Poem of the Week | Wabash Banner Blue by Bill Ratner

Wabash Banner Blue 

by Bill Ratner


Listen to Bill Ratner reading Wabash Banner Blue


A night of trees and winds 

mangled sparrows 

a dreamless sleep 


a shutter opens 

nursing in brumal air 

moans of the slowing Wabash train

a stretch of Pullman cars 


the house cracks 

all is weightless

distant breathing 


out my window

coiled on the lawn

a behemoth with a witch’s purse

a sack of stunned blood in a thicket.


I must not stir I must not look 

I must not wander on this night. 

Damn the ones who taught me 

If I should die before I wake. 


To alarm the daemon I clap like a blowout, sing arias, 

scuttle down the stairs to the steak knife drawer. 

Careful not to rouse the creature’s eye I flee the house. 


At the edge of the wood a skeleton rises shrieking Emergo!

Skeletons don’t scare me 

I sniff for meat,

bullets don’t scare me 

I survived one for my mother’s breast

one for my brother’s kidneys

one for my father’s heart.


And they will aid me now. 

I scale the cemetery wall, 

at my father’s grave 

I kick aside a clump of grass. 


In the ground on a Bible-sized stone 

my stepmother’s name 

her oblivion, her coffee cup reeking of whiskey 

all the good cooking and car rides. 

I didn’t save her jewellery 

I sold it for blow. 


My father died on his stairlift 

a copy of The Raven in his lap. 

I pulled him down, laid him out 

and breathed into his blue mouth, 

nothing but the sound of soup inside him. 


I want to hear his voice 

his South Chicago twang 

the word car as hard as ore 

I want to sleep in his bed 

he might call at a late hour. 


My mother’s grave surrounded 

by old stones of family I never knew, 

I see her, the vividness of her 

bubbles of mercury 

the green flash.


A cavernous scream slashes the air 

behemoth on the graveyard floor 

pulses its stunted wings.


If fate rips me like a leaf 

I have made arrangements with my family. 

In that final blaring moment 

throttled by monster death

my mind will make myth 


and I will see them all again.

They will gather in a sleeping car 

aboard the Wabash Banner Blue

gingerly pull closed my compartment door

my fear of monsters and the dark no more.


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Cover Photo by Roger Puta via Wikipedia Commons