Poem: Mother of Swords by Lisa Bickmore
Lisa Bickmore is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Ephemerist (Red Mountain Press, 2017), and teaches writing of all kinds at Salt Lake Community College
Mother of Swords
The big riffle signals stones, and where
to step with care, my father tells me:
he remembers fishing with his father
in the mouth of the canyon, their feet
knowing a sure road beneath the water,
its plait and loosening: still, they kept
their waders well, mended them when a stone
tore the rubber, the caddis and nymph flies
sorted in the tackle box, the creels cleaned
after each catch, so the canvas smelled
only of river and not of fish rot.
Still, the world waits for the stagger, as when
he, a man in full, cycled through a cloud
of bees. He says, Of course I got stung.
Of course—the bees were the surprise, not
the sting: and now it is not the body,
always fallible, but the insult
to the brain’s vessels, the mean twist and pop,
the muscles on the left side having
forgotten their former habits. He sits
on a bench, lifts weights, his therapist
his mirror: each lifts, level on both sides,
though for my father, the one arm lags.
I listen as the therapist remembers:
I left an open can of soda.
I must have been ten. And when I took
a sip, I felt something wrong: and when I
opened my mouth to spit, it stung my tongue
and flew away. If bees could spite themselves,
that’s what it did, I thought, as I drove home.
Clouds wreathed the crest of the range to my east.
These stories witch water and admonish:
in tonight’s cards I turn up a queen
who sits in profile, her crown a circlet
of butterflies, but she holds a long sword
erect in her right hand. So stern I think
she’ll turn, look straight at me, say, a cloud
that swarms might be your proper atmosphere.
Say, watch your step: the river keeps blades.
Say, let your tongue hive a comb for bees.