A Wine Country Murder Mystery in Three Parts

For the most part, I love to read and write poetry that can be read aloud. We are reading Billy Collins’ Ballistics in my poetry class at the moment. I have listened to many recordings of Collins reading his work; he has a totally deadpan delivery, which works well with his style of writing. Collins really loves to play with words and language; I understand his humor and playfulness have hurt him in some circles, circles I will try hard to avoid.

In the spirit of playfulness, the following is a murder mystery set in the California wine country in an historically ambiguous and rustic past. The clues are in the homophones.



They came in on a harvest moon,
A King and Queen from Holland.
And their only son, a simpleton,
Heard singing in the vineyards

He went to taste the wine alone,
But a peasant girl, watching vultures
Near the fallen oak, waiting, swaying
Wings splayed in a Reaper’s cloak

Said the bird’s head was a scrotum;
‘Indeed.’ He said the head of the bird
Was red and wrinkled and thinly feathered;
They laughed together and drank the wine

The stonemason, a simple man,
Heard singing in the vineyards
As the son went down –moon rising, night falling;
He left his handiwork on a high note

But his fingers shone red, red, red
Underneath the harvest moon
When metal dripped the drops on stones
As the notes fell and the crickets chirped

She, barefooted
Had wanted to go home
From pruning, picking, kissing, singing,
From cutting vines and drinking wine

The crime scene was different than the crime seen…

The stonemason had “heard only chirping”
In the vineyards
When the grapes were picked
And vines were cut

No matter, Cloggy Boy, said the peasant cop
To the prince —Veins are not dykes!
Fingers cannot stop wine that overflows
From those who sing and prune

Prints of fingers on cold, cut stones
That ran along the bone, dry creek;
But the Queen and King and son had come
Only for the harvest wine

Before the red stains mixed with greasy spots
In the gravel of a parking lot,
For the King and Queen
Who’d come just to taste the wine

Told the stone mason for a pound of gold
‘Vultures bled on stones
And dust might bury bones
Of those hurt singing in the vineyards.’


As she poured the oil into the lamps
The stonemason’s wife was waiting
The soup was stirred and thin
The bones were boiled clean

He’d gone to lay the stones at dawn
The sun was up, the day wore on
The grapes were picked
The peasant girl was singing, pruning

Her feet were bare, the stones were hot
The only son had gone alone;
He’d never tasted ripened fruit
He’d never been in love before.

Sometimes she stepped upon his spine
So cracked and broken from laying stone
She sang and made the bones lay straight
Under eyes and wings of birds that waited

The mason’s wife was cold and waiting
The soup was thin and bones were bare
A pound of gold for a side of bacon
A wheel of cheese, the harvest wine

The crime seen was not a criminal offense…

The dancing drinking led to lying
The pruning knife in the apron pocket
The veins were cut, the wine was spilled
The drops on stones were evidence

The pound of gold for a broken back
The hand-laid cottage made of stone
The soup was cold.
The wife went in to pick the bones

The crickets chirped
The wife was picking, cleaning, stirring
Serving soup too thin, thin, thin
The harvest moon was waiting, watching

Should Kings and Queens and simple sons
Drink harvest wines in golden cups?
When peasant girls, with bare, wine feet
Ceased their singing, stomping in the vineyards?

The mason’s wife set down the soup
He, the bag of gold
They drank the red, red, peasant wine
And praised God for singing in the vineyards

And red stains mixed with greasy spots
In the gravel of parking lots,
And Kings and Queens
Who come just to taste the wine


The stonemason’s wife was shelling beans
The peasant cop stopped by to chat
How had she money for the harvest wines
The wheel of cheese, the bacon fat?

His shoes were dusty, the sun was hot
The grapes were picked, the harvest done
The peasant girl who pruned and cut
Had left some rows of vines to rot

The King and Queen had a simple son
He told the wife, who scattered seeds
They’d come to taste the harvest wines
The son had never been alone

The pruning knife in the dry creek bed
The hand that touched the bloody drops
Had left a mark upon the stones
When the notes fell and the crickets chirped

The son, the peasant cop was kicking dust,
In his youthful innocence,
From a fire picked up burning stones
His fingertips were smooth as bone

When he heard singing in the vineyards
He’d gone to taste the wine alone
He’d never been in love before
But a prince’s prints weren’t left on stones

The crime scene betrayed the crime seen…

The peasant cop left her pulling weeds;
A stack of wood left by the walls of stone
Was home to a widow, round and black
The mason’s back was nearly broke

He lay upon a bed of straw
In a cup of stone, the widows’ fate
The stonemason’s soup was fat and hot
The harvest wine was sweet and red

A cup of stone, beneath his head
A kiss upon the vein
When the vines were pruned and the grapes were picked
And peasant girls, who sang and kissed were cut

Under dust and blood of birds
The stonemason saw a burning sun
The wine did not flow
The vines did not grow

But the mason’s widow took down the stones
Made her home from the fallen oak
Under wings and watching moons
Like eyes of barefoot peasant girls
Hurt singing, singing in the vineyards


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