THE SHALLOW END OF CELLAR CREEK
[Y]ou pull back on the oars and the creek’s surface
wells up in slow eddies of algae and leaves.
Damselflies dive along the bank; their wings
cut the breeze in flashes of midsummer light
the way your narrow shoulders glimmer
with each stroke. I look over the sides, search
the creek bed’s mosaic of shadows for signs
of life—viper eels, angler fish, bull sharks,
all the horrors from high school textbooks,
sharp-toothed and prowling with their mouths hung open.
The boat’s metal hull catches something in the dark
water, a shallow ridge of neighborhood debris—
deflated volley balls, tires, empty bottles of motor oil
sucked down storm drains and caught in the current.
I tell myself it’s only a few feet deep; we’re so close
to shore, so close to the sun and the heat, and you
strip off your socks and shoes, roll up your jeans,
and break the creek’s mucky surface with your feet.
You lean against the edge, fight all of the dark things
that congeal in these backwater places, your body so tense
the water moves in currents like arrows against your knees.
There is no suddenness, no jolt, no rocking back and forth,
just the low moan like a train braking on the other side
of the highway, just out of view. You step back into the boat,
bathed in the smell of fresh cut grass, sweat, the coldness
of water in Virginia heat. The sun plays off your legs,
their film of algae and grime, like light through quartz.
I imagine how long I might have waited alone,
my back pressed against the prow—until the sun halved itself
on the horizon, until the underbrush pulsed with movement,
until I felt the strength of moving on my own.
MY FATHER HEARS THE QUR’AN IN THE BACK YARD
The hounds hunker down in the dirt with their rawhide bones,
paws pressed together in prayer to the thickness of old skin,
and the morse code dove calls of long, short, short, short
fall from the trees—I am here
and Father saws the wood.
Our neighbor lays a book in the grass, kneels in the fluctuations
of a language foreign, but familiar. His song like a guitar string loosed
in the wind to whip the current, to bend in on itself
and move out again—I am here
and Father saws the wood.
VENUS AT THE EDGE OF OCEAN CITY
Beneath the ecru lace of Atlantic foam, subway cars stand
in white sand like monoliths, metal marbled in the blue-white
of refracted light, electrified by the silver bellies of fish.
The skeleton of a man-made reef, stripped down
and sent off the back end of a freighter.
Mussels open and close in their reclamation of a woman,
Botticelli’s Venus transposed on a half-open door, a warning—
stand back—marked off under her feet. Rainbows of oil distort
her graffitied figure, the long-quieted traffic of hands
smudge the hard line of her neck.
Fields of sea grass swoon beneath her gaze, a Dionysian dance
in the phantom light of energy and movement,
and the crystalline city builds itself in the hollow
jackets of her cars, coral calcifies and sets like human bone,
white and red, orange and green. She sends the tide to shore
to lap at the city’s feet, an entire ocean inviting in the rest.
Ashley Maser is currently pursuing an English degree from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. She has previously edited for the Dos Passos Review and SPACES. Her poetry has been published in Foundling Review, Writers’ Bloc, Word Riot, Midwest Literary Magazine, INCITE, Foliate Oak, Camroc Press Review, Sleet Magazine, The Driftwood Review, and the anthology Bearing North.