O Clouds Unfold
for Marissa Lingen and Elise Matthesen
The month has started under water —
too much to shove at, too much to swallow:
sprawling projects, tax returns …
To wield a spear like an Amazon,
to hammer fears into a gleaming bow —
these aren’t skills I list on my present
résumé, but what the present
needs is something like. From the water,
hauling my soggy rear back into the bow,
gasping out what I couldn’t help but swallow —
it isn’t pretty, training to be an Amazon.
I’m told such pangs will yield happy returns
but some days I think of all the sad returns
during my warehouse days — this unwanted present,
that unhelped self. My wishlist at Amazon
changes by the week, like flavors of water
nestled in a sales rep’s cooler. Swallow
this magic pill; now make your bow
in the Wonderland court. Tied up with a bow,
neatly wrapped — low risk, low returns.
I know that, but the truth’s still tough to swallow
when long-steeped weariness outweighs the present.
I have to remember how petrels pierce the water,
scaring off sharks with the skill of an Amazon.
I’ve never longed to sail down the Amazon
but then I never expected each night to bow
my head with such thanks for running water,
schooled by floods and droughts. The returns
of every field, I now regard as a present.
I’ve watched dying people, how they can’t even swallow
the thinnest dribble of water. Oh, when the swallow
nests again by the bell, will we see the Amazon
gliding into harbor as well? Will it present
a dazzlement of gems — the gold-bright bow,
a garnet-studded scabbard? What returns
isn’t always what was cast upon the water —
when I dream, men in swallow-tails
bow to Amazons as their equals. But waking
returns me back to the present — to the water.
by Peg Duthie
Editor’s Note: The first line of this poem convinced me to read it, and then the sestina form drew me into the narrative. The poem skillfully presents multiple possibilities with one voice and only six words: Amazon, water, bow, present, swallow, returns.