Summer Scream

by Ernest Hilbert

Brigantine, 1978


Dracula, done with his shift,
Sips a Schlitz under the boardwalk.
Unicorn Man and Satan
Draw straws for the last beer.
The Bride of Frankenstein deals
Quaaludes. An organ drones low.

In Orange Crush t-shirts and flip-flops,
Teens slowly toe along dark corridors.
They raise Zippo flames like tallow torches.
Muffled screams drop from the tower.
Rooms are redolent of armpit and Peach Schnapps.

The Mummy smokes in the break room
Under a torn Cheap Trick poster.
Wolf Man feels sweat streak down his back.
Headless Woman nonchalantly dusts
His hand from her bare knee.

Zombies moan for brains but try
For strokes of tanned teen breasts.
Portraits in the Hall of Ancestors
Jump to life. Ghosts sulk in the walls,
And the witches burn every night.


When the castle closed down for the last time,
It stood open to seaside winds
And rocked on its pier in the night.
Kids made off with pillaged memorabilia—
Suits of armor, candelabras.

One summer, a cigarette rolled from its tray,
Touched a papery gravestone.
Before an hour was out, the castle
Snarled with flame and smoke.

The mad scientist’s lab sagged into sand.
The blackened walls stood on their stilts
Another year, until a winter hurricane
Tore down the remains. At low tide, in moonlight,
The tips of charred pylons show like fangs.

From the Balcony on Heavy Metal Tribute Night at the Trocadero

by Ernest Hilbert

Darkness throbs below. Four teenaged women
Execute thrash metal tributes, routines of
Accomplished ferocity, furious blonde plumes
Of hair lobbed side to side on the bright stage,
Splay-leggèd in tight jeans, knot-muscled arms
Attacking black guitars until they shriek.
I dream of vanished empires of the sea,
Lamps turned down along distant avenues, 
And know I’m always partly somewhere else,
Watching Degas’ ballet dancers: aslant
Like snow-loaded firs at their haunted rehearsal,
The rostrum a grotto flanked by valleys
Where nymphs and hunters trek in cold shadow.

Feet in position, the singer calls the next song,
Ready to pivot at heel as she charges
Into “Ride the Lightning,” and three awkward,
Aging men, thick-torso’d and gray-goateed,
Lighters aloft, nod their blunt heads at the foot
Of the stage’s apron for their fighters and fauns,
Valkyries summoning them, like memories
Of themselves, into nebulous vistas of smoke.


by Ernest Hilbert


Coffee did little to wake us since we arrived
On the volcano. We only wanted to sleep.
A clear summer morning smeared and bruised

As we tore the tiny car along narrow
Mountain passes over a frothing, fanged coast.
At tight shadowed curves, headlamps lit warnings

Painted on the streaked mineral walls,
Some word the locals use that we didn’t know.
We spun down a tightly wound switchback

To a small white village tucked among boulders.



The villagers scarcely noticed us.
One slowly swept dust from the porch of a red house
That seemed like it might slough into the water.

Another watched from a high window,
But it may have been a retreating flash
Of sun. Our sandals crunched down on shards,

Smashed aquatic armor of blue crabs.
We located a thin steep trail hacked out
Of stone over the water. We took it.

It worried its slender way along the caldera.



At trail’s end, we came upon a jagged spit
Over the submerged rim where heavy green
Water went black and the bottom dropped

Quickly down into the bottomless throat.
Another couple, just dried, dressed themselves there.
We waved, and they greeted us in return.

The man gestured vaguely to the island
And said something we didn’t understand.
They lingered for a while, as we undressed,

Awkwardly. We leapt from the jagged sill.



Under, we saw enormous ancient chains
Blur faintly link by link into the murk.
We swam, as thin light receded further, toward

The ferocious rocky mass that shot up
Like the top of a tower from small waves.
We floated around to the far side of the island,

Craned our necks, breathed, and treaded water,
Shocked to find a temple carved in its side.
A wet black chain snaked up the sheer face.

I hauled my air-chilled body to the ledge.



Then I coaxed you, as you floated, unsure,
In the darkening water, until you pulled
Yourself up as well, took my hand. We appraised

The fierce faces of what felt like gods,
Or their champions, worn by endless rains.
We peered deeper in, listened, but heard nothing.

How long had it been here? Did anyone
Still visit, or was it something lived with
So long it was forgotten, once hidden from view?

The sun rapidly embered out on the edge.



Then it pitched darker, and it was night
Sooner than we expected. Neither
Of us had the strength, or nerve,

To reenter the water and swim back.
We shivered and slowly dried in wind
That fluted through the massive gnarled figures.

We heard something, distinct from the waves
Splashing toward us around the island.
We looked out into the older dark as it neared.

We gripped our knees to our chests, and waited.