Is the river deep enough to swim?—even
if it tucks a dark feather behind its ear?
Is it trespassing if you find a cloud
with its iron mouth pressed to the water?
How often is a dead man’s eye fitted
to the milky head of a floating shad?
Is the hatch a winged shape shaped
by how we swim along the shore?
Will it be trees or factories whose roots
grow down into my grave? What’s it called
when a rope stretches two inches beyond
its limit? Will my final thoughts
reflect my pride over never using umbrellas,
or will I see a new mountain rise up from the sea?
Would I tire of crows if they finally wrote down
their opaque theories of the evening sky?
When they exhumed Pablo Neruda
did they actually think he’d be there
holding the frayed end of a green rope?
Was his ribcage surrounding a pile
of brass keys? Do cormorants admire
the arithmetic of the zebra fish?
Why does all hair look the same
as the body sinks beneath the waves?
Is the lightning in Eastern Oregon
shaped like a question mark
before it leaves the womb? Is there
a finer thing than the back of a hand
as the body ages? Why not abandon
my ill-fitting jeans at the fire house?
Aren’t you tired of that window
translating the light so literally?
Aren’t I allowed to carry a passport
with the face of a mining burrow?
Is the blood moon stuffing ballots
into the low firs? Is the final act
of the sparrow’s atonement to return
the straw to the scarecrow’s ribs?
As my brother steals the copper
from February’s black spool,
is he perfectly situated between
heaven and earth? What is the space
between mirrors when they lie
pressed together?—does the light
unwind itself into the single image
of my mother painting on her eyebrows,
aligning her wig, one black degree
at a time, like a sextant,
with the dark burning points
and unborn-bright of the afterlife?
Shouldn’t my false starts
have a representative in Congress?
What if a brash lie is the only way
across this river? Am I more related
to Harry Truman or Genghis Khan?
Is my brother actually a boatyard
with a number instead of a name?
How many worms have written
memoirs featuring bait coolers
and careless children? Is it better
to let the moon work for us
or detain it at the border?
Does the rain list its grievances
in descending order? How old
are imaginary numbers? You don’t
feel threatened by the heron’s shadow
forming Xs across the millpond?
You don’t have theories about
passing field sobriety tests?
Your uncle didn’t advise you
to only hit a woman with an open fist?
When the sky is a thin slice of pink
across the gorge, why do the mountains
grow smaller the closer I get to them?
Have the rhododendrons also stood
at the kitchen window, watching
a County Sheriff remove a child
from his parents? Do the angels
wax their cars each Friday night?
What’s the midway point between blue
and green horses? Will I die without
seeing a coyote take down a caribou?
Can’t you see the light on the bean field
is a bloody gill? Does the gray jay know
we call it a whisky jack, that we rely on it
to lead us to the fresh carcass in the brush?
Who dared the hermit crab to make
a new home in the dead man’s ear
and drag him across the sand
like the world’s slowest comet?
Michael McGriff is the author of several books, most recently the poetry collection Early Hour (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) and the co-authored short story collection (with J.M. Tyree) Our Secret Life in the Movies (A Strange Object, 2014), which was an NPR Best Book of 2014. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, The Believer, Poetry London, and on PBS NewsHour. He teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho.