Landscape with Mother and Police

Looking up from damp grass
while wine-drunk on someone’s lawn,
I watch the birch leaves spin,
the wind twisting the stems.
Unspoken is the threat of tearing
free, unfastening one’s self
from the whole. The oscillations
rippled the dappled canopy
like a pond rocked out of sleep
into a heaving wake preparing itself
to break against the green shore.
Or perhaps the point is all
the points above breaking
into moments of light, more
like the peachleaf willows dotted
along the bank of Seurat’s Seine
where mothers stand looking,
mostly, away. What I see between
the blurred dance of lights and leaves
is you standing in the kitchen
smoking a Kool Filter King
between the small hours of night,
waiting for the phone not to ring,
waiting for the police not to knock
again. I see you pretending not to
see me as the artist standing outside
the frame, painting, with red and blue
lights, another scene on our window
panes. In the bottom right corner,
proud scratches spell out my name.

Artist’s Statement
It started simple enough. I wasn’t wearing my glasses as I watched the wind tear through a birch tree during a summer storm. I thought of Seurat. I tried to get the image into a poem for close to five years, but it just never quite worked. When my mom entered the poem it finally came together. I was a bad kid. She couldn’t bear to turn me away, no matter what I did, but she couldn’t bear to watch it either. This poem, I guess, is trying to capture how I painted my mom into that corner, posed somewhere between turning one’s head and turning one’s back.

Zackary Medlin is from South Carolina but still thinks of Alaska as home, even though he lives in Utah. He is the winner of the Nancy D. Hargrove Editor’s Choice Prize, the Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, and a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. He holds an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Utah. His poetry has appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, The Cincinnati Review, Grist, and most recently in Tinderbox Poetry and The Boiler.