Gulls tow my gaze out

beyond the breakwaters

and jetties, to coast there

among the glass towers.

Wind whips the water in me

into waves and spindrift.

Along all my shores

are hardnesses broken down

into sand, fragments supposed

to equal the history of me.

But plovers and terns, masts

and backstays slice the glare,

light flexing over depths,

where, in the calm dark,

something swims and feeds

an unutterable memory of me.


     Battle Strategy

I count the dead, mark their ages

from the latest school shooting.

Is a little of my humanity lost

in my relief that they’re not my children?

Rain pounded the windows

all day, blurring the image

of the world outside. Something

drowned in the gutters, but what?

My daughter asked to play

Battleship. She’s learning

how to position her boats—

a strategy that won the game.

I lost, but her win is my win,

her loss is my loss, and each

child that dies before learning

this strategy of love, is my child.


     Boiling Water

Before cooking pasta, my wife lets the water

come to a boil. Briefly, it spits over

the pot’s rim, sending the burner fire

into a kind of white rage: hissing and flaring.

We talk about the new president, the election,

the acid words that spilled into streets, homes,

scalding everyone in different ways: some

spitting fire, others getting burned.

My wife turns the burner down, throws in

the pasta. But we still feel the hate roiling

under the spinning coils of fusilli. It’s the kind of thing

that can unsettle the fantastic mix of our family seasons:

her father from Guyana, her sister and brothers, biracial,

she herself a mix of Native American, Mexican,

and European. We are colorful, like a good dish.

But the chief chef scalded many with his words:

African-Americans, Mexicans, women, Muslims,

the disabled—and the staff follows his lead,

spitting venom, threatening, waving spoons like guns

or guns like spoons, a war over the best recipe, the right

to healthcare, the right to be here, the right to rights.

Sitting in the kitchen, my wife weeps in my arms,

“We’ll have to figure out,” she says, “how to keep

everyone safe.” We discuss carpools,

traveling in groups from church. We eat our fusilli,

slowly, first blowing on each bite to cool it down.


     In the Bark of an Ash Tree

If you walked with me through the park,

I’d point out this white ash tree,

try showing you the many metaphors

nested in the grooves of its bark, curves

layering intimacies lush and warm as O’Keeffe’s

flowers, their depths and currents of sex.

I’d trace its skin, how it enfolds and unfolds,

an ocean surface thrusting waves up into walls

to chamber the light, refractions of story, illuminating

steps that rise into the sanctuary of a cathedral.

Once bathed in Sainte-Chapelle’s baptism of colors,

windows fleshing out a history of the spirit’s struggle,

slipping even as it swam through the glass, I learned

none of these tropes are a right reading of the text.

The lines of this bark, elegant as any Milton penned,

darkly profound as Stevens plumbing imagination,

wind and break free of any reference, rivers

twisting a floodplain into an elegantly illegible cursive.

The message so plainly there in sweep and urge,

can’t be read. I can only decipher how I feel

warmed by its tuck and flow, like language itself, a motion

frozen, but carrying me on, breaking into dream

where a friend, long dead, speaks a truth

that in the waking world has no translation.

All I can do is call you over and point

at the intricate furrows of its beauty.



About the poet:

PictureMichael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. His other collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the 2014 Jean Pedrick Award. He also received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, The Los Angeles Review, Shrew, The Smart Set, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.