blackbirdonline journalSpring 2009  Vol. 8  No. 1
print version


Sweet Box

Gadwall, pintail, wood duck—ecstatic swimmers
in the cold current. The retriever’s mouth
is suited to such prizes; its temperament,
to mark and tremble on command; its coat,
to shed river; its movements, unlimbered
and effortless as the current past its
banks. Once two hundred soldiers crouched
here above the torrent, hidden in ditches
and redoubts, this bluff a blanket folded
above the flood. Sweet box flanks these fragile
earthworks, an arching scaffold of honey-
musk. I climb the slope into its scent, lose
sight of the dog, come up on the old fort
again, rinsed by river and rain, rain

and river. On the face of it, the past
is a blank. Nine ounces, eleven inches,
nineteen weeks gestation—she will die
in my arms, laboring to breathe. But first
there is sweet box, winter’s balm, improbable,
flowering at the doctor’s door. I wait
where the plant makes scent, as in December
half-light a Swede savors rose-scented broth,
or a florist, under ballasts of light,
resists the subtle stink of baby’s breath,
dreams impossible blue roses, uncrated,
stripped of thorns. I wait, just shy of the door,
its pneumatic sigh and polished glass. Freighted.
Fetus-on-board. Baby-in-tow. Eating-

for-two. Human-in-utero. Which genes
make fragrance, and at what cost? Which make
my body fail its course, weary in its cramp,
its bloody loss, all that tepid February?
Pouch empty this trip, the hunter drains his
thermos, nurses a sputtering outboard
to shore, retriever quiet in the hull.
Is this the most miserable of the hunter’s
pursuits? To troll the winter river, gun cocked,
alert for the sudden snap of muscular wings—
like a catch in your throat—moving upstream,
following the dark riverbank?
Twilight marks passage over each bulge of the tilted
globe, and it’s twilight drives the hunter home.  end

return to top