Saturday Apr 13

Willard Bruce Willard graduated from Middlebury College and Bennington College’s MFA program. Poems from his new collection, Suspect of Certainties, are forthcoming in African American Review, AgniThe Harvard Review, Salamander, 5 A.M. and other publications.  He divides his time between California and coastal Maine.

Family Portrait
The light was warm, unreal.
I was close to my brother
but not as close as I wanted to be.
My parents were there
and my grandmother by my side
in a yard at the beginning
of a home that’s now gone.
What time of the day was it?

I wanted my brother
to be in the center.
I wanted the sun
to graze his slender legs
and bruised biceps.
I wanted to see him
as I saw myself.
How much older are you than him?

It was late in the day
and the camera strained
to measure the years between us.
It was a time with no auto focus,
no whirring of small gears
to bring us close.
Everyone was smiling…

The lens was so wide
the corners of the photo seem to fade
in retrospect.
Perhaps everything was stretched
to fit the format.
Who took the shot?

Everyone was talking,
one over another. No one could hear
the photographer. The camera
moved from one angle to another
to conceal the space between us.
Can a photo remember?

I stood next to my brother.
I could feel his buzz cut hair under my chin,
his nervous elbows against my chest.
I imagined the unending kindness of something glossy,
the story it would tell.
Did it take long?

The light was failing
and there was a sudden flash.
The night extinguished the bulb.
There was clinking sound
like a coin being dropped
into a china bank full of coins.
I imagined how it would break
if I tried to get it out.
It took forever.
Biting My Tongue
Dad, why do you chew your tongue like that?
I wanted to say that it’s hereditary.
That my brother and I have always chewed.
But the car drifted several blocks and I heard
only the sound of blood
pulsing in my ears.

Dad, do you think Billy’s mother and father
are going to get divorced?
I thought about Billy’s mom. Her hairstyle.
The short containable kind women try
when they want to break away.
We passed a boys club with an overgrown basketball court.
Kids were jumping skateboards like they were jumping
out of their clothes.

Dad, can you believe the way Gretzky killed the penalty last night
and got a man-down goal?
We passed a school that was letting out.
Kids were grouping on the sidewalk.
I wanted to chew my tongue,
make that bursting sound
that fills the ears from within.
Like plump cold grapes releasing something sweet.

I wanted to say,
Thanks for killing the afternoon together.
How I knew what Gretz felt,
shorthanded, and with open ice
when the light went on.
Before man down was up.
Before either of us knew
the things passed father to son
and back.

Holding Ground
Let’s look for shelter, he said.
Fog dulled his words,
made everything far
away sound near.
Each and every obstacle.
Like the waves on passing ledges.
If you keep watch to port,
I’ll watch to starboard, he offered.
Water gathered on both sides
of the cabin windows.
Water matted her hair.
Water drowned
the air between east and west.
There’s an island with a cove at the far end
and good holding ground inside, he said.
The current at the mouth
of the river bent over
markers and buoys
giving the illusion
of speed over ground.
Release the hook, he called.
The windlass
played out the chain
and the anchor found bottom.
He could not see the bow
from the helm. They could no longer
see each other.
We must watch for drift, he said. Or thought.
When they were silent
an hour went by without drag and he whispered, Home.
Yes, she said, descending below
where water insulates
as it steals warmth,
deafens as it covers ground.