Back to Issue Seventeen.

elegy at buzzard’s bay, 1959



After Helen Frankenthaler

This is a poem of a painting stuck in summer,
of a boy stuck in the tight fist of a reservoir,
and the gold sun stuck in its crooked display.
The Colorado boys and all the walking they do
to unstick their minds from adventure.
Red dirt stuck in their soles from the time
they were stuck in worship, dancing on the cliffs.
The stuck-upness of their chests as they dove
from a ledge higher than the last. Water
stuck in their ears in a much different way
than the smell of pine in their hair.
I was stuck in the promise of forgetting that comes
with Autumn. A bad cover of The Boys of Summer
stuck in my head as if another generation of teenagers
needs to be stuck in that narrative. I can see you
your brown skin shining in the sun. You got the top
pulled down and the radio on.
I suppose Don Henley
was stuck in his own nostalgia, stuck in the same
three note loop of the synthesizer. I was stuck
in a forward motion away from one of the boys—
the one stuck with the story to tell. It wasn’t the jump
that killed him
, he said when he called, but an otherwise
strong heart stuck on a beat as he swam across the lake.
He told me the details that stuck with him—
how he turned around to find the lake’s surface
where his friend should have been barely pinched
with movement; the way time changed, knowing
when the sun set the search was over; the warped
primary colors of the scuba gear underwater
after he dove back in with the rescue team
to search for something that stuck out, something
unlike murky water and the slimy rock bed
and more like the familiar shape of his friend’s body,
more like his red swim trunks tied at his thin waist.
I was stuck in the repetition of, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,
not for the things I should have been sorry for
but in that sticky way you have nothing else to say
but take the blame for someone’s sorrow.
Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach.
I feel it in the air, the summers out of reach.
Empty lake, empty street, the sun goes down alone
This is a poem of a painting stuck in summer,
of a lake stuck in its unforgivable stillness, of a body
of water stuck inside a much larger body of water.
This is how I have come to know grief since
I left that boy in all his sadness—
to try to unstick oneself from approaching nightfall,
and to remain with a body lost at the bottom of you.


Janelle DolRayne is a former poetry editor of Copper Nickel and art production editor of The Journal. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Laurel ReviewThe Indiana ReviewNinth LetterThe Collagist, ParcelInter|rupture, and the 2013 Best of the Net Anthology, among others. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Vanderwater Poetry Award, and an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University. Her essay “An Ocean Existing Somewhere Without Us” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is originally from Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado, and currently calls Los Angeles home.

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