The Beautiful Pieces
My dog loved best the garden’s cracked leftovers,
the split melon spilling the glimmer of seeds
to sniff and try on his frantic tongue with the same joy
with which he slid his shoulder onto a dead robin,
slick and rolling until I caught the full color of it
in my lungs. I walked fast from the rot, thinking
I should have turned the bird’s face to the ground,
though it had no face. I should have thrown salt at it,
lime, pebbles, earth on its chest, the smell
like the smallest of ghosts it would take a bottle of soap
to drown and well up from the dog's viscous fur.
The death of my father, too, had made itself at home
in the bathtub where it laid him, five days spreading
its smell about the apartment like a new tenant,
staking its claim even after the body was hauled out
and I cleaned, whiffing his last embarrassment, the lingering
rigor mortis inside what I kept, the smell thriving
between the pages of his books, a shadow inside
the downy coat. Such pungencies to tell time with,
of newborns, lovers, the sweet sickly fabrics of the deathbed,
the dog granting all of it, forgetting nothing, marking himself
with the reek of all of the body's secrets bursting.
My dog loved best the smell of death flung somewhere
across an acre of pigweed, and scowled when I washed him
twice, fanning the smell through the bathroom window
and into the trees, I'm tempted to say, like a bird again,
because of this way I have of supposing too much
of this way blood has of becoming air.
My father would think it sentimental and unimportant
to think this way once the smell goes and the dog goes
chasing after it, legs kicking in his sleep, and in my own dream
comes the bird loosed into the living world on its one
good wing, warbling a song made of nothing
because I dreamt it, broken because I broke it,
and I kept only the beautiful pieces.
Lampshades float chest high. Pike glide over the mailboxes.
Great catfish park in the driveways or raccoon the garbage bins
bumping bargelike in the flotsam. I am carrying my children
through the story of the flood that night the way I remember
the firemen puttered in their little boats, leveling a light
against the blast. We steer clear of the dog on the stranded deck
wailing like a human for its little life. Look! I tell them. In the rain,
the fall leaves stuck to us like handprints. The silly bird pranced
on an armchair as it bobbed on the surf like a parade float. I rarely heard
my deaf mother’s voice and then only from behind her hand and then only
held close to my ear like an inside joke, but she screams now for the lifeboat
at the edge among the fish flouncing in the plastic, shoes and rotten paper
washed into the suffocated field. Around us, the river falls open again
like a bag of snakes. Long-settled et ceteras roil up in foam and styrofoam,
a fencepost in the crux of a gutted cedar. Then, just as fast,
downpours that once wicked the flesh off the bones of every yard
fall too gently for words. My old house, a minor Willamete cutout,
leaf-stained, becomes a silence. The water hisses so loud it becomes a silence.
I want to believe pain becomes a silence. What we didn’t have then is the luxury,
I remind my children, of fast-forwarding through this, or leaving the story
altogether suspended in its confetti. In fact, look at us now, frozen
with our funny mouths open, our faces glowing in the searchlight.