The Neighbor Killed Snakes
Each spring they swarmed the Jehovah woman's garden,
ten or twenty a day, hundreds in the length of a week.
Somewhere from an underground nest, they bust forth
like weeds, bamboo shoots you can't keep down.
And in the afternoon sun, before her daughters
got home from school, she'd chop them
one by one with a shovel, or crush their heads
with the heel of her gardening boots, trouble
their tiny bones into red and blue stains
then leave them for her husband to clean up.
I'd find the strays he missed, broken backs
with their heads still on, tongues forking in and out
and try to save them, take them home, hide
their bloody stripes in the shrubs around our garden
until one day she caught me, told my dad, called me little devil
for stealing, called me sick for playing with death,
that I'd always been that boy in the neighborhood,
the one caught with blood on his hands.
Fishing with Ghosts
Lowlands around the creek
are all jack-in-the-pulpit and fern.
Dod arranges rocks into a circle,
raises a fire from ash we left behind.
The salamanders we caught as kids are gone.
So is the smell of honeysuckle,
but the honeysuckle still grows
like a fog rolling down the hill.
I say something about Jim.
His silver motorcycle and white helmet.
Our lines sparkle over the small dam
but no trout rise.
He says something about the good old days
before every memory had a dead person standing in the doorway.
I say good old days are paint on an old shed
where we keep the tools, ax and shovel,
that bike rusting against a rotting wall,
things we need sometime.
Some days in spring
the moon hangs around
long after its light
should have gone out.
Dogs bark from farther off
than I should be able to hear.
Senses that trigger regrets—
the meat factory my daughter
hates because she sees
trucks pulling down the road,
pink snouts and haunches
pushing through metal slats,
hundreds of them, the smell
of their rendering travels
from smokestacks two miles away.
It's then I remember
what Dod told me in 1985,
how he stumbled once
upon the off boy, the one
kids picked on since grade school
and because no one was around
he tripped him, then stood above him,
fists and threats and something unknotted
in both of them until the off boy,
16 or 17 at the time, cried
and peed himself there on the street.
Dod left him and asked me later
if I thought the boy had told.
I said no, he's probably used to it,
and we both forgot, smoked our joints
and dangled our legs off a bridge
over a river that ran
over rocks, that carried pebbles
and silt and the moon's reflection
to someplace neither of us
had ever been
or ever planned to go.
Elegy for the Lehigh Thermometer Works, 1945
The factory supernova'd
its exit like an A bomb,
lit the Catasauqua night sky
for hours as it fell beam by beam
into ash and asphalt,
heat enough to melt
glass, let mercury run free
like water to the iron works
next door where tank armor
baked till it glowed.
Nana, as a girl,
ran with the others
to the place she made
thermometers for the war,
leveling quicksilver into glass
to tell the quick from the dying.
All as one, a thousand thermometers
burst their keepers' bonds.
When the second floor crashed
into the first, firefighters
gave up and watched it burn,
using just enough water
to keep the row homes safe.
The whole town's fever
rose like a rebellion.
All the heat they could suffer
in one gold moment
when flames finally reached
the treetops, turned bare limbs
into torches, called every citizen
to witness that enough
was finally enough.
Grant Clauser is the author of Necessary Myths (winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), The Trouble with Rivers, and the forthcoming books The Magician's Handbook (PS Books) and Reckless Constellations (Cider Press Review Books). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review and others. He also writes about electronics, and fishes and teaches when he can. He blogs occasionally at www.unIambic.com. Twitter: @uniambic