Late Night Thoughts/
The Slaughter of the Innocents

The wipers shuttle ceaselessly across
The tunneling dark. Reflectors find the light
And slide behind in metered time. Wet tires
Pulse the discontent of aging road.
I know familiar landmarks mark this route
But they've dissolved into the night, or is
It just my mind that's disengaged from too
Much beer? Oh, damn the morning hour, where is
The traffic? Just some blinding headlight as
A sign of comfort. Only white lines dare
Invade. God, what a party--party, yes
It was. The beer and conversation both
Encouraging the other 'til each laugh
Deserves another and each stranger met's
A new best friend. There's no exception and
There is no end to teethy grins. And ties
Are loosed and earrings shed and unpaired shoes
Collect along the fringes while other pairs
Are made. And penetrating glances rouse
Those feelings neither asked for nor denied.
The words quite incidental flow until
A bit of straying memory, connected to
The topic just before by neural paths
That no one living could explain, escapes.
It seems a native tribe, the Becois de Pau,
Who lived remote within the forests of
The Amazon (the River Arinos
To be exact) were rescued from themselves.
And teeth were sparkling, anticipating yet
Another opportunity to laugh.
The shootings and the poisoning came first
(Or was it blankets filled with charity
And smallpox?). And with the evening's welcome lack
Of inhibitions all these latent thoughts
Emerge unedited, which awesome fell.
The journalist who came to photograph
The operation generously shared
His measles, leaving three of every four
To die. And chuckles choked, while music filled
The silent gaps. The second rescue phase
(This anecdote was no one-liner) proved
Its more effective plans: the Indians
Were loaded and evacuated next
In open trucks to Xingu, naked through
The frost-filled night. The storyteller now
Could not control the awful humor of
His tale and gasping, laughing, plunged ahead.
The third and final phase was even more
Deliberate still (these people would be saved
Despite themselves for the progress of their land):
This journey was too brief for chance's whim,
Alas, with one small flaw: the cargo plane's
Compartment was not pressurized. The plane
Arrived at Posto Leonardo, where
The cargo was unloaded, those breathing laid
In rows at runway's edge apart from those
No longer able, though at times it was
Not easy to discern the difference.
And though the ants crawled over them and on
Their faces, in their eyes, they did not move.
And not a pretzel crunched but still the scratch
Of music echoed, and though the reach was near
No arm extended to shut it off. At last,
The punchline--every joke must have one:
Through clearly well-intentioned efforts, an
Entire tribe was "pacified," not quite
Extinct. And eyes that had for hours wept
With reckless laughing could not yield one tear.
The empty bottles everywhere announced
Themselves, and with obligatory thanks,
The shoes rematched and, hats in hand, the front
Door closed, romantic prospects left behind.
The flashing yellow overhead awakes
The moment in the car, but it is hard
To concentrate, on road or rain or black
From black. A saturated stillness fills
The night with moonless grace and desperate sighs
Of humanity in breach. A sober thought
Is called for, but it's far too difficult,
And driving, too. The flowing line in white
Helps guide the wheel. The distance vaguely comes.
On shoulder's edge, a lumpy form appears,
At first mistaken for a scrap of tire,
Until it moves. So fast approaching, a pair
Of incandescent marbles gleaming in
The dark, so intimate and vulnerable.
I swerve and feel a penetrating thump
And sideways jolt as tires, first the front
And then the rear, confront and roll across
A noisy gut-spilled spine.

© Douglas Allchin