Coyla Barry 



“Childhood is only a small blue grave now.”   Mark Doty: “Cemetery Road”

A wishbone, a fan, a baby bottle nipple
chewed to the nub long after the doll
was gone, ribbons for the sausage curls Mother
pulled around her finger every morning.
I try to imagine what I’d have taken
in the afterlife if I’d died early in one of those ancient

places where the left behind filled tombs
with useful tools and objects beloved by the dead.
I’d have needed the pillow that sent me to sleep
even in foreign rooms where voices raged
in the muffled distance, and no one
came when I called. The gold piece

Daddy brought me from Fresno,
a pen that used real ink, a horseshoe
I never counted on to bring me luck.
My crypt hides a dark secret or two,
like the hardened blood and fur remains
of the baby squirrel I smashed with a flung stone,

a deed I blamed on a younger sibling
and carried the lingering burden of wormy guilt.
A late entry’s a sock I’ve kept
because it smells of pine needles and baby oil
from the last summer I was innocent of sex.
I don’t visit often. It’s clotted with weeds, 

and unmarked by any stone,
but sometimes I have to seek it out,
that midnight, mourning place
holding the fragments I’ve sealed away.
They blue the world I live in,
they whiten to dust exposed to light and air.

Swimming to Sleep

This bed in the old summer house
smells musty, like a suitcase of old letters,
the gray sheets thread-bare
and damp, the mattress lapsed
in the middle. The turmoil of arrival,
furnace belching soot and children
to feed, ebbs as I sprawl my body
into its sagging contours.
What I was still haunts the place
in flip-flops and washed-out denim.
I become her twin, punching at 
my childhood pillow never plump
but flat and flabby now after years
of bedtime whacking. I yawn
and stretch against the foot-rail,
pressing spindled comfort into my instep.
My breathing slows, heart-beats
knuckling against my ribs like surf.
In a minute I’m afloat on blue water,
toes up beside the barrel raft,
no clouds, weightless as a wood chip
where everything earlier was burden
and demand. Here, at fourteen,
I became a fish, at ease in big waves,
ahead of the boys in wind-sprints
to shore, diving deep into seaweed
where sunfish and perch defended their nests.
Tomorrow’s next storm is piling up
in the west, its threat a cruel weight,
but tonight I’m a ghost-girl out of school
with tanned shoulders and sun-bleached hair,
pulling arm over arm for the middle of the lake.

Wedding Day and Record Flood
Muscatine, Iowa, April 21, 2001

In a spree of graciousness,
the weather’s balmy
and the town square’s a mirror.
Wavelets catch the sun
glittering on shuttered storefronts,
and a statue raises a salute
over wet bronze feet.

Tourists from dry states,
we crowd the river overlook
to gaze at debris and backyard plastic
lapping gently in the grass below us.
A tourist rat, at large
from his accustomed dumpster,
noses soggy pizza boxes

Two blue herons ride
a fast-moving railroad tie,
yellow eyes shining like rivets,
beaks like javelins poised
to plunge and tweak.

Uneasy in wedding finery,
and our new connections
to such excess and mutability,
we huddle with family,
abashed by a town
that embraces high water like a lover,
and leaves the sandbags to Dubuque.

From church to country club
we cruise pavements awash
in the land-striding Mississippi
muscling its way to record levels,
as if it had an invitation,

an awkward but important uncle,
here to recognize
the occasion’s fragile premise,
and the future’s intractable flow.