Jackie

by Kathy Earsman
Mosaic Musings
Third Place, June 2007
Judged by Bryan Appleyard


That little fellow, Jack, can hardly wait
to walk with us to school; he’ll soon be five.
Each day he waits alone, “See ya!” he says
and waves, he lifts his brows and tilts his head
in Polynesian style. He’s just so sweet!

Jackie little Jackie-down-the-street.

The men are in the river side by side,
their bodies bright with sparkles as they wade
a long slow march, the ripples dance and shine,
and no-one speaks… I watch the shadows grow
until they reach like fingers that would hide

down inside the river by the pipe.

There’s an awful cry, the postman stoops
and snatches, boiling up the water where
a child comes swinging out in fountain gouts
that stream in rivers down his little arms
spread out like Jesus’ arms upon the cross.

Jackie, little Jackie-down-the-street.

Then suddenly the air is full of sound;
the women on the bridge let out a wail
that’s crying on and on and I can see
the shape of it go spreading like a stain,
I see it beating like a wounded gull
flying up the river past the pipe.

Now Jackie’s on the claypan by the bank,
his father sucks his mouth and spits a flood.
We stand and watch him press on Jackie’s chest
and darkness grows around, we breathe the cold,
but Jackie doesn’t breathe, he doesn’t move.

Jackie little Jackie-down-the-street.

Doc Tommo’s car spins arcing in a skid;
he runs and kneels, he fingers Jackie’s throat
and looks into his eyes. “It’s way too late,”
the Doctor says, “Give up, it’s over Sid,
give up I said ! He’s dead! He’s bloody dead!”

Jackie little Jackie-down-the-street.

His father picks him up in his big arms
and holds him close against him wordlessly.
We watch him trudging slowly up the hill
and Jackie’s mother follows heavily,
and everything is still now as I sit

down above the river on the pipe
where Jackie fell and hit his head. He sank.
But no-one said a thing. They ran away
because they got a fright. Oh how I wish
we never took him with us after school
to fish, and play the way he did today

half across the river on the pipe.


Normally I'm allergic to this kind of crisis/reportage poetry, but I know this is my failing. In this case, the narrative is well handled and the tension and horror build inexorably. The danger with this kind of subject matter is that it can turn into just a kind of scream. Much more effective is to contain the feeling within the structure of the poem, exactly what the poet achieves here. --Bryan Appleyard

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