summer camp

the girls bear the weight of themselves
like urns of water, balanced or sometimes
not. some falls onto their shoulders. knees
and elbows wet with their bodies’
misunderstandings. eating snacks on summer
camp cots, the girls laugh, full of air
and drops tumble into their hands,
a silent rain. hands make poor vessels
but they have been given nothing better.
here, July in the south, there is no sky.
guide the girls to the river to fill themselves
again. we drink pickle juice and runoff
and throw up empty. we are all bad
at saving for later. when the girls eat
all their snacks the first night, i am pitiless
and still so hungry.
the first and only time i held a bird
it was dead. found wing and splinter
in the stairwell, the girls sit around me as if waiting
for a speech. their pupils wide and all
black: my body is small and upside down
in their eyes. they are old enough
for this but not old enough to go at it alone.
this place is full of different deaths:
the wasps spin drunkenly off the cinderblock,
june bugs like flying oil stains, flies pile up
in the windowsills, the girls bleed through
their sheets. every corner is a burial
ground. summer teaches us what we can take.
the faucets leak red clay, the creek
has gone to rust. it’s dirt we know. we bury
the bird without words in the soft muck,
refill our chests with river water. the mud
is cool and gritty on our tongues.

(1)

obachan standing, bloody
hoe in hand, eyes wide and wet
with fear or victory, four foot
black rat snake, no danger
to anything human,
cut to pieces at her feet.

first time i am scared
of this woman who loves me,
glad the garden tools sleep
outside. i touch the snake’s
lonely head and obachan
snaps in a voice from a different
throat. this moment she is
a mother again, gone the smoothed
corners of age.

she realizes
her ridiculousness: this
unreasonable violence.
the death around her feet
like the start of a garden.

cat funeral

i am pulling the kayak from the lake
when i see it: dead cat, mossy and waterheavy,
body pillowed almost unrecognizable. white paws
stick out from it’s body like a child’s drawing: circle
with four lines. i want a shovel and a piece of quiet
dirt but i also want to give a good wringing, twisting
out the wet until matted but living. my wrists are
not strong enough to wring water from lungs.
i think about the world like this: i am always
the deficit. i can’t pin this accident to a clothesline.
the cat bumps against the rocks and says nothing.

the blue-green algae is blooming poison. it’s the biggest bloom
anyone can remember. the water looks walkable, solid with green.
i think it is the whole lake in mourning for this dead thing, a field
of tiny flowers, the procession moving in ripples. nature knows
how to throw a funeral. the water climbs over my sandals and it’s all
the same. toes water is dead cat water is every water in this big hole.
i can’t help but feel too late. i am not responsible for everything
i could have prevented but it knocks around behind my chest
all the same. i can’t tell which end is the head. it must be hard to die
out in the open.

playing at death

it was like this: i hear five-year old footsteps
and drape myself off the edge of the bed
eyes rolled like white marbles for his discovery.
he walks into the room. first he says kiyoko
i know you are ok get up ‘yoko helloooo
then he says kiyoko? you okay?
and pokes me in the cheek. it is hard
not to laugh but that would ruin it, this joke
we are sharing. his voice rises
and i can hear the crying building
in his throat. ‘yoko stop it get up. please.
get up. it is amazing how young
children recognize death. it is just the two of us
in this big house and he can’t reach the phone.
i am still holding my breath. it hurts
but it is worth it. this is not a joke
this is about power, about being older
and smarter and able to be so still.
he is crying now, really crying
the kind that only little kids do. it takes
their whole bodies working at the grief.
suddenly it’s over, the thrill of the whole thing;
it’s just the two of us in this big house
and i ruined it. i unroll my eyes and get up,
hugging his boy shoulders saying sorry
i’m sorry i don’t know why i did that but i know
i’ll do it again and he isn’t mad.
he’s just happy that i am okay
and that is the worst part.

how anyone finds out about anything

my senior year of college, a friend of mine
whose coffee order i knew and liked
how her lips struggled around
her braces – her boyfriend died.
i found out via facebook – the same way
i learned who was getting married and
what to eat for breakfast. she posted
a picture of the two of them laying
atop a picnic blanket on their backs.
they looked like beetles – limbs
too tired to move. their frame of vision:
all sky.

i called  to tell her i couldn’t imagine
what she felt, to tell her i was sorry
for not being able to understand but mostly
just relieved. still, i wanted to know,
in the way that we all like to be a little
close to death sometimes, what
it was like to lose something you have
done so well at holding on to.

do you still take the time to peel
off the white flesh encasing
the grapefruit, does it still give you the sweet
after the bitter? how do your small shoulders
bear the weight of the entire bed?
have you changed the temperature
of the shower water, or has your body become
something you are afraid to get wet,
a collector’s item, worth more because
he can no longer love you?

death in the family

he calls at seven pm to tell me.
when i see “dad” on the screen i get nervous –
he calls when someone dies, the only
thing he thinks isn’t proper to say in an email.

it is a process of elimination: not mom, she just
texted me an hour ago. not brother, mom would
call first. answer.

grandpa hank finally died. died in his sleep.
heart had been beating only 35 times a minute
for weeks. a medical mystery how he lasted this long.

tongue feels like a trowel in my mouth.
ah. bummer. 
he says, we both know it isn’t.
tongue starts to dig its way down my throat.