“Summer with a Dune Breaking Over It” by David Dodd Lee

David Dodd Lee


Salmon, I learned later they were called, the fish
that bump up a river to spawn.
All night long they’d swim in and out of the huge console
that sat like a monument
in our living room in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I fished
with a handline, looking down through the open top.
Who knows how I knew what to do, or if I’m even remembering
it right. I remember the white of the line cutting a slow path
through the dark, reflective water. I remember the plangent
trill of crickets. Nothing moved.
The hole in our living room floor led to a canyon full of clear water and stars
shining from the center of the earth.
The fish, black-backed and swimming in pairs, would nose my bait,
but never bite, while others, mailed silver and pink,
swam or flew—it wasn’t clear which—through the house,
left trails of bubbles in their wakes.
When I looked outside I could see fish swimming
through the tops of the leafless trees in the lamplit yards,
careening around cars parked for the night and the trunks of the elms
that then lined the streets in that town.

Sometimes I close my eyes
and listen to the wind maul Lake Michigan.
The sand, if you let it, will form a ramp against
your body, the wind driving it over you.
I’m such a small space of time, my body is,
under the crest of a dune …
I still remember the boys.
Their hair drifts in the water and their half-open eyes are beautiful,
the color of the moon, or the wedge of an apple,
or like the light shining
off the curve of a Chinook salmon
coming to the surface ten feet from the boat.
And now spring pokes lime-green shoots through the boys’ ribs,
and the woman moving beneath me
begins to groan like a swing set made out of wood.

There is a town in the south
where as a boy I played in the drive-in that was like a desert
of broken down cars and hot weeds,
steel posts wearing headsets the wind cried through.
Sometimes I’d sit in the field
behind the barbed wire fence and watch X-rated movies
and listen to the car horns and the muffled
words of the actors, indecipherable.

All night long the giant men and women
move their hands over each other
while I sleep. The man combs his massive fingers
through the woman’s hair and they both lie down out of sight.
The woman’s white dress flutters.
It blows down a slope
and settles on top of a flat slow river.
Later a helicopter chops holes in the paper clouds.
All the while the armored fish chase one another
around my bedroom, swimming in and out of the windows,
down the hall and into the kitchen
where they begin to bang against the hanging pots and pans,
threatening to wake up my parents.

While the man unbuttons the woman’s blouse
he watches the clouds
sail through her eyes. She smells his warm breath
that is like the sea blown inland. Later the man dreams he is in bed
with a glass sphere full of snow and a migrating V of plastic geese
only he can hear honking. He looks out the window at a duplicate formation
like an arrow pointing north. It is late spring.
The woman beside him is sleeping in a full-length wedding gown.
Now he remembers
the noisy parade of cars
trailing streamers and cans and huge, hook-lipped fish.

When a Chinook salmon swims through a lake under a full moon
on a summer evening, it is looking for the mouth of its river.
A hundred human children have just been conceived.
A bubble, like a dream, rises to a woman’s lips, and pops.

It’s daylight. The line sags in my hand.
Can anyone tell me what’s really down there?

The horizon looked like smoke
from all the blowing rain, and the chimneys, like dead periscopes,
stood unblinking above the freshly mown lawns.

Once—I must have been about five—I remember
pedaling by a cat. It was dead in the road.
He was singing, or dreaming. His paws were still paws,
soft with pads. I thought death looked lonely.
I thought the cat might get up and walk, like a boy, looking for a warm place to sleep.
At night I moved my feet inside the only still place
I couldn’t see.
I shined the light under the covers. My bed lit up like an aquarium.
It was always a relief, but sometimes I’d have to lie on top of the blankets
with the airborne fish,
who were just coming awake,
the warm currents like the arms of a mother
when she is moving through a dream in which she has carried you home.
Only once there she begins making love to a man
whose face is as smooth and as long as a piece of driftwood,
his arms pinning her legs.
There is laughter coming from the drive-in.
Close-up of a roller skate.
A woman touches an ice cube with her giant finger.

The screen of the drive-in looms over the neighborhood
I lived in whether it does now or not, replaced by a strip-mall,
the woman’s long arms
still drifting like leaves through a field
over the man’s back
(all of it overseen by the priest with the long dreadlocks), groans of love reverberating
through the trunks of the cottonwoods, the moon shining like a flying
fish against the cloak
of an almost navy blue sky.
And I’ve been watching that moon ever since, the way it follows the world,
probing the lilt of the gently blowing drapes,
the way its light pours like paint down the slopes of the dunes,
the way it hangs over the blue lawns surrounding Woods Lake,
where I now live,
a shimmering print reflected on water, soft as a kiss in the dark
of the nearby woods. All of this I can still see from where I sleep—
the double moons, and the fish underneath
(who on occasion I’ve seen cross Oakland Drive),
as well as the bodies they touch,
a couple undressed for a midnight swim. Somebody flashes their headlights,
somebody honks a car horn. The lovers shield their eyes, surprised, and look out at the world.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


David Dodd Lee: “I do whatever it takes to make a buck—pet sit, teach, paint houses, write television criticism and erotica. I am the publisher of Half Moon Bay poetry chapbooks, and associate editor of New Issues Press, for which I get paid zip. I was homeless for two years after receiving an MFA in 1993.”

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