From another time

Norman_DubieI’ve been taking an free online poetry course from the Iowa Writer’s workshop. I like parts of it, and because it’s at my own discretion I can ignore the the parts I don’t like. One of the speakers was talking about images. Poets hardly ever use bare similes anymore (my love is like a red, red rose), more likely to use “as” or “the way that.” But this poem by Norman Dubie (mentioned in that session) takes the simile and throws it at you in the final line like a 97-MPH fast ball over the plate–no ducking.

The Funeral

It felt like the zero in brook ice.
She was my youngest aunt, the summer before
We had stood naked
While she stiffened and giggled, letting the minnows
Nibble at her toes.  I was almost four—
That evening she took me
To the springhouse where on the scoured planks
There were rows of butter in small bricks, a mold
Like ermine on the cheese,
And cut onions to rinse the air
Of the black, sickly-sweet meats of rotting pecans.

She said butter was colored with marigolds
Plucked down by the marsh
With its tall grass and miner’s-candles.
We once carried the offal’s pail beyond the barn
To where the fox could be caught in meditation.
Her bed linen smelled of camphor.  We went

In late March for her burial.  I heard the men talk.
I saw the minnows nibble at her toe.
And Uncle Peter, in a low voice, said
The cancer ate her like horse piss eats deep snow.

Norman Dubie

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