The Morning Rick Died

by Austin Segrest

in memory of Rick Johnson

The morning Rick died some slight
thing left the water or returned
to the water, something just missed,
and the six silver canoes,
the two green and the one red,
knocked heads in Clear Creek’s ripple,
tethered to trees, secure in their lanes.
Over the ridge, Drummond Coal
blasted another hectare of ore-laden clay.
Diane punched dough in Eppes Hall
till her elbow acted up and she had another
smoke. Off Camp Road, the kudzu,
thickened since Rick was admitted,
blued in the pine-filtered light.
Scott rootered two toilets
before eight. Mark dreamed again
of losing his hand in a fan.
Lu’s garden fuzzled with the fur
of new buds, held dew till nine.
The three cows walked the fence line
like sleep was a branch they couldn’t reach,
and someone’s daughter was up practicing
back-flips on the high dive, remembering
the old man in tan coveralls she’d seen
perched on a ladder underneath
the board once, working on the wheel—
flips lifting and falling like the souls
of so many exhausted workboys.
Under the pool, in the pump room,
roaches scrammed, the emergency
backboard held a leaf-blower
loosely in its straps. Gas cans nestled
next to buckets of chlorine.
Across America children didn’t listen.
Rock-and-roll churned in the innards
of creation. The swinging bridge
creaked a little in a little wind,
its shadow riding the current, growing indecipherably
apart from the boards Rick and Mr. Eppes
and how many summers of workboys strung
one board at a time in the 60s,
crouching for breaks beneath the shade
of mountain laurel, popping a cold Dixie,
still wedged under the current between rocks,
cemented with silt. You could almost hear them
joking about the slit
down the middle of Chad Denny’s nut-sack,
which snagged as he slipped
over the pool fence to skinny-dip,
and was sewn tight, a stitch
for every board, by Lu’s gleaming
midnight needle.
The morning Rick died
still no workboy, no dog, wasp, or beetle
was lost on his watch
because he wanted it, this poem
started up like a team of lawn mowers
razzing in dry grass,
like a tree blight, cell by cell, or yellow jackets
in a log’s long hall, or plaque carrying on
with plastering an artery,
no questions, it started working.

Originally from Alabama, AUSTIN SEGREST teaches at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. His poems appear in The Yale ReviewThe Threepenny ReviewNew England ReviewPloughsharesEcotone, and others. This fall he will be a Provincetown fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.