Graveyard Shift – Patricia Percival

Patricia Percival

I didn’t clutch his arm as we walked
into the churchyard, though I’d let him
coax me from my books and place
a slip of paper on my tongue.

Perhaps he hoped the charm of lichened names,
the vertigo of tilted slabs would steer
my blown mind his way, but no.
What shot me through with wonder was a gnat.

It was alive. I urged the boy
to ponder the Űr-life in the bug, its gist
the same as his and mine, the same shared
by all who breathe and move and breed.

Our professors sat at home, drinking bourbon,
grading papers, sealing hundreds of fates,
but living only to the same degree as students
cramming for their tests. Not more alive

or less. The boy seemed unimpressed.
Drunk on grass-scented air, I heard
the lithe branches sweat yellow flowers
and the buds of dogwood fatten—alive.

The crumbling fieldstone walls,
our knapsacks, the plastic flowers—
these could decay, but would never grow,
though each claimed more gravity than the gnat.

The insect bobbed, a compass gone haywire,
close to invisible, yet able to make new gnats.
If I pinched it, the same wisp of cells
would smudge my palm and be nothing—
the immeasurable difference, everything.

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