Leslie McGrath – Three Poems



Late May and the scent of beach primrose overwhelms the sea’s brine. We’ve walked single file through morning fog onto a little beach hoping to not be seen doing a thing that comforts us, a thing we think may be illegal. We’re seven poets. Eight if you count the plastic bag of ashes her estranged husband holds far enough away so that it doesn’t bump against his hip at every step. She was a poet, a fine one; now four pounds of ashes. He rolls up his pants to the knee, wades in, then leans toward the deeper water and pours some of her out. He offers her to us and I’m aware of holding my breath as I plunge my fingers into her ash and bone. Her goneness. I tip a handful of her into the water, the element she wrote about with the kind of obsessiveness poets tend to be proud of. Cloudiness expands there. No dissipation, just a flourishing opacity. A few of us use our hands as paddles, helping stir her in like vodka into juice. Slowly she disperses, the billow of shifting excuses, unanswered calls, and last-minute cancellations she’d thrown around herself over the last five years. She drank. She drank passionately. Exclusively. Dangerously.  She drank too much. She drank herself away from our concern, our offers of help, and finally, away from our repulsion. Under the ripples she drifts finely away.


The Fleeting

It falls      
as light
from a banished thought
will sometimes
settle       redworn & carefingered
close by the newly dead
who      not quite still with us
         & not quite gone
could judge     (they know the edges
of our illusories)
                                         but don’t.


Baby Hippos, the Rain & Other People’s Pain

There are worse ways to waste time
than watching videos of baby hippos

cavorting like fey gray beach balls
in huge water-filled tanks. Thanks

 to recent improvements in underwater
photography we can see the hippo clearly above

and below the waterline. We see through rain
even though the brain knows each drop distorts

the light. It pieces the image together
into something close enough to real

that we recognize it. The pain of others
works this way too. It torques

beneath their skin, as near our own pain
as light is to a spark.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

I never stop being astonished by the ways we’re separated from every other human being, despite our intentions and desires, despite all our good efforts. Life seems to be a somewhat random sequence of approaches and separations, each of which is deeply compelling. Many people call this Beauty.


Leslie McGrath teaches creative writing at Central CT State University. She is the series editor for the Tenth Gate prize for mid-career poets with The Word Works. Her poems appear widely and none too often. More at: lesliemcgrath.com.