To My Daughters, For Fred and Alaska

I should have known better
than to take the two of you
by the sketchy carnival booth
at the Crawdad Festival
with its bowls of muddy water

but I paid three dollars
for you to toss ping pong balls
and try for a prize, a stuffed lizard
or a tie-dyed bear, I thought.

If I’d known then that the prize
was a live goldfish,
I’d have hurried you past
to the lady painting faces
or to buy a funnel cake
or to ogle again at the table
full of gemstones and old fossils

but you plunked the ball
into the bowl on the very first try
and we came home
with two little fish in plastic bags.

We spend a hundred dollars
on a twenty gallon tank
and a bag of tiny black gravel
flecked with sparks of neon
and a fairytale aquarium castle
and pretty little plants

and twenty four hours later
Sir Fred and Alaska
were belly up in the water,

too much ammonia
or too much stress, maybe,
I tried to tell you
that it wasn’t your fault,
that we didn’t know
how long they’d swam in circles
in those ugly little bags.

You cried and cried
and I buried them
in the back corner of the yard
behind the rotting camper
that’d been there since I was kid

and then I stood beside you
for a little funeral for little fish
who never had a chance,
marveling how your little bodies
held hearts the size of whales.

— Adam Kamerer


Behind The Scenes

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-- Adam Kamerer

Butterfly House

Confused cloudywing, sleepy orange,
question mark and whirlabout,
dainty sulphur, cassius blue,
palamedes swallowtail.

One hundred and fifty species of butterfly
make their homes in Alabama
and I am trying to learn
the name of every single one
so that I know what to call

the things in my belly
that flutter their wings
every time you walk into the room.

-- Adam Kamerer

Gospels

I have never been able to pray
on my knees with my hands clasped,
never could make my spirit nod its head
when the preacher men roared
about gardens with their gates shut tight–
everywhere I looked
a rusty garden gate hung wide open:

I mean, sunrise crawls up over catbrier
deep behind my grandfather’s house,
out past the pile of moonshine bottles
and brown Clorox jugs asleep in the dirt,
a congregation of chipmunks
hold fellowship in the rusting belly
of a blue Ford older than Methuselah.

I learned all my church hymns
from the yellow-throated vireos
that warble in the high dark of Conecuh,
where fawn bones and old glass
gleam up out the pine needles,

once, I waded out where the lilies sway
in the slippery clear Cahaba,
tumbled under and gasped back up
washed cold to my bones,
the closest I ever came to baptism,

and the only perilous serpent
I ever came across on Oak Mountain
never said a thing about temptation
just warned me off with his rattle
and slithered down into the kudzu.

Anyway, I liked that story
about a man swallowed up
and spat back out in the end

so often I need to go down
the throat of an Alabama wild
stew awhile alone in its humid belly
and finally surface humbled
and a little more faithful.

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Rachel

You drove down to Brierfield for the weekend
and almost as soon as you made it into town,
I took your hand and we let the woods eat us up.

I wanted to show you the mossy chimney piles
that marked the graves of the old slave houses,
but the last orange light of the day guttered out

and I got caught up in a tangle of sharp little briers
before I ever got to show you any ruins.
Anyway, you would never have understood

the way clay bricks and involuntary servitude
ring like church bells deep in my chest,
the way rusty nails in the dirt hum hymnals to me,

the way broken pieces of painted porcelain
laid down under a century of poison ivy
remind me of the heart I wanted to give you.

The sun gave up on us before I unthorned myself.
I held your hand and you and I sweated together
into the hot blue swelter of August twilight

and instead of dusty bits of archaeology
I held your face and you pushed me against an oak
and kissed my mouth like it meant something.

In the dim dark heat you told me you hated
the weather down here in Alabama
and I knew even if I hated it too

you’d never stay here and I’d never leave.

