Winner, Still Waters Press Chapbook Competition, 1993)
(co-authored by Lance Olsen)
NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST DIES WHILE SNORKELING
Darrell Sifford, 60, a nationally syndicated
columnist for the Philadelphia Enquirer died
yesterday while snorkeling off the coast of
These were the last flickerings you knew:
the damselfish that winked at you,
the yellowblack rainbow arcing
across your mask, the seascape
churning like a kaleidoscope—
parrotfish and silvery grunts flashing
just beyond the bounds of language . . .
The gorgonians’ flamboyant yellowgreen
plumes waving you by, a sea fan
opening like a peacock, an iridescent wedge
of wrasse, a galaxy of angelfish
and spiny urchins like blown stars . . . I wish
this for you, Darrell, suddenly word-
lessly dizzy with the beauty of the world.
Evening drifts in with a wave
of skunk, then mimosa,
skunk. I hear something
gutteral next door—
all the hard dog consonants
grinding the air. The sun
is almost down. Birds
stop bickering in the trees.
And now I see the skunk, sticking
its blunt snout
out of the bank of coreopsis
along our fence and sniffing
the air. I’ve
never seen a skunk in the city,
though I’ve driven its stink
along maize and wheatfields,
not knowing whether to roll
the windows up or down.
I’m close enough now to hit it
with this empty beer bottle,
the fat skunk body
having emerged from the flowers,
its glossy back iridescent
in the late pink
slant of sun. I think
of my father’s breath
the one time
I saw him drunk, years before
shrapnel began to cut its way
out of his legs,
before vertigo leveled him
to a recliner and daily Cubs’ game.
It was summer.
He slammed the back screen
and rushed inside. His breath
was a fusillade of whisky,
his eyes monstrous lakes a boy
could drown in. He lifted me up
before I could run
and took me outside, the night
thick with fireflies. We sat
in silence. The pulse
of the wind beat in my ear.
I didn’t know what was wrong
he needed this silence
to be enormous, a storehouse
growing inside him . . .
The skunk, meanwhile, has spotted me
in the lawn chair.
He might think, This is something
large that can hurt, it doesn’t
want me here.
The bottle misses him, his tail
a ragged plume of smoke
rounding the corner.
He was right, and is already
someplace else, pulling the pure
nameless and irrevocably his.