If we keep feeding the gods,
they’ll leave us to our sentiments,
or to some other irony: I’ve lusted,
coveted, drawn a map of my childhood.
What I missed: the route to school,
the stones we’d roll down the hill
behind the graveyard where an unnamed
person lay buried, always deer antlers
next to the headstone, bleached
like lightning on a lake,
and the lake swallows it,
and we’re back again
to what I missed: there was once,
there is no more.
Watched a man search for Atlantis
off the coast of Anna Maria Island:
he waded in the surf, thigh-deep,
only yards from my umbrella.
Heard him chanting, “It’s here,
it’s here, you know I found it
in ‘66 before my tour.”
And when he came ashore naked
futzing with his metal detector,
he muttered, “Damn things don’t work well
in the water.” I met this same man
last year on a different beach,
except that time he stopped me
mid-backstroke through the breakers
to ask if I’d seen his wife.
He squinted through the sun,
his waist visible above his sagging
trunks, their pockets full of something
that kept his fingers busy:
shells, sand, room keys, loose change.
“If you see her, tell her I lost her.”
It starts like a joke, one
I’ve heard before, one I may
have written myself, but I’m not
much of a traveler, and the last time
I was in Death Valley was the last time
I was in Death Valley, and while there,
the Sailing Stones: rocks that move
across the dry lake beds, tracks
behind them as if being pushed,
but there are no footprints
that point to a culprit—instead
the wind and atmospheric oddities
take blame for moving the man-sized
rocks hundreds of feet until, eventually,
they are wind-blown to sand and grit.
The man: “How much for an acre here?”
“I’m not sure this land’s sold that way ”
“In my last lifetime, I was reincarnated
in this surf, right off Bean Point there.
I was a sand-dollar, a tarpon, a stone
crab, something predatory.” Every time
I go swimming, every time.
GARY MCDOWELL is the author of American Amen (Dream Horse Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Orphic Prize in Poetry from Dream Horse Press. He’s also the author of two chapbooks, They Speak of Fruit (Cooper Dillon, 2009) and The Blueprint (Pudding House, 2005) and co-editor, with F. Daniel Rzicznek, of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in journals such as Bellingham Review, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, Laurel Review, Mid-American Review, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Poetry Daily, Third Coast, Quarterly West, and Verse Daily, among others. He recently earned his Ph.D in American Literature and Contemporary Poetry at Western Michigan University. He is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.