Before and After

After murder, the sleep of murder,
its slipways closed, its map unclimbable.
But, before that, as a car-door flicks

into last year’s Festival, it’s early yet.
After a lock clicks, the car relaxes,
reflections flicker from shop to shop

and most of what he is hangs from his hand.
After a balloon, the weight of a child
unbalances him and something draws

against a hard corner – but before this –
ice-cream, bells, a landscape of heifers,
mothers leaning across sunlit windshields

and, from side to side, nowhere to park,
except where bicycles curve their shadows
on separate outlines in the grass.

Before pickups crash across back fields,
there are small cries in the finishing trees.
Before the short flash of a coffinplate,

the scarecrow falls from an empty hat,
the sun twists through the country stiles,
the earthworms dive and rise and dive,

because what could be done had to be done.
After the town stands for the hearing,
before any sentence is read,

the newspaper shows two photographs:
This is his face as a young man.
And this is the man’s face after.

The Last Hitchhiker

The last hitchhiker before town,
a pony-tailed Jesus with a sign
wavers wickedly in the door-panel.
Dublin, Texas? Is that what you mean?
As he leans through the cocked side-window,
an inch-to-the-mile map spreads from his side

and a long, dirty fingernail pierces a bay.
Yes, I like the cut of you, hitchhiker, hijacker,
you may case your backpack into my hatchback,
let your sleeping-bag roll on the back-seat
as the exhaust-pipe opens its flyblown parachute.

One by one, the road-signs flicker by
and we sleepwalk under the skin of a car,
passing the lay-by, the drive-in eatery,
the scrapyard where lifting-cranes
scrunch up spent engines
and a bald-headed man pursues with vigour
the hare-lipped, shirt tailed assassin.

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