What the Neighbors Mustn’t Know
I prayed for the water to leave. Drowned a goat in the bay
with a laurel of juniper hung around its throat. It brayed until it didn’t.
I thought this would bring you back. One body for another.
It’s my fault that no rain rattles our roofs like BBs shook up in a tin can.
There are whale skeletons draped across the Rustbeds
like string-snipped marionettes. Even the gulls won’t touch down.
I would drink a great blue whale for you and the whale’s shadow.
I would drink a fleet of battleships. Drink coral and driftwood.
But I’m not stupid. Drinking saltwater only makes a person thirstier.
If you come back, we’ll tell the neighbors you were away in Charleston
to see your brother. We’ll let that be the truth, now. The truth
is whatever people are willing to believe.
I used to love swimming and I used to love you.
Do I still? Is it possible to love something that is not present?
Is thirst the same as or the opposite of love?
Humpback. Fin. Blue. Sperm. Grey. Bowhead. Sei. Baleen. Minke. Killer.
If I were a whale I would swallow you and you would live
in me and I wouldn’t open my mouth, not ever again for anything.
I’ve spent all night sitting awake
in the yellow lamplight, parchment splayed open,
brush tip falling into pools of cherry ink.
I document familiar landmarks—
the cave mouth of Old Granite Quarry,
the first, second, and third highway exits,
the tar pit where a man lost his heartbeat
from a brown recluse bite as he searched
the gully for tin cans.
I include the overgrown train trestle,
though no trains run anymore.
I include the steeple that the lightning hit
and the dried up levee.
Because I record these places on the map,
they are remembered.
There are also places I do not record.
Because I do not record them on the map,
they are forgotten, and because they are forgotten,
they never existed.
I do not include the bandstand that vanished
under the river before I was born.
I do not include the farmland by the rotary.
I do not include the trail of bleeding mulberry
along the path to your door.
I do not include your name.