THE SHEW ASH
Took me time to learn you can’t heal a body.
Use the leaves to know a thing
and knowing cuts a pattern
for my skin to meet the junegrass in.
I was told a shrew ash made a cure would seep
down into water feed the ants the flickers eat
and hawks will eat the flickers in the sky a midwife
passing all our faces with her copper feather. I bore us
a hole into a tree
and plugged alive a field mouse
offered it the tree so it would live the way a tree
can pry into the worlds beneath the world.
Can’t say it did much reckoning
for what reach I give it.
I cut wands of ash for years for all my scrapes
its twigs not once did stop a hiccup.
There ain’t much to fix a man is broke
without a ache inside his back a seventh son
will walk out. No time to see it
time to watch the whiskey throw its current from the day
trout lilies crop up by the window
to the day you’re lucky to be seeing pews
as full as punishments in school.
I was not so lucky and was luckier than most.
It says in Deuteronomy no woman is to
wear the breech of men to work
so all my work I do as irises in spring
in petal after stem as strong as man’s
long shinbones weathering a winter that would kill
a stalk of corn. I change my color with
what wings I meet.
Some don’t learn the same.
Last man I sipped from underneath the nose
of all them neighbor girls was caught and taught his
wife the gift of screws. She caught wind he was running
more than liquor throwed
his shirts the blue the mulberry carp-colored cotton
down my chicken coop stomped them up in shit
like it was consequence for how he rang our necks at night.
And all her little nieces clapped I hoped
they more than watched but rubbed the line
her march had cut in both our mouths.
Some of us don’t know how not to be the catkin
made to fatten in a single feeling—
poplars grown to well a slow
and sweetened tear. Some Rednour husband
stabbed his wife at supper runned her with the fork she served
baked apples with. She stayed as still
as still and stood a thing to live inside
for him to hide his hidden holes. And all
that poured from her was balm the hot red
of a rosin stone downstream it rolled
it scalded all the Cumberland
in words she knew she could not say.
TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY
The corpse boat split the lilies
in a black and heaving ribbon
in a May Queen’s final day on earth.
This lake ain’t lake the way a god
shapes lakes with claws of ice.
A living man remembers when this hole
was not a place of many waters but
a city drowned in just a day.
Underneath the lilies can’t you see
the roofs where finches threw a nest
for sowing panic grass and babies
born below them and the beds of dark fire
smoked a leaf in season it was
deep beneath this water.
There was brides made in this place
where herons sweep at corners.
Mudcats breed here now their knowing whiskers
rooted home the only thing to root here
in these rooms we cannot save.
Isabel Duarte-Gray is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard University.