Curse the rain, he thought. Curse the repetition, the weatherman,
the dead dog and the other in his house, the roosters on the back stoop,
the bottle, the snuff tin, the sho’ nuff’, the rice fields and levies, the thunder,
the boat, the trolley motor, the carp and the catfish, the long bridge
and the long highway, the nightgown and the toothbrush, the never stopping,
the never knowing, curse the never never coming. Under the porch
the black ants carried the scraps away. They were leaving—everything
was leaving. The hawk on the highway who had sat on that powerline
for years, the neighbors in their old sedan, the news crew who had asked him
What are you most afraid of losing? and Tell us about floods and Have you ever
stood on a hilltop and seen the world end? He cleaned the charcoal off his hands,
the motor oil, the grease, he cleaned the chicken shit and the mud,
the fish scales and the blood, everything water, everything rinsed, everything
in a half of a house that leant to the sun in the west, everything
in a rusted bicycle and his old truck on blocks, everything in the coop
and the crutches laid against the wall of the shed. Some nights
when he held her he held everything. Some nights the windows
seemed so far away. Some nights like Jacob he wrestled with God—
I could murder a man, he thought some nights, but he could never make out
that man’s face. He was not blessed. He was not broken, either.
The tooth he lost and planted with a plum tree. The plum tree bearing fruit,
the empty canning jars in the pantry, her hands rubbing balm
on his bad hip in the morning, another bad tooth aching, he dreamt of taking
his heart out and pushing it down the disposal, down the sewer,
down the unknown, down deep to where he couldn’t hear it beat
in the darkness. A pile of broken turtle shells and a soup on the stove.
Born as a fleshball, he thought, destined for worms. He did more damage
to fish fried whole than the sun does to a dead carcass, than time does
to a dead carcass in the sun, he was thinking these days of the sun
and of time and carcasses, they had wandered off somewhere with the cat.
A beautiful umbrella. Something he’d wanted always to buy her. An umbrella
she could fly on, an umbrella she could sleep under, an umbrella
he could lay down over the water and make a bridge. He looked at the chicken bones
on his plate and knew something bad was coming. The stench
of the garbage before garbage day, of the water before the river crests.
From the book of Micah: Enemy, don’t laugh at me. I have fallen,
but I will get up again. I sit in the shadow of trouble now, but the Lord will be a light
for me. June evenings with a frog gig and a bucket. The eyes
of something that can’t stop staring into the white. To return from the dead:
the fish on the stringer going slowly still until they meet the shore,
animals destined for air, men destined for one last gilled breath
and then moss and driftwood. The filet knife through the belly
of a pregnant snake, the millet and corn in the throat of a turtle dove.
Talk of marriage, and then marriage. They were uncertain
so she asked the sun as it rose in the morning. Yes, Lord, he said to the old blanket
they fought over at nights. Yes, Lord to the chicken thigh and the Styrofoam
full of worms, the cricket cage, the leaking rivets of the boat, the first light
hitting the water like foiled gold, yes to the gold tooth, the pocket knife
rusting on the nightstand beside the bed, yes bed, yes night, Yes forever
he said instead of I do, something not right about the personal pronouns
in a world of white lace and Sunday dinners and cracked engine blocks
and floods. The ground we stand on is merely a skin covering an abyss
of water. An old man digging in a river bed to find its soul. The first time
she miscarried he rocked her for two days. The second time
he cried alone in his boat and let all his catch go free. The tears of god:
who would know any better about the rain? A struggle between a snake
and a higher power. The stones he let walk on water. He dreamed
of his mother saved from what was below—her hair caught in the branches
of a locust tree. She knocked on his head and he woke up. Something
was already frying in the pan. A pregnant woman and a pregnant snake
A pig trough full of scales and rice. He wondered how it all balanced out—
the good and the bad, the nights and the mornings, the hook
in the eye of a fish versus the hook in the mouth, the scales of time
as golden as the bluegill passing from the darkness to light, the darkness
and the light, the darkness and the water, the water and sleep, his hands
and the things his hands had touched. The Cottonwoods sometimes
covered the backwaters in white. The leaves of a tree repopulating
the world with corpses. The way fish guts sometimes reminded him
of menstrual blood, the way she bled, the way she was created
to bleed. He stared a long time into his coffee and knew
he had created nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. Of course it was a father
who said that. He heard the bees whispering: water.
He heard the flies whispering: nothing. He was born in a tantrum
of curse words and tears. Only a flood could drown out
the light he still held inside. Only a crow on a branch looking west
and then leaving him. All that’s left, he thought, but it was too much
to hold with his hands.
Poet’s Note: This poem contains lines from the Zhuang flood story, Micah 7:8-10, the Benua-Jakun flood story, the Ifugao flood story, and King Lear.
Clay Matthews has published poetry in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. His most recent book, Pretty, Rooster (Cooper Dillon), is a collection of sonnets written in syllabics. His other books are Superfecta (Ghost Road Press) and RUNOFF (BlazeVox). He teaches at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN, and edits poetry for the Tusculum Review.
Feature image by Amani Willett, The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer: Woods. Courtesy the artist.