They catch too many, so the kids pitch fish at each other in hysterics, then bait the wire trap with the last of the breadballs. Ah, little fins, you go for it. Always it’s your dumb, blameless hunger. It’s a fact children want to learn how to play: minnows swim into traps. The rest is extra, bodies impaled on sticks, lost in tangled grass grown cold with nightfall. They get called in for dinner. Perishing blossom, listen, he sang, tear it all apart, but love me.
And that red bird, my heart. Pyrotechnic iris shooting off their Roman candles from the seawall, the lagoon swells with tide, all buds burst, a whorled, seductive surface I want appears. Here, what mystery this itchy libidinous joy radiates, here, drink it, the great fountain of eros, the boundary crosser, the cross-dresser, category dissolver, best solvent for hesitancy, temptation’s trumpet flower in the surge, ka-thump ka-thump ka- thump, everything I say I want, every one. Heat and light beat a seesaw rhythm difficult to interpret mid-sentence, a body makes its declarations, pulls to orbit irresistibly ideas and other minds, strict attractive fluid force of creation itself looking for release, for reasons we were made this way.
Sanctus spiritus. In an old photo, I’m squinting bucktoothed at the camera, standing in the lot at Saint Margaret’s, still tonguing the nontaste of the wafer. It’s like eating paper but easier, I later tell my little brother, who isn’t listening. When the church burns down I am grown and long gone out of that town. I can fit my thumb over the image of me in a white dress, white crown and veil (here’s grandmother Nellie in a big hat, my father smiling, a Kodak blue sky), but underneath my thumb, I am still there, worry or something on my face, as if I could foresee the wandering ahead. Everyone else in the picture is dead.
It was said the man mixed clay with his spit as a poultice for blindness. It was said the prophet’s tongue received a burning coal and yet burned thereupon only with words. If I am conjuring, let innocence answer. It was said that one touch can wake the dead weight of the mind and carry it home on the stem of a lily. If I am conjuring, let innocence answer.
A sand dollar broken into quarters. An osprey climbing out of a spiral. Signify: the axle assembly was slinging lubricant from the pinion seal. Somewhere I read about the caddisworm, the larva of a caddisfly, whose home is a silken case stuck outside with trash, old dead leaves and sticks it drags around, fat on algae at the bottom of some pond, camouflaged until its wings are finished. A very cute trick, although the journey to that far surface is nowhere described. Quahoggers off Nayatt Point fade to gray across the leaden silver wave moiré.
Refusal to acknowledge beauty is a failure of nerve, so acknowledge it: screen door slams, summer evening, my neighbor fends off mosquitoes, standing and calling the names of his children, and every night always the one who will never reply, every time, who he must go out and find. Three bells chime, bells are twining each leaf on the vine, spreading wide its branching green palm as he passes the last golden chime down the line down the line down the line line line line
Test the spirits. We have so mistaken flame in the shape of the body for lust, any moment of speech for possession, have measured dimensions of the planet using infinitely malleable shadows, ours, as a standard unit. Here they are as fists, here attenuated as bridges, late afternoon stilting through the dry meadow across the road. When I turn to you your eyes blaze up like watered sunlight. We have been taught only some things.
To tell so color can approximate the sky blue inside the curved line moving about and below the close horizon, the chord ringing in the spine, pale grass, all ideas of order. I am pointing, now follow my hand outline snowy hillsides or section an orange, still it’s only pointing: a white bowl, a flame, three herons fishing. If one were to say the self is a bowl, fills water and brims over, wells and spills abundance to be this singing. Oh that yes I had a thousand voices.
Talk radio strays from rusty pickups. The whole morning long a fisherman spreads his feet on broken oystershells, casting, casting, the thin screeee of the line peeling off a reel, mixed with cries of early gulls scheming each other over stolen food, pitiless in pursuit of a prize dropped plop on the tideline, some cracked, wretched crab still waving its one good leg. His line casts and gulls wheel past the first channel buoy and water erupts with baitfish leaping from darkness where cooler swifter water streams in from the bay. We all of us shout and point: mayhem on the surface signals something huge and deep, in an instant flick the house catches fire, fish slapping at ex- its, getting nowhere fast, and he goes there knowing, big ones down below. He goes there.
Karen Donovan has had poems most recently in Conjunctions and Blackbird. Her collection of poems called Fugitive Red, published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1999, won the Juniper Prize. From 1985 to 2005, she co-edited Paragraph, a journal of short prose published by Oat City Press. She works as a writer for a nonprofit educational organization in Providence, Rhode Island.