When it comes time in April, before milkweed forms its grey seed, when the ground thaws in the day and freezes at night, it’s time again to think about you, brother, and our youth, think about the old house: where just out back the crick rushes out from under the mossy shelf of a pine log, as salamanders in shades of liver and grey skitter back out of sunlight to our turning of stream-rock; where our fingers once cracked and pried open the copper shell of a crayfish, stretching and tearing the fibrils of tissue while the spiny legs bent and wound, punctured the white skin of a salamander’s belly and peeled back the thin rind, to flush the blood and membranes with water to see the innards; where we called out excitedly to one another in watery voices as we fertilized the garden with the droozed carcasses and buried all memories of childhood skirmishes.
And farther on past the crick, near the bank where tendrils of willow root still grow into the stream, from clay earth eroded and grooved with rows where rain washed through patches of jewelweed to carry off the gold flowers turned saffron to onionskin, and where fishermen wade and rocks are dammed against the stream for a trout pool, you may remember I one day stabbed down with pitchfork, through water and eel to the mud of the stream bottom and out of the murk of the water tilted the handle upward to see the snakefish wriggle from a single spike: winding movements from the last contractions of muscle beat through the wood of the handle. If you’ve ever watched a fontanel pulsing, you know this feeling, swimming down through bright waters folded through a thickness of weeds innumerable. You remember it when it is gone – long after the eel has been slapped against the bank and slipped off the spike, to twist through the rocks with the water’s rush, and swept into the deep of the next pool downstream.
Even in winter, this place carries signs of life’s turnover. Back past the cottongrass, by fireweed, lay the skeleton of a brown pine – glass veins stained aluminum blue. Its underside once revealed two flannel cocoons – lobe flesh of black molasses, waxy fat in shining cuticles, pods that will bear no moths. Pecked by bird beaks they must have dropped to the cheeks of leaves to be blown past the shag of spruce boughs, brushing by stiffly as stone feathers, as wings. And beyond all understanding, I took this as a sign of hope, of resurrections possible.
Even as teenagers, in spring, when we would go down to the garden together to choose the shovels – their blades rusted cinnamon – and we’d turn under the garden with the thread-stalk of squash-vine still rooted in the soil of rock and sand and bristle root, and struggle against our silence. Bound with a desire to break the simple surfaces of things, we’d start off talking about the crick and of salamanders and crayfish and eel and moth and of all things passed into darkness – and then kick down into the garden with shovels breaking crust, the ring of steel on rock, snaps of root shivers splitting, until the soil, loosened in lumps still cold, dried up in a morning sun.
I go to sleep in midlife now, conscious of time passing, comforted by our connection evolved over time, and the understanding and acceptance of past acts that comes with the vision of age. I think of crayfish clawing silt out of shallow streambeds, in clear twilight, to rake bright algae through still waters, a plume of dust unfolding through the churn amid the shifting tangles of pickerel weed, in this ghostly ritual that is age-old and silent as fire. And like us, there is no noticing – only the slow movement, climbing from the copper shell, left to rot among the fish bones. In those many nights turning into dawn, we rise from sleep and stand awakened with arms outstretched, as dust settles in columns of morning light – drawn down through filtered brilliance – before we bend with our clean hands to brush away our curled shells.
About the Author
PATRICK CONNELLY works as a scientist in Boston. He lives in the small New England apple orchard town of Harvard, MA, where he writes some poetry and nonfiction, but mostly tells tall tales to his wife, children and grandchildren by the wood stove after family dinners.
His recent poetry appears in Allegro Magazine.