by P. Ivan Young
When a town becomes uninhabitable,
when water builds behind the dam
and the last chimney tops slip
beneath the surface like mythical beasts,
there are things we carry with us,
real and not real, lived and not lived.
The town can only be imagined.
The town can only be imagined,
but some days you want more
because you remember your mother
moving an antenna into a perfect V
so that Jacques Cousteau came into focus,
and you think the tank is a town
he carries with him. He breathes
familiar air. You wonder what
you’re watching him enter.
You wonder what you’re entering
years later, when you dive the lake
because you know the mud and murk
obscure vision. The town can only be
imagined, too deep to dive,
streets cruised by channel cats,
the mud-crusted houses
never waking from darkness.
But the mud-crusted houses
do wake from darkness.
A woman lies back in a tub,
shower curtain pulled.
There are fish, bright colored fish
she knows don’t belong.
And you imagine this town,
the light that shines through her window,
slightly tracking. She could think it was wind
wavering a street light. But she can’t help
thinking someone searches for her.
And you think you may be searching
for her, too, with each cave dive,
even though the town
can only be imagined. Your light tracks
bright fish looping through limestone
holes in the cavern. Each recess
seems a town you imagine.
A flash of eel skin feels
like the mud-crusted walls.
A lobster twitches its antennae
like a mother’s nervous gesture.
You wonder if you belong here,
full of breath. The only air gathers
quick silver on the roof of the cave,
and you follow a rope out of darkness
like an uncertain road.
The town you imagine is uncertain,
the road buckled, signs rusted.
You think of the hardware store,
window green-rimed with algae
where cracked mussel shells
gather like discarded wings on display.
You may be searching for the mud-crusted
houses at the edge of sleep, unsure of
which is the town you’re in
and which the one you’ve lived.
There is the town you’ve lived, imagined
now, and the town you’re in.
Some towns are mermaids,
some sirens. One swims in the deep
inventing brightly colored fish,
one sings from the rocks
where the shells are shattered by waves,
where the salted wreckage
surges in and out of sea light.
And you keep wondering, searching,
because your body remembers
the feeling of a blue water dive,
2,000 feet of darkness below you.
All roads seem uncertain
as you leave, and looking back
seems like a town waking from darkness.
At a certain depth seeing doesn’t matter.
You imagine the caved-in roofs, the room
with a rod still half bolted to the wall
where a woman, her grave obscured now
by mud, hung delicate towels.
She could be looking from the water-logged jamb
of a window askew, squinting her eyes
to bring the silt into focus. She’s watching
like an urchin in a recess of a cave,
some dark angel, something that’s shed its wings,
hovering in a world made of fire.
* Note: Nearly a dozen communities were submerged beneath
Lake Murray after its earthen dam was built in 1930.
by P. Ivan Young
When I return to an empty house,
the silence is made of you:
the coffee cup on the counter,
lingering hair spray and perfume,
One of us is always missing the other.
You’re the light under the bathroom door
I’m the impression in a living room chair,
I carry magazines with your name to the curb.
You make a salad with radishes I refuse to eat.
We are clauses that stand alone,
no conjunction, no punctuation, fragments:
which is the tangle of our scarves in a basket,
which is a box with two horseshoe crabs
that we always meant to hang.
One we found on a darkened beach.
One was a relic drying in the sun.
by P. Ivan Young
In my Father’s house are many mansions:
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)
If I could place my finger again against
that scar that curved beneath the blade
of your back, just to preach
the body’s wreckage, to read
the sad darkness in your eyes
and offer the landscapes I’ve lived—
I’d tell the Carolina fields of corn
and tobacco, the orchards of peach
and apple, the ripened strawberry fields,
nestled in forgotten counties
with names like Kershaw and Abbeville,
houses that rise out of the red clay dust,
grey planks askew, porches buckled,
muscled together by kudzu. My mansions,
beautiful because they have forgotten
beauty, function, form. I have
wandered through the slanted rooms
gathering useless remains, a rusted augur,
a stool with two legs,
the cobalt apothecary bottles half-buried
in dirt in the crawlspace. Houses rich with
this world—that smell of wild urine
and the rotten carcass of a possum—
houses in which the oddly canted sun
beams shine through a window to frame
dead wasps, a snake skin, shreddings
of magazines with words too faded to read—
I would say that from the doorway,
I trace the steps I’ve left in the tilled earth
that wander off to the road, a road
that leads to you. It’s you I’m thinking of
in the curling wallpaper, in the shattered steps
that keep trying to go somewhere.
I’m thinking of you, this is the house
I would prepare for you.
P. Ivan Young is the author of Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain,
which was published by Brick House Books in 2015. He was
the 2013 winner of the Norton Girault Literary Prize and the
recipient of a 2011 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist
Award. Young’s recent publications include work in American
Life in Poetry, Baltimore Review, The Louisville Review,
Cider Press Review, Watershed Review, Passages North,
and The Southeast Review. He received his MFA from
University of South Carolina and is currently working toward
his PhD at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches
and works as an editorial assistant for Prairie Schooner.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 12, Number 2
Copyright © 2017
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors
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