The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by 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.

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