Arriving Gdansk Harbor, 2000: The Women We Have Left
Sunk in steerage, we are crossing
the blue-silver Baltic. After making love she stands, cold
in the bathroom’s white doorway—familiar
curve of her thighs—sleepily slurs, “you’re too pretty for your own good.”
I pretend not to hear, and go up to deck.
Imagine my father’s mother: young
in muddied green gardening pants, raspberry-bloodied gloves, on hands
and knees over her husband’s purpling orchids,
tearing them from their rain-warm beds. And then, there she is
on the front porch—from the house-radio
a woman sings, “There’s another mare in his stall”
—standing, feet planted, waiting
for him, bare arms crossed. Ready. This was Louisville, 1961.
A gull with one wing dragging
like a banner humps down shore. Smoke stacks reach above fog.
Saw grass, horse tail, and sedge spike,
the coast beneath a fat coat of snow, window-climbing snow.
Ice on the river is a gypsy shimmer
like a school of perch, some frozen smoke, some mold plate.
Imagine my mother in Kentucky,
1972, school skirt and tie, plump and acned, shifting through
the quiet and darkness of my father’s house,
up to his room haunted by a hotdog dinner and the aquarium’s glow
where he sits alone. Or she stands with him
as he leans under a car’s open hood, with a joint between his teeth,
beneath a ghostly garage light,
waiting for it to come back on, before it goes out again.
Two men speak with their shovels’
sluff into slurry. Our ship banks into Port Nowy’s archipelago
of crane-tipped quays,
and vessels, all rust and tea-kettle gray. A night wind moans
like two barges
butting. Fog clothes fishing-boat lights below gulls,
tangled and tangling.
One thundering night
on the Baltic I wake before her. Wave-rocked, her breast teased
from its gown, nipple
at the back of my neck like some small nose,
some accusation. I imagine
her heart, a cross-sectioned nautilus, each complex curved wall.
Imagine my father—newly separated—and myself:
cedar bark snagged in our sweaters, handling cork-and-wood reels,
fishing lines tangled. The body of a salmon,
floating at our knees, still a horny pink-red, washed onto the rock
between us. And my worried father says
its eye is looking up at him. Of course it is not looking at anything
that’s not a cloud passing.
June 1910, Susquehanna Valley
Introductions Reading Loop
Tracking the Muse: The Unreliable Prism
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