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Let them have dominion
            —Gen. 1:26

He’d take the old pickup down
to the sandpits and feed the dog,
my uncle, that he kept chained
to a rusted stave—raw-end rebar,
ribbed like the fresh water mussels
we dredged from the pond bottom—
for it was likewise ribbed, the dog,
a protrusion of need if not lack,
and when we’d wend the washboard
road—serrated at the edges with sedge,
and that cleaned nothing and was
itself unclean—I peered
through slats in the floorboards
where the iron had rusted through,
and saw the groundswell of dust rise
up and into the pickup’s metal flanks
as the dog rose when it heard us rattle
up the gravel road—uncreasing
its bald forehead, oiling arthritic joints
with a few viscous licks—as he, my uncle,
chucked rancid meat from the truck
to land at the dog’s feet,
beside its sheet metal tectal,
my uncle, a professor of biology once,
who had so studied the world
and knew its kind symmetries,
and that rebar stake kept free of rust
and polished like rawhide
by the gnashing of teeth, yet the earth
swelled beneath me as we drove
to that small end, rattling at speed.
The road, a belly, distended.



The whole house smelled of lavender
from your soap and body oils,
and if my synesthesia were more refined,
I’d have seen the scent spread its taproot
from beneath the shower door
and blossom into a cloud of lilac
against the kitchen backsplash,
purple the record player puttering in the corner
where we’d forgotten it in our haste.
As you lathered your hair
with shampoo, overpriced—gardenia
and grapefruit—I watched Antiques Road Show.
What disappointment that woman found
surrounded by beauty, the lowball appraisal
of her 18th century mille-fleur china,
all 51 pieces intact. So began my accounting,
as I lay beneath our floral duvet—
fuchsia hyacinths with lime stalks and vines
and sepals which do not seem to belong
to a hyacinth at all—I began counting
the thousand flowers in my life. By then
you’d joined me, and your heart bloomed
and withered and bloomed below my ear.
A figure, I thought, for the movement
of seasons. A figure I might’ve forgotten,
if not for this morning, when, rising early,
I saw your cheeks, rosy with warmth,
and a tuft of your hair, sprouting
from the hyacinths like wild onions
in April and frosted with sleep,
and I remembered wild onions flowering
in the heartland, millions of wild onions,
their blooms each discrete tesserae
in the greater lavender mosaic,
which is whole and is beautiful,
and I sensed it then, on the edge
of sleep myself, there is nothing
in this world which disappoints.


Surrender the Animal

I’ve been giving Descartes a lot of thought
these days—the linear geometry
of me. As if I’m a point on a plot,

and not the mouth of the Mississippi,
waiting to be dredged for muck, mire, or silt.
Yes, me: river with open arms, a tree,

veins on a leaf, the tie-dye tints of spilt
gas at the BP station—see how they
feather out? Yes, of course, sometimes guilt

nearly crushes me. Other times I weigh
next to nothing. And when I’m served a lot
of whiskey, my head turns to seasoned hay,

lit by a cigarette. Tobacco bought
my family plot. So what’s my point? I mean,
all this business about old-corpse rot,

and visceral this, grotesque that, it’s obscene.
I saw a clip once of an elephant
mourning her dead. The good part, the scene

that really got me, was the human element,
when she stroked the sun-pale bones with her trunk,
lightly, her loneliness self-evident.

And it wasn’t gross. No fascia or gunk
clouding the sentiment, just pure, wild loss—
so fascinating. When your casket sunk

into saturated ground, I didn’t toss
a clod of dirt in. Me: too rational,
too busy thinking what these people thought

of me, wearing a suit to a funeral
in Nebraska. Maybe regret’s futile.
Still though, I wish I’d screamed my animal

grief like the animal I think I am.  


J. P. Grasser’s poetry explores the diverse regions he has called home, most insistently his family’s fish hatchery in Brady, Nebraska. He studied English and creative writing at Sewanee: The University of the South and received his MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins University. His work appears or is forthcoming in Linebreak, The Adroit Journal, 32 Poems, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, West Branch Wired, The Journal, and Ninth Letter Online, among others. His work was recently selected for inclusion in Best New Poets 2015. He lives in Salt Lake City, where he is a PhD candidate in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Utah. Find him online at www.jpgrasser.com.