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            Night is all a muskiness and raven-winged, the dangerous whir
of box fans and caterwauling window units, the road flare
            of your alarm clock on the bed stand.

Down the hall, your mother and father sleep fitfully
            as crows and your sister in her basement bedroom
of wood-paneling still hasn’t hung up the telephone.

            So step out your upstairs window, careful
as a white-faced mime not to crack the green shingles flecked
            with coughed-up stars. Feel your way

along the roof to the rustling cherry laurel. Be sure
            not to wake the mutt yoked to rusty eye-bolt and chain
as you make your way to the cohort of elder boys

            who wait in the alley in the green buzz of Newports,
skin made alien by saccharin streetlamp light.

            In the middle of this life,

you woke to find yourself: a mass
            of aching molars and sun-bruised skin, grit
in your teeth from chewing your nails. Back then

            scabbed knees turned to a gelatinous film
in the chlorine of the city pool, no one ventured past Charlotte
            and 32nd Avenue past dark, and when a boy like you

aged thirteen, he ventured to the quarry
            on the midnight of his birth—the quarry, legend told,
abandoned generations ago on the corner

            of Woodrow Wilson and Park, the quarry,
it was rumored, the massive socket
            of an unearthed grave where boys your age must go

in the sodden, midnight ether of April,
            a little early for the fourth night of the fourth month
of the 94th year of the 20th Century—the quarry,

            they say, a religion, a greed, an alluvial spirit, the quarry
the history of boys found belly-down in its too-shallow waters. The quarry
            belongs. The quarry is stoic. The quarry giveth and the quarry

taketh away—a black circumference encircled
            by shot-gunned warning signs in white bold, the quarry
the center around which the maze of your neighborhood

            spirals, the axis of this blazing wheel
of hightops and workboots dangling limply from telephone wires,
            the swollen lobe of an ear pierced

by an infected zirconia stud at Bass Junior High.
            The quarry is the pupil of pinkeye, the progeny of strays
no one bothers to catch though they growl with hunger and with

            their longing as they doze in the shadow of your grade school’s
sheet-metal auxiliary. The quarry is the dogshit you scrape
            from your sneakers, pickup games beneath the bent

double-rims of desire, footnotes of urine winging across the singed turf
            of churchyards and government asphalt. At least you’re fed,
the quarry says, At least you lived

            this long, it muses while buffing its mile-long thumbnail with the pages
of a Barley Legal. On the short walk there, kick a stone
            or crushed soda can down the alleys limned

with failed streetlamps. When you arrive,
            shimmy like a thief beneath the fence rimmed with razor wire,
stand reverent before the darkness of the vacuum

            that drops away before you. Your life is not your own,
a single dove will coo from its tree. You you you
            are going to die die die, it will cluck from its dowry of wings: Faggot,

Cumslut, Momma’s Boy just a few of the terms
            you will endure if you do not jump—no matter
the drought year, no matter the foretelling alignment of planets,

            no matter your mother’s cracked hands, her impatiens
drooping in their hotbed. It’s time, you must mutter to yourself like heroes
            in the movies. The quarry is no more than an echo

in front of you. The boys who urge you forth are huddled
            in half-circle behind. Can you see how each of them mutes
a flashlight with their palms? Can you see

            how each of them appears to offer their heart
to the muscular dark?


Like the Dead

To the geese our world must be burning:
razed, set fire to, and igneous—the earth
below their pneumatic wings nothing more
than a smooth sheet of ash smoothed
across an altar. No matter how low they fly,
it’s nowhere near enough, February
so thick with overcast it’s as if the world
were breaking apart and all its matter shelved
in this near orbit of dust. Yet, they call out,
ghosts these geese we cannot see but hear,
their cobalt-colored eyes scanning the drifts,
wings fanning the flames they believe flare up
below. Never having mapped the moon
or stars, they fly lost, wailing these avatars
wedged into the slug-light of the nightclouds,
the wind and its elements lumed by Draco’s
signature snaking beyond reach. Like fish
the color of water. Like the dead.  


Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum is a poet, professional editor, and educator living in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of a collection of poems, Ghost Gear; editor of Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days; series editor of Floodgate Poetry Series; editor of Warning! Poems May Be Longer Than They Appear: an anthology of longish poems (seeking press); and founder and editor of PoemoftheWeek.org. Learn more at AndrewMK.com.