3rd Annual Contest Finalist
The breaking story boasted extraordinary catch—one thousand pound blue marlin and the fleet of men it took to wear him down across three horizons in Cabo San Lucas, snag his cheek with a chain of giant hooks, at long last, drag him in. The climax heralded a man from Traverse City, Michigan, and his legacy to his sons: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime fish. I want to take him.” Near the Blue Memorial Highway to Padre Island, the neighbor bought a chain saw, hacked his canopy of sycamore shade down past the roots, over three days—the whole Laguna Madre neighborhood lined up across the street, keeping vigil on its lost shadow, then, and as he poured the concrete, parked his Jag, no more fret about sap and berries sticking to the hood. So we shook our heads and hung them low, our arms down by our sides, and we stood a long time without speaking while everything shook its tambourines, the electrons spun the same dance as their mates light years on, the dragonflies shimmered a blue lagoon among the cricket song, the smooth horns rested on the sublime head of the Longhorn while the bright pink lips of it cow mouth folded in and out, munching brambles to an ancient drum; the sparrows’ bellow and tremolo shook the chinaberry into symphony, like a Gnostic book of papyrus leaves erupting from a Coptic red slip jar, buried for two hundred centuries— tales, words, their black-tipped wings flooding the sky, cresting the deep with hosannas, released.
The Long Return
Beneath the backfilled sand mining pits, the thousand tons of blacktop asphalt, the twisted steel rope rust, and the Vulcan Materials Company men who mined the sand, decade upon decade from 1961, for a stadium and their sons who mined and piled the concrete debris into riverbeds and streams, 78 million dollars for seats and more coliseums beneath the new gladiators pouring from porticoes—muscles pounding to the full ferocity of human blood and voices like a thousand cymbals crashing in Nero’s Domus Aureas— beneath a new freeway construction for the city, Semper Vigilans, always moving, devouring four hundred and fifty thousand cubic yards, and beneath Cal Trans plowing the tens of thousands of concrete walls, waste and demolition debris, raising it out for the new highway, the new company men and their sons, beneath their hauling and clawing with hulking steel riggers and cranes: a quiet path in a clear mind, a calm and a stirring and the river undammed, the river freed, after half a century of seasons vanished beneath imagination and the eternal waiting for sun, the seeds. In days, the willows bursting along the banks and reeds, the lake inhaling, rippling bright plumage like clouds and the great white heron.
Comes pouring you into wakefulness, the fuchsia bougainvillea fluctuating its arms, heart on all sleeves, embroidering its bright exotic gestures all down the chain link fence flanking the overgrown and falling neighborhood park as you drive past on your way home from work. You remember the sheer drop if not the actual distance in which you will someday be cut off from this event, and every other, each kiss of the planet, this fireball, this molten cave’s echo where you’ve puffed heavy smoke rings, leaned back in your mammoth chair like a man—leg crossed with foot on knee, drunk whiskey straight into dawn under a stuffed boar’s head, where still you drew slowly the big-hearted rivers, and they flowed past your prime, unfolding all you could hope for, and didn’t they always, the apertures for breathing whisper to hang on. You were healing your mortal wounds, that’s why it took so long to arrive, and how could you be farther ahead, when you’ve been trickling from your own fissures and pores like a rivulet once walled and bound, shedding the violence of should, you were hanging on with your best imitation, you were ice picking up your cosseted crags, ascending every impasse subtly here, flamboyantly there, indulging your various appetites for raw innards, your palate for curried fish or malt barley grist—old world bitters—you’ve been cruel to yourself, you’ve been beautiful, you, becoming so close, suspended by everything gossamer— this airy mystery and lyric mesh—holding on your whole life, each pungent flash, and always, like these papery fuchsia bracts, on the edge of falling.
Robin Carstensen’s poetry is published or forthcoming in Georgetown Review, Tar River Poetry, South Dakota Review, In Posse Review, Tusculum Review, and many others. She recently earned her Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University, where she served as co-managing editor for four years for the Cimarron Review.
Seascape and net image courtesy Shutterstock.