The Garden of the Fugitives (Texas Review Press, 2014). Originally published in Southern Humanities Review (Fall 2009).
Men drowning dream of flight.
Their bones thin into stems of cattails,
their arms leaf out. Beneath the swamp
water’s skin of sky, believing
in the rising of their changed bodies,
they mistake for storm-stripped crowns
the labyrinth of roots. At rest
within the bottomland forests they felled,
they grieve us back into the world.
From the stumps of the Tensas, an uprush—
a dream? Beneath the oar
beat of my wings,
a child, sprawled on a mud flat,
its eyes reflecting my yellow eyes …
a dog, its leathered carcass hung
by floodwaters in a scrub oak. North,
towards the smell of swamp decay
and the sharp sweet lily, the rumor of a mate,
I turn the sky aside,
row to this diminished wood.
No red wolf’s song, no panther’s rip.
Only the rumor—they speak it, the living men
who disguise themselves as trees
and whisper in tree-tongue.
Like the cypresses, they stalk the river.
From them, I have learned to be sly.
Quieter now, I tear into rot-soft Tupelo
and rake the crawling meat.
My shadow falls over water ash
and buttonbush, swamp rose
and lizard’s tail, heron and hawk,
the banded water snake,
swarms of frogs small as horseflies,
and men dreaming that I am God.
The rumor of a mate carries me.
The blades of my wings
feather the sky, fan out the sun.