Rita Dove


At the outset, hysteria.
Destruction, the conjurers intoned.
Some dragged themselves off at night
to die in the swamp, to lie down
with the voices of mud and silk.

                        I know moonrise, I know starrise

Against orders
the well and almost-well were assembled
and marched into the wood. When
a dry open place was found, halted.
The very weak got a piece of board
and fires were built, though the evening was warm.
Said the doctor, You’ll live.

                        I walk in de moonlight, I walk in de

Who could say but that it wasn’t anger
had to come out somehow? Pocketed filth.
The pouring-away of pints of pale fluid.

                        I’ll walk in de graveyard, I’ll walk
                             through de graveyard

Movement, dark and silken.
The dry-skinned conjurers circling the fire.
Here is pain, they whispered, and it is all ours.
Who would want to resist them?
By camplight their faces had taken on
the frail finality of ash.

                        I’ll lie in de grave and stretch out my

that was too much for the doctor.
Strip ‘em! he ordered. And they
were slicked down with bacon fat and
superstition strapped from them
to the beat of the tam-tam. Those strong enough
rose up too, and wailed as they leapt.
It was a dance of unusual ferocity.