After long silence
My father is a puzzle box. He’s a map folded up.
The nurse says he has something to tell me.
He stares at me, but never tells me.
My mother is a vase tipped over.
Daylilies bloom one day, and each day is another.
So many vases left over after her accident,
stacked in the closet, like empty wrappers, like magic.
My father is a shrunken head and a blanket.
What do you want to say, old man, that you haven’t said already?
Outside, a skunk or something shuffling on the carport, the light is on.
My father is a box of lamentations, unsaid.
My mother is a blue jar.
Listen: my mother’s soft snoring, the daylilies furled in the dark.
* * *
Field guide, after the floods*
In March, when we got the diagnosis, drove him home,
there were redbuds in bloom along the road,
out back where the barn fell,
in the front yard, covered with poison ivy we can’t kill,
and buckeyes coming up along the ditch, shoots
like red fingers, new leaves red as bruises,
and dock leaves along the road like tongues.
Where the Stitt house used to be: hyacinth, vetch,
and everywhere dead nettle.
At the woodpile: leather flower. Under the cypress: dayflower.
Out back: henbit and wood sorrel,
cut-leaved primrose, skullcap, dog fennel.
In the fields, buttercup and vetch as the floods receded,
and later, as the plows began their business, something we’d never seen:
bear tracks. My cousin took a photo on his phone.
Days later, the newspaper reported two bears hit and killed on local roads.
* * *
Landscape, with levees*
‘If this is the middle, how long does it last?’
Luisa A. Igloria
Yesterday, they put up levees in the field
across the road, the new rice a green sheen,
the levees ready for what’s to come.
When I drive to town, I leave the windows
down, drink in the smell of well water,
metallic, cold. We think we’ve been close,
but can’t know. That weekend he was away
from us, his eyes glazed and moving around
the room, his hands picking at the blanket,
his feet twitching, jerking beneath the sheets.
That morning he couldn’t breathe.
Since I’ve been here, the floods have receded
from the fields, the men and tractors taken
over—landplanes leveled the field for the coming
rows, a red Case IH and a huge
John Deer pulling the yellow planes,
the long silver blades across the field.
Disk and plow have turned stubble under,
and weeds, the trees along the ditch filled out
thick and green. The river stalled a while,
so much water coming down the ditch
it ran backward for two days, but that’s passed.
The nurse blames the moon for dad’s moods,
says there was a solar eclipse the day
he decided to die, though all his vital signs
were fine. That night he said goodbye, leaned back
in bed, and waited. Nothing happened, and he was
mad, the next morning, that he hadn’t
been taken. I’m still here? Outside we could hear
the tractors starting on another field.
* * *
Born and raised in rural Arkansas, Ed Madden teaches at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of three previous books of poetry—Signals (USC, 2008), which won the South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, Prodigal: Variations (Lethe, 2011), and Nest (Salmon, 2014). His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, Poetry Ireland Review, and other journals, as well as in Best New Poets 2007, The Book of Irish American Poetry, and Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry, and online at the Good Men Project. In 2015 he was named the poet laureate for the City of Columbia, South Carolina.
*"Field guide, after the floods" and "Landscape, with levees" originally appeared in The Arkansas Review. All three of these poems are from Madden's collection Ark, forthcoming in March from Sibling Rivalry Press. About the book: In a spring of floods, a son returns to rural Arkansas to help care for his dying father. A difficult and beautiful book about a father’s death from cancer, Ark is also a book about family, about old wounds and new rituals, about the extraordinary importance of ordinary things at the end of life, about the gifts of healing to be found in the care of the dying. At once a memoir in verse about hospice care and a son’s book-length lament for his father, Ark is a book about the things that can be fixed, and those that can’t.