Skull Mount

Clean-shot, it should have dropped. The deer
trailed blood thirty yards. My nephew tracked
his kill to the bank of the brown water-grave
of the swamp. With his dad hauled it home
in the bed of the Polaris. Eight points.
What struck me was how fast, how far from life
it had come. Congealed blood stuck like a fat tick
to the bottom lip, eyes dry as paper, nostrils still.
“Remember Walter? Used to be
I’d take him venison,” my brother, Scott,
is saying, “and he would clean our rifles.
Didn’t hunt, though—fished.”
And Robert, my nephew, as if on cue:
“What do you call a fish with no eyes?” His joke
since he was five. “Fssshhh,” he grins,
his boy’s head now atop a six-foot frame.

Habitat

Who hasn’t gotten drunk in a bar like this—
near a beach, maybe Florida, on spring break
or a business trip or post-divorce getaway?
Where the neon scrawl of Budweiser
or Coors Light, or the too-green shape of a palm tree
seeps through the dirty screen of cigarette smoke.

No long-expired license plates scale these walls,
no baseball caps on nails. Here,
strung-up fishing nets hold dried detritus—
seaweed, starfish, sand dollars. A mounted sailfish,
the five-foot shell of a loggerhead, a thing
like the blade of a chainsaw—you can’t stop staring.

Turtle and Snake

I let go of his hand that stayed curled like a shell,
the hand I pretended was holding mine too,
took the dirt road toward the swamp.
At the edge of the field, to my left, a turtle.
To my right, a snake, five-footer, stick-straight.
Cottonmouth, if I wasn’t mistaken.
Without thinking the thing through,
wanting nothing more than to fix,
I moved the turtle out into the tall green.
Then saw in the road the lip of loose sand,
the hole, the clutch. The snake,
it came to me (I’m a bit slow), was waiting.
Why, if it had to, it would wait all day.
I set the turtle back—tried to, anyhow—
the way she had been. I wanted to believe
she would blanket her eggs with soft dirt,
camouflage the nest, outwait the snake.
I walked on, hauling my hope like a heavy shell.

Suitcase

I will, my father swears,
put your suitcase right here.
He pats the seat of his walker.
This night before I leave
he refuses to sleep for making plans:
I will take it to the car for you.
He’s erased the impossible brick steps
down to the driveway:
I will drive you to the airport
with or without a license.
Come morning he does none of these things.
He does only one thing:
I’ll miss you, Shug. God knows,
I will. And he kisses my cheek.
And the bones of his shoulders meet my hands
through the thin cotton of his shirt.
Will he remember who I am
next time? Driving to catch my plane,
I feel myself, everything I packed, spilling,
spooling out. There’s no next time.
I’m looking for the parts
of me he gathered and took with him.