Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘The Aquarium’ and other poems by Brandon McQuade

By: Brandon McQuade

The Aquarium

Because the car is in the shop, we walk in dead heat
trusting GPS, until the aquarium shows itself.

It appears to us like the sea on the horizon, a mirage;
an oil stain on the concrete floor of the garage.

The attendant waves next, reluctantly letting us go
when she can’t seem to figure out how to scan your phone.

We smell fish and feces before we see anything.
The lemur climbs the tree like a cat-monkey.

The sloth inches toward the end of a branch
to take a carrot from the child’s hand.

A calf, a heifer and a cow lay down on wet stone.
Behind the fence, a bed of grass, like a sown field.

A flightless bird tries to hides from the world
its head buried inches deep in potted soil.

As I walk the length of the stingray tank
I think of my train, rolling to a stop in Belfast.

Slimy skin and undulant bodies hide their stingers in plain sight
like hooded figures, mountains in the hills, a bomb in the street.

It’s hard to imagine, as they feed from the hands of children
a stingray piercing the heart of Steve Irwin.


Returning to Church

A teddy bear on the wall
the texture under the frame
like an ugly Christmas sweater

only not ugly
but quaint
and, somehow

vaguely religious

it was something to do with the patchwork
like a quilt

my grandmother’s hands
had woven

something about
her hardened fingertips
age worn, kitchen-calloused

to stove burn
and needle prick

somehow this teddy bear and frame
was impossibly Catholic

and I knew I had to have it


It took coins
Bible money
to buy anything at camp

and it would have taken me a full summer
of Bible study
to afford the teddy bear

so, I decided
to reach my hand

into the bucket
beneath the desk

and pocket a fistful
of the plastic coins

the instructors had pitched
like a carnival of tents and rides

fake priests dangling temptation
and possibility before us
to make us listen
to their stories


I could barely step foot
into St. Augustine’s
for my grandmother’s funeral

the eyes
of Biblical figures
burning through me

stained glass and sculpture
screaming dismissal

I sat between my brothers

their hands holding the hands
of girlfriend and wife

my own folded
resting at my thighs
snug as the seatback prayer books

while the organ cried
like a tired


I had almost forgotten
returning to church

the promises they make
in singing voices
pedals and keys


not singing at all—
but speaking

deep and emotionless

only this time was different

the priest questioned his promises
knowing only that she would be missed
by family, community and church

and if you listened hard enough
you could hear him weeping
through the lump in his throat

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