Samuel T. Franklin is mostly from Indiana, by way of Clayton, Terre Haute, and Bloomington. The author of a book of poems titled The God of Happiness, his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review, Fickle Muses, M Review, and others. He can often be found building semi-useful things out of wood scraps and losing staring contests with his cats. He can be reached at https://samueltfranklin.wordpress.com.
At the Site of Fort Sackville
We came howling down the highway,
brash war songs like honey on our tongues.
Histories of genocide and tropical suns
scorching slave-skin—the crowns
we’ve worn since birth. In Indiana’s southern hills,
we could imagine wind guttering
through dark grasses, wild bison
and the skinners who scraped their pelts
and stole tongues red as the fire of Mars
come nightfall. In Vincennes, we paled
before George Rogers Clark’s bronze eyes,
the Wabash-wader, hero of the frozen war
who claimed untamed prairies and rivers,
whose legacy shone brightest where meth now creeps
on shoeless feet down dark Hoosier alleys,
his name a ghost on cracked lips. Would
he have done it all again, traded blood
for a life’s glory, if he could see today
what he helped shape? See all the sweat
and fighting and death in dusty
paragraphs in a bored student’s book?
The sun mushroomed to the horizon
when we left, dipped us in gold
that dulled, too soon, to lead,
and twilight fell upon the Wabash
like the shattered walls of a captured fort
whose boundaries no one will ever remember.
They hold blue fire in boxes
and speak with their fingers.
They hunker around their bonfires,
and flames fork their shadows against sod,
where they writhe like pinned snakes.
They dream of ascending
into skyscrapers of marble and steel
and wearing cloth nooses
around their necks, carrying sharp pens
in leather briefcases. They fantasize
of hammering diamonds into the sky
and rubies into the moon. They awake
to heavy loans and dirt roads.
Someone gives them a gravestone
and a shovel,
and tells them to start digging.
There are deer who nibble the young hostas
unfurling in our front yard. They lope
on silent hooves before sunbreak
while mist breathes from cool earth.
They are shadows moving among shadows,
gone soon as they are seen.
Coffee black as the dirt beneath my shovel.
We bury the last of the student loans
beneath yuccas and lilies, cover it up
with soil and brown roots and sing a blues song
over its grave. We sink our teeth into thick lamb steaks
like we’ve never used our teeth.
Something stirs at night
in wind bending treetops, in the gloom
beyond the gold sodium glare. It echoes
in the cough of rusty mufflers, mumbles dark lullabies
up the sidewalk just out of sight. A sound of feet,
shifting, dragging, drifting.
There is an afterlife in the long morning shadows
with indigo lupine by the front window and fat
honey-makers buzzing lazily. An idyll
we think we deserve. My lungs eat the air. I feel
the wind in my blood and know I am not dead
and have earned nothing.
Fortune is luck,
I tell the grass. A cloud swallows the sun.
The deer dodge trucks in softening starlight.
Quiet hooves sink into mud dark as the hole
in the heart of a dream. From the shade
of the magnolia’s pink blossoms, I see
a man with a ragged backpack drifting down the road,
the ceaseless clap of feet
like a bereft wanderer knocking at the door.
Coal-dark little ants
line the kitchen sink
shaken from a paper
or the language of laws
lifted from their bills
and sent to die
in hinterlands and backwaters,
tiny dark reminders
that fairness is a theory,
power necessitates weakness,
and we are all strangers
in strange houses.
There is a man from Congress
on the television. He says
he didn’t read the bill he passed,
he knows not what he does,
the Party is strong,
the Party is eternal,
the Party is king,
forgive him these small faults,
forgive him the theft
of these small crumbs
from your mouth,
of your lifeblood lapped,
of your lifespan burdened,
he’s only trying to survive.
Ants smash under my hand,
their sky full of my flesh,
a hammer descending,
and he speaks from the television,
I know not what I do.