THERMOS 10: Three Poems by Hunter Deely

These three poems come from a special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

Grabbing Fish

I remember how my father held still his arms in the water,
this as the dark roots that coiled from the bank, sunk
in mud that smelled like the grubs at the centers of dead trees.
As he let his breath go slower, and slower from his lungs,
he seemed to die. Gnats in swarms lit on his skin. He was still.
I never felt so alone, as I watched his green eyes
and the mind in them dissolve like salt into the river.

The shadows turned. I tried to sit still and ignore the heat
that burned in my joints, the painful slowness of my blood
as I watched red and white blossoms fall to the water
for hours, until just as one hit the surface in silence, everything
awoke with a wet shudder, with foam, and dark water splashed
across his face as his arms swelled and flung upward, as in prayer,
and his fingers sunk deep into the soft flesh of the catfish while blood,
his and the fish’s mingled, ran down his arms like liquid vines,
like sap. I started to cry when I realized we both were alive.
We gutted the fish, burned an offering of leaves stained
with the blood, cooked and ate him on the spot.

Now the image dissolves in the wind, like the sand we rub
from our arms. I can’t even remember how many we missed
as he showed me how to breathe and to sit like the roots
of the black tree, to grab fish who slip past. Like selfless love,
or the reasons for our lies and our thefts, they slip past,
and we commemorate them in paintings and in glyphs―
those things about ourselves we can never understand.
I’ve been lying about my feelings all my life just to get by.
Ghosts haunt me from the river, their bodies are alive.

Ghost Song

we match twice our voices
                to the kingfisher’s call        first
exact        then an octave below        where water where
water keeps a three-quarter time
                over limestone                                shell
studded surface through quivering           lens

he washed his dark skin his black hair
                like moss              he drank              the river broad
chested into the hollows of his body of stone

the eyes of deer are watching                        their bodies
                              their bodies are watching
                us pass

one note comes from a hollow bone and though
                already inside us we deafly withstood
its vibration                                                        heatwaves

                in the distance                    dancers to
a mirage song engraving light
south texas in june                            the roach tells a story

how he lived at the feet of wide
                shouldered white men    how
the fallout turned the sky to rust                  fell
                                like insect wings


how the gleaming barrel wilts
                in the moisture

how the blood flower opens                          its flow
                                keeps a three-quarter time

we turn twice to jesus                                      first
                to wash off our mother’s blood then
an octave below                                where grace is
                a kingfisher
                in a desert of voices

Extraordinary Rendition

One morning he woke and his wife was not in bed next to him, in the same position she had been
        for many mornings before, the line of her nose blurred by the light through the window.

He put on his jeans and walked barefoot out to the barn. The dew on his feet spoke with his blood
        cells in a register too high for him to hear.

The grass was darker than usual, like it had all started to rot.

He pulled open the double doors of the barn, and as his eyes adjusted he could make out lines
        twisting in the darkness, the smell of wet hay something extracted from the oil of horses.

She turned and saw him there, arms outstretched on the doors, silhouetted against morning, the
        way light passes through a leaf, the scar on his belly a branch of an ancient river, and she
        thought how beautiful he was, Jesus with a crew cut.

She was sculpting seahorses out of bailing wire, grease on her hands the color of grackle feathers,
        seahorses built from a succession of lines of dark metal and hung from the rafters, spinning
        quietly in the column of light from the doorway.

He took off his glasses and asked what she was doing.

“Once, when I was a little girl, I went to the aquarium and there was a penguin who swam straight
        up against the glass, pushing his face into the space he imagined there I guess, moving, but he
        was still, really still.”

He put his glasses back on. The dew on his feet was turning to light.

“And then sometime in the middle of the night my body disappeared. They call it a black site, like in
        the middle of your eye. They extract our words and drip them on the hay. We are the invisible
        horses in a web.”

He took a deep breath in and the haysmell felt warm on his lungs.

He dropped his arms. “I’ll go make some coffee.”


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