after Aimee Nezhukumatathil
In the ocean, the starfish are pulling
off their own arms,
killing themselves, their bodies, spilling,
attacking themselves to escape
what I imagine is the pain of a world
that no longer makes sense,
as on the beach a half world away,
I watch large tankers
dredge sand to increase the likelihood
that land values will increase
this year. I am a big fan of land values
increasing. I have a family house
we can’t afford, the storms
raised maintenance costs,
and insurance for the floods,
the house that was
my electrician grandfather’s gift to us
will likely sell and with it will go this island
where I’ve watched the beaches
grow and shrink my whole life.
I’m thinking now that the starfish
are displaced from their arms
not by what the storms brought
but by what brought the storms.
At home, neighborhood boys
die from a lack of contact,
wrestle on the sidewalks
in front of Mister Bill’s house.
He works early in the morning
and returns by end of school, so
on hot spring days this is where
parents know their boys will be safe.
A starfish with short hair, and one
throwing a football, and one yelling,
and a starfish whose name I’ve forgotten
with a chipped tooth, and a starfish who
grabs my hand as I pass, as I return
around the corner on my walk from work,
grabs and asks if I would take him
to the park to see the yellow school busses
that he always wants to see.
He holds my hand
as we walk across the street
toward my door—can you imagine?
Why is it so hard to show affection
to this boy? Others on the ground
pull at limbs the way starfish do,
escaping what brought the storm.
This one just looks up at me, his small
hand in mine as we walk toward my door,
and I tell him no, again, and again.