Two Poems

8-inch Water Main

[audio link]

Sometimes it’s easier to be
buried alive and breathing
through an 8-inch water main.
Guys used to be tough like this.
They’d weep over a sick puppy
before seeing their own daughter
through chemo--forget about death.
Their bonuses were paid in cases
of beer by how much extra pipe
they could lay in a week, and
on Fridays, they’d start drinking
at noon and drive home drunk,
taking out mailbox and utility pole,
telling the police officer it was
a damn deer. When they’d get in,
they’d pass out, waking only to
pee and thwack their contracting
arm muscles against the plaster
or pull down their wives’ undies,
putting in the oven bun
number twelve, the sudden one,
the crib death, the son these men
would never breathe of again.



[audio link]

Children come into life feathered
until washed and placed into a bin
next to other babies on display
like a row of clean craniums lined
from hare to fox to wolf to a bear
once chained and baited by men.

I wake to the smell of burning
garbage and get defensive because
I cannot defend my family. Even when
I get up and go out looking, I cannot
find a culprit to kill. I can only cover
my kid’s mouths and noses and
stop them from breathing.

Both my children sense nature
has no self-respect. My son won’t
touch beetles. And my daughter
doesn’t want flowers on her butt.
They go to bed clinging plastic
models of triceratops and T-Rex.
Their one lullaby is extinction.

My children try me. My girl
is as clever as a crow opening
instant ramen. And last night
I dreamt my son tied a black
scarf round the neck of a raven
he let go out the window with
everything that was mine.

When my farting daughter has come
full circle, I can see the senses
still being full of humor for her.
She’ll be the old lady that pinches
the fallen blossom and stuffs it
in her nose as she chortles, then laughs
through her gut, throat, and jaws.

My son is dumbfounded and so speaks
in simile and metaphor. If he saw rain
streaking the sides of railway tankers,
he’d point and say, “Look, it’s running
like words in a book,” while my daughter
would have it her way, with a frown,
“No, no, it’s not. It’s rain falling down.”

At a meal with his mother’s side, my son,
who believes we die to become babies,
misplaces his modifier and says, “Dad is too
Japanese.” I know he wishes that I’d fit in,
but I’ll never be too anything, not even my-
self. I depart on the same breath I arrive.

This is a mountain lake. There is
my wife, my son, my daughter, and me.
I was here once before, but I didn’t
have anyone with me. I wasn’t born,
but now I am taking breaths, not just
in any view of any mountain lake. I am
nowhere with someone breath-taking, too.

This is the only way to live, to take
a hot spring bath with your whole family
naked in the same cedar tub. It breeds
familiarity, a sense of shamelessness,
so you can give up learning how to love.

I imagine the ocean smells of the ocean
every day. I wonder how much it’s changed. 
It’s dirtier for sure. And not just for me
peeing here. But no one should feel they
have to be constant. It would be a terrible
weight. The ocean has its currents, cycles,
seismic days and calm, and don’t forget tides.
I wave to my family having fun on shore.
But I can’t stop the moon from pulling--away.

—Adam Halbur, La Crosse, WI