Three Poemsby Melanie Carter
How broken the fish must have looked
coming up out of the lake, the lake water
falling back into the opening
the fish came out of. That is, if one can look
broken and not just be the thing
that is flawed, faulted, hauled up by the line
and its strange double syllable: Sorry. Sorry.
Like his mother, who died. Or his stepmother,
sorry, who sent him to bed again and again
without his supper
because he sketched the light from every angle
and came home late.
His sister, in his defense, bit the side
out of her water glass.
She would have emptied her mouth.
Even the maiden aunts who took him in
would have walked the long way back
from their spinsters’ heaven.
Their sorrow might have cut his string
of jobs, or tied him to the earth long enough
for me to remember. He could have turned around
and said, So this is what it is to hook the sky’s
flat canvas. Tossed it back. Cast again.
But everything turned swift as a sentence.
Headaches, like grapnels, descended
from the trees. His lungs devoured themselves,
his body vanished.
Can you see that someone drowned in all that air?
I imagine it now
as one long Sunday: a wooden door
the solemn light could pool behind.
The white sheets rippling back from his body
as if they, too, were sad.
The end is simple. When he left
it was the beginning of all our lives—
as if someone swallowed
and the earth began to turn again.
After the fish, there are no more stories.
Winged thought. Wish made tangible.
Yes, the towhee is God’s musing
cast to ether. It drops to the ground
in its black hood, then stutters
backward, scratching the leaves,
distracting the strangers it startled
out of their deft silence. As in: Do you see
the bird that could be anyone’s fate
hurled skyward? And if so, where is the one
whose chest has opened like heaven’s
twin doors? Who built within him
the two wings and the rusted flanks,
bare and ringing? A birder would look
for the mate. Its dull nest. But not the boy
who, if he knew the word sanctuary
would say, Where? to the sparrow
that wears its breast like an iron plate. Surely
a bird is heaven’s closer god and would listen:
these clouds, these nodding trees,
and floating, still, in the pond below, the boy
in his striped shirt, whistling.
After the Family Reunion
The earth released its breath,
turned off the switch marked gravity,
and let the mist rise
until it hid the branches.
We drove through the fog. The fog
glowed in the beam of our headlights;
my grandfather’s face grew rigid
in the light of the dash. Slow down, please,
my grandmother whispered.
I think you should slow down.
The speedometer swung its needle to 75, 80.
We might have simply driven on
then off the world—hovering, weightless,
like a second moon. I could have seen
that he’d stood with a sagging plate
in his hand then watched her settle into a corner
chair, laughing. That he’d felt, finally,
the weight of this arrangement.
I was eight. Scorn then seemed imperfect.
So we raced. The blouses made a curtain
I could pull back, imagining
that if the angle were right, if I hooked
the curve of a hanger surely around
its swollen body, the window would open,
the moon would pull me out. I could have left
those people, their faces gaping, the car
still speeding down the unlit road,
and the road, unending, leading them on.