“At 68, my father turned to wood.”

                                           —Randy Nelson, from “Ghost”




                             September 10, A Shattering



In the house, vigilant

(a disgusting vigilance,

including sleep)

I am a kid in a kid’s room.




Playing with the wall,

I’ve wrapped my fingers into some skull

on the far one— a transparent shadow mass,

the light rushing around my hands like a bandage.


An hour earlier I jailed a night toad,

only one inch long, only thirty seconds long,

then flicked him off (toads, with their gentle

bones and the grace in their double-stretched skin,

still are never shes).

I flicked him back in the grass.


Crumbs of meaty earth in my palms

left from the toad’s umbrella toes.

I spread the wart-dirt all across my cheeks

to blush into ugliness,

to become a troll.


I remembered, though, that I didn’t want anything

to do with being a toad.  The mud ran like lava

down the sides of the sink.





Dad, you are lying dead in the next room

with your dog tags on.




My hips could not hold my weight,

or the weight of paper, even

if I could will myself to stand. 


Your eyes are the size of your pocketwatch,

even closed.

I am afraid.

I will sleep awake tonight.



The first dream was like this:


You’ve gone to change your name.

The explanation: onomatopoeia

and you love me.

I think: you’ve just been around too long






The next:


The ship went down.





Candles thicken the unhealthy smell of the room.

Dad, you have turned into the one wearing a séance.

You forgot to talk to me.


I played the knife game today,

fingers spread on the glass cover of the coffee table.

The problem: my eyes closed

too many times. My hand looks chewed,

a loose piece of knitting.


How is it that, still,

we can keep someone dead in the house?

A whale on land is not hematite,

striped silver, not liquid,

not mercury, not a whale.

This whale, dragged from the dune

and sandy, is no one I know.

Grounded completely.

He was never that.



A heap of rotting hay. 

I’d burn it tonight if I could.

Do you hear that, Dad?

Dirty clothes.

Fireplace left over

from a fallen down house.



Ears where lightning struck

eyes squirrel hollows

nose a shriveled sunless branch

no mouth (he was quiet)

hands the oyster shell shapes

of fungus wing flutters

his knees tight gnarled knots in the skin


the leaves a halo bothered by wind.





                             September 8, Distilled



I took the sleeper car to see him the last time.

I had been drinking since Mom called.

I found this on a club car napkin:



The train windows are drunk—

lips licked with whiskey,

brown-tainted, swallowed in caramel.


Pine trees dip through the slurred puddles


dragging their lacy feet.

When we are quick

the trees are whipped into mud.


Burial mounds aching, all stuck through


with bones, aching in solitary pain—

lost hills of death— now

run together like ocean waves.


Even the creek we travel with


begins to look liquid,

fast as glass, and slips along

shimmering and ridged like a clear earthworm.





The man who left this at the bar

was wet, from the knees down.

I imagined about him:



I see a man right now

in the middle of a business suit

in the middle of a rain

finding a seat on the sidewalk

then pulling a garbage bag over his head

all around him.

I immediately think of punishment,

lost babies that people throw

in dumpsters

in plastic.

I think to save him.


He is just hiding.

Again, there are babies in my head.

When you can’t see, there is nothing

truer, that no one can see you back.

The man is simply in a place

with not so many colors.

It isn’t that he disappeared.

That can be blamed on the rest of them.


The rain has something to do with this:

the black of oil churning in circles

separating to turn into everything.

Wings of color, all directions.


The man looked down to see his grief

diving and swimming in smiles.

And a car ran over this.


When he crossed the street,

some splashed on his shoes.

He caught a little of the all in his pant cuffs.


So he sits.

None of this is important though.

It matters that he is still there,

that I am still with him,

though across the road.




But in the train.

Nearly there.



Now I am wishing there is no drink limit:


I empty the whisky into the hollow-eyed

tire swing.  It drips slowly out, like a sloppy tradition,

from a nail-hole in the tread.

New whiskey, steeped in old oil and dirt road,

rubber.  I sit underneath, mouth open

to catch the tired rain.  A golden

looking glass down my throat.  Spreading.



The train slows in time to my blood.

The amazing thing about me

is that I am as pale as water

in an ash marble fountain.

You can see right through my skin.

Lacy capillaries twinkling like angels.

My dejected, frown of a liver.

Downstream, muscles wrapped as Valentine gifts.

Ovary arrowheads.

Lungs, one broken wagon wheel. 

My ribs, flirty, and always slightly unzipped,

show a winking heart, like a lighthouse.

I direct everyone home.




                                           September, One Wing



The trees—long-lasting fireworks.

This branching in everything:

streams fall in ribbons, broken around a rock

arms to fingers

little thoughts, like “Kiss me there”

limbs into “and there”

to the twig of “one more”



Nothing stays one, together.

But nothing ever comes unattached.


Look at each cold breath

growing lie a crystal tree in the air.

Every bit of air drawn in

is immediately lost in a web of veins

tributaries ending in still more gossamer.

It is just as possible to branch in a circle

as it is to fall together there,

but the branching is what lasts.




                                           September 12, Grub



A lovely dinner— guests easy to please— and not after long

we napped in the backyard in the bog.


I floated down to dine with nine

corpses this evening.


We ate the flower’s meat

twine-green bones.


