by Vivian Shipley
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Except for watching loons each day, I can’t tell you
how I spent the winter. There were hours in each day;
there were thirty days, give or take, in each month.
I can tell you that carrying their heads and long bills
horizontally, loons dive in the saltwater shallows off
Morgan Point to catch fish. Red as snow reflectors,
their eyes are fiery, but not from sipping Bombay gin.
At least their snakelike scaled necks are good
for spearing stony bottoms—wearing turtlenecks,
I hide mine. Needing to feel superior to something,
I laugh at loons who have trouble walking on sand
in the cove because their feet are placed so far back.
Now, I understand. Where are my sons when I want
an arm to steady me? Both of my boys have married
women not a bit like me. I don’t know how to begin
being a mother-in-law. Frozen meals I have prepared,
checks, even my sons’ favorite Calvin Klein boxer
underwear that I got on sale are politely refused—
they can do it on their own. I no longer have anything,
say car keys, to withhold. With no card but guilt,
I buy grave plots and ask my sons to come and see
how they overlook the Branford marsh. They will not.
I won’t risk uncovering their past I have buried in me.
On the holidays when wives visit, knowing I will say
too much, my mouth is a zipper I dare not open.
Once chicks are fledged, loons are mute like me, but
only for half the year. After six months of being quiet,
these birds who are not afraid to disturb the surface have
a lot to say, calling to each other at any time of night
or day. I envy the loon its tremulous wails, eerie yodel
laughter, screams that are counterpoint to my silence.
Do loons fill the air with noise to celebrate a healing
or to signal the beginning of another season of loss?
Are they like my boys who have forgotten childhood
of Star Wars and Planet of the Apes sealed in attic boxes?
The fists of my sons that used to curl my jacket’s hem
now remind me of hail, the ice, the stone I hold inside.
I have nothing for the page because my hands are tethered
by the anger I have roped off. Nagging my heart, I must
give it a voice before I can be released, but only so much
can be healed by words. Submerged in winter, I mirror
loon feathers with my shabby gray hair above white roots,
dingy as snow banked by the plow. Come summer, unlike
this bird I watch diving each day who has learned how
to let chicks go and nest anew, unless I get up nerve, go
to a beauty salon, my head will not be glossy black,
flashing green in the sun. No dapper ivory and ebony
to checkerboard my breasts, I can not finger a major key.
Unwilling to release whole notes I have dammed up, I will
not wail like loons, scream or laugh to let out sound just so
I can learn to sing in combination with my sons to create
harmony. All sharps or flats, I have shifted into minor key.