Another placid, predictable tongue
to the opened prism of a beer bottle, and you will soon
have had enough of the smart-talk circling
the thread-bare evening, of this: poetry
comfortable as a living room, the pretty, lolling head
of the afternoon, your face undone under a baseball cap
and ruddied hair, back patched after one-day
surgery and probably bleeding a little still.
You are trying to think now what people need
with comfort, with health or sense. This morning
on your stomach under a hot lamp and needles
because of old sunburns, the doctor’s practiced warning:
you will feel a pinch, sting, burn, and spread . . . What?
Shell gathering when you were twelve? Hours belly down,
sifting fingers through silt, or earlier—that river bed
near Lexington? Swimming with motor boats, riding
their frothy wake. Later near the trees,
a shallow of quicksand—curious yellow tributary.
Parents nowhere around. Nothing to stop you, no reason.
You walked in to your knees. Let buckets go, shovels go
under. The scrape of sand on plastic. Mud to your knees.
Yellow sun: red, red, red. How many freckles does it take to
a poet? What other nice words to describe what might not be
benign? Lying on a table next to the threat of silver
implements, next to a doctor’s easy speech, his careful
explanations of pathology, prevention,
prescription, you imagine the unseen surface of your own
back; think, I could be any empty expanse
of land. You could be the moon for as much as you’ve been
neither place. You carry the memory of sun and sky.
Let go of your landscape; think, unconstellate.
Sheila Squillante is a poet and essayist living in Pittsburgh. Author of BEAUTIFUL NERVE as well as three chapbooks of poetry, her work has appeared in journals like Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Phoebe, The Bakery, Thrush Poetry Journal and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Fourth River.
Ben McClendon is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. He previously studied poetry at Northern Arizona University after teaching high school English for several years. His poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Yemassee, CÃ¦sura, Chariton Review, Redivider, Rattle, and elsewhere. He is currently Assistant Poetry Editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers and a poetry editor for Four Ties Lit Review. Ben lives with his husband in Knoxville.