inertia1

WHAT'S WORSE

There are a lot of reasons why a woman
might be crying in an airport.
She needs to cancel her rental car,
furious that Alamo won't keep the promise
they make in their commercials.
Plus, her father is dead.
She has taken a plane a day too late
and what's worse, she wanted to be late.
The woman is my mother.

She wants to know if she can sit with me
while I wait for my flight out of there.
Her eyes are oiling up with tears.
She is shrinking into a little girl, a knot.
"Please go," I finally say, vicious
as she wants me to be. Then she
hugs me, and here's the worst part:
I don't even put down my luggage.
The weight of the bags pulls my arms,
stiffens me, as she puts her fat little hands
in the middle of my back and presses
her cheek to my locked chest.



1970, PORT JEFFERSON HARBOR

We drove out 25A
through Setauket, down
the slope to Port Jefferson,
a right turn into a lot
where, on the third tier,
like a can of peas high on a shelf,
they kept our fiberglass boat.
They fork-lifted it down,
drove it across the street
and backed it into the harbor.
The outboard motor screamed
like a blender, until you
went numb and forgot it,
then it changed speeds
and you heard it again.
The harbor was murky,
smelling of bilge and brine,
gasoline, fish guts and urine
from the rusted coffee can
in the front hatch where
one of us peed kneeling
with his back to the others.
Beyond was Long Island Sound,
where we'd never go.
I could see Rocky Point,
high and thick with trees,
white mansions peeking
through the green like
canvas behind a painting.
Dad positioned us over
a boiling school of moss bunker.
Bluefish were eating them
from below. The bunker
practically jumped into the boat.
He put a fat hook through
the back of one, cast it out
and let it swim. He
worked two lines, crossing
side to side, while Andy
slept cooking in the sun;
I sat under the awning
daydreaming I lived in
a mansion with a big dog;
and Mom—I don't
know what Mom did.
It's hard to believe
a decade earlier she and Dad
were strangers in line
at Polytechnic University,
and now we were four people
in a boat that would
go back on a shelf
at the end of the day.
The truth about our family
was like looking directly
at the sun: once
we caught a glimpse we
scattered. Two of us
still talk on the phone.
There's a picture from the day
the bluefish went crazy:
us in a semi-circle behind
44 bloody filets; Dad's
young face and round gut
in his undershirt; me
with bony shoulders
pulled back, showing my
new big teeth; Andy, chubby,
sunburned and scowling;
Mom half out of frame,
smoking. I don't know
who snapped the picture.
None of us could have
because we were all in it.



Douglas Goetsch is the author of Nobody’s Hell (Hanging Loose Press), and Wherever You Want (1997, Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Prize). His work has appeared recently in The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, and the online anthology Poetry Daily. His site is located at www.janestreet.com.