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David Dodd Lee
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Is the author of three books of poems, Abrupt Rural, Arrow Pointing North, and Downsides of Fish Culture. He is also the editor of Shade, a new annual anthology of poetry and fiction. He currently teaches at Indiana University.

 
I Want to be Buried
 
When it’s time, I want to be buried under a river,
so that eventually my bones become
a place for fish to hide, small ones, like the dull
fathead minnow or maybe a creek chub, plain
as a white piece of paper.
I would like to be structure, instead of a headstone.
It might take a hundred—maybe a thousand—years
but I want to be buried deep under the current
of some hurtling stream of water
so eventually a crayfish, if he feels like it, can climb up a rib
once in a while, oversized claw in tow,
to just look around or wave good-bye to his friend.
Sticklebacks, water boatmen, mud puppies
could all find refuge in my eye sockets
in the event someone larger—say, a steelhead—goes hunting.
I would like to be structure
for pike, visiting from warm water estuaries,
my hip like a bottle opener for prying
out treble hooks. All winter long I’d be surrounded
by pines heavy with snow, a few ice-capped logs sporting
what look like helmets,
an occasional crow crossing overhead,
a piece of somebody’s lost shadow.
 
First published in the Crab Creek Review

Apples
 
Last night when I went for a walk
in the old neighborhood
I heard the repressed hum of the garage
door openers
held in abeyance,
watched the designer mailboxes steam
like blocks of dry ice
hurled onto a football field . . .
Then, this morning,
I saw my ex-wife's hand move for a doorknob
and watched my daughter turn her head.
And the white and red towel
with pictures of different kinds of apples
on it appeared folded over the back
of my mother's couch.
What the hell is all this anyway?
And what lesson is buried inside
a moment that suddenly reverses itself mid-river
and you smell the same spray of lilacs over earth mixed with warm skin
but watch a different woman
close and then open her green eyes?
The beach yesterday was the same old beach.
The same blue buckets full of sand,
the same paunchy guy
in an inappropriate speedo with mustache,
the same gray gulls fighting for scraps of food.
Then the clouds rolled in,
a black line blooming out of the formerly undetectable
white horizon,
turning out bellies brown.
And the first big rain drops patted the sand.
That's when we heard the airplane
sputtering--its engine missing
and catching like a backfiring car--
all of us there on the beach, watching it fly
in low just over the dunes.
 
 
 
Small Fake Bird Listening at the Keyhole
 
A portico drips with rain outside the towering mental hospital.
Even the smallest rodents can hear the evaporation leaking
through the thin band-aids of their lobotomies when the MIchigan sun breaks out.
Rust in the garden, pillows, a wheelbarrow full of ice cold gardenias
that crack into pieces when a sou'wester blows . . .
You too can be happy as a Kirtland's warbler, Leopold was heard to be
whispering to Loeb under a tarp where a couple male heads
had already been sewn onto adolescent female bodies.  Stay away
from that surgeon.  If it weren't for the goddamned jack pines
a person could just sit and believe in an abundance of ocean.  Oh to be alone
once again with nothing to worry about but one's own forehead.

 
 
Cigarette Break
 
It’s not the weather, or the fact that two ambulances
have already unloaded their cargo and sit in the emergency drive,
idling. It’s sunny, in fact, out here, next to this brick
wall where I’m taking my time out for a cigarette
and a cup of coffee, freezing my ass off actually, but happy,
for a few seconds at least, to be out of the basement.
It’s not very much, one cigarette, and it’s not very heartening
watching sick people struggle through the snow
to smoke one either. Wrapped in an oversized coat,
a woman, whose spindly legs are bare where they meet
her inadequately slippered feet, limps by trailing an IV
that dangles from a portable stand. Whatever I’ve got waiting
downstairs—the anesthesia cart to inventory, some cardboard boxes
to bale—takes half an hour. I hate that I sometimes hate what I do,
but not because of this sick woman, who,
after feeling her pockets, jabs her chin at me to ask for a light.
She’s ugly, and old, a hank of greasy hair
and a mouthful of broken-up teeth. And she won’t talk,
doesn’t want to I guess. She sucks the flame into her cigarette,
takes a long initial drag, then blows out the smoke.
She stands there hunched over, smoking, and clutching the IV stand
for support. I’ve been at this job a long time, so this woman’s
nothing.  One woman expired, right here, last fall, fell over in the middle
of a sentence. They rushed her into the ER on one of those brand
new rolling stretchers, but I had heard later she had died almost instantly
from a burst aorta. No big surprise when you work at a hospital.
The sick come in. The sick go out. Sometimes they don’t go out.
In the meantime all the healthy people stand around
glimpsing the future, their eyes lit up like a deer’s in traffic.
Occasionally a visitor will wail for their loss, like someone
burning in an empty room, a howl you can hear
coming through the vents in the storeroom.
I know I should quit these goddamned cigarettes. But they buy
     me some time,
somehow, a momentary stay of execution. Then it’s
back to the business of filling up bins. I flick my smoke into a
     snowdrift.
And the woman, who’s suddenly listing a little, begins hacking,
doing her best to split her thick winter coat. When she finally
recovers she turns to look at me watching her.
Her eyes are red, wet looking.
It happens again and again, the dead look out of their graves
at the living, not a word needing to be uttered.
 
First published in New Poems from the Third Coast

 
 
First Turtle
 
(Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery)
 
I’d never killed one before. I guess the best way
is to shoot them in the head with a twenty-two. But since
     One fears
what one does not necessarily know
how to do, I was in a hurry to get the slaughtering
over with. I sharpened a hatchet until it gleamed
then waited for the turtle to stick his head out again. The
     hit was clean but I missed
the neck and the hatchet sank into the turtles skull.
 
When I was done I was blood splattered. The head lay dead
in the dirt but the body continued to move, not like a chicken
going crazy, but like a turtle with no head
simply trying to walk away. I picked him up by the tail
and stuck him upside down in a bucket to drain. When I re-
     turned much later
I found the bucket on its side and the turtle was gone.
He was fifty yards away on one of the dikes walking
     in circles.
 
First published in New York Quarterly

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