Back to Issue Thirty-Six

Cliff Diving in the Nature Preserve



I have, as far as I know,
experienced everything I will experience:

a seagull shit in my hair on the beach;
in the sunflower field,
hiding from the police, I napped;
or trespassing a beach cabana and blending daiquiris.

I am certain I won’t love like that again.

All those days were cultivated
by realtors and developers—
the hospital where I was born
demolished to build a condo complex for retirees.

In the center of my suburb, called a “historic village,”
philanthropists designed
a nature preserve to honor their son who died in a plane crash
and, for reasons unclear to me,
loved rhododendrons.

On a trail carved for bucks
a ranger caught me chopping tree stumps
and threatened to call the cops.

I do too, love rhododendrons, for the shape of their name.

I don’t remember any cliffs there—
nowhere near the coastline—
but there could be cliffs if I ask politely.




The Master Arborist



In the Hamptons we finesse a garden at Burger King;

cherries pruned and a row of blue spruces fertilized,
I eat two sandwiches on the sidewalk.

A mulch pile steams on a tarp in the parking lot,
the crew’s smokers chewing filters,
eating pumpkin seeds in the bed of the truck.

Leaf miners hatch on the lip of my boot.
The contract includes three-hundred bulbs
buried deep to bud next spring—
which maybe means there will be another spring.

I sculpt the boxwoods to resemble a crown,
a coronet from the French practice.

In the world, six hundred board-certified master arborists,
and I have the phone number for two
who in our group chat text about their bowling leagues.

Imagine eating a chicken sandwich with ketchup
while walking through my palace of images,

the topiary burger, tenders, ketchup bottle.

Now imagine the ketchup doesn’t stain your shirt,
and the blues and greens in my garden distract the seagulls,
and your date doesn’t ask why you brought her
to a fast-food chain in the Hamptons,

and imagine you feel hopeful that, like the glacier
that formed this island twenty-two thousand years ago,

you, like the glacier, will build another island
and feed the birds, and fish won’t rot on the coast.




Setauket Mallards




For pennies the Italian deli sells
loaves of stale bread and expired cannoli cream,

tub-fulls. Near the sidewalk
from the strip-mall down to the wetlands—
the length of two tennis-courts away—

boy-scout troops stake scarecrows
with donation buckets next to hay bales.

A wooden sculpture of Hercules tied to a mast
cracks from moisture at the harbor.
A boy once etched a pentagram into its forehead,
caught on security tape.


After my father’s accident, in recovery,
an eighteen-wheeler endlessly splitting his head,

we snacked on egg sandwiches
near the wetlands while mallards and geese,
an occasional swan, begged for food.

The upper half of his ear gone, he lied to me:
“I fed it to the ducks.”

I tried to feed them my fingers,
but they wanted the whole hand.
I’d play tag with the air.
I could run as fast as a child is expected.


The ponds were unextraordinary.

One morning my father strangled a mallard
and stuffed it with its own feathers—
my timeless bird, dragged
on a leash between places and fathers,
its eyes glassy like a rock
smoothed by the predictable movements of water.



Christian Wessels is a poet and critic from Long Island. His work has recently appeared in KROnline, Bennington Review, and AGNI Online. He has received fellowships from Boston University, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and University of Rochester.

Next (Alex Dimitrov) >

< Previous (Tariq Thompson)