“When a Guy at the Bar Tells Me I Sound Damaged” by Sarah Bates

Sarah Bates


Every morning it takes 57 kinds of fish to listen
to the helicopters overhead. The shattering of mountains

is a good thing. That’s what I told myself for five days after
we sat on the second floor eating donuts. When I came home,

my best friend picked raspberries from the insides of a tree.
Someone had cut out its middle, stuck a horse inside, sometimes

an ’87 Volvo. I picked the smallest berry from his right palm
and threw it at a groundhog watching. He said I didn’t have to

be happy for the Cleveland Indians if I didn’t want to. I could hate
how the tree fell only if I could remember it laying in a pond

or a lake or at the feet of monkey flowers and Abe. Sitting in the back
of the cockpit, I stared so long at a map I replaced the stars with potato

chips. I used to think if you circled something long enough, God would
get tired of baseball. For five days, I took the Q-train to Coney Island

to watch blue helicopters search for sharks. I wondered if one morning
you would remember the stingray with a hook in its mouth, Bob Lemon

sinking into the soft sand. I was nine the first time a man took me upstairs
and showed me the absence of oxygen and light. I was nine trying to say

the word airplane. Zoo. Half-earth. I was deep in the forest rubbing two birds
against each other and God was busy hanging pictures of Pioneer Cabin,

the inside of a MH-60 Knighthawk, a little girl sticking stained hands
into the holes of the second engine, the Jackson River running through it.

Poets Respond
January 15, 2017


Sarah Bates: “This is a poem about the Pioneer Cabin tree falling down. It is also about something a guy at the bar said to me. When he said it, I thought maybe the tree wouldn’t have fallen if they hadn’t put a hole in it.”

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