while you’re away

            by Frances Cannon
I swim over a shallow bed of zebra mussels, climb
halfway into the heart of a giant oak, gain two slivers
from an old, rotten dock, and sample a handful
of not-quite-ripe wild grapes. I visit an exhibit
of paper whales which hang like electric ghosts
from the ceiling, pulsing with light. I read a short story
about a little girl who finds a stone in the woods.
Every other line reminds me of you, so I hold the pen close
while I read. When I finish, the page looks
more like an ink painting, saturated in blue scribbles.
While you’re away, I catalogue flora and fauna specimens
to document and share with you from afar—
this is my love language—here, a dead bat in the grass,
its body transformed into mush by ants, but its wings
still intact, paper-thin translucence framed by delicate bones.
Here, a myriad of alien bodies: chanterelles in the moss,
puffballs on a log, and a choir of backlit oyster mushrooms
singing their spores into the wind. Here, a minuscule aphid
with fluorescent green skin and a spiked tail, bobbing up
and down on my notebook as though he’s dancing for us.
While you’re away, I find a cluster of glowworms in the dirt
on a night hike. I scoop the moist earth into my hands
to bring the light of these bioluminescent grubs
closer to my eyes. I want to share this vision with you. Instead,
I soak up their light and translate it into a story
to recount to you over a meal of smoked fish and fried peppers.
“Tell me again about the glowworms,” you ask, and I will,
over and over until you see them in your own hands.
Finalist 2021 Poetry International Prize
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