He Who Watches Over Timber Rattlesnakes in Secret

By John Popielaski


Energized by spring, he leaves

his buddies in the veterans’ home

and taps his hornbeam walking stick,

a metronome, upon the shoulder

of an asphalt road

until he reaches woods he loves

to camp in undisclosed.

He flaps a creased tarp

like a tablecloth enlisted

for a seasonal occasion

or a gathering in memory

of someone lost

and sets his canvas pup tent

like a centerpiece on that.

It takes a while for a firm

believer who has killed

in someone else’s name to struggle

with the deeds, to fear and turn

like someone shifting in a bunk

to dodge the undodgeable

evil that defies him in his dreams.

It was easier to think

that if his military had to

dust a jungle with defoliant

to see its stealthy enemy, it had to,

but he saw too much and thought

when he came home

that when ferocity was just

ferocity that served

no purpose that was good

a person had to go

where he could feel a good

approximation of the liberating

joy of being whole, in tune,

at one, whatever

is the opposite of being

steeltoed by a conscience

that remembers things

with clarity and screams them

like a sergeant in the middle

of a starlit, toad-lulled night.


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