Lisa Creech Bledsoe
He catches a striped bass, a good one.
A wild striper might be 70 pounds—this one's 17,
maybe more. It made a spool-stripping run
after the hookset. It will feed them well.
He brings it to her on a bed of ice.
She has shoji paper 3 feet wide, drifting in quiet
waves above the wooden table. They wash the fish
and dry it, respecting the gift, tracing each curve
to the limits of emptiness. It is late in the night
and the lights hum.
Now her brush touches the black cephalopod ink—
a sea creature ’s fear and freedom—to sweep it
along the scales, six fins, the feathery gills
and hard-set mouth. Then
the paper floats, sinks, offers its sweet endearment
beneath the artist's touch. She molds, then lifts
the print: this is gyotaku. The fish rubbing.
An honored life, an inked story, the memory-poem.
I slice open the box and unwrap the bag
that will feed my father, throwing away
all the plastic and packaging from syringes,
vials, tubing, sharps. A month ago, I would have
recycled but now I want it all gone
and I'm angry and sorry.
A woman in Nairobi is making bricks from plastic.
Her bricks are lighter than concrete, seven times
stronger, and come in every color. Every day
she gets free shipments of plastic waste
from local factories, gift after gift at the door.
Don't tell me how things will never change.
Don't tell me about all the times you didn't say
"I'm exhausted, I need to rest," so he never knew,
never had the chance to gift you, if he chose.
This trail feels strange, flat. When I lived here
I used to run this circuit 5 miles every morning
six days a week. Now I walk, my foot dragging some.
The brick stairs from the playing fields up
to the picnic shelter are the only mountain I have
here so I climb them, clinging grimly to the handrail.
I can see a little of what went wrong but not
how to fix it. I sit in the playground swings
and pump until I'm dizzy.
When the ground dissolves beneath you, swim
if you can. Turn your chest to the clouds and breathe
sky. Fan out your rigid bones and feel something, let
something. There are limits to emptiness, and no
other way to become your next self.
Self-Portrait on my 55th Birthday
I woke up with my hair a hilarity of
lichen, my face wild with moss.
I poked a sprig of dried flower
skeletons above my ear and wandered
downstairs to sing myself a birthday song.
It went hm-hmm something queen, green
or I don't know, but you instantly
picked up the vocal percussion plus
backup vocals and I danced and hm-da-da'd
most of the way until you high-fived me
at the end, grinning.
Then it was time to whistle up the cats
and head down the mountain to gather
feathery wands of yarrow trying again
after the first frosts, dried goldenrod
and oh! The milkweed in a frothy hoopla,
cartwheeling above the weeds.
After lunch you brought me that last
small square of grocery-store cake
with a q-tip burning in place of a
birthday candle. We laughed and waved
the smoke away from our faces while
our little dog barked wildly.
And it was all enough and so good but
then the rattle of wind in the dried
weeds tonight brought sharply to mind
my grandfather singing with all his heart
to me, to me, the November I was newly nine
and we were making our way through the dark
dry cornfield toward the lights of home.
Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a hiker, beekeeper, and writer living in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. She is the author of two books of poetry, Appalachian Ground (2019), and Wolf Laundry (2020). She has new poems out or forthcoming in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Chiron Review, Otoliths, and Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, among others.