Apr/May 2004 Poetry Special Feature

Shadow Water

by DJ McDougle

Art by Janet L. Snell


Shadow Water

We don't speak of long fish and deep waters.

Radio. Television. Tabloid headlines over toast and coffee, a ham sandwich, prime rib with a sautéed seasonal medley. This is who we are. Pretending we don't see will not make them invisible.

Such shadows, trailing deep, mile upon mile of moist flesh, tending to business; mid-sea middle management, gulping inferiors, and you look to see if I am listening, and I smile over my cup while you channel drive-time radio. I wonder how you find air at this depth and put it up as a testament to your oblivion. I file this in the white and yellow milk carton on a high shelf in the corner of the ramshackle shed in my mind. This is where I keep you now.

The face on the carton I've stolen from a photograph—years old, ancient and faded. You're freckled and fresh. Laughing. I keep that side turned away so that it doesn't pain me when I reach up to stuff in another bit of something I can't use. There were only so many times I could answer its question, and now the question is moot.

The shadows stretch wide under the water, like gray fields, like passenger planes—taxi back and forth without lift-off, without wings. Silent and without the obnoxious crackle of under-cared for PA's—now boarding and pleeze harv dure mordin mas eddy. I'm close enough to move down the aisle and find my seat near the tail. Or to reach out, arm shimmering in the filtered light, fingers gently grazing the closest sharp snout.

A large eye, hazel, uncaring, turns my way, and I snatch back my hand, too slow. Blood spills, fills the ocean, and you ask again if I am all right. All right? All right?

Your hands are steady, the needle flashing in and out. You look up from your mending, to see if I'm still listening, something about PBS, the cosmos. I smile from somewhere uncharted, admiring your skill with the gossamer thread. A suture for my soul. I will need something else to store this—a small silver box with scales. I will keep it on the bookcase and not close the lid. It will play a quite tune I might have heard once before, or perhaps I composed it just now. We'll call it "Star of the Sea" and hear it in the mornings before we've thrown off the blankets.

I swim in sparkling blue water, lazy unshadowed strokes. When I reach the shed, I pull myself up, dripping, and climb onto the high shelf. I sit beside the old milk carton and turn your laughing face toward mine.

Have you seen me?

Yes, I saw you this morning. And tomorrow, I will look for you again.


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