According to the Drunken Elders of my Past
When you like a girl you tuck your shirt in.
Buy beer cheap as possible.
When the flood came you slept like a baby
in our skiff, and the moon was a rabid dog
eating raindrops from your face.
A paddle works in most fights.
A shirt lasts past getting full of holes.
Before swimming at night, take a flashlight
and shine the water for alligators.
Your stomach knots before you recognize
their eyes—little fires
like the levees during Christmastime.
The earth yields what you put back into it. Lists work.
Blackberries ferment into decent wine.
Beer and fish belong in separate ice chests,
but if your bait works better than you thought
try to keep the slime from where you drink.
A good motor leaks a little oil.
A good boat sinks close to shore.
After we die, you’re on your own.
your toes are tracing ampersands in dirt.
Summer brings a melody that dashes thoughts
of lasting past the heat, like Maris guesses if he’ll last
to sixty-one. There is no asterisk—you pack mascaras
and board a bus for somewhere colder. Better to your luck.
Before the tide this night erases all your punctuations,
an alligator drags his icy belly through the sand
deleting almost every curvature your lazy toes designed.
It would sicken you to find your crushed butts
still dozing in the ashtray, lipstick stains ringing filters.
Everything human leaves a mark. Everything human
dies. Near the river there’s a house I thought we’d share.
Its shingles are the broken teeth of a harsh winter,
damp drywall slashed by kids who went with spray cans
to profess those childish loves we find in later life
too passionate to keep alive. I would have taken you
to the dark river-bitten nail of land and let sunlight
disinfect what others put inside you—the hard questions
and vain exclamations. I wasn’t ready to lose those toenails
digging commas in my calves or your elbow bent across
my sternum like a closed parenthesis. On the shoreline
an egret unaware that just beneath polluted waters stalks
an angry gator dips herself along the slate of land. Quick,
his dark jaw clamps the egret’s bright neck. Blood warms
his stomach—we were like that to each other for a period.
Resurrecting Fish & Other Mysteries
An incision from gut to gill makes a mouth
where words are innards spoken to the grass.
My bare toes smitten in grime wiggle & chirp
like wind-chime. Tonight childhood returns:
bare feet creasing weeds as cicadas simmer.
Quick handiwork evades stink. So freshly dead,
eyes warble & twitch with water’s harsh stars.
This place is tar or marsh. Oil or soil. Derrick
or delta: it has never had to choose. A kind land
yielding crop and fuel favors neither & creatures
survive despite industry’s humidity scorching sky.
Men wake early & work. Even the thumbless
among them lift crab traps at dawn. Filet for pay.
Even blind men row toward something of worth.
Directionless, they row forward. Grown up now
we know don’t trust the crickets singing all hours.
Their nighttime hollers merely death row brogues.
Sometimes night is a horny teen nibbling lobe.
His skin Shinola, his manners shit, & don’t know
whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass.
Cooks a mean plate of fish. Skillet hissing like
liquid from logs, its flesh hardens with flavor.
Bones fiddled clean. Post-meal preaching ends
when Leo Woolverton, drunk at the fire, singes
his ass hairs mooning the shy girl’s shier cousin.
After laughing hard enough for tears, all blame
these dirty hunters can muster is lost in cheap
beer, hot fish, and the shiny cheeks of shy girls—
their compassion pried with stories of the past.
A fish this big. A storm so foul. The once upon
performance of a ritual no shaman recommends.
Spoken only hushed. What bones not choked on
by beagles are released back to the current. No
flesh, no blood, no scales & yet become a fish again.
Our drinking water is a continent’s sewage; it has to be purified for days before we can stomach it. About 6,000 square miles of the Gulf is hypoxic; we call it “dead zones.” The truth in the Gulf is ugly. Commerce beats conscience. Spin out-wins sincerity. Resilience is heralded and rigorously tested by the same agencies. I represent a long line of Louisiana residents who net, fish, navigate, and have even purified these bodies of water. We’re not going anywhere.
Geoff Munsterman hails from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. His poems have appeared in Margie, Story|South, Poetry Quarterly, Culture Sandwich, YAWP, and Levee Review. His 2005 chapbook Tunnel was published by Kenyon College. Hopefully his book-length poem is next. He lives and writes three blocks from the Mississippi River, in Algiers, Louisiana.