Four Poems from Bathwater
Michael Hurley

Last Days Pastoral


I was graceless but eventual, and cast delicately.
I stayed willingly and prayed tiny stones.
You put band-aids over your nipples, pulled your sundress down.
That day there were three notes:
              Terrence said thank you for the stones.
              Shawn said thank you for the change-purse and finger-puppet.
              One to Vince: an eraser shaped like a bone and a blue strip of painter’s tape.

The next day, just one: A photo of David and the horseshoe crab.
“These kids’ll touch anything,” it said at the bottom. Aunt Ella was having birds.

The petunias were the kind you have to pick the dead buds off all the time.
You looked that day for a symbol for us:
The rowhouse they tore down left the shape of itself
in the bricks of the rowhouse next to it:
                                    you could tell where the bricks used to touch.


You keep thinking things like bloom and bliss
but what do you know about frightening?
Tell me with your words:
              A wooden snake you hold by the tail and show writhingly to others.
              You make me small myself.

The directions the last girl gave said take Glass Run to Lebanon,
where first mouth-sound was twisted into lines
and scratched with sticks and fingertips into sand.
              It gets so dry, she said, the newts bake under stone.

Think of how you’ve always been the boy with the dying sister,
              how long it seemed reasonable to tug like a child at yourself for meaning.
              How we learn the skin of one another and then forget.
              Or another:
              How before dawn in Cusco dogs filled the dumpsters,
                                    how from faraway the bags were breathing.

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