Michael McCarthy


A Cape Cod cottage caught in hurricane gales—
Those bungalows near my grandparents’ home 

Scared from land, tiptoed toward the border of sand.
On sunnier days, it shredded my soles 

Sprinting to the buoys, rocks and shells 
Beckoning my boyhood surrender. But I persisted.

Red at night, sailor’s delight;
Red in the morning, sailor’s warning.

Grandpa’s envy-green barometer brimmed
At the storm’s perimeter. Floodwater sluiced 

Through gutters, over curbs, sunk 
Into poorer basements. Broken bramble branches,

Defrocked daffodils: this was their wreckage. 
In fifth grade, a brown towel touched my taut eye

To absorb the gross of tears, like a bee pollinating buds.
My bloodshy hands managed only a childish strangulation, 

An imitation of my teacher’s grip.
Her priggish reverence reaped

From Mayflower Beach her thousand verbal shivs,
Corroded and threatening tetanus.

Mom watched me limp to the Atlantic, droplets
Draining out of veins, smarting at saltwater. 

Grandma and Grandpa relaxed childless at home
Oblivious to the kiss of leather on my neck.

A mature, moral someday man, military 
In his prayers, zealous in his jealousy 

Of saints. That spring concert I smiled, singing. 
Spotlight blacked out blame. Staring

Into a darkness laced with faces—no St. Sebastian
Could caution me. My teacher clapped on one and three

As I counted to infinity, or tried to.
They said it helps with pain.

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Michael McCarthy’s work has appeared in Barzakh Magazine, The Adroit Journal, and Prairie Schooner, among others. His debut chapbook Steve: A Gift is available from the Moonstone Arts Center.