By: Brandon McQuade
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
it was something to do with the patchwork
like a quilt
my grandmother’s hands
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
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
of Biblical figures
burning through me
stained glass and sculpture
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—
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