April 3, 2012 / Creative Writing
In Kali Wagner’s poem, two mourning women become potters, the dirt of their sons’ graves “dusting the house” of their grief.
March 12, 2015
swims a body of water
marked Disappointment Lake.
It could be
that it’s unimpressive,
but I’d like to think it was named
for holding lost hopes, for welcoming
wanderers who carry broken dreams
like stones in their hands.
It’s a lovely lake, really, with mist slinking in
like a prodigal cat each morning,
creeping over the surface and resting
its head on the pine-soft shore.
It’s a good lake, with reeds
and lily pads, and frogs for the lily pads,
and happy fish, and turtles lined up
sunning on blackened logs.
Wind riffles the surface and loons
tune the air tremulous with their song.
Silence flocks in from miles around.
And with it, the weary come.
Feet find cool water without compass or map.
All are certain of their purpose here.
Among the travelers
stand my mother—on a broad stretch
where the lake breathes and you
feel at home in its lungs—and there,
my father, who crouches now near an inlet,
thinking like a fish. Neither is aware
that the other is here.
My mother wears her patterned shirt
that always smelled of her: an old perfume
you can no longer buy and a mixture
of apricots and irritation, laughter,
and hay sweetened by the sun.
She holds in her palm
the baby teeth of all her children,
plucked from the top left bureau drawer
where they’ve hidden for years in tiny boxes.
Now, all the teeth are jumbled together,
molars rounded down by words for her ear,
canines that slid into strawberries and
nipped at flesh. They represent things with
capital letters: Forgetfulness, Longing, the Secrets
she was made to keep. My father, in another crook
of the lake’s body, wears a red plaid shirt
and glasses from two decades ago.
He’s holding a time-thin drawing
of a smiling girl in a purple dress
with a giant bow in her hair. He’s holding
a stack of business cards from jobs
he never liked. My mother tosses
the teeth in an arc and they join the water
like fat drops of rain.
They sink slowly, drifting
among soft plants and decaying fish,
until they settle in the sandy
bottom to become fossils my father
would like to find. My father tries
to scatter his papers but the wind
is wrong and they flap back to brush
his body and fall to the water’s surface.
So he picks them up
and wades with them into waist-high water,
the depth of a father in Lake Michigan
teaching a daughter not to be afraid.
He holds the papers under until
they grow pulpy in his fingers.
The water is soft around him like
a sleeper’s pulse. He raises his face
and sees what my mother, unseen, has
already seen: a kingfisher, watching.
Kristin Brace is a writer whose poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as the Chariton Review, Meridian, the Louisville Review, and Fiction Southeast. A graduate of Spalding University’s MFA in Writing Program, she works to improve literacy in West Michigan.