Gabriel Welsch

Night Thoughts in Central Pennsylvania

Honeysuckle our jasmine in June—
weighs the gloaming air with scent,
and runs through curtains’ eyelet lace
above Ken’s century-old boot shop
that opened back when everyone,
everyone went to church, even—
as some old women say—even
the Jews went to church,
because that was what you did.
Narrow thoughts of the Jesus cult
fill today’s opinion page, alongside
the gripes about the school board’s
conspiracy of property taxes.
We roll down pickup windows,
smell honeysuckle’s perfume
as it washes the air and we know
that pestilence of sweet, that binding
beauty and its erosion of height.
We know that full scent.
Bellefonte is fading—
dragging back its past in gaslights
and holiday reenactments,
Victorian house tours and monuments
to this community of fear
perched in the woods.
What they don’t rail about in the paper,
what we hardly mention to one another,
is the two Russians, dead on Centre
Hall mountain. They drove too fast.
The police reported a fire
had started from a discarded French
cigarette tossed on the floor.
In the paper, the firefighters
stand tall near the totaled Peugeot.
The reporter made sure
to mention the cigarette,
French, how they were Russian, lived
in assisted housing, as though
we cheer their deaths as some
divine retribution for their cigarettes,
their cavalier driving, the Cyrillic
characters endorsing the welfare check,
the ways we imagine they rejected Christ.
In their picture in the newspaper,
from their passports, they look
older than we will ever be.
In the police log, more.
A man shoots a woman
after tormenting her for years.
He left a severed deer head in her fridge.
He broke in once and smashed
all her light bulbs. He poured gas
and lit it, to burn symbols in her lawn.
His coworkers at the Corning plant
said he seemed a good guy.
He stole her light, he burned
himself into her lawn,
he broke her with torment,
he smashed her head.
We hate how we hope she smelled
this air thickened with musk,
that some sweetness held to her.
Some would hope the same for him.
We are too small to do the same.
Our only hope is what we know
of this scent, its source, this plague
of vine, this beautiful strangler.

Gabriel Welsch
Poem, copyright © 2005 by Gabriel Welsch
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse