Coming Off an SSRI
As bad as I feel, it feels good
To feel again. This dead oak I would
Have walked by before without giving it
A second thought, I must go up to it
Now and run my hand along its dead gray
Face, which looks in all directions, and say
A prayer for it. Standing under its limbs,
I understand it. I had no autumn
Sorrow myself, no spring joy. Everything
Seemed the same. I was through putting on rings
Too. In the leafless branches of my brain
Perched whole flocks of chemicals, but none sang.
As bad as I feel, it feels good
To feel. My prayer: that this oak, dead, could.
Coming Off an SSRI
I ran out of the house shirtless, yelling
for the dog not to get hit on the road.
Only after I opened the package
did I think of how the UPS guy,
who I like, but who I assume maybe
isn't the world's biggest reader of
Appalachian short fiction, had driven
for miles in silence in the presence
of this book I had ordered on the life
of Breece D'J Pancake, including heart
breaking letters he wrote to his parents
and a suicide note he sent to John
Casey, his teacher, who I had dinner
with one night in Charlottesville, telling him
about the time, driving through the mountains
of West Virginia, I took the exit
for Milton on a whim, remembering
reading the name in the very same book
the UPS guy delivered to me
today, then drove aimlessly around town
until I found the cemetery, where
I turned here and there at random down lanes
so narrow that my tires straddled them,
until I felt an urge to stop and said
to myself, "When I turn my head I'll see
Breece's grave." And sure enough, there it was,
the name PANCAKE on a big stone that marked
the family plot, and, getting out, his grave
set level with the grass someone was paid
to cut, likely not even knowing that
they were spewing clippings onto the head
stone of one of the best story writers
America has ever produced, and
that was when John stopped me, saying, "Austin,
I buried him with these hands," showing me.
Laden, they can't stand on their own.
What you need to do is sink a post
Every six feet or so, then run wire
Between them to tie the stems to
With lengths of twine shaped
Like the symbol for infinity.
Suckers take energy from the parent stem,
Like sons who should have been
Cut off long ago. If allowed to grow
Too long, they can shear off,
And, in the long wounds they leave
As if out of spite, rot can take root.
The time to take a tomato is when
It seems not quite fully ripe.
If you leave them on the vine
Too long, they'll grow full of themselves
And start to split, like the grinning
Dead in photographs.
Paying Down the Principle
The lapidary quality of debt.
How, just when we think
We're nearing the surface,
Another wave breaks
Over our heads,
And what we hoped
Would be a breath of
Air is not air at all
But more saltwater,
Two lungs full.
Belling the Cat
To give the birds a flying chance, I'll hang
A bell around his neck, so that what wants
To kill them will warn them, the way an illness
Warns us through pain. The closer the birds are
To dying, the louder the bell will be,
Until there's no denying anymore
Who it's ringing for – it's ringing for them.
So this is what
The gods feel:
I'm not even picking
Which to leave
And which to pull,
Every inch or so,
The largest as well
As the smallest.
Kind of like how,
In the human garden,
We're being thinned above
We're growing below.
I pulled the heads when the internet said to –
The two lowest leaves dead, a third
Beginning to die, like the first loss
Of feeling that heralds the stroke.
They came up easy, like they'd been waiting
For me, through with dirt and darkness.
The cloves we planted in late fall were turning
Into bulbs while everything you know
Happened this winter and spring was happening
And they didn't once cross my mind.
Today I tied them in bunches of five
And hung them from the beams
In the garden shed. They hang there now
As I write this, drying in the night air,
Beginning to put on their thin skins.
I want to know everything
They learned in the dark.
A few weeks and I'll be smashing them
With the flat of a knife.
Maybe I'll taste it.
Along Timber Coulee Creek
I want to be the daughter of this place,
a dairy along Timber Coulee Creek.
On any day, but this day especially.
July eighteenth. And at any time of day,
but mostly this time. Early morning.
Thunder to the west. A storm coming.
I want to wake to my mother crying
for me to help her close windows,
then brush past a brother in the kitchen,
burning bacon again, the kind of thing
the living remember about the dead
with such fondness. I want my father
in the barnyard scattering mineral,
having put his faith in the unlikelihood
he'll be struck by lightning, thinking
of what men who love him but
would never say they do would say.
Just like him to go that way, in his boots.
I want all this so much more than
I want the trout I know is in this hole
to rise to my fly and strike. I'd rather
be the daughter of this place, closing
her window against rain, than who I am -
the guy she can see through it,
standing up to his waist in her creek.