Chapter 16
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Book Excerpt: Either Way, You’re Done


Fingertips numb, Jonah knew
to pray. We imagine him—
three days, three nights
in a cavern of belly, dark
and hollow. But wasn’t it stifling,
full of tissue and muscle
working him down and through.
And water. Like the water from the creek
where my father burned our weekly
trash, building the fire at the edge.
We drank it, cooked in it, bathed in it,
watered the hydrangeas, until the EPA
told him it was a hazard. The creek stopped
at the fringe of a cornfield, flowed
underground, pooled there, muffled
and filtering, then pumped through the well
and into our pipes. The ash
must have been thick in that underground
earth, hard and black, magnifying
the water’s metal taste and smell.

I always thought faith
was something we are born with.
When I think of you dying,
I hand it off to something
distant. It isn’t today, after all.
And then there’s that notion
of stardust: you, me, the carefully
stitched hydrangeas. But also
the mud, the burned
trash, the fetid brine
of the whale’s belly.

[This poem originally appeared on October 24, 2017.]

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