Two Poems

By: Brendan Walsh

cedar key

roseate spoonbills hotpink in the live oak
across the saltpond fly out with the tides
so pronounced such flamboyant high-low
swings the fish jump constantly towards sun
the noseeums eat-us-up tonight as we dismantle
clams our fingers oiled and garlicked
everything must feed

the dolphins in the bay who barely
touch our kayak with their cartoonish snouts
hunt fish differently than other dolphins
they’ve constructed distinct divisions of labor
to secure meals for every mouth
this is their culture this is who they are
we forget that culture is a human word

for universal animal behavior like how the spoonbills
on cedar key prefer some small marsh minnows
unavailable further west or south
or how i’ve cooked this steak for us and you knew
the farmer maybe even knew the cow we name
every bite of food we name birds and forget kinds of fish
except the few we like to eat

imagine shellmound just east of here without
thousands of years of discarded shells
left by the killed-off indigenous people
their civilization defined by clam and oyster
and we know nothing of what they called themselves
or who they loved and now white people come
to study their trash and theorize about extinction

what will we leave behind in this place
not bottles or plastic bags not these scraps
which are trucked off-island to a regional landfill
how quiet it will be once we’re gone oh thank god
this noiseless world these miles of tidal swamp
fishjump and birdhonk an unnamed song
the gulf growing rich with emptiness

purple sweet potato

skin-singed over low coal fire i find you
               like a sailor’s first whiff of dirt
               you in the streets at the market over the grill
               of a quiet old auntie outside the bus station

i pay a dollar’s equivalent for a melting still-hot plastic bag
               and if anything exposes the faulty nature
               of currency and international exchange rates
               and the determination of “value” it’s that i buy you

with paper and you are nebulae and earthcore
               you the color of fantasy you edible geode
               drab soil give way to starlight and alien flesh

when i see you i forget about death
               is that strange
               i forget the ground you came from the ground
               i’ll return to i think maybe if you came from it

death is not real it must turn roots to violet cosmos
               how else to explain your blooming in my hand
               your sugar in my blood

i guess what i mean to say
               is that last week when i cooked you like the aunties
               used to in vientiane all lowslow and ash
               i was sad nearly crying for the world’s monotonous

march towards destruction and all the friends lost
               to time and circumstance then i peeled your tanbrown
               back to magnificent purple and i gasped
               i honestly lost breath

Brendan Walsh has lived and taught in South Korea, Laos, and South Florida. His work appears in Rattle, Glass Poetry, Indianapolis Review, American Literary Review, and other journals. He is the winner of America Magazine‘s 2020 Foley Poetry Prize, and the author of five books, including Go (Aldrich Press), Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press), and fort lauderdale (Grey Book Press). He’s online at