by Bill Ransom

for Tom Jay

I heard a fly buzz when I died.
~Emily Dickinson

From our high ladders in spring we
ripped boards off the old farmhouse wall
and dreamed our plans for your new barn.
Crowbars snapped a century of dust
into hair, nose, lung. We tasted
death, birth, celebration, sorrow.

Our third course of prying liberated the flies.
Like sizzling, crawling dust they
infested our noses and our mouths, clung
by thousands to our hair and faces, they
scrabbled down shirt collars, up our
sleeves and pants legs, where we

slapped and scooped and cringed against the
scratchings of a swarm of legs, the
crisp tickle of those frantic wings.
One-handed on ladder-tops, we fought
this curse, tucked our shirts over our mouths,
breathed deep and kept on working.

We wanted that wood. No one would salvage
for us. Rich in friendship, wallets empty,
we shuddered on into the filthy days ahead.

Ten years later I train guerrillas in rescue,
and green meat stinks the roadside grass:
somebody’s son, brother, husband.

His penis rots in a slack, speechless mouth.
Two men vomit; one swats at flies,
coughs, contemplates the smoky horizon.
How they love us, these maggots, these

sons and daughters of that ludicrous
marriage of flies! His split, swollen belly
buzzes and simmers with egg-laying frenzy.
He shimmers sunlight off a blanket of wings.
His family wants him. We lift, and his legs
slip out of his pants, these two purple clubs
a last joke from the death squad.

Empty pants legs flap the blistering breeze
and still ripple through my restless dreams.
I despise some men, a few pernicious women,
and always those persistent, ubiquitous flies.


Bill Ransom was born during WWII in Puyallup, Washington in the same room his mother and his grandmother were born. He began farm work at age eleven, moved to the canneries and cooking in high school, became a jet-engine expeditor on a Quick Engine Change team in 1965. He won track and boxing scholarships to Washington State University, attended the University of Puget Sound on a track scholarship and received his BA in Sociology and English Education from the University of Washington. He studied American Minority Literature and Old and Middle English on an NDEA Title IV fellowship at the University of Nevada, Reno, then the National Endowment for the Arts selected him for the Poetry in the Schools program in Washington state. His MA is in Theory and Practice of Writing and in Folklore from Utah State University.

Bill founded and directed the popular Port Townsend Writers’ Conference and appeared in two feature films: An Officer and a Gentleman and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (CBS). He was a firefighter, firefighting basic training instructor, and CPR instructor for six years and an Advanced Life Support Emergency Medical Technician for ten years in Jefferson County, Washington. He volunteered with humanitarian groups in Central America.

Ransom has published seven novels, six poetry collections, numerous short stories and articles. Bill’s poetry has been nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (Finding True North & Critter, Copper Canyon Press, 1973).