GRETCHEN STEELE PRATT
A Straight Sinking of Multiple Rocks
worn white desk with indentations of someone else’s handwriting in the soft wood
middle of the merry-go-round
cicadas in mid-morning
whales scraping the bottom on their way past my coast
grey clapboard house for one summer on the island where I slept
the migratory beekeeper his truck of rental bees speeding to the blueberry fields
my diamond ring in the shade muted
my father’s polished green glass doorknobs
a walker left on the sidewalk
netted glass buoys hanging in that bar
dogwoods that refused to live in our yard
the sadness in that little room that held us in its smoke
girls at their morning swimming lesson treading water on the cold lake
statue of Mary, toes crumbling over the snake
the panther blackness at the top of the stairs
tree carved with swear words
earring lost in an abandoned church
tulip stuck between two full breasts
chants of stiff as a board light as a feather
my mother’s glasses on her face clouded with steam
the only moments ago blueness we were specks in
black mahogany banisters wrapped in white Christmas lights turned off
Ghazal of the Ferry
In the photo you lean on the railing at the back of the ferry. Across
the parking lot, sunlight, decades, oceans, death – you wave across.
The Anna C., the Manisees, the Carol Jean, the Manatou. These are
their names, the wind bound saints, the ferries I have come across.
In the bottomless fog the island is only there because the ferry
believes it is. It stops – only way to know you’ve come across.
I walk through the rocking metal hallways blasted by salt, falling
into strangers’ laps. It’s always you, your back, I mean to come across.
With binoculars I can see a stream trickling down the clay cliff.
How would it be if there weren’t the swaying time, this across?
Once, going back to the mainland, the captain got drunk and jumped
from the hurling ferry. He was not prepared to take us across.
On shore, a stand of pines veiled with monarchs. Why do we
never see their migration – flickers on the sea, stretched across?
The captain waved to us from the beach, panting, uniform dripping.
We gathered at portside – bobbing, aging, not waving, halfway across.
Docked overnight on the island, deckhands sleep beside its droning engine.
Up on the deck, your empty beer can rolls endlessly across and across.
The ferry is a mansion and you can smoke anywhere. The ferry is
a mansion and we are statues the island has asked to be shipped across.
It is the seagulls, jellyfish, navy-blue valleys, unraveled ropes.
It is the stems, ashes, fingertips, the bell sounds you trail us across.
The instant the ferry is again attached to land, when boat becomes
island. Tightening of the rusty cranks. Threshold you walked across.
And didn’t we think we’d just go on finding
people we’d love? Beyond the highest winter
dune, a graveyard of old carnival rides –
The Flying Bobs, Drop Towers, The Python Plunge,
their fluorescent paint chipped and blowing
like confetti across the sand. A pile of bumper cars,
the Pirate Ship, half buried in a drift, shipwrecked
and sinking into the earth. The Merry-Go-Round
lying in pieces like a smashed music box, gears still
whirring in the wind, the horses on their sides,
black wooden eyes wide and alarmed. The brass ring
tangled in the descending roots of sea grass.
The House of Mirrors, cracked open and splayed
in the cold sun – relieved almost, for the first time
to reflect nothing. Once in a great while a baseball cap,
or a torn ticket, or a yellow scarf, will blow across
the surface of a mirror. I too must imagine everyone.
GRETCHEN STEELE PRATT is the author of One Island, a book of poems chosen by Tony Hoagland as the winner of the 2009 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry 2011, Iowa Review, Southern Review, Fairy Tale Review, Witness, Ninth Letter, Boston Review and The Gettysburg Review, among others. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and two daughters, and teaches writing at UNC Charlotte.
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