West Lake, Lamar County, Mississippi

by Jennifer Peterson

Each day the sheen retreats a little
further from the shore.
It looks like drought, but isn’t.

There’s a drainpipe buried near the spillway
rusted out, and the county has no cash to fix it.
So the lake goes free, runs wide and down, uncatchable.

I stand here at a crater’s lip
revisiting his last days
while by degrees the lakebed shows itself:

expanse of cracks, dry ripples—
his face against a sheet, that tanned
slack face. I was a child and studied him

those last days longer than I ever had
when he was keen. In some hidden place
the dazzle, the sheen of him

was leaking out. I know the lake as I
had not. I see its intimate topography
where downed trees and dock pilings

rise from clay. One day I went with my mother
into the bedroom he would not return to
where we gathered some small dignities:

pressed pajamas, aftershave. I didn’t like
to be among his things without him,
feel the measure of his ebb in our encroachment.

But today, three roseate spoonbills came
to fish the final water. Wading birds,
they comb through muck for crab and minnow,

and their feathered white against deep blush
looks human—a raw beauty
like the inner corner of the eye or

like the morning he was all but gone
when my mother led me close
and let me comb his hair.

Jennifer Peterson’s poems have appeared in Colorado ReviewBeloit Poetry JournalPembroke MagazineImage Journaland elsewhere. She is the author a chapbook entitled Must Resemble Leisure forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press this summer. She lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with her spouse and two daughters and is a PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. 

Image: Justin Wilkens