The Last Time
I walked through the irrigation ditches,
troughs, he called them,
the sun lay a lazy foot above the line of loblollies,
red clay drenched in late afternoon urine light
the mud sucking and smacking at our boot-bottoms,
the sting of fresh pine sap sinus-deep
Daddy and I in our element,
whistling to the bobwhites shouldering our rifles
crushing sinewy kudzu underfoot,
approaching the lingering twang of day-old skunk spray
wordlessly, breathing at a heavy pant in dog’s half-time,
Lady and Sue tongue-hassling beside us.
If we’d been horses we’d have been covered in froth,
ready for blankets, a rubdown, the interminable plow,
or maybe the gun.
But we continued jumping ditches,
slogging deeper into the piney dusk
toward the slate lake sprawled like a stain
against garnet slabs of mud-bank.
Those of us who’ve rehearsed
losing have loss as a sort of
perpetually expanding tattoo, once
a cross, then a rose, now a rose-eyed
skull, each eye a vacant
stare in the direction of a future
promising more losses than gains
Funny how regret can weight your boots
just when you think the water’s right
and the mud not too thick to wade
through. One step more and your foot
won’t come up again,
and here we are left
peering from the window of a farmhouse
past the rainfrogs stuck to the glass
near the light, and all we can see
is not the beauty of the night
but the frogs’ machines pulsing
inside those slick translucent bodies.
Always Walking Away
I’ve forgotten your face but not
the blur of legs, trousers scratching
at the ankles, work shoe assaulting
concrete sidewalk step after determined
step, your eyes always focused on ahead,
next, some dot on the horizon only you
could see. With unheld hands I clutched
the straps of my bag, moved more quickly
with long strides to catch you, to keep your
pace, not be let behind.
The lake is calm today. Through lace curtains
I see it glitter gray and white past the elms.
Pale overcast skies threaten to crush traffic
moving along a county highway, lines of cars
like a wooden snake in a child’s hands, pushed
in one direction, bending at each articulated
point, then pulled back, pushed, pulled, false
body undulating in a sort of game. You
never turned to pull me back, though I bent,
my lithe, painted body a decoy, maybe, for
something real. And what is real but
what we think we want at the time?
Later we look at the object of desire and
recognize it as foreign, not what we had
thought it was. Years after we stopped
sharing sidewalks, the next man loves me.
And all I know to do is walk away.
Trish Harris is an independent curator, writer, and artist teaching in Michigan. She curates and designed the Remaking Moby-Dick project. Her poems, stories, and micromemoirs have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Cortland Review, and Brevity. At Twitter, she is @trishlet. Listen to Harris read her poem “The Last Time” here