What Catches the Light | poem

What Catches the Light

I press the handle of a knife into his hand
and he scrapes the shimmer of salmon,
the red flesh face down against his palm,
where the scales collect like sooted snow.

He speaks with a voice low like dusk,
wipes the blade clean with his fingers
tells a story of the Red Sea, thick with fish.
When he mentions his father, his heart

thickens in his throat, and when we get to his own blood
count how many years we’ll have together.
A sea of blood, his blood, antibodies
swimming in his veins.

I can’t remember the names of the fish,
only how he scrapes with a surgeon’s precision,
feeling for what he cannot see but knows is there

preparing this meal for us
while the sky silvers outside the window
and he talks about death
but I think he is talking about love.

[With gratitude to the editors at Red Paint Hill Journal, who originally published this poem.]


The mail has come, as I was thinking of you

I was wondering about the man that delivered your letter


when the dogs barked, I didn’t think anything of it

was his day suddenly made inexplicably better


but I meant to say earlier that I didn’t miss it

when your letter fell into his bag 


when you said I should watch for the mail,

perhaps his shoulders suddenly happy and relaxed 


only I didn’t know quite what you meant

and the dog down the street didn’t jump the fence 


I just held onto it, slipped it into my pocket carefully.  Now

I bet his wife suddenly called and said something kind


I have a sweet mouth that is a little on fire –

the rain held off and he could even turn off the heat 


it must be all the way up into my eyes as I write this.

because it warmed up more than predicted.


Chocolate, chilies, cherries.  I can hardly write.

Now his feet don’t hurt and he’s even humming a tune


But if I could get to you right now, if I could get to you,

he hasn’t thought of in years- probably jazz– 


I would surely kiss you all the way to next week,

and he hums and smiles and maybe whistles, too


until your lips were raw, ‘til you begged me to stop

even when he turns the corner


to let you breathe, to let you eat, or speak

he keeps smiling, his heart light


and you will taste like chocolate and chilies and cherries, too

all the way, all the way, all the way home.  



First published in Pine Song. Winner of first place for the 2016 Thomas H. McDill Award, judged by James McKean, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.