Smoldering clouds of smoke and ash. 

A sudden breeze weaves through the trees, 

lifting and lifting like steam. The sky opens 

its mouth and groans like the hungry 

stomach of some angry god. Its tongue 

empties itself toward the parched earth. 

Somewhere there was a prayer for this rain. 

Shouted from a crop by a farmer in a drought. 

Whispered into a pillow or a handful of beads. 

Danced, barefoot, on scorched reservation land. 

From the rooftop deck of an inner-city apartment. 

Here in the Mountain West, the sky listened. 


Outside, the slate-grey air rests 

like ash at the bottom of a pit. 

Behind the sun-spotted windows 

peeling like dead skin from trim 

and siding, my sons are playing. 

In a bed of rock beneath our 

one tree lies the undiscovered 

raw dead body of a fledgling. 

I will find him in a few hours. 

After the sun has lifted its head

like a lion over the mountains. 

I will scoop him up and dispose 

him in the bin. I will remember

his permanent stare, the death

shrouded malaise of pupil and iris. 

For the next three days, two birds

will stalk and pace on the rocks 

beneath the tree, before resting 

in the exact spot their offspring 

perished. I still haven’t heard 

a sound from those two pigeons. 

Not a single grunt or coo. Not a word. 

And who could blame them? If I lost 

one of my sons, I may never speak again. 

If This Were My Last Day On Earth

after Ellen Bass’s “Remodeling the Bathroom”

The shower curtains’ brass knuckles 

crumble and crash into porcelain

as I pull the curtain closed and enter 

like a lover, into the warm water. 

If this were my last day on earth

I wouldn’t pick up the shattered 

pieces and place them next to the sink. 

I wouldn’t caulk the windows

either. I’d let the small cracks feed—

filling themselves again and again 

with sunlight, wind and water. 

The silicone shines bright and clear 

as a steam-cleaned glass melted 

and poured into the swollen seams. 

I would take a warm shower though. 

And I would spend time in the sun,

no matter the season. I would bask 

in its warm glow, without the worry 

of sunburn, skin cancer or tomorrow. 

And I would spend time with my wife 

and sons. We wouldn’t do anything 

too specific or special. We’d go to the park, 

walk around the block, play in the yard 

with the dog. If this were my last day 

on earth, I would worship the ordinary. 

I couldn’t bear to tell my parents, 

brothers, sisters or children

if this were my last day on earth. 

I would tell you, though. 

Not out of pity, but love. 

The truth is always quicker—

and, eventually, better. 

Before I left this earth 

I would take you one last time. 

I would gaze into your eyes,

swollen with desire, nostalgia 

and reverence. Taking you in, 

admiring all of your moles and freckles, 

scars and stretch marks—

every perfect imperfection. 

I would wither away

in your scent and image, 

the first and last woman

I have ever loved. 

In This Dream

Everything but the swinging gate 

is the same as our backyard. 

A sudden breeze rattles white vinyl, 

summer leaves, moon washed trampoline.

A grizzly sniffs and paws the earth. 

It never enters. It’s just there. 

My dog approaches tentatively. 

She barks, lunges, steps back. 

A single slash slices her throat. 

She bleeds out almost instantly,

heavy red thickening her white coat.

I stare down at her, almost indifferently. 

She is too weak to whimper,

or I am too weak to hear her.

I shuffle my blood-stained bare feet 

across the lawn, and climb inside. 


The apple tree you sheared last year 

failed to bear its fruit. 

A single, stillborn apple withered all winter 

on the highest branch. 

This year, green leaves everywhere, 

a blossom of cotton-white flowers. 

Do trees feel the greening of leaves,

the emergence of color and life 

from their empty, winter-grey skin?

And what about the leaves?

I overheard you talking, recently, 

with the friend you met at the library, 

about childbirth and pregnancy. 

I know the pain of each contraction,

the power and strength behind every push. 

I never felt it, 

not like you, 

but I know it. 

Is it selfish that I never, 

even for a second, 

worried about our children? 

In my head, 

they were an extension of you—

and, like the leaf greening in Spring, 

I never considered their pain. 

Brandon McQuade is an award-winning poet and Founding Editor of Duck Head Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dewdrop, Rust + Moth, 34 Orchard and several other magazines and anthologies. He has published two collections of poetry, Mango Seed and Bodies. 

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