The Nest (Or, a Father Considers the Odds of Raising Successful Small-Mouth Bass Offspring)

That afternoon at the cabin

we sat by the river

after I had cut up those small trees

that you dropped at my feet with the tractor –

(an offering, a challenge,

one that I tore through haphazardly with the new chainsaw,

black and yellow like a drunken, terrible bumblebee).

It was quiet after all that noise,

the dog (our fourth) now gone, our offspring absent-

(one washing other people’s dishes in dirty water for $7.75 an hour,

one in the throes of new love, thrashing in the shallows, and then

one that has swum out to her own sea)

so we sat without them

on cheap and dirty plastic chairs

that had sat outside all winter

and swatted at mosquitoes,

talking a little but mostly just

watching the male bass

swim back and forth around its nest,

guarding the 20,000 – 

give or take a few hundred –

eggs ditched by the female – leaving him

to patrol the nest alone, watching for

panfish looking to gorge on eggs coming in from the left

while he is preoccupied with crayfish coming in from the right –

there are always more predators.

(Five bass fry will live long enough to grow ten inches long;

it’s better that the father not consider these odds,

yet, how can he not?)

A muskrat broke the perimeter –

rat-tail moving side to side like a pink snake, but

the bass didn’t break patrol.

A father knows, or thinks he knows, what is a threat.

Really, I had almost certainly just waded right through the nest

through the muck and rocks and branches

(a sweaty, mosquito-repellent covered Godzilla

sending translucent globes helplessly into the current).

But we kept watching the bass,

circling his trampled nest while the sun

slowly arced to the west, and north,

the surface of the river sparkling like

glass from a broken mirror.

Behind us, up the hill,

no one tended the fire;

and though it was light, still, for so long,

in that week leading up to the solstice,

it was too late for us

to go home.

 

When They Finally Wake in April

‘Round the ankles of the birches

autumn water gathered, murky –

winter held it down til frozen

cradled gently in the hollows –

skirts of ice surround the low limbs

stopped mid-fling by frigid wind

embroidered not in poodle, plaid,

suspended there, upended, glad –

wee peeping frogs, asleep, adorn

a petticoat of moss and thorns,

but soon the sun will stretch its rays,

will rise with sorry in its gaze

will slyly springly shine and and flirt-

with earth disheveled, melt the skirt,

will knit from nothing new-leafed clothes,

and creeks will race and overflow –

Lake Michigan (and back again) –

and groggy frogs’ oblivion 

then doused, will rouse – a peeping throng,

agog in thousand strands of song

that soar and wend through gray-screened doors

in search of mates, in search of more,

through windows, chimneys, landing damp

in dishes, teapots, toasters, lamps –

we hear, in twilight, in our beds

the raucous din of recent dead –

we doubt, deny, or trust their cries

of sweet reprieve,

alive,

alive.

The Jade Rabbit 2 Tells Me My Fortune

 

i.

I came to Earth in the Summer of Love,

September 1969, just after Apollo 11 carried

Neil and Buzz to the proper side of the moon,

(the one she’s shown to us from the start). They left

bootprints all across her face.

This morning, almost as an afterthought,

NPR tells me that the Chinese have put a rover

on the dark side of the moon, Jade Rabbit 2 sending

photos of her knobby bare backside to us

via satellite.

ii.

After the funeral in December

I am on my knees, sorting through

the official papers – birth, divorce, death certificates,

report cards from 1952, photos of girls in stiff dresses and ringlets,

picnics on the Michigan grass beside a Model T;

but there are also things from the far side

(not always in darkness but never shown to us,)

never-seen photos and notes in the margins of the party menus:

“She brought an angel food cake, but no one touched it,” and

“We waited, but he never showed.”

iii.

What do you do with transmissions from

the far side, when the jade rabbit scurries to the side

that has forever been turned away? What do we do when we learn

how the truth has lain along, wondrous and terrible and banal, when

we’d only been trusted with the light?

(Meanwhile, I turn,

again and again and again,

so that I face you,

as though my secrets

will not someday be scattered like clover, like blood

in the bright green grass.)

 

 

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/02/health/china-lunar-rover-far-moon-landing-intl/index.html

Irish Evening

Auld Jack Devine, as afternoon bows to the long shadows of a June evening,

stands there, then, in the green and wet field, as they all are green and wet,

appraising these Americans searching County Mayo for Jack Devine,

clutching a damp ship’s manifest:

Well. Aye. Ye found him.

Auld Jack, eighty if a day, points with crooked finger to the new house,

built in 1927, he says, where he and Mary live,

and then over to the stone cottage where Agnes was born

(before crossing the Atlantic on her mother’s hip at three, brows knit) –

and then east across miles of rolling misted hills, promise after green promise:

Ye see over t’ere? Down dat hill, like, t’ere’s a shrine, in Knock.

(I see Agnes in white, marrying big John Madden, a Galway cop, so being

Irish and Catholic, of course, legends are then born, and children, at 509 Hubbard)

T’ey sell bottles of holy water to tourists. T’ey tink it’ll do them some good.

(So many children, she named two Thomas, so the lore goes-one Thomas they called Lester, the other, Patrick, and one or two didn’t get a name at all- )

T’ey tink tat after t’ey die, like, they’ll get t’heaven, says auld Jack.

But he looks over the fields, sniffs as though smelling the phoniness from here,

(They say that during Prohibition, the police raided Agnes’ kitchen – all signs pointed to a still, an improbable amount of sugar and yeast-)

and spits on the ground, leaning on his gnarled wooden cane;

But, I, says auld Jack Devine, I t’ink dat when ye die…I t’ink dat when ye die, ye jest go right into t’ground, like,

(But I imagine a flourish as Agnes opened the oven door on eight loaves of bread baking, and then the cops, embarrassed, looked at the oven, looked at each other, saying Thank ye Ma’am, have a good day.)

and dat’s t’end of ye, like.

