The death ship
By Gerald McCarthy
For each flower you pick
I will bring you a body—
a handful of grapes for an arm,
lemons for eyes blinded by fire.
Here, these legs for a field of poppies,
or a meadow of summer grass.
A simple cargo, moving
shifting with the waves.
For the small white shells on a beach,
fingers and a few toes.
Cut flowers, like hydrangea
and I can offer up
knees, even ankles
trapped in mud.
For purple loosestrife or those clusters
of Queen Anne’s Lace
I will bring you a pile of fingernails
some so tiny and fragile
they feel like the wings of flying ants.
For the sweet smell of clover
and the clumps of field grass
I will bring you the hands,
fingers that ache from weather,
hands of all sizes—
watch as they climb the cargo nets
free at last to go.
Start now, start counting:
bring me the slender stalks
of late summer wheat
moving in the wind,
or even the breath of lavender,
the hum of bees trapped forever
in the faint blue petals.
Gerald McCarthy’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in Blue Collar Review, River Oak Review, Broome Review and i70 Review. His most recent book of poems is Trouble Light from West End Press/Univ. of New Mexico Press.
Having followed McCarthy’s work for years, I can say with some authority that he’s at the peak of his powers these days; equal parts hand-painted dream photograph and Surrealist elegy, this poem reminds me of Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” in spots, and of Whitman’s “uncut hair of graves” in others, but is really a genre unto itself, a genre McCarthy owns.
McCarthy’s Death casually bartering with Nature for its pleasures is simultaneously banal and utterly chilling. The negotiation of the suffering body parts populating the ship to be used by Nature – in the earth? as nutrients? – pains. A hideous beauty delivered calmly; a depraved logic perfectly reasoned, the poem is a resonant capturing of a dichotomy many poets have navigated, but none like this. It’s breathtaking.