Three Poems

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Poetry by Peter Sagnella


Firstborn
 
Ilulissat, the narrator says. Mother of all glaciers.
            I want to stop the film, tell you
 
to look, see—but you are in bed with our 
            firstborn, nursing. The night before 
 
you delivered we tried to watch another film, but 
            halfway through your water broke, 
 
streamed down your thigh, pooled like a moulin 
            on black and white laminate tile. 
 
You laughed in semi-darkness until tears 
            breached the shores of your eyelids. 
 
I did not know then whether they were tears 
            of joy, or fear. 
 
                                           Tonight the house 
is still, a lake at dusk. Our bedroom wall, like a dike, 
 
separates us. The television flashes snowflake blue
              and I listen when the narrator continues. 
 
Ilulissat, it is believed, birthed the iceberg that sank 
                the Titanic. It has calved more in nine years 
 
than it has in one hundred. Chunks of ice bigger 
               than a building slip. Meltwater gushes 
 
in a long canal. I imagine you on the other side—
              skin to skin, our son’s warm cheek in the valley 
 
of your nape. Later, you will wake and nurse again. 
              Half-asleep, dazed, I will try to deliver 
 
what I know is coming. But words, like air under ice 
              or a child breeched, will not release.
 


Woodcock Watch, Holy Thursday
 
We stand in one row at the stubby edge 
of marsh and field, as if testifying 
before a congregation. The sky into which 
 
we gaze is an altar—clear, cobalt, cold—
and we try not to face the north wind 
that sweeps the greening hills. I wait 
 
for last light to vanish, clutch the binoculars 
hanging from my neck like a cross, remember—
the evening mass at our neighborhood church, 
 
the priest, in an inversion of power, kneeling 
to wash the feet of stonemasons, carpenters, 
plumbers. I try to recall the theme of the prayer 
 
in Gethsemane—deliverance, resignation—
but our guide begins to talk. He says his bill
is long, adapted perfectly to this nesting place
 
and the diet of worms it provides. He says 
his earthy plumage, too, camouflages 
deftly in marsh like this. Wind dies. 
 
Silence hovers. We can do nothing but wait, 
so I glance for some direction to our guide 
but, teeth gritted, face paling, he too seems displaced. 
 
Then his eyes leave the purpling horizon
and his flashlight cuts the edge of the field. 
A tuft of rye becomes a halo. In this light 
 
a small head twitches, a black eye beads. 
We hear a nasally buzz, a communion call,
our guide prophesy, “Here he goes.” Wings 
 
flutter, his body lifts, becomes a rising blur 
in the dark. Again and again he spirals the edge 
of his territory and we, stuck on it, eyes nailed 
 
to sky, again and again wait for the ascension. 


Windfall
 
Day after day, the winter before he died, 
he sat in front of a fieldstone hearth. 
 
None of what he burned he split. They were gifts 
from the neighbor: burled, gnarled, cankerous
 
chunks that fell long ago when the lot 
next door was field. Aspen, Red Maple, 
 
even Russian Olive. Sometimes, before the sun 
sank below the ridge or the cold yellowed 
 
the ends of his fingers, he hobbled down 
the drive, the day’s exercise. Bent for the paper, 
 
dropped the mailbox door. Maybe once, 
maybe twice, always afraid a knife of wind 
 
would slice him down, knowing his spine 
was rotting already from the inside.

Peter Sagnella lives and teaches in North Haven, Connecticut, where he has taught Composition, Poetry, and Environmental Literature for twenty years. His work has appeared in many journals, most recently KestrelCold Mountain ReviewCathexisWild Roof, and Cagibi. He won Noctua’s non-fiction contest in 2008, was a Pushcart nominee in 2015, and selected Edwin Way Teale Writer-in-Residence at Trail Wood in 2017.


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