Volume III (Summer 2008)
ISSN 1934-4324

J. D. Schraffenberger

J.D. Schraffenberger teaches at the University of Northern Iowa. His first book of poems Saint Joe's Passion is forthcoming in September 2008 from Etruscan Press. His other work has appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction Volume 1, Paterson Literary Review, The Louisville Review, Poet Lore, the Seattle Review, and numerous other journals. He is the editor of Elsewhere: A Journal for the Literature of Place


The Death of Doc Perry

Jenkins, Kentucky, July 1979
after Auden’s “Funeral Blues”

  Just before the phone wires snap behind his house,

it’s a cool radio afternoon on the porch, the Reds

beating Chicago by two on a bottom-of-the-fourth

homer by Concepcion.

                                     Two cracks widen in the leg

of an old municipal water tower up the mountain.

When the leg gives in at last to the pull of the earth,

the tower will snap the wires like that.

                                                         Ravens will

spitter off to the trees.

                                     Inside, Virginia is playing

piano, an old hum-muffled hymn, “Christ is Risen.”

An airplane moans quiet as night toward Lonesome

Pine Airport in Wise.

                                    Virginia ’s high voice rises

from the blue shadow. Now the fear of death is broken,

Love has won the crown.

                                    The Old Lefty Joe Nuxhall,

his voice solid as white cotton, says to keep an eye

on this young Dominican reliever—he just might

be the next—

                    Prisoners of the darkness listen, the walls

are tumbling down—

                                then wires snap, birds spitter off

to the trees behind his house, and the old man feels

cool at first from the spray of water, then warm

with some spangly bitterroot inside him.

                                                           He tastes

hot chrome.

                  He recalls how just before retirement

he took Virginia, Jack, and Shirley down to Florida

to swim and fish the warm open waters of the keys.

He slowly repaints the lovely dusty throats of his

very last patients with iodine, the pretty young twins

Peggy Sue and Mary Lou Mullins.

                                                   He sends them

back toward Dunham, back toward the happiness

that is a mountain girl’s life before she must bear

what it is to be a woman.

                                      He feels again what it is

to be a stout man with a firm grip.

                                                  He replays

those few short seasons in the Industrial League

for the Hi-Splint team of Harlan County with Earle

Combs, who died not too long ago, he’d heard, over

in Richmond.

                      A real shame—

                                              Death has been conquered

Christ is risen!

                        Christ is risen!

                                               He shall reign for evermore.

Doc Perry wonders, as his house crackles, the piano

gone completely now except for the buzz in his ears,

will Florida float out to sea?

                                          Tell me, Charlie Hustle,

where have you gone?

                                  Return to us!

                                                       Return to us!

Tell me what’s to become of the twittery little twins,

whose mother can’t afford to pay a single red penny,

whose lame-legged father was replaced at Mine 204?

But no message scribbles itself in the sky.

                                                               No doves.

And now more than ever Doc Perry wants the stars,

the moon unpacked.

                                He wants dirt under his feet.

Rounding third, he wants the good dry-mantled sun.