I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them, slack as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task
 
in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms 
like dusk coats grass in a field.
 
The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel
 
slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

More by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

Flight 214

The news is still falling
in our kitchen
like invisible rain

as we eat the pink salmon,
the lettuce, the mashed potatoes.

Because now everything
glistens. The candles, the soft

folds of red napkins
each in its place,

as though it all were sacred—
the rain
must still be falling.

Not me, not anyone I know.

Earlier in the day, the terrible
news lifted too easily,

a cheap Mylar balloon
cut loose—a tinny flash.

Couldn’t even tell its color
against the sky.

Echolocation

The whales can’t hear each other calling
in the noise-cluttered sea: they beach themselves.
I saw one once— heaved onto the sand with kelp
stuck to its blue-gray skin.
Heavy and immobile

it lay like a great sadness.
And it was hard to breathe with all the stink.
Its elliptical black eyes had stilled, were mostly dry,
and barnacles clustered on its back
like tiny brown volcanoes.

Imagining the other whales, their roving weight,
their blue-black webbing of the deep,
I stopped knowing how to measure my own grief.
And this one, large and dead on the sand
with its unimaginable five-hundred-pound heart.

Related Poems

What We Set in Motion

I.

Months out from my bout, I return home
after training deltoids and biceps to push

past the letdown of exertion—to never
stop throwing punches. Our baby boy

bides time in L’s belly, two weeks late,
and she smiles, names me her gentle boxer

as I shadow my way down the hall
toward the shower. The next day,

after zero centimeters worth of progress,
she sends me back to the gym to spar,

to save my mind from running
the unnecessary laps. I spend round after

round risking and taking damage,
in search of that perfect left hook

to the body, that soft midsection crunch.
I land a few home and feel the accuracy

moving deeper than mechanics,
burying itself in the blue memory

below. Inside the ring I sweat out everything
but bob and weave, but balance and breath, bearing

each combination’s bad intent, until brutality
blossoms into something almost beautiful.

II.

And then it’s time—as in the dark, we’re in it:
maternity wing of the hospital, the lengthening
hours of our son’s slow arrival. As in the dark,
a contraction’s wave ends, the wash of pain receding,
and L leans back into the rocking chair, back
into the chasm of exhaustion, eyelids
locking her exit from the room. I squat before her
and wait, her body buoyed in the open sea of labor,
as in the dark. My gaze fixes on the map
of monitors, scanning that pixilated horizon
for the next contraction’s approach. When it does,
as in the dark, her eyes flare inside the room
once more, hands raising to clasp
behind my neck, as in the dark. I hear the moan
of her spirit bearing this being into light, and I lift
her loaded weight, place pressure
on her hips and say, give me everything,
darling, as in the dark. There is no word for the infinite
divide between my desire and my inability to rock
this boy’s burden from her, to rock her from the tides
of hurt he’s riding in on—this is all her. As from the dark,
as from the sea, another wave builds inside her,
and I send whispers across water, coaching her deeper
into the swallow of its force, calling it what we want,
calling it love or joy or peace, as in the dark, barely trusting
each moment that moves her further from this shore,
where I wait for her, to plant our son into these arms.

III.

When they tell us no more fluids. When they tell us time
has scorched the well of his arrival. When urgency cuts through

each gowned voice in the delivery room, the ghost in L’s face
says let them, and so we let them mine him by fire—with and through fire.

Restraints. No breath. Regional anesthesia. No breath. Nerve block.
Incision. Hemorrhage. And then he adds the sharp thunder of his cry

to the elements. They place him at the altar of her chest. With one hand
free to touch the curl and moisture of his hair, smoke clears from her smile.

IV.

In the nursery, this new kind of quiet
stretches itself inside the plastic, hospital-issued bassinet,

and I stare at my feet—
a sudden fear over the distance down

to them, over having no prayer for looking
into our son’s face, years from now, finding

it thinner, the flesh pulled tighter
around the cathedral of his skull,

the mind behind his eyes more
like ours, more tacked to the brittleness

of yesterday, days stacking into months,
memories like seeds spilled across another year.

What’s the ritual for forgiving ourselves
the mortal promise we set in motion,

pressed between the floral sheets,  
planting his life’s fabric into death’s seam?