After the storm
We dragged the fallen limbs
To the side of the house
And built a fort
A living, green, branch
And leaf fort. Each tear
Fresh, the limb underneath
Like bone, the skin peeling
Away; sweet and nutty.
How those leaves
Shook. How the light scissored
Through, tattooing my body.
In their dying, so much life
To breathe in, until each leaf
Turned brittle, dull. Until
The limbs paled
Turned to ghosts.
Lemon Pledge polish and old linoleum,
Anything that could be, pressed and steamed.
Hot creamy and vanilla, the tapioca pudding
with its dead-eyed stare
was a sensual shock.
Encyclopedias and cloth dolls
The scent of sun
in the bedsheets, the only
scent familiar, like home.
Woodsmoke and wildflowers
Sun-baked rocks. Despite all the water
The dry scent—as if the air could combust
Burn itself into a fine ash, silver like the dimes
In my grandfather’s fist.
Fish, fish made of water,
Water. Falling and lapping against
the side of the aluminum boat. The tang
of aluminum; a taste and a sound and a texture
against my skin. Even the fishing line
becomes the scent of waiting
The image of me now, three years old
Squatting near the pump, the stringer of fish
Laid out, above each fish a dandelion I had picked.
I had learned early to attend to the dying
With what I had; my hands, with what I could pick,
brilliant small suns.
I bring the dog-eared recipe card
To my nose. Smell in the faded ink
And soft paper: flour, something bitter,
Then her hands. This is how her death
Becomes a daily thing. So ordinary
It rises like bread.
Before and after
The air laden
With the sweet hint
In its falling
More than a smell,
Yours will always be laced with water; a tall glass of it
The ice catching the light.
Hip-waders and tackle box by the cabin door.
Even the fish you caught were mostly stream and sunlight.
You were the arms that kept me from drowning.
You liked your lakes so big you couldn’t see to the other side.
You like your rains hard.
You were like my thirst, unquenchable.
Like a river, I could not keep you from leaving.
Editor’s Note: The thing about memory and grief is that even if the mind can forget, the body does not. The imagery in this poem is drenched in this knowledge, and the closing line lingers like a snapped fishing line, caught in the current.