We nursed the crappie in a tub,
the hook struggling between eye and gill
and waited out the day for our father.
He smelled like the city, smoke, like coming home
as I pulled him to the fish. My brother, older,
explained how we couldn't extract the hook.
My father stood above the fish swimming cock-eyed
and said it would die, but he weighed each breath
as he prodded open the small-voweled mouth
to pinch the hook and twist.
The barb-end bobbed like a scared rabbit
hits ground, leaps, and hits, blind to its hole.
The cartilage that held the eye broke,
crackling as he pulled out the hook.
The hole, bloodless, held open.
He swung back his arm to chuck the fish to the woods
but stopped, placing it in the tub.
Scales stuck to his suit, a few falling
as he brushed his hands against his thighs.
Until the tail stopped twitching,
gill bent like cardboard
cut open and sucking at air;
until supper was called
I tilted the fish straight,
watched it keel starboard,
one eye staring up,
a rip that wouldn't bleed.
The next morning it lay dry and light
beside the tub. He said it must have tried
with one last shiver of life to escape.
I nudged it with a stick, scaring away flies
and flipped the crappie like a big coin
through the grass and into the woods—
one side, a cracked black-silver eye,
the other, a socket ripped and its eye-chip gone,
leaves and dirt sticking to the skin
moist from dew. I flicked it past the border of woods
because, not knowing how to ask escape from what?
I remembered him about to toss the fish,
and when I couldn't sleep that night how he told me
Indians buried them to make land rich.
Coming back to the tub I saw a bob-white make off
with something small and silver in its mouth.
Kingdom Of Brother Puppets
My fist, a loose brain, bumped inside the hollow, plasticine head of
He was heavy, hard to support and animate in car and plane and boat—
one hand moved a set of wire rods to make his arms gesticulate,
while the other worked his mouth to the taped voice
and my shoulder ached to keep him from sinking too low
on the stage above our heads (though he'd sink soon enough
from his own excess of wealth and pride).
A relief to leave him in jail as we pulled the backdrop for another
changed puppets, and took Mole and River Rat, lighter beings,
from their safe swamp home to save Mr. Toad,
imprisoned by the hideous humans who, heartless,
nonetheless seemed just nemesis for Toad's foolhardy ways.
Our arms grew tired, sweat soaked our shirts,
and we moved into a familiar fatigue, the unconscious repetition of
Christmas 1982: We played the corporate jesters for a
in lower Connecticut—wealthy center of a depressed empire.
I my brother's apprentice for the brief season when puppets become
Our hands pricked numb from assembling the stage,
arms rubbery after holding the cumbersome puppets over our heads,
we sat on the cold auditorium floor, resting
before the second show when we'd punch the tape
and Debussy would introduce Wind in the Willows once more.
Children stuck their heads through the curtains
and laughed to see two grown-ups dressed in purple.
A little boy cried when he saw the hand and rod puppets
big as himself hooked to nails on the back of the stage, draped over
limp-limbed and groggy-eyed as actors coming off a drunk.
Brothers in a trade almost as old as whoring and regarded little
we conspired on the hard floor about the show, our futures,
as if, secluded in the half-lit light, we were cut
loose in an irretrievable space between assembly and performance.
Eight years between us, when else had we whispered to each other,
our bodies hidden and arms obscured, trying to make sense of clay
We began again, and as he signaled the next premeditated move,
I thought this is the sweat and secret voice brothers are meant to
Mother And Child
The child leans away from his mother,
stretching the shawl that suspends him,
sleeping, against the back of her ribs.
She knows where he is going, feels it in his pull
away, away, but he is hers now, great burden,
her joy who even in his slumbering
matches his breath to the beat of her footsoles along the dirt road.
She wonders if ever he will know his body as part of hers,
the way she feels her heart inside her timed to this small one,
like a bird's she felt once in the palm of her hand,
her own child-pulse quickening to its beat
before she put it back in its nest;
or if he, become a man, will carry his own child
and feel this deep longing to sink with the weight,
this knowledge of all life, into the earth—
to stop moving forward and drop his child like a seed
to root and grow beside him
as she wishes the two of them should grow inward
into the soil where roots twine without thought or question,
where she would shed water from her branches onto his head
and shade him from the midday sun—
this sun that drives her on now. She feels fated to movement,
unmade to stand against it, her bare feet merely thudding
the surface of the earth, and yet they take in the heat
and the dust sticks to her sweaty skin.
She feels him shifting and knows he will soon wake up
and pull at her hair as he hoists himself over her shoulder.
No use in fighting this desire that flares up her belly
and into her heart, her love of his restless body
fed by the spirit that moves through him
like a fire across the grasses.
She has to accept his too-quick growth—
price for the feel of his damp skin,
his wriggling form against her side, the touch that loses
all sense of where they divide. He is another shoulder,
a head growing out of her form, her other eyes
blinking, taking in the light.
For once I dive alone.
I drop through weeds, sogged tires and logs,
down the mud wall of the Connecticut.
This old suture between America and Europe
never settles. Sunlight cuts out
and I flick on my light. Brown and yellow discs of fish
dart out of sight. All that's here are old stumps,
a junked car riddled with bullets and rust,
one huge catfish I try to catch for dinner.
This is stupid, this solo dive
I hear my father say. I cut the light.
Water dark as pitch urges me down.
I grope with neoprened hands
and walk them along the slope,
my fingers digging in mud. This darkness
is a night room; this river is dense
and heavy as lying fevered in bed, or sleepless
until four a.m. when the first thick river fog of fall
breaks red to the east. Shapes blur soft and large.
A few particles of silt catch the last gleam of sun.
This world is bone dark and direction
lost until I inflate my vest or drop weights
and let the water urge my body up.
I see him next to me, holding the other end of the line
we used in clouded Atlantic dives.
One time, having drifted far apart in our solitary proddings,
I tugged the line and it came in slack. The yellow cord
curled and drifted in the thick plankton milk.
Cut loose, no way to know the sea's direction,
I swam in circles until I butted him with my head,
unable to see through the turbulent race.
He glowered, busily probing the sand,
thinking I meant it as play.
He didn't see my eyes—too absorbed in chasing a crab
that he taunted into clenching the end of his knife.
He waved it at me triumphantly, until it let go,
tumbled and sank and sent up a cloud of silt
as it hit bottom and hunkered down.
It wanted no more dazzling flights, nothing but the solid,
safe, life-decaying ocean floor to clench and filter through its
We couldn't find it again, but he would have been fine to eat,
we agreed after coming up, that pair of claws that darted and
at whatever approached through the thick, blinding sea.
TO: The Aging Poet
FROM: The Advertising Executive
Don't you wish now you could read my poems again,
the ones you could scarce find time
to comment on. Now, I mean, that your skin
pulls away from the underlying flesh
and the wattle hangs beneath your chin.
I don't flatter myself—not for the poems
themselves with their romantic clichés that never
"took the top off your head"
(you told me then they reminded you
of someone selling after shave or gin;
thanks for the suggestion,
that skill brings me 200K a year;
and by the way I found
your unacknowledged allusion
in the letters of Dickinson)—
not for the poems, but so you could live again
those days you read them in
when the girls in class sought your office
like starved pullets hungering for your muse.
My poems with their nostalgic consolation
at least might suit now
to stave off your mortal blues.