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D.E. Kern holds an MFA from San José State University. My work has been published by Reed Magazine, CRATE, Hypothetical: A Review of Everything Imaginable, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Wilderness House Literary Review and Mission at Tenth. Poems are forthcoming in Glint Literary Journal. When he's not writing, he teaches composition and coaches other writers.
These pieces are part of a collection tentatively titled Rust Stains, a commentary on growing up, outgrowing, and growing used to loss in an industrial town.
Vacation, January 2005
Momma liked the mountains; perhaps it was the roll of the land, the salt of the
earth rising up to Jesus Himself, only to realize its makeup: sod, stone, ashes, dust.
Poppa Preacher shared the sentiment, sensing the rhythm of creation, smiling wryly
as he imagined a mold based on a series of women lying on their backs.
They were mined from these hills—she, limestone; he, bituminous,
a notoriously slow burner.
Moving East flattened their spirits, but each found points of empathy—
she in the fragments of sea life, calcium, underfoot;
he in the beacons strung across the ragged strand.
Baby boy is theirs, a quilt, fashioned from brokenness and vision—
flesh coastlines meshing, illuminated by light cast from lamp in the darkest
crag of the room.
From birth, he had an eye for seascapes, the horizon infinite in scope and possibility
here in New Jersey where geological misfits knew better
than to interrupt the view.
Even the sky, normally in a rush to reach its domed conclusion, bows to the sea.
He takes comfort in the affections of sand, wrapping his toes.
Still wet as a newborn, he hesitates at the thought of life without billows.
So, he gives a nod to Virginia Woolf as he stands on a jetty in Stone Harbor,
prays the tide carries back the things he’s lost, and wonders if it was
suicide or simply magnetism.
Foulness—beyond central air or fan—floats above her balsa-wood frame.
Sweats suggest she’d sprint the block if she could, wind
unwinding tinsel mane.
My name escapes her serrated tongue; glasses of another Nana top her head,
as she runs down a list of second-cousins bound to never dawn this narrow door
where I hulk, my eyes ammonia stung, tears blurring the edges of her too-angular face.
Her hand, sumac splotched, bids me to join her on the bed, recite the customary lines,
describe how I’m taking on water.
“You put me in the red pony’s stall,” she says, recalls mucking dung on the farm.
How can the bed-ridden mourn over space?
Or is it work she craves to accompany her labored breath?
Projects ambitious as the WPA’s were her air those summers, spent hemming in her flowers, with tractor tires turned to beds. Mumbling “don’t tread on me,” she painted them,
barber-pole-style, filled them with geraniums, peonies so vibrant you would’ve swore
the petals were pottery, confections.
Her trowel left a vapor trail … She turned macadam into topsoil, brought life from a Karst hard as immigrant strife, grew squash the size of watermelon down the hill from the little,
red, two-seater outhouse
next door to my grandfather’s shop. He retreated there to make their tidy house in miniature,
cedar and pine versions for chickadees and wrens. She raised her thumb, and he erected
baths for these scaled-down Caesars, Cardinals and Canvasbacks with laurel sprigs
jauntily, from the corners of their blue-grass-stained mouths.
Then, with her as pleased as she was bound to be, he bivouacked by tractor while she ground
in lessons on the well-weeded life, the importance of being earnest.
I picked berries ’till my hands were stained, my knees red,
trimmed down the grass where it worked its way up the side of the barn.
He returned at the gray end of dusk, having cut in two directions. I had bathed in stainless
steel, braved basement chill as I jumped in my clothes.
Our respite was measured in nine innings, 27 instances where failure laid somewhere else.
She sat in the corner, worked the crossword, reminded us of how soon morning came.
Broadcasts faded to echoes the last of his winter nights; he’d run short on grass and wood.
They tell me she held his hand and dabbed his brow, but I imagine she spied
dried mustard on his chin.
But the time my plane touched down there was no use in accusing her of killing spirits—
neither for what she did to him nor what she said to me.