Selected Poems

 

Pélican Dans Sa Píeté

 

Had you never been with me,

I wouldn’t hold your absence now—

 

Had there never been a cord,

I wouldn’t have this scar, would I—

 

Maybe it was the whirlwind of your blood,

the amniotic undertow that had me so blazéd.

 

For you it must have felt

as if flesh were being plucked away…

 

A drift line, a double

heartbeat, a kerchief of hair—

 

 

In secret Betsy baptized me

into this strange sinful gulf.

 

 

I know this much:

Water is oak brown or steel gray

 

or so clear you see your nail beds

dipping in the fount. I’ve seen it rise in ditches

 

or lap over levees or shank down

from the sky. It hems me in

 

like a country club towel.

What should I have grown up on, love?

 

The Diener

[For this poem, link to The New Yorker.]

[Below: the artist book by Michele Burgess 
inspired by "The Diener."]

 

Double Effect: December 31

                                    it is natural to everything to keep itself                                               in “being,” in as far as possible.

                                                                        —Aquinas

Goodbye Year-I-Almost-Died

            the bridge closes behind you

            in closing to you

 

it opens to me, a foreseeable

            but unintended consequence

            of your passing

 

the one-armed tender, drunk

            and mending nets

            will wave me through

 

Year-I-Almost-Died, I pass you

            the peace

            one day I’ll forget who you are

           

Down the bayou

            I make the veillé

            turn down a shell road

 

I get down at the levee

            I like to sit on the grass

            and be with the stars

 

I still like to drive the colors

            wild I like to pray

            bromeliads on fire

 

Year-I-Almost-Died

            I curse and bless you

            for all your magic

 

and all your monstrosities

            the lizard that eats its own skin

            the fern flaring after rain

 

And nights I laid my back on the waves

            I laid my hands at my side

            the darkness erasing the tracers

 

 

I stood on silver guardrails

            I swallowed the streetlights

            the coyotes in the mist-draped field

 

Year-I-Almost-Died

            you were that promising date

            that began with a chilled corsage

 

and ended on a rainy doorstep without a kiss

            you were that toast, that pyrotechnic

            display and its acrid smell

 

Year-I-Almost-Died

            we slept together in a twin bed

            while the dog curled on the floor

 

O what a better companion he is

            he rounds my sleep

            and covers my dreams

 

Year-I-Almost-Died

            the bridge closes behind you   

            and in closing it opens for me

 

Just Call Me Beb

 

                        for Joy at the Baton Rouge Best Buy

 

Just call me beb 

Just lift more than one finger

off the steering wheel when we pass

each other in the 25, my having

assumed I could use your lane

to get around the cane truck,

and your grill smiling

like a wildcat coming on

Just call me beb, like

when you put down my catfish

poboy, having told me

it was just filleted in the back

that morning and then

putting a lagniappe of two strips

in front of my friend who ordered

the Plate Lunch instead

Beb, it’s reeeally good.

 

Sometimes joy has to be pushed

on me, like when I tried 

to cancel my order online

and then had to call the store

and I got you Joy and you

called me beb and we talked

about computers and breast cancer

and that talk you had with God

on your way home from the Lowe’s

parking lot where you got your scan

Just don’t let me whine, you said,

’cause nobody likes a whiner,

and if God said anything, God said,

Beb, I liked you from the first.

 

It was the best thing that ever happened

to me, you said. 

 

I should call myself beb every day, and I

wonder, if I knew I was going to be reborn,

whether I wouldn’t grieve extra hard

because there is Life and there is This Life,

and I would have to give up hope

for this one, the hope that some further

saving possibility could be found here, and

then wait to catch a warm front

and fly away to the next, well, then I might

be like you, Joy, listening for the rustle

of palmetto leaves in the dark

as I put my steps down on the path,

the bebettes harmonizing after the rain.

 

The Water

In the morning the water waits like a deckhand,
a persistent curl against the shore,
 

who won’t back down, take no, or be denied.
It is there under the wharf and soon under
 

the house, whoring with any swamp rat 
or snake. It rings cypress knees with pearls—
 

it dreams under the sun like cut cane,
throwing back the salt you wash away,
 

then wearing pilings down to air.
Your houses wade on stilts tall as pillars,
 

their sheet-metal skulls bared to a mildewed
sky. Against the fallen trees rain and lapping
 

tide meet, slapping of nets and fish and 
naked children pulling driftwood boats
 

in one joyful noise around your sleep.
In the afternoon the water is there, only more,
 

browner and grayer, no sweeping seaweed or foam, 
just its presence farther up your shore,
 

like a dull brother-in-law in front of TV.
He means something to somebody—
 

but not you, not just now. Its slow wake seems
harmless, the litany of waves before a storm
 

rolling benignly ashore. Intoxicating! 
And then it is there, all gray length of it,
 

rich sex of it, it wants you so badly, 
it pounds at the door, Let me take
 

your smallness, your jetties, your broad
coasts, your loam. It gathers
 

at night beyond the curtain of mosquitoes, 
darker than the shut-down sky,
 

the boarded-up clouds. Its desire
thrums like an idling outboard. Ignore
 

it, and it tows itself into your dreams. It’s
everywhere, every chance, all the time.
 

It is more certain than death or love.
It must have been conceived by death and love.
 

When the last silt sinks under your feet, 
you will have to walk out on this water.

Finishing Touch

Ever since the painter depicted 
Your finger extended to Your creature,
 

we have known we crave a surrogate touch. 
We press others’ palms to our faces,
 

as if we were still being molded,
polished by an apprenticed love revising
 

our rougher destinies: Each hand found
more skillful than the last, each imprint closer
 

to Your transforming seal. I know this, 
and still I have to ask for reprieve
 

in illusion, to linger in this present 
flesh, believe in her finishing touch.
 

I want this hand:  its knowing strokes 
inside my thighs where all portrayal begins.
 

Let this hand complete me for the stretch, 
the soft edges of these fingers be the last
 

of earth I feel, let it be her own 
hand—hers alone—that will close these eyes.

​​

 

@2020 by Martha Serpas