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.