Sherre Vernon

Of Sky and Earth #22 by Stephen Linsteadt

Dedication of the Fire-Fish

I reach for you in concrete and chain link.
              I grasp for you in asphalt and paint.
              But you are yuca and jackrabbit,
              the rolling Sierra and the subtilty of sand.

I loved you first for your clean lines:
              the I-15, smooth from Jean to Sloan;
              your lattice towers, your road signs—
              my arms raised in adoration
              to the distant railway.

When did you take me into bone
              and roadside altar, stones
              upon stones: boulders, a cairn
              under the shade of juniper?

You are my mother tongue:
              I did not speak before you;
              you are my death rite:
              my brother’s ashes wait in me for you.

It’s a long drive, and my daughter sleeps
              in the back seat, head bowed
              as if in prayer. She is younger than I was, when I was
              offered up, bare and trembling.

I was lain across the folded seat bench
              under the night-glass of the windshield,
              my heart flayed open, wanting
              —unflinching under the thousand
              piercing stars of the desert sky.

Mother, I bring her to you to pay her respects.
              I bring her for your pride,
              and your delight.
              For the music of her laughter.

& I bring her to tell you—this fire
              —my child—I have given to the sea.
              She will never be lonely,
              or know the discipline
              of your streets.

I will let her grow lush, baroque.
              Her litany will be like coral,
              a dance in seafoam; her prayer—
              the wild roar of the wave.

She will be unafraid and unashamed
              of where the water rises up
              in flame, and after today—

               she will never hear your name.

Of Thee I Sing

A humming green, a whistling. You sat on the edge
and saw that I was dying. I wanted you to say,
“Let me be the mountain, let me be a hidden grove
of cedar on an impassable trail. Together, we will wait
for rain,” and raise your eyes to the electric whir above

us, but there were no incandescent lights or promises
of something eastward. You gave me your eyes,
and a love for small, hard-shelled creatures—
isn’t that enough? I asked you when you turned

from me—when you left off the weaving
of baskets, refused to hold children
who climb too high, and large cats—
What called you to bury missiles in the black
hills of South Dakota, to raise nuclear altars

to the angry Pacific and in the desert
hide? Red, I know—I just don’t know why.
Can I wait for the conjuring of a long history?
I have a collection of fallen branches to keep me,

a trove of hidden nets, a stolen sterling broach.
Against the rain, I have learned to find leylines
in palms. On every baroque mirror, on every stair-
way railing, I have rung the old spoon and waited
for the echo. Even my name was borrowed. Mother,

have you found my grandfather’s small canvas
bag? He left it in a poem before he died. And
where are the blossoms he collected, where
is the mercy of my inheritance?

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