“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.


October’s End, All Souls’ Sunset

Skeletons clank woodenly in the dark Light through the ribs—
wind all over Mexico. a dead red prism.;
The blanket on you, Witch costume, ragged at the knees.
frozen prism, Stringy hair, echo of fringe.
was woven on such a night, A painted girl pulls her hat, turns
strings of dusk shy, at a dog.
the weft, Later, the real demons,
stars strung as shy warp. the children gone.
You were born after sunset. Your face is so open,
It is right you should be gone eyes closed, and always begs:
at the same time. “Just one more sweet.
Children are begging pesos I’m in light up to my elbows
as ghosts. A small devil but not drowned yet”
alights at my elbow. The blanket settles.
A skeleton has begun to show through The cloth holds onto your old body,
the settling blanket. the wind to the shore.

SARAH MCCANN Sarah McCann was a Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and has published her poetry in such journals as The Bennington Review, Margie, The Broken Bridge Review, Midway Journal, The South Dakota Review and Hanging Loose. Her translations from the Modern Greek into English have been recognized by the Fulbright Foundation with a grant and published in such anthologies and journals as Austerity Measures, Words Without Borders, Poetry International, and World Literature Today.  She has also had the pleasure to edit a collection of poetry from the late American poet Robert Lax, Tertium Quid, and a book of her translations of the Greek poet Maria Laina is available from World Poetry Books through the University of Connecticut.