The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Mark McBride
After Tammy Faye Bakker's Last Television Interview
Old women across America dreamed of wingless Tinkerbells illumed by the lustrous sheen of fervent prayers. They dreamed of ancient cats swaying in the warmth of heater vents and Michelangelo painting his fallen face into the grip of Saint Bartholomew's hand. They dreamed until at last through the open square of their dreaming, a green lawn dotted with grey stones appeared, and on the crest of a distant hill a backhoe sputtered to life.
Dust takes dictation one dead cell at a time
across the fuzzy flats of ceiling fans
and the snowy crests of shelved books.
Skin, fiber, spore—these are what dust records,
and if I leave open a window or door,
pollen from pines, African sands.
Now the sea bean in the bathroom has a stubbly beard.
I scrape its brown belly with the edge of my thumb.
A cat, a child, a former self. Animate to inanimate.
Matter to after-matter. Even a bean can tell you this,
poised on a granite countertop,
its pith petrified to the hardness of rock.
On Learning of the Death of a Former Student
I remembered the space where he sat but not him.
He shared a desk with a beauty who did not know
she was beautiful. In front of him was the student
with nystagmus. Then the guitar-playing Christian
and the blond whose world was wound with worry.
When I heard the news I went back to my grade book
and found his name: C plus, B minus, D, zero.
He failed. No face. No image. No history.
But beneath my desk, in a stack of old essays, I found his.
The topic: Something Important. His was a fishing story.
Sunrise on the lagoon, the sky spreading pink and orange
like two shrimp-stained hands rank with praise.
He'd learned from his grandfather how high pressure systems
kill the catch, how the sky bears down against the water,
stills it, smooths it, smothers it, until every finny creature
is sent scrambling to the bottom of the world.
It came to me then, the conversation we'd had
about the lagoon when dawn is on the water
and you realize the hiss you hear isn't jacks
ravaging bait fish or rain or wind, but simply the sound
of the ocean breaking through the trees.
I remembered him then: a stocky kid, timid smile,
downward gaze. And I remembered what I told him.
"That's it!" I said. "That's important. Write about that."
Mule Skinner's Blues
We are both drunk, thigh to thigh.
He strums, I chord.
We ramp-up to 4/4 time, my fingers planted
in the familiar G — three-legged dog
that signals an explosion of sound so loud
the heat bugs outside go silent.
He calls this singing.
Mother calls it almost dead cats.
When she's drunk, she calls him
a half man. The arm, gone
since Fallujah, makes him, to my eyes,
three-quarters, then some.
But none of that matters now.
Now we are both full bodied and limitless.
I chord, he sings, and no one
dares fault him for the beat of his strum.
Copyright 2006-2012 by Cook Communication