He gets off the train in some swell town
and wanders through the market with a tune at his chin.
Children play marbles, church ladies knit through
scarves, and strawberries fall, jewel-like,
from his pocket, mapping his path in dotted lines.
When he stops at the well for a drink,
an orange cat eyes him, licks dust from Virgil’s ankles,
rolls at his feet like an itching dervish.
When Virgil sneaks into a movie, his jeans
on the red velvet seat make a cartoon of America.
On the screen is some porcelain lady with a cameo
and blooming petticoats. She sits alone at a table
with a croissant and little plates of jam and butter pats
shaped like songbirds. When her hands reach for the pastry,
she cuts it and slips a bird inside. Virgil imagines himself
in her house in a room filled with ferns, ceramic spaniels
on the mantel place, cinnamon tea on the stove.
Maybe he’d fall asleep in white cotton after a warm bath.
But the lights come up as the credits roll, and before he leaves
he sees his hands again—real and pungent as onions.
And outside the orange cat has grown to dozens of cats
haloed in the evening sun, waiting for their fiddler
to lead them by the glint of his bow and a tune
on the way out of town. Tails trailing in the dust,
paws and feet careful not to wake the earth from its dream.
1. earth or other matter in fine, dry particles
Some days it seems everything is breaking, like you can watch time
eating its way through crops and houses. It gets in your eyes, too,
the bits of everything. Almost to remind you there’s nothing left to see.
Nothing except what could have been.
2. a cloud of finely powdered earth or other matter in the air
It’s always on its way somewhere. Like we’re a stopover
on some grand plan, only that sky animal dusts and grows
into its own weather and never stops eating or filling
even the smallest secrets it passes through.
3. the ground; the earth’s surface
School books say that elephants lived here before the world knew us,
that the land that tries so hard to be wheat or sorghum
used to rumble under mammoth legs. When the soil lifts,
we might as well be in that other alien world.
4. the substance to which something, as the dead human body, is ultimately reduced by disintegration or decay; earthly remains
We learned dust to dust when we were kids before we left our old homes
for this one. How strange to see it everywhere gathered and drifting
like warnings. Little piles of death in shoes, the kitchen cabinets,
sparkling in our hair, a constant watching.
5. a low or humble condition
6. anything worthless
Like us sometimes. That’s how it feels.
Like we’re coins in a fountain,
wishes tossed from our pockets.
7. disturbance; turmoil
In the mind, in the earth,
in silences kept between families.
8. the mortal body of a human being
What swirls around us feels filled with devils
or our own deaths waiting to collect their due.
We go to church to tend the parts of us
they can’t have.
But dust fills our mouths till we spit it out again.
It catches when we talk. We bite the dust,
dust ourselves off, leave each other in the dust,
lick the dust, make the dust fly, shake the dust
from our feet. It’s always here
to remind us where we’re headed.
Back to howling again. Back to dust.
Back to haunting the land
we tried so hard to belong to.
Virgil Imagines Space
This world he lives on, rolling through what made it,
brims with animals. Noses and feet everywhere.
And eyes and hooves. Wings, tongues, paws,
and their endless foraging through the earth
they die into, while trees leap, ecstatic,
from that same ground.
The space between his mind and what happens outside of it
grows larger each time he thinks of apples
and how they know just what it means
to grow into themselves without having
to say anything about the legacy in their seeds,
to dissect their bright planets and look for the stars inside them.
He thinks of the great beyond, the dark universe
that grows like an afterlife into the crannies
of his own imagination, and his mind glints with minerals,
an endless sparkling like river rock in summer, or nickels,
or the smooth-backed beetles he spends nights with sometimes
under bridges all over the country, their feet like little scribes
on the common book of his body.
Rebecca Macijeski holds a PhD from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has attended artist residencies at The Ragdale Foundation, Art Farm Nebraska, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. She has also served as poetry editor for Prairie Schooner and Hunger Mountain. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Journal, Nimrod, Sycamore Review, Poet Lore, and many others. She is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern State University. Visit her online at www.rebeccamacijeski.com.