Poems of the Week – Stuart Dybek



Fish Camp

In the Coleman’s glassy glare
my brother’s switchblade
unriddles backlash. A bullhead,
the weight of a rat,
flops in the dirt, dropped
when its spine added a scar
to the lines of my palm.
Bullheads should utter some cry.
Someone should have warned
those city boys fishing at night
on the short of a dump,
how gills, drowning in air, gape
like wounds that won’t heal;
someone should have taught them
how to kill and properly gut
what they lured out of darkness.



Down on his hands and knees
outside the biker bar
as if searching the pavement
for his tooth; between the kick
that lacerated a kidney,
and the kick that cracked a rib,
my ex-pug uncle, Chino,
said he caught a look
he hadn’t seen for years
on the distorted face
that lovingly gazed back at him
from a blood-spattered hubcap.



Snow fell as it had all night,
and from the look of the drifts he waded
he was the first one out on Twenty-fourth Street.
Dragging a sack of newspapers
that erased his footprints, he became
aware of a sound barely audible
above the hiss of canvas. Strange birds,
too luminous for winter cities,
chirred from the maple along his route,
a tree he’d watched rust scarlet,
then fade to the shade of overripe pears.
Its matted leaves were now inscribed
with the hieroglyphics of bird tracks.
A synchronized wingbeat and the flock
gusted into a syllable and vanished,
a cry less to do with language
than the vocalization of snow,
its meaning a music hidden from words,
a farewell, perhaps, but he’ll remember
hearing—years before he heard
from his own mouth, smother by her hand—
the first wild gasp of her name.


* all poems from Streets in Their Own Ink, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

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