I prepared this salad:

unzipped the muslin dress of lettuce,


split and spilled the whole heart

of a carrot’s arrow,


cut the diamond of an onion chandelier,

unplugged a throbbing tomato from its juice.


I did more.  My fingers are stained radish.

All our life’s work is dying.


Look at any face.


you will see shriveled kidneys

left too long in an oven.


at the same time, a bloated

liver strung with a flood of poison.


knees crumbling in a concrete way

from their business in the slums.


(I am taking the body apart again)


the library of the lungs

each book weighed with mold.


I tossed a few of my own teeth

with salad, for croutons.




                                           September 10, The Last of the Season



I hate to realize what I’ve been doing

since ten.  Raking in the wind.

Peeling impaled leaves, leather

butterflies, off my rake.

It is homemade and wooden.

I may as well have a broom.


Trucks encourage the wind and, the lonely

ones, on the road for weeks,

see me, a girl, and yell out.

They must miss some one.


I think, if Sisyphus and I were the same age,

we’d have a good time.

I could walk on top of his rock

like a log roller, rake in hand,

sweeping the wind to get the flyaways.

Whoever finished first

would buy the end-of-the-day

beers.  We could finally sleep.


Dad would rather leaves rot

in our marsh of a lawn than to rake.

His plan was a forest

of mushrooms and the under-stone smell

that clings to the legs of grey

feathery insects.  Our yard was left

to its own.  Once,

it thought itself into a pond

and drowned.


I stand between the wind

and my lighter

and touch each of the eight

shriveled fingers.

A rake on fire

looks like a strange, scared man.

I dropped him in the gutter.




                                           September 13, Burial



To think like a tree, first let yourself

into the ground.  Sometimes your roots

go down, sometimes you must dig

a hole to stand in.  The religion of dirt

heads into toes, then rides the sap

up the body.  It slows you down like meditation.

Tar for blood.  Now, a tree.


The touch of onion chiffon on fingers,

a wet light bulb,

the way a sharp star smells.


Onions look like full clouds

when the clouds are so large

the veins of the sky thicken

soon to rush again with rain

turning the land rusty.



The clouds all day have looked like my dog—

not the shape of Aslan,

but the pipe smoke quality of him—

something you feel like you should

be able to hold, but can’t.

Each swelling of the skin

of the clouds is a single curl of Aslan’s fur.


He actually stayed on my bed

when I put him there

for two minutes

with the window’s wind on his nose

then ran off to find

where the breeze went.


I stayed at the window.

Some of the grass after the long assembly

decided that the air was no good.

The rebels (the union)

have started growing back into the ground,

head-first and loopy

like a strange, one-color needlepoint.


The trees, when they heard about all this

grew mournful.  Again.

It’s nothing new.  They cry about having lost

everything, and they have.

They look like they have.

The stage of winter.


Teachers say it is the less light

that throws people on their knees

in the snow.

It is really the teacher of the trees,

their tragedy.  A little Oedipus,

part Hamlet, and always Death

of a Salesman.  The no communication

that is communication.


The trees think they are sad, sure.

But they are making people cry.


With all this nonsense going on,

the tulips have decided to stay in

their leafy eggs forever.  A dreamy

hibernation that lasts,

swirled in satin licks,

the insect-black inside.


Clouds bandage the bruised sky

above my unhappy yard.

Aslan has come back

his head under my hand

for a second.



Is it coincidence brains are shaped like clouds?

A tree’s tiara?








                                           September, Graves:



those that are cared for every Saturday,

marble rinsed down, dead daisies removed,

azaleas trimmed


those set in diagonals


with rose marble, not ash




those that are warm

boiling over with dirt


ones that are empty, not drawn yet,

but surely will be


above the ground




rain-riddled, or roots


dusted with lilacs,

with the taste of dusk


ones sculpted as angels


those with candles in wind-proof glass


ones for children, with dolls


with snow on top


sometimes, the ocean




the skin, when one dies alone


those that have been robbed,

lockets snapped from crackling spine

rings slid off white sticks


the skin, when one wants to die








                                           September 30, How I Made The Day



I went diving in a water cave,

a dark-lit, placid, ocean grave

where sharks were sleeping like dull blades,

and kept far from the nightmare waves.


Stalagmites crawling with sea lice

this well where Mayans sacrificed

held gold that seemed to melt like ice

when I brought it to the surface for light.


Each honeyed tear dripped again to the ground

to form a glassy, glowing mound

like lave worming, turning sound

the cursed gold coiled pools around.


I saw this frozen light become

a thousand eyelids, then just one.

It opened to let out the sun,

from under this water the day was spun.


A tarry sea was tempered to

the water that can teem and chew,

a phoenix and a wildfire brew.

The ocean from black drowsy gold to blue.




                                           After All, Renovations



The finish is inching off the floors.

Unpainting itself in rays.

Unraveling your work.

Your fingers were splintered

like a cactus.  And now,

are sinking into wood,

spilling into each bare fiber.

 There’s your whirlpool

thumbprint— no,

a mat dark in the plank.

Is that your elbow’s scar

I’m standing over?

My toe closes your eye.

No, that’s not right.

A tangle of knee?  Dizzy.

Turn around,

turn it all back to wood.


SARAH MCCANN has been a Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and has worked around the world. She has been published and has work forthcoming in such journals as The Bennington Review, Margie, The Broken Bridge Review, Midway Journal, The South Dakota Review and Hanging Loose