The Day After I Drowned
The day after I drowned
I got up, dressed, and went to school.
Nothing was different: nobody saw me
on the bus, or greeted me
when I got off, no wave and shout
to save a seat for them at lunch.
I found an empty desk and sat
as still as water. Teacher
didn’t see me there, or not,
even the teasers haven’t noticed.
Nothing is different. But every day
I come and go,
I come and go
and I watch all of you,
remembering the scratch of sand
scrubbing my forehead,
bubbles rising bright
as your birthday balloons,
the surface far up overhead
like a moon so white
that for a flash I understand
the black that lies beyond.
You don’t see me, but
if you take a picture of this room
I’ll be there somewhere
in the negative.
Look at my jonquils
buried under snow:
last week I dreamed this storm,
today it came.
I dreamed I knew death,
how it smells
crawling fallen logs
like liver frying
in the blackened pan.
They said you only
have to taste it
taste a tiny piece,
it’s good for you
it’s good for you
your grandmother’s skin
so wax and chill
so almost buried
Leave the North Star
for the Garden. Trade in
ten thousand sky-blue lakes
for one great infinitely varied ocean;
exchange the Mississippi, Minnesota,
Blue Earth, Rum, Cannon and Root,
the Pomme de Terre and Lac qui Parle,
Kettle and Snake for Delaware,
Passaic, Hackensack, the Raritan,
Egg Harbor, Ramapo. Change loon
to goldfinch, lady’s slipper
to the purple violet; swap Sleepy Eye
for Ship Bottom, North Woods
for Pine Barrens; Vikings and Voyageurs,
Dakota Sioux and Chippewa, Swedes,
Danes, Finns, Norse and Germans
for Absegami Lenni Lenape,
Irish, Italians, Poles, British
and Africans. Switch
flour mills to refineries, Dylan
to Springsteen, Mary Tyler Moore
to the Sopranos, Paul Bunyan
to Miss Liberty.
Become a Jersey girl, embrace
our record: the most diners,
the most malls in all our country,
the most highways,
waste dumps, chemical producers,
the most car thefts,
the densest population (we know
how smart we are).
Hold up your head, don’t even answer
when they ask which exit? Hug
your secret knowledge: how your garden
spills with roses, dahlias, lilies
that can’t take a far-north clime,
that there are still long reaches
of green hills and shore,
woodlands and fields. Don’t tell them
that in rain or snow or beating sun,
however we are dressed, in any circumstance,
we never, ever, pump our own gas.
Betty Bonham Lies taught for many years at the high school, middle school and college levels, but left to devote more time to writing and to focus on teaching poetry. Now she does poetry residencies as a Writer in the Schools for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, which named her a Distinguished Teaching Artist. Her poems have been published in a number of journals and her first volume of poetry, The Blue Laws, is forthcoming. Ms. Lies lives in Montgomery Township. She is a member of U.S. 1 Poets Cooperative, the Cool Women Poets, and the Princeton Society of Musical Amateurs.