Poem of the Week | August 11, 2010

This week, we are proud to present “The Devil’s Apron,” by Anna Journey. Journey is the author of the collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems are published in a number of journals, including American Poetry Review, FIELD, and Kenyon Review, and her essays appear in Blackbird, Notes on Contemporary Literature, and Parnassus.

“I wrote “The Devil’s Apron” as an elegy for my uncle, and the poem’s title refers to a certain creepily-named, red seaweed native to the Gulf Coast region. The loss of my beach-dwelling uncle is figured in the poem as a mess of slippery seaweed. Poetic substitution of this sort is a common enough impulse in elegy (just look to Milton’s berries in Lycidas, Shelley’s “beaconing” star in “Adonaïs,” or Plath’s Colossus). Of course, I wrote the elegy in the moment, so the manner in which I might take on traditional elegiac tropes wasn’t exactly the first thing on my mind. Probably the last words I remember my uncle saying to me before he died-“Where’d you get those boobs?”-were bothering me. I mean, what damn ridiculous last words to say to someone before departing the mortal universe! What a bizarre farewell. What a freakish echo.”

The Devil’s Apron

When my uncle comes back from the dead
he’s hungry. But the plums he left out

before his heart attack
atrophy, like berries
of the red seaweed-their smolder of salt and shattered
mother-of-pearl. He’s writing a list

for someone who’s had all his teeth
yanked-voluntarily-because fuck dentists, he’d hoot, dragging

the pea-green dinghy past his black-eyed Susans
toward the bay’s flounder that skimmed the shallows,
quickened like a pulse. His list reads:
more plums, canned salmon, mandarin oranges, and you
know, he adds, I can’t believe my last words

to you were, “Where’d you get those boobs!” He’s
sheepish and glows

like a grilled sweet onion with one side
charred from a fire.
Boobs-there’s nothing

euphemistic here: coronary, clot, blocked artery. He asks me to retrieve

his coffee can stuffed with an ounce of Mexican weed
from the garage before my aunt finds it. This

being dead, he says, takes some
getting used to. He says, No one’s mown the lawn, and,
the salt cedars have grown. We sit on the balcony, drop
rotten plums into the surf. I’ll tell you something

else, he says. That seaweed the locals call “the devil’s apron”
rises from great depths. It’s red to take in all

the violet light. Low tide, its sashes
slip and tangle, like a knot that won’t stop
coming undone.