Daniel Ruefman

Contemplating Pithole


Step in the shallow

briar-filled cellars

away from the mown grids,

and touch stained stone

where matchstick timbers

once stacked a city that followed

the curve of Oil Creek,

where barkers on the derricks

sounded against the shale;


petroleum and mud coalesced,

streets of tar devoured hoof and wagon

wheel whole;

near the bordellos, spent

draft animals bloated on the corners,

decay to rival the primal,

post-coital excursions

of the marginal, marred, and married;


boom brought botched buildings

and slapdash siding only

to be burned in the bust;

in this city of paltry pits,

placards rise in the dappled shade

of the new growth, to warn that in time,

the oil always runs dry.


The Head I Held


At ten,

I held a dead man’s head


and felt heavy, the scaffolding

of bone in my fingers

lifeless organic tissue

manipulated by muscles

sparking the illusion.


I lifted the earthen maxilla and sphenoid

from the slab and saw


his people, twisting their textiles,

bundling him with his effects

wrapping him in linen,

readying to cast him

into the peat bog.


I turned him in my hand,

probed his orbits


scraping the recesses

for my own borrowed days,

regarding for the gray matter

still holding to its words,


and as I gazed through him,

I was filled with a cold need

 to put him back.




Thirty years ago, the doctors said you were

absorbed within the fleshy folds of our placenta—


but now I know


you live in the lines

traced on my belly,

where the subtleties of your cells

are drawn through my own.


It is enough for me to cut you out

if only I didn’t feel you in my liver,

tweaking my bilirubin,

chanting— if I go down;


you whip me back to the madness,

back to Lycia;

back to Bellerophon tilting Pegasus;

back to the feeling of lead

congealing in my throat;


from within, your merged limbs writhe,

rolling my skin like the angry Atlantic,

the brown of your iris bleeds through the green

of my left eye, but on my right I also know your absence,

the void you failed to fill, that space I can call





Daniel Ruefman is an emerging poet whose work has most recently appeared in the Flagler Review, Tonopah Review, Temenos, Fertile Source, SLAB, Burningword, and DIALOGIST.  He currently teaches writing at the University of Wisconsin—Stout.

Posted on July 7, 2014 .