Afterward, in Waves
I’m no longer afraid of not doing
the right thing.
I leave clothes on the drying rack
Reading, I eat chocolate,
smear the page.
It’s not that I’m lazy or decadent;
I’m shamelessly alive.
Or if I’m afraid, it’s that I’ll forget
the blue-grey carpet, water stain
on the wood table.
If I’ve learned anything
from your accident,
it’s how to tend
a half-dead lawn.
The bedroom we shared was blue.
The walls, the sheets, the pillows, icy blue.
And the ground cracked and froze for half a year
as your bones mended in another state.
I’d drive 12-14 hours
to visit you in the dark blue cold.
Home, one evening I dug into your closet,
clawed though your things
like a madwoman in a gothic
novel you’d never read.
I was looking for a secret life
that I could blame.
Your father carried the blame
for your fall,
berated himself silently
for not securing
the scaffolding that buckled
under your weight.
The roof unrepaired
While you were hooked to machines,
he visited in-
frequently. We stood in the kitchen’s blue
morning light as he sobbed
into my shoulder and said something
On the phone, you’d ask about the mail, bills,
did I remember to turn down the heat?
I rubbed my fingers round the water stain
left from a vase as we talked.
In spring, I mowed circles on the lawn.
It was important to you that the grass
was cut into perpendicular lines,
woven like a thatched roof.
In the house we shared,
stacks of new doors were propped
facing a wall. Window frames stood
upright with the windows punched out
like perfectly missing teeth.
I’m convinced you’ve never finished replacing them.
The paint on the deck was peeling again.
Years ago, just after the dog died,
we painted it in silence. I imagine
the lawn is still unflawed except
for that sandy spot.
Your mother told me a story
of when you were young. Angry,
you cut holes in a paper bag
for your eyes, wore it over your head
at dinner, and wordlessly forked food
underneath its serrated edge.
Once I motioned to the instructor
on our dive “no air”
though I could breathe fine.
I fitted the secondary yellow respirator
to my mouth, just to see if I could,
save myself in case of real emergency.
I still hate diving in deep water,
can’t stand the rubber suit, gauges
to measure oxygen, depth,
can’t feel my green sponge lung,
bronchioles, aureoles. The places
you’d never go fill with salt.
Before we even met, I taped
a card with a waterlogged image
of a couple facing each other
on a beach to my wall.
The inside left blank.
I was waiting to write it,
to have it written.
I no longer remember your face,
only a vague sketch and daubs of blue
for your eyes. I fill the gaps
by tracing pictures in sand.
When I press down, the water
rushes over. What dissolves,
dissolves in waves. You’re walking now
further and further away.
It’s like this: happening upon
an abandoned crab shell
or this: writing a poem
in a silent room.
How churned debris
of the sea blue-deep
in the quiescent half-light
Before & After
After the phone call about her accident, we were far away at the seashore,
& if we should go back & how (since we couldn’t see her).
after we learned the other driver was maybe drunk or high,
after our children were in bed & only the waves punctuated
the silence between us, I thought this is it, everything will change from here on out,
but for that moment, a week really, we carried on as if,
as if before & after exist simultaneously, & sometimes, even now
a year later, I still catch myself about to send a photo to her or a text
Sara Burnett is the author of Seed Celestial, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, and available in October 2022. She is also the chapbook author of Mother Tongue (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and has published in Barrow Street, Copper Nickel, Matter, PANK, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Maryland, and a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont. Previously, Sara worked as a public high school English teacher. In addition to writing poetry and essays, she also writes picture books. She lives in Maryland with her family. Her website is: www.sararburnett.com.
Image: Sailing Hirondelle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons