by Jonathan Dick

Published in Issue No. 178 ~ March, 2012

black glass and my

Uncle (W. L.) says

“row on both sides…

the balance is shaky”


his few white hairs

make a fine sombrero

curling commas by his ears

for the joke of his dome


steady steady I pass wooden

breakers as oars fielding

splinters like knives in my

uncalloused skin mittens


ancient blood won’t marry

the water we carry

and further shine smells

of the oil mask the bayou


wearing his worry like

less than electric my uncle

initials his Jesus for the

wind between trees


cypresses – those water teeth

gnaw at our senses

so clever disguising their

knees with the marshes


white oaks as its border the

firmament passes

through gates unsplendored

through pathways unspoiled


“Mark one,” I hear from his

toothless head beading

eyes in their smoke

scanning heartless deluge


mark what? I might ask through

the shriek and the veil

of the dead in cicadas

rising up from their graves


“shine a light – just yonder”

and the yellow burns bright

in the singular eyes

of the dead in the night


an ocular choir in the shine

of their scales colored

slick from the pitch

with stars in their gaze


steady unsteady hearts grasp

choking fumes as our

blood turns the bottom

to breeze in the twilight


pallbearing the sunlight as

catching our breath

my uncle says “Row, son

“row away from that death”


his is a boxcar race in his head

telling juvenile fears

to care for their wounded

to tend to the weary


mine is a dread all lumped

unsteady as a beat in

the cold of a sweat

just born on my back


and we shore just a moment

with our backs to the glaze

that is bruised and troubled

riled and tempered


“It’s only a matter…”

unfinished as fish in the tombs

we glare at the roar

we mourn at the turn


we watch the horizon devour

the spill we had rowed

licking the wounds

just clean at our feet


where dry we had carried

the nick into time

plumbing four holes

in the mud where we stood

my uncle rubs fierce

on his temples sighing

breaths as the fumes

make waves in our faces


for a year or an hour

we stood on the banks

as Noah’s forgotten

bled fierce gasoline


both muted from awe

or the fear that the hell

would consume us

or render us both


as men as boys as favored

as heaven if god with his

tongue half-severed

could cleverly whisper


and we burned at the

surface along with the knees

of our brothers those

moss-covered kin


mourning the oil like a

limb as its ghost we scattered

the night as it twisted

the marrow to flame

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Jonathan Dick teaches high school English/Literature in Pinson, Alabama. He was the winner of the prestigious Thomas H. Brown Nonfiction Award in 2010 for his short story "Death Food."