Dark wings flickered at the eaves,
wasps circled the barn, dirt-daubers’
knobbed nests like clods chunked and lodged
along the beams, eggs packed inside,
nestled beside tiny spiders, stung,
paralyzed. Time doesn’t heal. No
emotion is the final one. The yellow jackets
sabotaged the toolbox, the unhooked plow,
the diesel tank, the gate, their paper nests
like pale morels hung to dry, and red wasps
throbbed like bunched explosives just above
our heads—the barn seethed with the sound,
we felt it like static on our skin, their nests
I-dare-you’s for any boy. Black daubers flashed
and dabbled at the field’s last puddles,
the fish-gasping ditch, chewing bits of mud.
Once again, we assumed the adults around us
knew what they were doing, the wasps sealing
their young up with the spiders, stung,
paralyzed, ready to be eaten alive.
My father and uncle helped me undress.
I left my daily clothes on a desk
in the classroom, and they helped me into a robe
that smelled of chlorine and dust. Someone
was singing, I could hear it—
O happy day, that fixed my choice—
beyond the closed doors, the empty halls.
They helped me down the dark slick stairs
to where he waited, watching me, to where
the man in rolled-up sleeves took me in his arms,
pressed his left hand against the small of my back, his right
over my nose and mouth, then dipped me
as in a dance, pushed me under
the water and held me there—buried with him,
raised a new man—that’s what they said.
When I woke I was shivering.
When I woke, I was dead, or
instead, I left the dead man there, in the water.
Or I was alive and the dead man held me
like a shadow, sometimes rising before me,
standing on my feet like a child,
sometimes stretching behind
to touch that man in the rolled-up sleeves,
waiting there in the dark water,
in the corner where the ripples pushed
as I descended into the rafts of insects,
litter of dead things.
—19 June 2011
Two buds on the stargazer lily.
Three blue eggs in the tiny nest—
unlikely spot, tucked under the gauge
of the carport air compressor,
someplace a snake can’t climb,
or cat, someplace safe,
despite the human traffic this weekend,
as mourners drop by to see my mom.
I lift my niece to see the bird
on the nest, its tiny black eyes
looking back at us, around us the blue
mud daubers flashing their blue-black wings.
After long silence
My father is a puzzle box. He’s a map folded up.
The nurse says he has something to tell me.
He stares at me, but never tells me.
My mother is a vase tipped over.
Daylilies bloom one day, and each day is another.
So many vases left over after her accident,
stacked in the closet, like empty wrappers, like magic.
My father is a shrunken head and a blanket.
What do you want to say, old man, that you haven’t said already?
Outside, a skunk or something shuffling on the carport, the light is on.
My father is a box of lamentations, unsaid.
My mother is a blue jar.
Listen: my mother’s soft snoring, the daylilies furled in the dark.