The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem WARD WORKS HARD TO KEEP YOU HIDDEN

Spring 2011: Issue 89

Ryan Vine

In the mangroves

                of Ward’s memory

you’ve become a little fish—orange

                and flapping your tail fin

as you used to—swaggering down

                Marlboro street, dogwood

fireworks above—back

                before I watched you

slip away for deeper waters. Yes,

                Ward dreams of you always

in these incantations,

                these silly songs: once,

you were a groundhog—brown

                little log rolling

across the lawn; once, your form

                took flight as a moth—

green and shining; you flashed

                like a thrown card

through the forest.

                You’re rarely you

but when you are you are

                the you of years ago,

the you of your million voices,

                always leaving, always

through Ward’s front door:

                a black umbrella blooming

before you and into the rain.

                And it’s here that you became

an absence preceding Ward;

                it’s forever at the spot

of your last leaving where he feels

                he must step through you.

But he can’t. Every day he tries.

                He walks from his house,

and your absence, like a bank

                of cold air, floats

before him. Through it, he appears

                smaller than he is, diminished.

He hopes you never notice.