Sara Dailey

Ode to a Cactus Skeleton

I wanted a reference point, a line
on a compass, a magnet's pull, tidal
in my body, and there you were, small,
a white-brown whorl of mottled wood,
your green long since stripped,
your spines no longer holding
the world at bay.

I'd mistake you for driftwood
if in some other setting,
an exile from the sea.
Lying helpless on that other sand,
so near its color, you'd be barely noticeable,
just part of the sea's refuse,
like shells, bird bones, bottle caps.

But there, against all that red earth,
against all that horizon, both spreading out
for miles, you were a beacon of light
at my feet, a dream of wind
in my hair, the taste of salt,
like joy on my tongue.

Mendel, Age 27, Breeds Mice in His Room at the Abbey

From the beginning it was a fruitless endeavor.
You should have know there were too many

variables you would have to account for
when breeding mice, which meant any

number of ways your experiment could go wrong.
You couldn't keep track of them all. It quickly got out of hand.

Soon, you were dreaming to the sound and song
of mice, dreaming of them hiding among canned

goods, or spilling like a sea of gray out of grain sacks,
teeming tight-jawed out of onion and potato bins.

Waking to the sight of their bodies in cages, the facts
were clear. Pride must be counted among your sins.

Who were you to play God with those who moved
and breathed, lived and ate like humans did?

So instead you went outdoors, plowed grooved
furrows into field, scooped small hollows, put a lid

of dirt over seeds. A more neutral territory was peas.
Nobody found them dangerous, not even the birds.

Because I wanted to believe in something with ease,
without doubt, your name was a prayer on my lips, words

sung into the air like a hymn. I was a grown up far too young.
Unavailable mother. You know, the old story where child

sees parent as fallible, learns to trip lies off their tongue
because it is kinder than truth. I spent summers in the wild

overgrowth of weeds with skinned knees while she cried
behind a locked door we learned not to open. I created plaits

of clover and dandelions, found beauty by making it. When my brother died
years later, I dreamt of your mice and plants, wondered about traits

he would have passed on, the heritage of heredity I no longer shared
with anyone. Nothing beautiful could be made of his broken body, but

you have taught me, Mendel, how my lips are still his lips, why the bared
edge of teeth gleams like a ghost cavern, white and startling, how even shut

my mouth is still, always, speaking for him. How my DNA, that body alphabet
is a broken code, a set of hieroglyphs naming the dead. It codes only

for sorrow, language unintelligible, its sound like a choked wet
gasp, a howl through forest pines, high-pitched and lonely.


Lost at Sea

If the sea were to take you,
the curving sail of linen become your shroud,
no trace found of rigging or prow,
when plunged to the depth, startled
fish would scurry from your form
and the phosphorescence of algae
would light you
like a halo from beneath.

White froth would crown your hair
and shells lay a mosaic over your body,
draped by an undulation of sea
and you would come to your rest gently,
for even the ocean would love you
no less than I.

Hear now, how its rhythm keeps time
with your pulse.