The Cross-Roads

by Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

A bullet through his heart at dawn. On
the table a letter signed
with a woman's name. A wind that goes howling round the
house,
and weeping as in shame. Cold November dawn peeping through
the windows,
cold dawn creeping over the floor, creeping up his cold legs,
creeping over his cold body, creeping across his cold face.
A glaze of thin yellow sunlight on the staring eyes. Wind
howling
through bent branches. A wind which never dies down. Howling,
wailing.
The gazing eyes glitter in the sunlight. The lids are
frozen open
and the eyes glitter.
The thudding of a pick on hard earth. A spade grinding
and crunching.
Overhead, branches writhing, winding, interlacing, unwinding, scattering;
tortured twinings, tossings, creakings. Wind flinging
branches apart,
drawing them together, whispering and whining among them. A
waning,
lobsided moon cutting through black clouds. A stream
of pebbles and earth
and the empty spade gleams clear in the moonlight, then is rammed
again
into the black earth. Tramping of feet. Men
and horses.
Squeaking of wheels.
"Whoa! Ready, Jim?"
"All ready."
Something falls, settles, is still. Suicides
have no coffin.
"Give us the stake, Jim. Now."
Pound! Pound!
"He'll never walk. Nailed to the ground."
An ash stick pierces his heart, if it buds the
roots will hold him.
He is a part of the earth now, clay to clay. Overhead
the branches sway,
and writhe, and twist in the wind. He'll never walk with
a bullet
in his heart, and an ash stick nailing him to the cold, black ground.
Six months he lay still. Six months. And the
water welled up in his body,
and soft blue spots chequered it. He lay still, for the
ash stick
held him in place. Six months! Then her face
came out of a mist of green.
Pink and white and frail like Dresden china, lilies-of-the-valley
at her breast, puce-coloured silk sheening about her. Under
the young
green leaves, the horse at a foot-pace, the high yellow wheels of
the chaise
scarcely turning, her face, rippling like grain a-blowing,
under her puce-coloured bonnet; and burning beside her, flaming
within
his correct blue coat and brass buttons, is someone. What
has dimmed the sun?
The horse steps on a rolling stone; a wind in the branches makes
a moan.
The little leaves tremble and shake, turn and quake, over and over,
tearing their stems. There is a shower of young leaves,
and a sudden-sprung gale wails in the trees.
The yellow-wheeled chaise is rocking -- rocking,
and all the branches
are knocking -- knocking. The sun in the sky is a flat,
red plate,
the branches creak and grate. She screams and cowers,
for the green foliage
is a lowering wave surging to smother her. But she sees
nothing.
The stake holds firm. The body writhes, the body squirms.
The blue spots widen, the flesh tears, but the stake wears well
in the deep, black ground. It holds the body in the still,
black ground.
Two years! The body has been in the ground two years. It
is worn away;
it is clay to clay. Where the heart moulders, a greenish
dust, the stake
is thrust. Late August it is, and night; a night flauntingly
jewelled
with stars, a night of shooting stars and loud insect noises.
Down the road to Tilbury, silence -- and the slow flapping of large
leaves.
Down the road to Sutton, silence -- and the darkness of heavy-foliaged
trees.
Down the road to Wayfleet, silence -- and the whirring scrape of
insects
in the branches. Down the road to Edgarstown, silence
-- and stars like
stepping-stones in a pathway overhead. It is very quiet
at the cross-roads,
and the sign-board points the way down the four roads, endlessly
points
the way where nobody wishes to go.
A horse is galloping, galloping up from Sutton. Shaking
the wide,
still leaves as he goes under them. Striking sparks with
his iron shoes;
silencing the katydids. Dr. Morgan riding to a child-birth
over Tilbury way;
riding to deliver a woman of her first-born son. One
o'clock from
Wayfleet bell tower, what a shower of shooting stars! And
a breeze
all of a sudden, jarring the big leaves and making them jerk up
and down.
Dr. Morgan's hat is blown from his head, the horse swerves, and
curves away
from the sign-post. An oath -- spurs -- a blurring of
grey mist.
A quick left twist, and the gelding is snorting and racing
down the Tilbury road with the wind dropping away behind him.
The stake has wrenched, the stake has started,
the body, flesh from flesh,
has parted. But the bones hold tight, socket and ball,
and clamping them down
in the hard, black ground is the stake, wedged through ribs and
spine.
The bones may twist, and heave, and twine, but the stake holds them
still
in line. The breeze goes down, and the round stars shine,
for the stake
holds the fleshless bones in line.
Twenty years now! Twenty long years! The body
has powdered itself away;
it is clay to clay. It is brown earth mingled with brown
earth. Only flaky
bones remain, lain together so long they fit, although not one bone
is knit
to another. The stake is there too, rotted through, but
upright still,
and still piercing down between ribs and spine in a straight line.
Yellow stillness is on the cross-roads, yellow
stillness is on the trees.
The leaves hang drooping, wan. The four roads point four
yellow ways,
saffron and gamboge ribbons to the gaze. A little swirl
of dust
blows up Tilbury road, the wind which fans it has not strength to
do more;
it ceases, and the dust settles down. A little whirl
of wind
comes up Tilbury road. It brings a sound of wheels and
feet.
The wind reels a moment and faints to nothing under the sign-post.
Wind again, wheels and feet louder. Wind again -- again
-- again.
A drop of rain, flat into the dust. Drop! -- Drop! Thick
heavy raindrops,
and a shrieking wind bending the great trees and wrenching off their
leaves.
Under the black sky, bowed and dripping with rain,
up Tilbury road,
comes the procession. A funeral procession, bound for
the graveyard
at Wayfleet. Feet and wheels -- feet and wheels. And
among them
one who is carried.
The bones in the deep, still earth shiver and pull. There
is a quiver
through the rotted stake. Then stake and bones fall together
in a little puffing of dust.
Like meshes of linked steel the rain shuts down
behind the procession,
now well along the Wayfleet road.
He wavers like smoke in the buffeting wind. His
fingers blow out like smoke,
his head ripples in the gale. Under the sign-post, in
the pouring rain,
he stands, and watches another quavering figure drifting down
the Wayfleet road. Then swiftly he streams after it. It
flickers
among the trees. He licks out and winds about them. Over,
under,
blown, contorted. Spindrift after spindrift; smoke following
smoke.
There is a wailing through the trees, a wailing of fear,
and after it laughter -- laughter -- laughter, skirling up to the
black sky.
Lightning jags over the funeral procession. A heavy clap
of thunder.
Then darkness and rain, and the sound of feet and wheels.

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