            dusty veterans, pecking around that graveyard, who fly

in the wolf-hour between sunset and full dark to perch
            inside bodies slowly claimed by night, lost to us

like friends who suddenly cross the threshold of a new faith
            and now only speak a language we no longer share.

The ones we lose are out there without us, living in bags
            of slowly wrinkling skin, lost in the dry grass

where wind takes itself to lie down and gaze full-faced
            into the flat blue plane of sky, time’s fields of dust

shifting between them. They chorus behind us,
            those half-ghosts, silences, memories abandoned

like some nomadic tribes I’ve heard of who left
            the ones too weak to continue, settling them

on an ice floe or in a pocket of shade, then walking away
            from their fading voices, even their names.

Yet they return. Tell me you have not seen the gray,
            heavy face of one you knew years before,

tried not to recall the feel of hands now creped
            by skin thin as paper as they picked over

lettuce and sweet potatoes. Halfway down the cereal aisle,
            you recall a bruised Volvo, the smell of the house

where you slept in those days, skin that smelled of burned oil,
            all returning with the note of uncertainty that shades

every sentence that long-ago voice said. That note echoes
            as you pay and walk from the store, still amazed

you can enter your past as easily as you open
            an unlocked gate, then walk back into this life,

your half-ghosts quieted so abruptly you understand
            you are neither fully haunted nor forgiven.

Al Maginnes

is the author of eight collections of poetry, including, most recently, Sleeping Through the Graveyard Shift (Redhawk Press). His seventh book, The Next Place, was published in the spring of 2017 by Iris Press. He has recently contributed to Plume, Lake Effect, American Journal of Poetry, and Tar River Poetry. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and recently retired from teaching.