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Delaware Poetry Review

Fleda Brown


The angelfish, tetras, labyrinth fish lean through neon green and violet light,
touch the cold end of their sky, nose-to-nose with their reflection, stitching

themselves together that way, forever waiting, while we wait for the surgeon
to cut open our hero, to replace his ball & socket joint with titanium,

which will enmesh itself in flesh, will become a memory like a cyst, while his soul,
or what we call his soul, will gradually slip down into it the way music comes

to seem like fire in the mind, touching here and there. The way the core
of the body can seem not a thing but a conflagration of struck music, its flame

moving like phrases, articulations of an incomprehensible whole, even to our hero,
who later will have to be taught how to put on his socks with a long tool,

raise his right leg with a lasso, moving toward a meeting of his old self with his
new one, contradictions bumping, as before, against their invisible barriers.

For now, he’s confined to the world of matter: bed, IV, chair, flowers, fruit basket,
plastic urinal. When breakfast comes, he welcomes it, too, something else

to add in, a comfortable containment of the imagination, a forgivable cliché.
“Get well soon,” we say, since we haven’t the foggiest notion what occurs

beyond any Big Bang, including total joint replacement, the outer reaches
of what once seemed possible. We suspect nothing returns unchanged,

that at the end of the little outward trip we call life, the return is not really
exactly a return. Our hero remembers high school football because it began

the bad hip, remembers his high school reunion. Did he really return to his old
self for even a moment? —the old self a memory he embedded and froze

there, not even true, but a convenience, now a cliché. “Doing great,”
he says, and he is, the long incision knitting like a major chord.

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Night after night the photos of dead soldiers
go by on the News Hour like playing-cards while we drink

our wine, though we stop for that length of time, of course,
out of reverence, but it’s hardly enough. The well of

how-not-enough-it-is is bottomless, deeper than TV. Even
if you track back through the Comcast cable, back to

the electrical impulses, you’re not even close to what to do.
Not even if you end up on Main Street in Salisaw, Oklahoma,

and follow the 19-year-old into the storefront full of
uniforms, crisp, medallioned, follow not his vanity

but his hope, his longing for order, for the squared shoulders
of order, his wish for the vast plains of the world

to unroll at eye-level, so he can walk out into the particulars,
the screaming, the blood. Owen, Brooke, Sassoon: what

anthem for the doomed youth this time? His death rests
like a quarter in the pocket, a sure thing. Its arrival

is a few missing lines I fill in, wrongly, because
the mind does that: I have him watching in slow motion,

with love and pity, the flowers beginning to bloom
on his shirt, the sky closing like a book. Sadly, then,

he disappears entirely into my mind, his last breath
easing between my words. There was a book in his childhood.

No, mine. Ducks cross the road, a mother duck leads them
through traffic to the pond. The pages flip so that

the ducks seem to move. They slide into the pond
with the satisfaction of making it through the human

confusion. Our soldier floats like a duck. Like a night-flight
casket. In the photo his eyes, straight-forward, being all

they can be, float on the surface of a pool of uncatalogued
genetic material. One snapshot in time, his eyes were

like that, his mouth. He can’t remember. He never was
like that. He was playing dress-up, then, hoping to make it true,

and did, so true no one could get in a word, in protest.

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About the Poet

Poet Laureate of Delaware and a professor at the University of Delaware, Fleda Brown’s books, essays, and individual poems have won many awards. Her newest collection of poems, Reunion (2007), was the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize from the University of Wisconsin. She has read and lectured in secondary schools, retirement communities, libraries, bookstores, a prison for delinquent adolescents, Rotary Clubs, AAUWs, and many universities and colleges, from Oxford University, London, to small liberal arts colleges. She now teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.