Trough

                             Cowlake, Arkansas, 1969

For the horses, in the run between the barn and the pasture,
where a catalpa tree bears its crop of worms. What draws you?

Constant tug of the dark water, the still water, its insides
tin and slick with green. Almost as tall as you are and—

your cousin warns—big enough to drown in. Just inside
the barbed wire that snags you when you lean over to stir

the darkness, to stare at the fish, enormous fish in the dark water,
gold and black, rising like apparitions to the surface,

where you scatter oatmeal stolen from your grandma’s cupboards,
an offering, a secret. The fish come to you, bidden, hungry.

They are everywhere. They are always hungry.

More by Ed Madden

Ark

           Christmas 1966

The small box is filled with little beasts—
a barn that’s a barge, a boat—the ark’s

ridged sides like boards, a plastic plank,
a deck that drops in fitted slots, but lifted

reveals that zoo of twos—heaped beasts
to be released beneath a glittering tree,

its dove-clipped limbs.  Dad’s asleep
in his reclining seat, and crumpled waves

of paper recede as Mom circles the room.
The humming wheel throws light across the walls.
 

How to Lift Him

Don’t pick him up by the pits,
which seems easiest. You risk

broken bones, bruised skin.
Instead, once he’s eased up, sits,

shoulders hunched, feet slung
over the edge, lean down for the hug,

your arms under his and around,
hands flat against his back, his arms around

you. This is what you do. Then lift him,
his feet between yours, this timid

dance around, this turn. Tell him
to bend his knees as you ease him

down to the chair, its wheels locked,
set him in slow. Kneel in front

as if to receive his blessing.

Lift each foot to its rest. Wrap
a blanket around him—you’re going out.

Stop at the old flat-front desk,
last hiding place for his cigarettes—

why he wanted up, after all. Stop
at the edge of the porch and lock

the wheels. Make sure he’s in the sun.
Stand silent by, he won’t talk much,

though the lonely cat will,
rubbing its back against the wheels.

Sacrifice

When my father bound me, I submitted,

closed my eyes to the lifted knife in his fist.
Even now, the cords still hold my wrists,

rough ropes of love. My chest is bare,
my heart lies open. He loves his god more

than me. I open my eyes, watch my father
raise his fist against a bright and bitter

sky, no angel there to stay his hand.