Just Good Company
A Cyberjournal of Religion and Culture
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Looking at the Man

George Keithley

Looking at the man who hangs on the tree
stripped bare, black

hair swirled with sweat
as if he had been running away

from his youth to climb
the spine of this hill

at noon while the heavens howl
then shut with a hush

to seal the sun in the tomb
of a winter night,

nine birds like leaves
that loop the hilltop

witness such weather.

Looking at the man and at his mother

hunching herself the way women wait
in a downpour, watching

clouds cleave apart for the moment
no one doubts he's going to die

now that every song but pain is gone
from his eyes, his limbs

slack like a hawk nailed
by one brown wing to the barn door

finally falling limp, crying out
when the lust in his eyes grows dim

we are moved to believe
the blue skull
of the sky hears him.

George Keithley's award-winning epic poem The Donner Party was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and has been adapted as a play and an opera. Joyce Carol Oates has praised Keithley as possessing "Whitman's visionary imagination." He and his wife live in Chico, California.