Skinny Dipping at Coole
I can’t think of a single line from Yeats.
The only lake myth I know doesn’t end well
for the handsome youth. And today I feel
like a handsome youth, despite age
and the paunch lurking
beneath a belt of rippling water.
Across the lake, horses
graze in a swamp. Behind me
the wood pigeons call.
I dive beneath the surface, glide
like a muskrat,
eyes shut against the mucky water,
accepting blindness and the limitless
feeling it brings,
the empty lake a blank stone
demanding some kind—any kind—of poem.
Brother, I studied the technical manuals,
which were longer than the arm of the centrifuge,
but I wasn’t prepared for the earth’s atmosphere
battering my boxy spacecraft,
gravity pushing my eyes to the back of my skull.
Outside, the ablative material burned,
and I remembered how much we hate each other.
In my first memory, you threw me across
the living room,
my body streaking like astral debris
as I thought to myself, atmospheric pressure too high,
approach too steep…
Since then you’ve become an arrogant failure
who hates the favor I’ve found in the universe—
my ship righting itself every time
as the earth continues to turn,
showing its many blue sides
like the flower that grew in mom’s garden
that you insisted was a moonflower
simply because it glowed at night.
We never forgot the mills,
or our fathers’ sad genders,
or the lint trap that burned down the church
where Mrs Blevins taught us how
the Israelites handled suffering.
In Tennessee, the bitch boy’s
job was to stand between us
and the chain-link fence while we pelted him
with hedge apples.
It’s only in our minds this town
exists, he repeated to himself,
as we stood in the dark, uncoiling cruelty
like a length of rope we’d one day follow
all the way to the dark spot behind the caretaker’s shed.
The windows had been painted shut
but they could still break if you slung
at them one of those inedible fruits
we called “monkey brains,”
but our mothers insisted were “Osage Oranges.”
In Turner’s New Moon
Children and adults gather in the margins,
building their blissful hour
as a black dog gambols
across the sea-darkened sand.
The subject itself is a smudged sickle floating
like a long-sought dream or
God’s squinting eye.
Three silhouettes stand at the edge of the water,
blue-black tide pooling around their ankles.
Near the horizon, ships,
the color of light,
When the sky is dark as the sea,
the people and the dogs
will return to their homes
with the forget-me-nots growing by the doorsteps
and the tarnished copper pots hanging in the kitchens
and the unread books cracking in their shelves
and the furniture sighing in the dark
and they will settle
into heavy, unlit rooms,
the stars invisible outside the windows,
and, with hands still wet from the ocean,
pick apart their hearts
chamber by chamber
and wonder why there are no bones;
why the moon’s beams fail to light the ventricles;
why each atrium is full of sharp-edged desires
they don’t recall packing, don’t even recognize
as their own.
Michael McKeown Bondhus (formerly Charlie) is an Irish-American writer. He’s the author of Divining Bones (Sundress, 2018) and All the Heat We Could Carry (Main Street Rag, 2013), and winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His work has appeared in Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, The Missouri Review, Columbia Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Copper Nickel. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers (UK). Michael is associate professor of English at Raritan Valley Community College (NJ). charliebondhus.com