Waterline

We sit on the porch at supper,
so homesick for the Atlantic,
we cast, catch, reel it west—
a thousand miles across 17, 95, and 20;
across the Pee Dee, Mississippi, and Red—

till sure enough, it smacks and thrashes
right over Shreveport, LA. Comes to rest
with the tide-swell of cicadas,
the hushbaby waves of wind
through heavy-leafed oaks
outside these old screens.

When they weep, the hawks turn into gulls.
Orange cannas break into flame—
tiki-torches from the 1960s, back
when our tans were deep, bodies lean,
feet sore from that trek on the shell-sharp waterline
from Huntington Beach to Litchfield
and, when the moon drank the tide down,
across to Pawleys Island. . . .

Bone Pit

For David

That time, we pocketed arrowheads,
surprised a herd of deer, which raised white flags.
Your fingers traced a path through my sweat,
neck to shoulder, shoulder to wrist. We were twenty.

We’re sixty. Our hands, though gloved, are ice.
Green lenses cover our eyes. We discuss ideas,
logos of the Stoics: the force of nature
that reconciles human and divine.

The road—unchanged. Hayfields to the west,
woods to the east. A hard wind shoves us down
into the swamp the hunters call Black Gum,
to the cross path marked by a disc harrow

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.