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Rose

long after you are a breath of smoke
I remember snatches of you:

we sit at your kitchen table
you smooth your skirt across your thigh
and rain comes down outside the window
and you tell me you think
you will go back to your husband soon
because the separation is heavy
on your youngest daughter
but you reach out your fingertips
to rub them against my wrist
tell me today is not soon

but before that you sit in sunshine
beside the Tennessee river
as little boats glide the water
beneath the gray O’Neal Bridge
you hold yellow flowers
even though the morning is cold
and I hold your black braided hair
you tell me he never liked little boats
or cold river mornings
or yellow flowers or your hair
and you tell me you want me
for whatever kind of ever forever is

but before that you come
to my apartment at midnight
you sit at my feet and unclothe yourself
you teach me the names of your body
he told you was too dirty to love:
your soft pressures of your gentle fingertips
and your small sharpness of your fingernails
your teeth on my thumb in your mouth
you hold my wrist with both hands
you unheavy all your quaking reveries
and tell me with a sob in your throat
that you just needed my hands tonight
to touch you the way he won’t
you tell me you want to get him out of you
and you want to put me inside

long after you are a breath of smoke
I wake in the middle of the night
with your name a drum thump in my head
the bones in my wrist ache
if you came out of nowhere today
and told me to hold your breath
I think I would cup my hands and wait

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Dodgeball

In my head I move faster than my body.

When they loose
their red rubber volley,
I transform:

I prance like stag,
I pirouette like prima donna,
I whirl like wind through wild air —
upon the court, I become
a gymnasium trickster god,
laughing and spritely,
more quick and fae
than this big bellied body
has ever known how to be,
I evade every red comet star,

until empty handed and flustered,
a dozen sweating boys
in white sneakers squeak
bewildered at untouchable me

but I was never untouchable,
never stag nor prima donna,
never wild like whirling air,
never tricksy and divine,

I have always been a barnside,
large and marked out bright,
slapped red on my belly
from every missile lobbed.

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Feraling

I am calling you into my temple,
to the deep green forest,
where scattered light
gives way to shadow and moss.

Leave the asphalt and glass behind.
Leave the streetlights and sirens,
the busy bodies yelping
in the artificial light,
leave behind the hustling life,
the gristmill of the civilization grind.

Pad quiet between the trunks,
shrink beneath the ancient trees,
lope into the gloaming dark,
unhuman yourself with me,

let me teach you the religion
my body taught itself:

I am not a creature of reason.
I am not comfortable in my skin.

I am nature dreaming of itself,
an animal prayer, a hungry spirit:
I am a mouthful of howling,
I am teeth and I am blood,
I eat the earth until the earth eats me,

I know this is a ragged ritual,
this prayer to animaling,

this is not the first time
I have tried to explain
this shaggy holiness.

Go back if you want
but leave my wolf body
here on the dirt,

ring me with wildflowers
and river pebbles,
let the ants have me,

until my pelt is eaten up
and my bones bleach white in the air.

Enshrine me to my wild worship.

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Galaxy

You order fancy sprinkles
off the Internet. Twenty bucks
for a small jar of bright glitter

and when they come in,
you sail away into the kitchen,
gathering cosmic dusts:

sifted flour, cocoa solids,
granulated sugar, a scatter of salt,
and other celestial bodies:

yellow yolks like suns,
a milky way of cream and vanilla,
soft butter, drops of color.

You poured this batter of starstuff
into a pan black as space
then the long heat, the longer cooling,

until you finished with
a glossy blue-black glaze
and your jar of sprinkles

and finally, you cut a wedge
to reveal brilliant colors:
the swirling nebula within,

handed me a fork
and asked me what I thought:
this cake is so much like you,

until the first sweet bite,
I never knew I could taste stars.

— Adam Kamerer


Listen:


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-- Adam Kamerer

Downpour

You are downpour,
a shock cold to bone
and breathlessness,
a wet kind of lightning.

In you, I shiver off
the muck of years.
You wash me out
from soul to skin.

One request:
Crack the sky forever
and never stop
your pour down on me.

— Adam Kamerer


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-- Adam Kamerer

Peaches and Blood

For breakfast, while you slept,
I ate peaches with my fingers,
perched in my underwear
in the rocking chair on the porch.

I fished the syrupy slippery wedges
one by one straight out
from the can with my fingers,

popped them into my mouth
to dribble wet down my face,
until the inevitable moment
I sliced myself on the edge,

wet fingerprint split open
welling bright and red.
What would you say

if you stirred and saw me like this:
sticky-chinned gargoyle,
stony in the sunlight,
dripping blood into the juice,

even wounded still reaching
for another sweet fruit.

— Adam Kamerer


Behind The Scenes

Want to know the story behind this poem? Patrons who pledge $5/month or more get access to behind-the-scenes notes on my poems.

-- Adam Kamerer