Motoring Home Down the Canal, I Heard the NPR Astronomer Claim

by Tara Powell

we know now the universe, after all, is beige.
Not black or crimson or even colorless,
but beige, beige as my thigh, pressed
for the first time this season
against the sun-dazzled bench of my skiff,
coming in from the river this familiar half-mile.

Beige, the man said, most definitely,
his voice scratching the air; he moved on,
this revelation of color a footnote only.

Pine pollen has dusted the cypress gold,
even the wrinkled knobs I’m navigating:
it hangs in the air, settling in patterns
on the wet backs of turtles along my route
as my little motor snakes a rope of brown water
behind me, showing my path briefly.
Pollen keeps dropping. Midas days.
I taste the sour sex of pine on my lips,
breathe the still yolk of afternoon,
imagine my pollinated lungs
greening with strange, sticky life.

Even my winged lure, left pulling beside the boat,
gathers gilded pine needles, on which mayflies stop
by moments.

Beige, I offer the motor as it sings, tunelessly,
setting the ducks to wing, their thin brown bodies
lifting like broken kites upward, still going.
I shift, settle six inches rightward,
accept the list of the narrow boat to rest my legs
where the sun warmed the aluminum daylong
to feel just now like summer, or human hands.

Under the wide brow of my hat, I squint homeward,
through the shield of heavy air, toward our lonely dock,
bright leathery brown jutting chinlike out to greet me,
coming out of the swamp finally, with ocher lips
and blonded hair.

Hand over hand, I haul the tired string of catfish
ascending from below, the drag of life and fins weak now,
done with flexing will against the sharp,
yellow twine running between their throats;

just before they break surface, their mouths
open on the weight of my pull, teeth the scummed water
like babies, their shining gills and whiskers loom
all brown-yellow just under the cypress-kissed river.

Just before they reach air,
they are opening on the loud, long sound of beige.

Tara Powell is the Hugh McColl Fellow in Southern Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in English.  Some of the publications in which her poetry has appeared include Asheville Poetry Review, Blue Unicorn, Cold Mountain Review, Crucible, Hidden Oak, Pembroke Magazine, South Carolina Review, and Southern Poetry Review.  She wrote a monthly column for the Raleigh News and Observer from February 2001 to August 2002, edited The Carolina Quarterly from May 2002 to August 2003, and has read her creative work by invitation at a variety of conferences.

Tara Powell was nominated for Poets Under 30 by Michael McFee.