The flat-bottomed rowboat Swung through daft cattails Higher than our heads-- Dry hotdogs, clubs almost, poked On primitive spear-ends While the boat made wavery water-echoes Unevenly level From our communal rowing. The estuary was dawn-fresh, wet As we slid by; my father, my brothers, and I-- Four hulked shadows quiet in the smell of burnt coffee. Our breaths steamed like our cups, Hands cold around the weird weight of 4-10 shotguns, The river all lazy Ss of yellowy light Rich as streaked paint, the eely detailing On my brother Gil's busted-up Ford Mustang. An ear-splitting squeak Odd as a strangled doll's Flared from Dad's palmed duck-call, Held close as a harmonica, the army-surlus Coat elbows tucked to his heavy sides neatly As our holstered oars. "Hup!" he said, lifting his shotgun quick. Ducks exploded from the dark cattails, Wings expansive as flamenco dancers' arms, The white underwing vulnerable as eyelids, The pale bikini triangles Of fourteen-year-old girls As they rattled skyward, Calling forlornly in their rubber voices. "Hup!" he said again, The blast leaving us deaf as statues, Our amazed eyes still, widened white, mouths Broken open as cattails grazed us, And we skimmed to where the water had shot up When the duck fell. In after-blast silence, The duck's humping of the water seemed hypnotic, The touch of a masseuse to an ancient scar, Working the stiffness out Finger by finger. Gil pulled it into his lap like a doused shirt, The web feet raincoat yellow, the blood Swirling with spilled coffee, and handed him to me By the neck, his flapping nearly stopped. "Wring his neck. He's in pain now." I cried and let the musky bundle fluster me, My hands full of green-golden, blue-molten feathers, The wild eye small as a pencil-tip, as black.
I wrote this poem for a workshop this past winter which Lauren Schmidt conducted admirably. The workshop was done as a preamble to her featuring at November’s RiverRead poetry reading in Red Bank, NJ. Our slogan is “words along the Navasink.”