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SWEENEY, Matthew

In the dust

And then in the dust he drew a face,

the face of a woman, and he asked

the man drinking whiskey beside him

if he'd ever seen her, or knew who she was,

all the time staring down at her, as if

this would make her whole. And then,

at the shake of the head, he let his boot

dissolve her into a settling cloud.

He threw another plank on the fire,

drained his glass and filled it again,

watching his dog rise to its feet

and start to growl at the dirt-road

that stretched, empty, to a hilly horizon.

A shiver coincided with the dog's first bark,

that doubled, trebled, became gunfire

that stopped nothing coming, so he stood

to confront it, but not even a wind

brushed his face, no shape formed,

and after the dog went quiet, a hand

helped him sit down and rejoin his glass.


Somewhere in these woods a crashed plane
is buried in undergrowth, the wings
broken off, black crosses still visible
to anyone who’d hack down to see them,
and if this person were then to excavate
the crushed cockpit, liberate the broken
skeleton, prop it up against a pine tree,
a low humming would be heard above
the flies and bees, a humming that took on
German, that danced about on the wind
while the tail, with its black crosses,
was dug out of roots, grass, fallen branches
as gunfire once again filled these hills
after sixty years, and shells and tracer
flew overhead, but no tree would be hit,
nor would fires whoosh through leaves
to the delight of the fool in the hill castle
out with his grappa on the rooftop,
Marlene blaring through the speakers
singing to the crashed pilot in the woods.


Take off your shoes, he said,

and hurl them into the sea.

Take off that satin shirt

and hand it to me,

and it had better fit, he said,

or you’re fucking dead.

Take off those grey cords

and hope you’re my size.

Take off the underpants

and pull them over your eyes,

and blind, take off each sock

while waggling your cock,

ignoring the laughs I gift you

in this ghastly hour –

for you, that is, he said

before laughing some more

and slapping me on the rump

commanding me to jump,

Higher! Higher! he shouted

and I heard a gun click

as sweat bubbled out of me

and I began to get sick.

Stop that or I fucking shoot!

You disgusting brute!

He kicked me in the balls

till I doubled up.

Stand up straight! he roared.

You contemptuous pup!

And he hit me on the head

with the gun till I bled.

More mess! he bellowed.

You’re worse than a pig.

Then he handed me a spade

and ordered me to dig.