I pulled the sheet over the hole again,
laid stones along the edge to stop
the wind from slapping it against the sky.
I didn’t want to see
how far down I’d have to leave him.
He’d showed me what I needed to know,
how to brine the meat in salt and garlic,
how to mix dill in the vinegar,
keep the cucumbers and carrots
crisp through months of snow
when I’d be alone
and no one would come up the mountain.
He taught me to talk to the mirror,
look in my own eyes, say I’m afraid,
the only way to pierce the cloud,
make it bleed your worry.
He’d always say there’s no one
who’ll get in the hole with you;
make your own mind.
For months I tried to shove the ache
back in the hole, wanted the days
to pile like shells into years,
cover it, settle the patched mound
‘til it was a flattened hill of my dead.
Every morning the steel on stone voice
cuts the air when I cook the oats,
raisins and molasses,
stare out the window at the snow,
roll his words in my mind.
Even now I whisper the rules:
throw salt over your shoulder to blind the devil,
be ready to say you’re sorry,
watch a man’s eyes when he talks
if I want to know
whether you can believe him.
Mark Burke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Sugar House Review, Nimrod International Journal and others. His work has recently been nominated for a Pushcart prize. See: markanthonyburkesongsandpoems.com