Dan Masterson

The Wanderer


(Based on George Grosz’s The Wanderer, 1943)

For a while, Jig-Leg sat at his comrade’s side, then he rose, took off his cap, crossed himself, and slowly went on his way along the ravine.
--Maxim Gorki, “Chums”

He’ll return with a shovel, if there’s one to steal
In the village. There are houses there & gardens,
& the moon is cloudy tonight. If there are dogs,
He’ll backtrack & spread leaf litter over his friend,
Crusting it with dead-fall & flat-rock, tucking him
In with the full branches of balsam that hang over

This sudden burial site, its sweet aroma become
The spice & balm of interment. The mound will be
Safe through winter. By spring, the bones will be
Clean, ready to be gathered & blessed & arranged
Deep in borrowed ground, a gravestone, hacked
From the gully wall, ripe with their names scratched

White by the axe blade they kept hung in burlap
On the jag of a low-slung maple halfway between
The stream & their shanty that leans gray against
A boulder kept from storm by a frenzy of fence wire
& clay scraped from the brook. But now it is the
Missing that pushes him toward a shovel that may

Be free against a stump, in a yard whose dogs are
Locked up inside in fear of wolves. He takes to
Talking aloud as though the other is trailing behind
Whistling that same sad melody, a refrain mimicking
The rook & lark, & even a waxwing when his ruined
Lungs allowed. He tries to hum the ditty, but his lips’

Tremble muddies the air & brings more of a chill to
The leg that jerks sideways with every step, his kaftan
Warming less & less, its threadbare bulk more gauze
Than military wool, a chill rising from the ground he
Intends to consecrate as best he knows how before
Starting to dig out his own shallow trench by its side.

Dan Masterson
Dan Masterson has published four collections of poetry: On Earth As It Is (The University of Illinois Press, 1978) Those Who Trespass (The University of Arkansas Press, 1985), World Without End (The University of Arkansas Press, 1991), and All Things, Seen and Unseen (The University of Arkansas Press, 1997). His poem, “On His Own,” is from the manuscript of his forthcoming book, That Which is Seen, which consists entirely of poems based on works of visual art. His poems have appeared in many literary journals, including The New Yorker, Poetry, The Ontario Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The Prairie Schooner, The Denver Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, The Yale Review, The Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Southern Review. A Pushcart Prize winner himself, Dan has for many years served as a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology. He has directed the poetry writing workshops at SUNY/Rockland for 40 years, and continues his 19-year affiliation with Manhattanville College through an online graduate course offered through his website for writers ( In addition to many honors for his writing, Dan has received The State University of New York's "Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching."



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Carol Ashworth

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Patricia Gray

Laurie Hurvitz

Tod Ibrahim

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Dan Masterson

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Gary Stein

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Colette Thomas

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Rhonda Williford

Terence Winch

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Anne Harding Woodworth

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