Matt Prater

Hellbender Magic

            Tennessee water is green. – Allen Tate

Neither fish nor fowl, Tennessee's slippery blessing,
the angel of creeks, rests under the rocks of crayfished eddies,
indicating a certain holiness of matters, that wet mint
or wet moss lines out unadulterated water.

Needless to say, such magic is rare. I’ve only seen one once.
At Twisted Falls, along the Carolina border, on a hot day
at the jump point, while coeds slipped or flipped
to impress sweethearts and YouTubers below,

one indicator ambled the rocks and let a few of us
there gathered touch his back. We, though total strangers,
recognized the common blessing of the moment. And it was lovely.
And we had absolutely no idea what it meant.

 

When You Touch Me, All My Records Are Explicit

Swept up in your unatomized delight, we
       are two rakes doing somersaults, wetting lips
for the devil's kiss, caressing all parts mentionable
       and otherwise; our organs a fleshy Rube Goldberg,
each flick of our tongues a domino faltering.
       I am your useful and uncentered musculature;
climb me, inhabit me, divide my chest and sternum
       with trending suckle. Whatever your body does,
the difference in my body does the same.
       Not in thought, but becoming the product
of thought; the dull red buzz of that disintegration
       in the legs, in the loins, in the toes unclinched
in forced and technical relaxation: holding the note,
       sweltering the come-cry in the diaphragm,
releasing in union the final ecstatic vibrato,
       doing as the angels blushed about in Milton.

 

HEADS CALIFORNIA, TAILS CALIFORNIA; Or,
When Everything You’ve Done Is Not Necessarily Enough

You call me Romantic
for remembering all those

little towns and little years
in the sweet, cleft way I do.

But my life was Romantic,
and the place was magic,

and our grandparents
were sweet to us all.

So though yes, I know,
they did not understand;

and though yes, I know,
they had their other side;

and though yes, I know,
even I had to leave them;

and though yes, I know,
underneath the scents

of wisteria and talcum
and soft baking things,

and of gin and tobacco
on the hands that held me,

and of car oil on the knees
of the slacks that bounced

and held me while the lot
predicted money and suitors

and all fine horses as my wake—
behind each sweet memory

of Sunday dumplings
and summary hellfire

remains locked fast
every reason I know

we cannot turn back
towards their dumb

hard questions over
our bodies, our sameness,

and our lack of what they
would call the old ways.

Still, it was sweet to be
there then, in the midst

of their great sweetness,
and though we cannot go—

though I cannot take you—
though we cannot turn that way—

to be there with you, in that way,
in that time, is all I’d ever wish.

 

Family Portrait At Murrells Inlet, SC

Now let’s assume that love came first. What then?
The marriage? The baby carriage? The honeymoon
to Hawaii, trips to Gatlinburg minus the kids, leaving them
with Granny and slipping off for karaoke and whiskey sours?

And let’s assume the beachfront portrait is sincere:
Daddy and daughter in matching colors; Dad and son
in matching Oxfords, casual with khaki shorts and such;
Mommy and baby in two spring dresses with pastel sandals.

After an early dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack, the oldest asks
to go back on the beach with new friends, but doesn’t complain
against the no’s, and consents to a family game of Apples to Apples,
or Monopoly, or Scrabble, or checkers, or Kentucky Rook.

And let’s assume that on the way there and on the way back,
they all listen to the country stations, and no one notices;
and that on their return they pick up a large dog
from the neighbor, and the dogs licks everybody,

and there’s still time to make the nighttime Bible study
and Sunday youth group, where everybody
compliments them on their tans, for pictures
of fried shrimp platters, for their new thong sandals.

And let’s assume the grandparents live a long time,
and that there is no divorce. And let’s assume the work
is steady and pleasant, but the retirements early and full.
And let’s assume there is no secret moment in either life

that would ever pull asunder what God has joined,
weekends alone at convention centers doing business
notwithstanding. For all of that, can we assume
the two survive their ever-pleasant maelstrom?

Currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech, Matt Prater’s work has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Crannòg, The Hollins Critic, Appalachian Heritage, and Yellow Chair Review, among other publications. He lives in Saltville, VA.