Poem of the Week | December 04, 2017

Eric Morris-Pusey is a recent transplant to Columbia, Missouri, by way of Virginia and North Carolina. A recent graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, he works as a tutor and copywriter, and also serves as a poetry editor at Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry. His work has appeared in Driftwood Press, 3Elements Review, See Spot Run, and Forty Eighty-Five.


Flashes like fire from M-16 barrels
in the seeming calm of the sun-drowned Potomac:
silvery fish dart towards, then back away from,
the deep red bright of the lunch-cruise boat,
shy or dumbfounded as I would be
if I saw Jesus stroll down Southern Avenue
or you waving to me from a passing car.
They spread their gametes
separately, clouding the gray-blue because
this is the season for external fertilization.
Leaning over the rail, someone says
They have no feeling
as if having no feeling
is a serious but treatable medical condition.
I think there were fish on display in the little diner
where you and I breakfasted a year or two ago,
where you stared politely into space, the way
fish in tanks often do. We’d tried
to make love the night before.
The speakers in the diner’s cheap television popped:
mortars in Iraq kept busy building castles of smoke.
We bowed our heads over rubbery eggs, stale biscuits,
bacon. A waiter changed the station,
blood unbearable even when pixelated. MTV, ESPN,
the church channel. A child’s laughter, a bowl breaking
in the kitchen, ice sliding around an empty glass.
You kept staring. I didn’t say anything.
Did the diner’s fish—if they were really there at all—
spread the only type of love, give the only kind of fuck
they had? I believe they did, until their bodies
were left husks by the weight and effort of that giving.
I wonder what you would say. Something sensible,
maybe: If they were really there at all,
they either stayed very still
or beat their tiny brains out against the walls.


Author’s Note:

Like all people, I have my obsessions, and one of them happens to be the city of Washington, D.C. I’ve only been there a few times, but each has left an indelible impression—especially a longer trip there almost ten years ago which proved very influential on the most formative years of my youth. Washington is a place of great beauty in terms of its architecture, its museums, its outdoor spaces, and most of all in its incredible diversity of people—but it is also a place of terrible irony, where abject poverty and racial oppression exist alongside extraordinary wealth and privilege, where war memorials stand in full view of the people who decide to send new generations off to die. Here, more than anywhere else I’ve lived or visited, the line between the mundane and the earth-shaking, the personal and the political, is blurred. Although the larger, more chaotic world can crash in on a quiet, ordinary life at any time, here in this city it is almost guaranteed to happen with frightening, resonant regularity. This poem was an attempt to capture that feeling of constant proximity to the larger world, and the ways in which beauty and horror can serve as mirrors for or reminders of one another.