Launching the Whale
My dad is a carpenter,
sort of like Jesus,
but he doesn’t believe in God.
His holy space is drills and grinders,
roaring teeth spitting chips and dust.
When I was twelve
we built a canoe from strips of cedar,
ripped boards for weeks.
The frame in the garage
was scaled like an empty whale,
bones lurching from the shop floor.
We arced on its new skin
with glue and heavy staples.
Dad wore a green down-vest
like a tortoise shell,
he said it would comfort our shop-mammal
to be built by something familiar.
As the frame was full
with hull and keel,
we plied out staples
like final stitches
removed from a recovered experiment,
ran our hands down its sanded spine,
the work painting into our palms,
our pores absorbing the bonding.
When we rode the whale,
we launched it from the shore
like pushing a dead cow
back into the sea,
boots in the shallows
filled with lake water.
It would take us to the middle
where the big fish are,
where the casting rods
bend like cottonwood over glass,
dance jigs, whippin’ back and forth.
This is how we sit,
me, navigator bow-boy,
front paddle like the steam engine
is tug boat, but little boat.
Dad is stern, rudder man,
power in the deep dig,
he spanked the water good,
like it forgot to take the garbage out.
We pull the trash from the beaver dens
and replace them with good sticks,
he says they don’t know any better,
the babies will get the soda rings
around their heads like the Spanish inquisition
and die slow.
We don’t want ‘em to die slow.
hard on the left, watch out for the log!”
I see the log.
The log looks like a floating dog.
Put my paddle in it,
sank through like a fork in cat food.
It is/was a dog,
belly stickin’ out
like helium and rot.
See how the K9’s are chipped
and peeled back?
Musta’ been eatin’ marmots.
Sometimes a stray dog will eat rocks
if it’s hungry enough.
My dad is a scientist.
He doesn’t believe in god.
His holy space is lakes and bug guts,
they cell through him
when we walk on the roots
and slipping path of the Yakima valley.
We Swiss-blade open on the pond,
make ripples like loons,
hoot-hoot against the quarry
for the echo, make campfire dance
with pucker-mouth lip wind
and sizzle up the iron-pan
washin’ in mountain water.
When the tent gots the squirts with dew
and embers burn down, crackin’
like mosquitoes on Dad’s neck
with his slappin’, and it’s dark as bears,
morning peeps over the ridge
and we are simple
into the tree.
A Different Countdown
(First appeared in City Arts Magazine December '14)
we’re standing in the fog
and it’s too thick to see fireworks
from this side of town.
From this side of town, the sky
is just a flickering swamp.
We’re all celebrating midnight
and everyone here is who they came to be. People,
stumbling in the street like
loose-leaf paper, kissing on the
mouth, stopping traffic, trumpets
marching out of yesterday and I’m holding
Lauren’s hand. She won’t tell me until
the middle of March, that she’s leaving
for Chicago in May, that she loves me
and it’s permanent. I’ll pretend I’m going
to be fine. Next year will be a different
countdown. Somewhere, another couple
same as us, is floating around in the dark
cheering on the future for the last time
without really knowing it. Somewhere
everything is new and will feel the same
as it was before. Just over there, fireworks
are lighting up the sky