Sport 33: Spring 2005
For a long time, I thought that the sprouts
had the name of my father: Russell.
That was the sound of someone
moving in the vegetable garden.
Because one night he laid himself down in the dirt
and went to sleep. From the places where his eyes were
and mouth, hands, and feet
pale green plants sprouted, warm and bitter,
bearing his name: Russell.
If anyone could lie so still under soil
so as not to upset
the new sprouts from growing,
naturally, it was him—it was only him, the quietest one,
upon whom they felt
at home. When morning came
he brushed soil from his hair and swam
a silent length, backstroke,
in the pool: early light
enfolding his skin
in leaves of palest green. Before we woke
he was up and over the window ledge
in a perfect Olympian vault
and through the curtains, with barely a rustle.
Down the hallway, there are no skylights
and the wallpaper is of so tangled a wilderness, even the trees
are lost, and all the young girls, their parents,
their faithful dogs. I search for them here,
each of my family.
Behind one door my mother springs back like a trap,
her arms opened up
to consume me.
A sudden high wind rackets through the hallway
bursting open another—
it is my brother, with hands fisted on hips
standing tall in red sneakers on Christmas day
his eyes narrowed to meet mine;
he is a man in a cape, billowing, ready to fly.
Doors open one after the other
upon my eldest brother,
who holds each like a person's shoulder—
or a shield
that he lowers slowly away from his body
and in each doorway, he is older.
Behind sliding doors I find my father.
He steps backward into a windowless room
looking not at me but patiently over the top of my head,
as if counting the beats of a pulse:
I am not in an elevator
but he is so sure, I believe him when he tells me
that I have stopped on the wrong floor.
After all, I have not taken this way home before;
the geography of my family is unfamiliar.
She abandoned the boat one summer
and began to swim
a careful, clumsy breast-stroke through the river. From the jetty
to the bridge, from the bridge to the jetty and
back again: patient as a beaver.
the one light
is mum, swimming.
She wears a black whale-skin one-piece
and her strange pale skin,
her hair a slow-moving beacon
through the mildew of trees.
She tells me the garden looks different, is smaller
from the river
and that one never grows familiar
with the soft tongues of weed that browse the skin.
Each breath when she swims is held and let go like a precious thing,
a pushed swing:
this is the only time she is not talking.
The river that runs past the house is darker, is quieter
when mum is swimming.