FOUR POEMS by Steve Bellin-Oka
Leaving North Winsloe, Prince Edward Island, July 2015
As for the Japanese maple, we left it to rot
on the porch, its red leaves already streaked
with tar spot. And abandoned the bassoon-shaped,
stunted lemon tree you kept alive for a year
in the wrong climate, the branches forced open
by hard, green half-fruit—illegal
to cross the American border with fauna
or flora or any living thing not us or the cat
or the dog. Such was the debris we left:
watering can, hanging baskets, the plants.
Anything other lives could feed on.
We left them for the bees, the hummingbirds to drink.
No one was waiting for our return from exile,
no insect songs we longed to hear again.
We packed the trailer, abandoned the house.
At dusk we drifted across the Confederation Bridge,
the island receding into its foxhole. Don’t
speak of it now. Some nights you tell me you
don’t believe we were there at all. I know. It’s late—
let’s raise another glass of shattered stars to each other.
There’s nothing the plague dead did that we
didn’t do. We gave our unprotected bodies
to strangers too—before we met & burned
each other’s initials into our arms. Black ink
like ash smudge, foreheads anointed the day
of fasting. Neither of us knows why
he deserved to survive, the virus
hovering like a hummingbird above
the flower’s stamen before gliding off
to another bloom. On Granville Island
I, ghost, took you, ghost, to be my lawful—
my body still craving to be broken into
like a window; yours the rock that smashes.
Cri de Coeur in Red
Admit first you have
brought me here to this island,
this beach of clay and rock outcrop
the ocean soon will swallow
like a lotus flower because
you will not let me forget,
because the powder from the poppy
did not cloud my veins
and pull me into its heavy
painless sleep. Nor did
the elixir distilled from grain
turn so sweet on my tongue
I could not choose between it
and living. This you would not
do for me. Oh god of nothing
who art in nothing, when
I ask to be taken, you anoint
my loved ones and turn them
to cinders. The cured tobacco
you addicted me to quickens
my brain instead of dulling it.
This water you pool
around my feet is full of salt—
I will not drink it, will not
wash my cracking hands
in it. You offer me
only this rock, large enough
to seal a tomb. I roll it
up one hill. It comes back down.
I roll it up every hill and
still it comes back down.
All afternoon the shipyard
burned: black columns of smoke
corroding the October air. Sirens
ricocheted from harbor
to house, gallons
of bay water pumped through
thick, arterial hoses.
I was waiting for the half-built
hulls to crumble and float away.
Instead, water sizzled
and steamed off steel. At dusk,
my father said it was over,
took me down from his shoulders, but
the next day after school
my brother and I went to watch
the investigators pick like stray dogs
through the hissing cinders. Fire
is a taste, acetate on the tongue.
Forty years later, my brother’s heart
stopped. He was in the kitchen
of the house where we grew up,
bending over to light the pilot
on the stove. Would that the fire
had taken him whole. Instead
he lay in the wood casket
with his eyebrows singed. Hair
like burnt paper curling.