Maple Beach, Point Roberts, WA
We keep our summers simple. A cabin
by the ocean, no insulation. Dungeness caught
from traps, a wired cage with four openings.
All cooking outdoors in vats of water
salted and heated over fire.
Morning under black alder. At breakfast,
my mother’s sleeping pill not yet worn off.
I let herons swallow what she says
and she only says it once—
At one month old, she already feared death.
This fear of death, it must be green. I see it
often, wrapped around her finger, a laurel film,
translucent, kind of pretty, darkened in dishwater
on days she can’t be brave. It takes a basin
on the porch to show her.
My mother in water, knee-deep, dumps the remains
of last night’s supper between sandbars. Orange shells
that prick her hands, make them stink. The pub
owner with oiled hair, a wad of chew forever
in his mouth is at the cabin when we return.
My mother’s father gets out of the truck, his green
coat malt-liquored, stained. Elbows and breast pocket
patched, jeans grassed at the knees. The pub owner says
he found him on the floor, asleep in drink and when
will he settle his tab. My mother says tomorrow,
goodbye and thank you, and I watch her sit
with her father, a man I only know in and out
of naps, a man who lights up the more
he pours, a man who once sipped gin
from a vase when my sisters and I filled
all vacant cups with sand, tried to somehow
measure summer. On a bench by the seawall,
rain-rotten, my mother, her father, face the shore,
knead the knots in their necks. They don’t clap
mosquitoes overhead. Her father stuffs
wireweed into rice straw paper, smokes it saying it rids
bad pollen from the body. My mother has no ring on,
just that green strip in its place and her finger
points, finds a single blue patch where clouds
allow sky. Her fear stretches, touches my own.
All wishes and wrists on the seawall
are tensed. I find a match to stroke
on driftwood, start their fire for them. My mother,
her father, soured with uncertainty,
coated in the lemon juice light of morning.
Hannah peels paint from chairs
to stay busy, says the feeling of pining
is felt in the knees, that she’s been eating
for two but isn’t pregnant. She pours rye
into drained snow-globes, toasts
sesame seeds to feed sorrowful
crows on the porch. Her mother
has moved in to keep Hannah
from dying. She teaches immigrant children
French in the kitchen, lays bright felt words
on tiles glace, espace, limace. Hannah
wants Seth to unlock her world, with keys
cut from Home Depot by a man knee-deep
in propane, mind hooked on fish bait.
Hannah left without paying. Hannah will
not keep photos of Seth but she will keep
his hemp coat. It was always too tight
in the waist, and when Hannah walked
around the block last Monday, her arms
were dyed red from bad wool and sleet,
and didn’t that seem morbid,
somehow helpless and so not sexy.
Mallory Tater is a poet and fiction writer from Ottawa. Her work has been published in PRISM International, CV2, The Malahat Review, Poetry is Dead, Little Fiction, The Maynard, Cede Poetry, carte blanche, Room & others. Her first book of poetry is coming out with BookThug press in 2018.