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Shadow Ode

My boys holler from the Pensacola sands—I spy
a dragon, a ninja, a t-rex with a chain saw!

It's not cloud shapes they see, but blobs of oil,
staining tar balls stuck like toothpaste
to their feet. Our first vacation day, I swear,
it rained oil—the van, the floor mats stained. 
But we didn't cancel. We arrived, and stayed dry,
and curbed our expectations. We stormed 
the beach with inflatable sharks and pirate's life
boogie boards, pioneers smaller than our shadows.
We ate the oysters and worried later, keeping watch
on the oil spill live-streaming while engineers 
wagered with their snake oil fixes. In the background,
a counter tallying gallons spilled—enough
to fill ten Superdomes and umpteen city blocks. 
Another Katrina, a split-screen catastrophe—oil,
and the two-toned grasses of Plaquemines, 
or shrimp boats towing boom instead of nets.
The clean up crews point out dolphins 
but aren't allowed to speak to us. At dawn 
the sand is sand again. Sand raked with tire tracks.
I keep quiet about what I spy, dead fish and shadows
in the surf, one scoop with the plastic shovel
that reveals oil in layers, like the rings of a tree.
News trucks and camera crews hunt photo ops
up and down the beach. They never leave.
I won't look their way, but another mother runs
after her baby in a ruffled suit kicking toes
in the greasy surf. Their splashing brings to mind
oiled birds thrashing, waiting for relief,
and oiled turtles recuperating at Audubon Zoo.
After Katrina we lined up there on reopening day,
camera ready, and shadowed by the press. 
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and me still numb,
grieving like an animal with eyes that looked 
nowhere. My boys were toddlers in a wagon then,
clapping their arms open and shut to make alligator shadows. 


Foosball, Shania, and Thou

Honey, call me bear and I’ll climb you
in the shelter of the walking oak, booze you
with blueberry wine stewed summerlong
in the crawlspace beneath the porch.
Hand fishing summer, summer of perfecting
carnival strength so to win a monster teddy
at the fair. Stalled van with the sofa seats,
bells and blue glass chimes in the trees—please.
Sit by me on a milk crate bench
like at the drive-in, our movie the moon
shrouded in fog, or grackles that trespass
autumn grasses like a scene from a Chinatown fan.
My old life torched in the burn pile, baby,
that’s how much I’ll mend my ways.
Them hawks above the stinking ditch,
stray dragging muddy teats—safe.
I don’t shoot because of you. Look at me—
off my game, writing a poem a day. I won’t ask
anymore for you to scout while I drag race.


Joy Ride on the Gretna Ferry

In summer we are all alike—
storm wary and reckless for a breeze.

Bikes and cars on the lower decks, pedestrians above.

A procession of the good people of my world,
murder capital of the world.

Mismatched office ladies who will scatter
into the mirrored office buildings downtown,
waiters trailing apron strings, street dancers
stomping bottle cap taps in their shoes.

My sons follow suit, beg me down to the lower deck,
and so we go, and they go straight to the edge.

They could fall in. They could chip a tooth,
but rather they offer gum wrappers
from the bottom of my purse to the water, to the wind.

Dizzy when the boat moves—looking forward,
pulled back to school days I made this trip with my mother
not for a joy ride, but because we missed the bus.

She’d get us as far as Jackson Avenue then transfer
and leave us as wards of a bus driver who could care less.

I smeared my name, circled it with a heart
in the grease spot on the window, mistrustful of street signs
and others’ directions, and thus eternally disoriented
by landmarks creeping up over the wrong shoulder.

The levees rimming the Mississippi hide everything—
of churches, only the steeples remain.
City of crosses and skulls, of teddy bears and bouquets
along fences to remind that some have fallen, some floated away.

I think I hear cathedral bells, or sirens, or else my sons
in their musical shoes. Life jackets everywhere,
a bright orange wall of bricks.


Raw Oysters with My Rock Star Husband

Last call unless you’re with the band, 
and since I sometimes write his songs
there’s room for me at the bar,
an extra chair for the guitar. 

Oil spill on the news, forecast of the flow.  
A growing list of fishing places closed.
An oysterman’s lament—one last day 
in the boat for a goodbye to the Gulf Coast. 

Our long goodbye begins with what could be 
the last taste for years. We get to work. 
One dozen on the half shell with two beers.
We tap the shells together. Cheers. 


Alison Pelegrin is the author of Big Muddy River of Stars and Hurricane Party, both from the University of Akron Press, and her work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Indiana Review, and the Southern Review. She is the recipient of an NEA creative writing fellowship.