In the darkest hours
when I lie awake
scooping up dream shards
brittle gems fill my apron
to pour into the tin canister at dawn
I picture my parents in their marriage bed.
She would be brushing back her hair with one hand
not wanting to dishevel it;
she would do her wifely duty.
He, ruddy faced, eyes closed
in something like a benediction
would have whispered to her.
What subterranean words paved the way for my creation?
Such a simple act, the briefest moment
when the elements aligned
the universe conspired in just the right way
to shape the ball of clay that was I
to send me screaming into the ozone.
What lucky alchemy
that they should bear a daughter half out of duty
who would always choose her own heart.
My parents, both nestled now in earthen beds
sport wildflowers, robins, noble weeds.
I commune with them often
and take my inspiration
from what remains.
Sandra Anfang is a poet, teacher, and artist who has lived in Northern California for the past thirty years. She's been writing ever since a respected high school English teacher called her poems “relief poetry.” At that moment, she realized that she could either set her pen down forever or beginwalking through the fire of creation. She's very glad she made the latter choice. Sandra loves to help students find their inner poet. She finds inspiration in watching small (and adult) children taking giant steps, kestrels, owls, and people behaving quirkily.
Bob hovers like a nervous mother as we lower our rods into the bass boat, start the motor, and push off from the dock. His face resembles a yellow ochre-tooled leather saddle, darker inside the deepest crevices.
Inside the mobile home, he holds court like a peacock, strutting his boyish body up and down the length of the living room for his wife, Mary, and me, his ice cream belly and egret hair the most obvious clues to his age. He is all confidence and common sense wisdom, with a hoarse, infectious laugh from too many Winstons. A man in his castle.
On the dock, Bob waves soberly, a sergeant sending his troops off to war. His face says “You never know—we may not see one another again.”
We are out for a morning’s idle along the canals of the brackish Homosassa, armed with neon-green lures with which to coax the few wily largemouth bass from their nests. Four-foot alligator gar and spawning snapping turtles will be our competitors. Our court jesters are mullet that hurl themselves high out of the water, flip crazily, and slap their silver flesh hard upon the surface.
At nine-thirty, the morning sun is already hot, but a whispered breeze begins to transform the river into a Van Gogh canvas. We bear left at the end of the first canal, our idling engine melding with the creaky wheeze of the saw grass. Bashful gallinules scurry behind tall reeds with the gait of toddlers taking their first steps. At dusk, when we float back with the motor cut, the saw grass’s delicate song dominates, an insect orchestra rubbing its papery wings together in perfect harmony.
We cruise along several canals before we approach our favorite bassing hole--a dark, still tributary beyond the last row of houses. Gangs of cormorants sail the river like homeboys, their noble bills pointed toward the sun. Their sharper-billed anhinga cousins perch in trees and explode into the air like cherry bombs when we get too close, uttering a soft, nervous gargle.
Finally, we reach our favorite canal. We troll up to the far end, only to drift back again. As we fall silent, a rich tapestry of sounds begins to form; first, a pair of mocking birds entertain each other, one on either side of the canal. Next, a mullet jumps from a silent pool, making a splatting sound as it hits the water. The plaintive cry of a tern, squirrel chatter, and the laughing crows shoo us out of the cul-de-sac with a ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
As we cast out our lines, our ears seem to slide out into the dark water too. The cares of daily life dissolve, merging with the sounds and rhythms of wind on water. I picture the bass in their nests by the riverbank, and try to imagine what it must be like to pursue a rubber worm. I try to match my movements to a worm’s …try to attain worm consciousness.
A great blue heron lands noiselessly on the bank, ten feet away, composing itself in a listening posture. I think I will study patience with the heron. Osprey comb the sky above, scanning the river for fish.. All of us—the bass, birds, fish, and humans- are hunting something. We’re players in the great food chase. Together, we form a flawless tapestry, each one a necessary strand in the fabric of life.
Just when I begin to tire and lose focus, at the point where fishing has become a series of tai chi movements, I land my first catch of the day—a seventeen-inch bass. Cruising home for dinner, I realize that I count myself among the river’s creatures, and that I have forgotten that there are humans out here.
I comb through boxes of them, looking for topaz and moonstones.
I don’t know what they look like, but I’ll know them when I spot them.
The colors are faded to a pale autumn umber.
The figures stand out, surreal cutouts, in stop-motion poses.
On the surface they look like a normal family.
Mom’s got a big smile and bouffant hair,
forever champagne blond.
Her gaze is always arresting, split, like a yin-yang:
One side warm and sensuous, the other fearful and icy.
Dad’s face shows seriousness of purpose, combined with a desire to do good.
He is usually saying the brucha over the challah, a cup of Mogen David raised in his left hand.
The daughters are arrayed like a rummy hand,
Several on each side of the matriarch and patriarch.
One has a big, cheesy smile,
Another sports a sadness that emanates from the photo,
Palpable as chimney smoke in the cold autumn night.
The third has a guarded, frightened look.
She knows she must not peel back the photo’s finish
Or she will run screaming into the street, naked.
The fourth, the baby, happily, is too young to understand.
For hours, I dump and sift, sift and dump,
A toddler in my sandbox,
Stopping now and then to add one to the pile
I know I will cram into my bag and take west.
The last night I dreamed the photos blossomed,
Opening like those paper flowers
That sprouted from shells in
Before my eyes,
They arranged themselves like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
Where I might catch a glimpse into
Our family myth, as we once wrote it.