And Jack Devine just looks at us, then, rain dripping from our faces, and there is nothing to say.

But though Agnes

(born Bridget, a name lost in the new country with a single flick),

died an ocean away from the stone cottage,

she’d already passed along strands and strands of gleaming double-helixes –

adamantine baubles, a secret code passed to my own children,

(though German and Norwegian genes washed up, too, on the shores of our bones)

faint constellations of freckles, bright red strands in long brown locks –

with every infusion there is an evening, of sorts, a fading,

love means compromise-

and until we are completely conquered, we shine.

And so, auld Jack Devine with blue eyes that pierced,

(and Mary in tears at our goodbye, surely, she cried, I’ll not see ye again in this life but in heaven! Surely Mary, it’s so!)

though I did not say it then, no, I don’t believe that when you die, it’s t’end of you, like.

Jack Devine, here you are-

Sláinte.

Grief is an Animal, Slouching

For B.

I.

Grief is an animal, slouching

behind the bolted door

in your soul’s bleak

and darkened house –

ranging around with muddy paws

and ragged claws,

dragging the covers

off the bed, off of your chest

and thrashing through the cold ashes left

by the fire gone cold

in the hearth of your heart –

swiping open the door

of the icebox in your belly –

cracking eggs, dripping juice, smearing jelly;

the milk curdles, a fine mold grows, meat goes bad –

leaping up the ladder

to the past-laden attic,

crashing down the stone stairs

into the churning bowels of your basement,

shattering the thin windows and

bursting the aging pipes –

and then through the jagged glass

comes the bitter wind,

and through the frigid pipes

comes the brackish water,

wave after wave,

unceasing.

II.

Grief is an animal, hungry

it will not be starved

by holding back tears –

the less it’s fed,

the angrier it growls, the fiercer it will rise,

clawing its way up the staircase of your soul,

your ribs cracking from the wracking sobs –

it will not be caged, placated, tamed, sedated –

Close it up in the cellar –

and cornered, it will lash out,

in a flash it roars

out of your throat with howls and spittle,

keening, wailing, snarling,

knocking

you to your knees, breathless,

rocking.

III.

Grief is an animal, undenied;

it demands full rein,

spends every coin

of rage and sorrow until

angry and hollow and broke

it lies panting

at your feet,

glassy-eyed and beaten,

tamed only by hours,

and even then only some,

your hands running along

its soft coat

until you can get up

and walk again

through the splinters

of your shipwrecked soul.

Ask For Me Tomorrow And You Shall Find Me a Grave Man!

So Mercutio cried – and before and since and ever,

the years start over in darkness, the face of the earth turned away from the sun;

The calendar is a ragged thread of a winter sweater

snagged on a fencepost nail; it’s a ball of yarn spooling out into the future,

bouncing across the kempt lawn of the universe into the weeds;

This year ahead is a cemetery laid at our feet,

month comes after month and we stumble on soft, worn tombstones

that mark the years since birth, since death;

the longer we live, the more days are so marked, the more tombstones meet our shins;

Every year, unknowing, we pass over the anniversary

of the day of our death, if we have any luck at all.

But this May day the Earth’s sunlit face

is turned like a leaf toward the sun; it’s tilted on its axis like an actress to the glass,

catching the better light from eight minutes ago, when I was someone else;

When no one is looking, the sunlight transforms –

bright green shoots, spiderwebs, reflections on the long glittering spine of river;

the Earth is holding up things that cast long, dark shadows.

Towering pines along the overgrown trail

wear bright orange slashes like beauty pageant sashes across their trunks –

they will likewise be changed –

bunk beds, books, toilet paper; everything on its way

from this thing to another – atoms rearrange in fire, in fusion, in decay.

I will leave these woods and face this oncoming twilight,

I will wash away the dust and ticks and leaves, I will stand naked as the day I was born,

and still I won’t see any bright orange slash across this body of mine,

this vessel that’s been hollowed out, stolen from, broken and healed,

bled and bound, this package that’s carried my soul

from riverbank to city to woods, marking my time,

finally pushing a tombstone like a sharp tooth

into the grass green mouth of the world,

unable to speak.

Breaking and Entering

Winter broke and entered years ago,

pressing icy fingers against our skin,

wandering under our shirts,

searching for our hearts,

listening as we slowly wound down –

we were watches kept in a drawer of an empty house.

But I think you must have jacked open

some painted-over lead-poisoned window,

somewhere, deep inside,

(maybe in that sealed-up chamber of a basement tomb

with a wood-burning stove and

a second-hand recliner with a place

for a beer to slowly warm, but not a place for everything)

letting a southern wind blow through

this Northern plain and breathe Spring into my heart,

or my cerebellum,

making me wonder if –

anyway then you woke and

Summer bloomed into my lips, my hips,

they rocked like ships

oh, and

I think for a little while, maybe, you and I

can keep the window open, keep

the two by four jammed

up against the door, keep it

barred against the

ravenous wolfish Fall,

where he waits,

anticipates

the last of the ticks

as he licks

his lips

and yawns

at the door.

Braces

Something about

seeing your skull

in black and white and

pulled nonchalantly

from the manila folder

makes me feel loose inside

as though all of my bones

have let go of each other

for the moment, and are

floating around unmoored

in my limbs,

my chest.

The skull is death, it’s

for pirates, and archaeologists,

and murderers, and a universal

sign of danger that is, or was –

so seeing yours laid out flat:

your teeth, the space for your nose,

the holes for your bright blue eyes

without the benefit of your face –

is like being dragged

just decades into the future,

where none of us need braces,

or toothpaste, or manila folders,

or excuses for missing school,

or one another.