Winter 2006-7

Peter Mahnken


Walking way back where the freight-rails run,
where the Rhode Island phantom
was said to move throughout.
A full form specter
not of the Jackson-White or Melungeon,
weaving past wilted tree bark,
down crags, over creek beds.
It only comes when clouds
take the suns place,
illuminating darker land,
solving the shade of a tree.
And a Lonsdale boy
and his Labrador went missing,
leash and all in a lashing sun-shower.
Near the Blackstone River
in taverns where men sun
themselves red after dark,
its name is Spring-Heeled Jack
and the bushel fiend.
A transient chased to a quarry bottom
by hounds and birdshots,
100 years back.
Bring the lights up just enough
and it'll never cross the rock-fence gate
or prowl the porch for dried goods
and non-perishables.
Local dogs bay
when it crosses property lines,
preying on the autumn-born,
and of similar demeanor.
When a touched boy took stitches
in his forehead,
when a mute girl scraped her knee cap,
they spoke of an apparition.
Blamed for the bum crop,
club foot and curly hair.
It never took a smart photograph
or left a traipse, most every glimpse
in April and September,
when leaves were in transit
to and from knotted branch limbs.

The back-country shadow phantom,
spooking grown men in easy-chairs,
feeding on jarred fruit preserves
and cured venison.
They issued a livestock curfew,
enforced at sundown,
or your herd'd be a head less
come morning, the laundry
fleeced for bedding
from the wash line,
left overnight.

Peter Mahnken is a native of Port Jefferson Station, Long Island. He won first prize in the 2004 Alden Whitman poetry competition of the John Steinbeck Awards on the East End of Long Island. He was a author assistant in the 2004 and 2005 Southampton Summer Conferences, working with Billy Collins, Susan Kinsolving and Gerard Donovan



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