BALTIMORE — A black-clad man arrived at 2:59 a.m. local time Saturday, marking Edgar Allan Poe's birthday with the traditional graveside tribute: three red roses and a half bottle of cognac. Only this, and nothing more. It is a rite that has been carried out by a mysterious stranger every Jan. 19 since 1949, a century after Poe drank himself to death in Baltimore at age 40. —WSJ wire service

The man with the hat moved oddly through the night,
but with the immense dignity that came with having
drunk on an empty stomach most of a bottle of
cheap whiskey, which he still held in cold hands.

In his coat pocket was another bottle, much more expensive,
and a hardbound copy of The Gold Bug and Other Stories.
His shadow, fluttering like a lost raven,
briefly deformed the marble saints looming above
members of a family whose voices he could no longer recall.

At the stone, fumbling the cap off with icy fingers,
he poured the rest of his whiskey onto the frozen ground,
centered the bottle of brandy against the inscription,
and read a few lines where the book opened at random,
savoring the golden, terrifying words.

©2001 F.J. Bergmann

"Libation" appeared in Margie–The American Journal of Poetry #1

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