He surprises us, at first, but we follow him
Into last summer’s withered overgrowth.
It is All Saints Day, and the overcast
Sky drops a dented but gentle glow.
The vandals long ago gave up this place.
Decrepit row-homes lean over fallen fences.
Cheap siding slips from their sides
Like scales from hides of prehistoric fish.
Some children wake each day to this scene,
These avenues and blocks of the forgotten dead.
He talks without looking back, then pauses.
Branches of a black ash push a whole family up.
Stray dogs bark and wail nearby, closer.
Sirens scream then stop. A train sounds its horn.
He carries a hatchet and heavy gloves.
He fought the Battle of the Wilderness,
Twice, and sailed a war sloop from Baltimore.
He talks to Fox News, and he keeps a blog.
He hangs around the Masonic Temple
And plays bagpipe music in his Volvo.
He spends his weekends and holidays
Restoring small dignities to these
Plots of Grand Masters, frigate captains, grunts,
Sailors, cooks, great ladies and their servants,
Printers, furriers, bankers, cobblers, cops,
Their descendants long since moved far off.
Weather has brushed the names nearly away.
He observes a smudged star from a fire
On mausoleum stairs, charred beer cans black
Like shell casings in a sunken warship.
A La-Z-Boy caves into a grave.
Seedpods crackle beneath. Thorns catch our sleeves.
He says the nation has grown decadent,
Devoted to luxuries of this world.
“We must prepare for luxuries of the next,”
He curses, scratching vines from a tomb’s bronze gate.
His hair has softened toward silver,
Like ash on our soles, powdered stone, petrified bark—
Like frost at dusk, or seams of cool white
In the fatty marble of a tombstone, overturned
And cradled by spiny weeds, incised
Long ago UNKNOWN in November’s minor light.
Outside NOBU, a lone paparazzo.
No stars yet out tonight.
He wraps the camera strap
Like an archer’s vambrace
To hold his Nikon in place.
Once a drummer rammed him:
They rolled on the pavement,
But no one got the shot.
Another time, a supermodel
Snapped a heel, toppled,
Spilled her handbag on the street.
She fell on all fours, struggling
In her strapless dress to gather
Cylinders and silver cases.
Men formed a semicircle.
Flashes blazed, white like gunfire
Across her back. Her boyfriend laughed.
Tonight the photographer squats
Beside a man who begs for coins.
He watches the door, holds still, and waits.
ERNEST HILBERT is the author of the poetry collections Sixty Sonnets (2009) and All of You on the Good Earth (2013), as well as the spoken word album Elegies & Laments. He works as an antiquarian and first edition bookseller for Bauman Rare Books and teaches a summer intensive course on the art of the opera libretto at Western State University of Colorado Master of Fine Arts in Poetry program.