MUTE SWANS, YELLOW IRISES
for E.M. and E. C.C.
and the breeze that salts the air
with a storm’s ionic aftertaste. Along
the boardwalk’s nautilus, tourists pin themselves to the clouds
on selfie sticks. Beneath, runoff
from the tankers slakes the pier
with sulphur rot. Sulphur
in the river. Sulphur plumbing the bones
of the birds shipped in crates from across the sea. The flowers,
too, were brought here: they survive
in brackish water, secrete
a resin that burns skin—light
darkening a darkroom’s silvered paper,
or this print in which my grandfather presses to his mother’s
dress in a too-large Sunday suit.
The flock’s wings were first
clipped before the War.
Now, flash-floods swallow
shallow nests, and twice a year I return for family, for friends,
for faces dissolved in vistas mostly water—
see both wave and body swell,
then cease. The New Year
curls in the bud of the Old. There is a song
that begins less lonely less—another that ends it doesn’t matter.
What else did he mutter that night we flung
our bottles into the delta’s froth?
They glowed like seiners
through the fog. Night merges
the river with the mainland. Cygnets unreel snails from shells,
strip stalks to their wet marrow.
I watch the late-season
blossoms blister and fall:
paper lanterns on the tide, the breakers
cresting in my grandfather’s eyes. He regards the lens like a door
shut suddenly by wind. The irises anchor their fronds
among the driftwood. They hold on
as he once held both his mother
and another, severed by the frame.