The Waylayer





Heard it first from the foreman

the frost outside

the windows the factory

the smoke stacks rising up and out of

earshot of the shore

the joggers joking briefly

here and there

then on a bench

above the dam

by the water they’d find the body in

states of undress and disarray

so confounding

were the angles

of the light like remembering

the burnt taste the coffee had

that cold morning by the lake

the lovers lost something notable

in the distance

no one sure exactly what

it meant to them

it meant so much

frantic searching for

a lead the cops combed through

the welcome ledger

the warehouse workers kept

a detailed list of drivers

and delivery trucks

in a desk drawer

the plant manager hid a pistol

and a pipe for incidents like that

the hired hand carried out

the evidence

in unassuming stacks

of folders the forensic team

paid no attention to

as they were rushing in

a crowd slowed

discreetly in the street

to form a kind

of meaning meant to counteract

the man on the corner calling

for the end occasionally

a lonely lover drives toward

the cliffs abruptly cold

and suddenly with few

convertibles with tops drawn back

along the coast

the beach houses

boarded up and weeds and reeds asleep

along the roundabout

the lights appearing

in the homes of people

headed off to assemble parts

of the story are withheld

of course the foghorn

in the distance

like an inexact anxiety or ache

around a joint the job

wore down the decades

into dust their duties

changing over time

they’ll tell you

they’re older than

they never planned

to be a landmark

or a namesake

for the bridge

they grow quiet about

remembering the man

who stood on its handrail

with all the unknown

details the townsfolk

hammered after

work they walk it still

and talk about it now

the cold the boats the sound

his body made when it hit

the harbor ice below





Brandon Rushton is the author of The Air in the Air Behind It, winner of the 2020 Berkshire Prize, forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2022. More at brandonrushton.com.