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.