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Late on a Friday night
or early on a Saturday morning,
they drive to a cemetery
near the university,
the one with a good view of the dark river.

With considerable effort,
they uproot a tombstone,
load it in the trunk of the old car,
pull down the crumbling slope
and transplant it in the water,
the splash lifting
in a commemorative bouquet
that withers quickly back into dark water.

They tell each other that they will become
a living monument,
holding the deceased one's name
in memory forever.

Backing up the slope,
the car sticks in reverse
and they go on for miles, it seems,
before they can get it into first gear
and drive the rest of the way
facing forward instead of backwards.

Perhaps this is a preview.

The next morning,
in their dorm rooms,
each realizes alcohol has erased
the absent one's name
more fully even than the river could.

Many years later,
one of them wakes up at 2 A.M.
A small voice is whispering.
"George . . . George something . . ."
in his ear.

He listens closer:
it's the cat that wants in.
He opens the door
and the wind comes in, too,
a dark river driven by the night.

He thinks he hears it ask:
"1908 to something something something?"


Copyright © 2004 Duane Ackerson

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Duane Ackerson has received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and edited The Dragonfly for seven years. Collections of his poems and prose poems include Weathering, The Eggplant & Other Absurdities and, most recently, The Bird at the End of the Universe. His previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. To contact him, email

Duane Ackerson's poetry has appeared in Rolling Stone, Yankee, Prairie Schooner, The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Cloudbank, alba, Starline, Dreams & Nightmares, and several hundred other places. He has won two Rhysling awards and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Salem, Oregon. You can find more of his work in our archives.
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