Air-Breathing Life

Sleeping beside you
is like sharing the sheets with a fish
reeled up on the boat deck
the hook rooted firm
in your angry, sweet mouth
you twist and twist circles, spirals,
your tail flaps and beats,
slap, slap, slapping
on the wooden planks
I dodge your sharp scaly sides
and wonder are you remembering a time
when salt was your world
and you didn’t want change,
but gasped
some strange new element.
I reach my calf around you,
an arm slid in your fin
and wait
while you adjust
to this air, this life
of yours with me.

On the Road North

Winding up the mountain on Route 2 on my way to pick up my son at the police station at 3 a.m., held in protective custody from himself, the car moved along the unmarked road, and from the corner of my eye in a far-off field, I saw a deer—young, lithe, moving with that grace deer have—she stopped, head tilted up, looked my way, I thought maybe our eyes had met, moving the way each of us do, now, tonight without question or thought, in the silence that holds the roar of crickets and the fires of falling stars, where blades of grass wet with night chill the feet, and earth presses back and pushes us through the dark, dark night.

The Kitchen Table

This pull, these hands,
they move as swiftly as her thumb and forefinger
through a rosary.
I sit on a stool
between my mother’s legs
at the long oak table
that belonged to my grandmother.
Its wood hums turnips and colcannon.
I take a rubber grape from the bowl
and squeeze its stemless end
onto my tongue
bobbing it in and out of my mouth
and scratch my fingernail across
the table until it fills with a waxy residue.

The hairbrush scrapes the side of my face
the comb exacts a part in the middle of my head
half and half I am
as she begins the twisting of braids through her fingers
a tight tug with each rope of hair
a quick yank on each side of me, then
she puts two fingers in her mouth
and mats the downy crown
on my forehead.

Out of This Night

The blue light of winter
pushes through the curtains
all around the window’s ledge
it seeps in slowly and turns
to morning’s white.

You sleep upstairs
pull the covers over your head
and in this artificial dark
your room becomes a safe place
the bed, safer still.

I hear footsteps across the attic floor—
bare toes moving tentatively over splintered boards,
arms pulled tight across your body from the cold—
feet move with each creak of loose board
trying to feel your way down the staircase.

The water begins to run.
And run and run and run.

I wish I could bathe you in that water
baptize you pure
raise your body
out of the blue night
to the morning’s light
and the gushing stars
would wash over you,
and the roar that lies on the other side of silence.