By their choice or mine they come and go
like birds on water, birds near the water’s edge:
mallard, merganser, ouzel, gadwall. Some dip
under. All rise up, eventually, gone to air. I watch
a kingfisher from where I stand in the back eddy
slack water, behind this boulder where I once tried
to carve her name. Kingfishers cut through currents
to minnows underneath, spear them with their beaks.
Bertie stood once where I stand now, pulled three fish
too big for an osprey to carry, much less a kingfisher:
rainbow, cutthroat, brown. Laughter and her singing
reel. Kingfishers laugh more often than they sing.
Some days I bring myself here to where currents
work away at where they touch rock, carvings
I made on the stone’s surface growing smooth.
Some days, I don’t even bother to string the rod
I bring down from the truck, my gesture
to the waterbirds, to the kingfisher perched
on her powerline, always with me, needed or no.
First Close Call
I used to drive fast all the time, faster
drinking. I was with Bertie and Bev
first time it cost me, headed back
from the Palmer place, last time Bev
let Bertie bring me to the family homestead.
Bev used to think the old place was alright
for drinking. Used to be we all agreed.
My old sedan, the kind of deal I could pick up
off rodeo cowboys before all their hard luck
drained into the night, hit a rut wrong
on a rise. We lifted, light as dubbing
and hackle swung in a tight loop over a river
seam. Worn out shocks gave such a softness
to the ride none of us noticed we had left
the ground until we hit it again. All three of us
in the front seat. Behind us the empty night
we were always running from. Headlights
shot wild at horizon, gravel, sky. Twice they
shot at gravel then at the sky. Back then
when you landed upright, if not too broken
you put it back in gear. None of us knew
Bertie had my boy inside her.
Second Close Call
Below zero, had to be. Ice crystals sparkled
on the street. Above, frozen pinpoints, like deer
eyes lit by headlights driving home. Me, steaming
hot, standing in the street. In those days, I was
always on fire. Buddy, not as soft as now
bare-chested, head against the curb, lolling drunk.
Dribbles of bloody slime froze his face
to the gutter. Me standing, boot raised over him
his bare head. Clean sound in my ears
my hammer driving nails into the first
morning boards. Jumbled sounds from folks
who stumbled out to watch. From Bertie, cries
like a baby squalling. She helped me get my boot
heel down safe, to stay away long enough
to let the liquor and red heat drain away.
On cold nights now, Janie asleep with or without me
all I have to listen to are logs ticking in the woodstove
in the walls as they settle. I remember Bertie’s eyes
that night and one other night. How right she was
to make me swear I’d stay away when the boy came
out of her. How right she was to say heat fills a space
whether we want it to or not.
Matt Daly’s poetry has appeared in Clerestory, Cortland Review, Pilgrimage, The Screaming Sheep, and elsewhere. Matt has received a creative writing fellowship in poetry from the Wyoming Arts Council and is the recipient of the 2015 Neltje Blanchan Award for writing inspired by the natural world. He lives in Jackson Hole and teaches creative writing to tweens, teens and adults.