Women & Children

The tedium of six-hour drives
to a summer house at Lake Hopatcong
with the sister-in-law who hates you—
no conversation,
sometimes music—
a song called ‘Satisfaction’
about not getting any,
the baby, the niece, cutting
teeth in the backseat—
the test cry, nothing sustained,
no tears. The brother who lives at the office
who can’t come to the summer house, conceived

almost a generation before you,
by the mother whose work was melancholy,
a repression-proof industry—
who killed hours in front of the dead TV—

And when you were in the lake
with your lopsided little tribe, there were
other people, sizeable families—
the result, it seemed, of too much satisfaction,

all the women & the other children, the baby floating,
strapped to a Styrofoam platform—

oh you’d show the ones who hated you,
you’d make them remember you,
but the only way you could think to make them
was to sink to the bottom like a bone.

Places that close around us like water,
surrounding the baby on her float—

women & children first, because
the first to be rescued could be the first to drown…

* * *

Family Feud, Jeopardy, Canasta, Operation. . .

To this day, whenever I see families—

it’s their rituals—banal,
fascinating, so clear & simple
to them it seems intimidating
to a man like me,
childless present, fatherless past—
(If I was so hungry, my brother’s wife asked,
if my mother & I lived in such poverty,
why did I leave
so much food untouched?)

The sister-in-law’s family who finished everything on their plates—

did exactly what they said
they were going to do:
if the diabetic brother
took the boat out,
you could bet he’d bring back a rainbow trout.

Nights lying awake
on the top bunk,
near the one you could trust,
because she had no memory—
the baby on her back
on her bed of linen stars.

Who did she take after, who would she look like?
No way to know, but you were sure you could know…

Maybe if you went very close & looked at her
with a magnifying glass—
as a gardener would approach a dying plant,
the thing that changes, almost invisibly, every day—

Michael Tyrell is the author of the poetry collection The Wanted and has published poems in many magazines, including recent issues of Fogged Clarity, The New Republic, and The Iowa Review. With Julia Spicher Kasdorf, he edited the anthology Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn.