The locals called the pond The Oasis although
It didn’t live up to the name.
Water green as an old penny and thick
With algae, hugged by a grove of thin birch trees, a small pond
That fed into a stream and disappeared
Through a concrete cylinder under the wide paved road
That led out of town.
Men used to come, with six-packs of beer and rubber boots
To fish for the trout old man Pilch had put in even though
It hadn’t been his pond to stock. But
That didn’t stop him from pulling up one day in his truck and dumping
A box of colored trout, one by one with his bare hands
Into the water.
The field next to the pond had been Pilch’s, and
He had grown potatoes on it with his son
But now the bank owned it, the bank had eaten
Old man Pilch, and his son, and the field and
Spit out their bones
Like an owl who had caught three mice, fitting them, all three
Into its widely opening cheeks.
To get to The Oasis you had to cross the field, fermenting now
With wildflowers and ragweed, navigating the bony scattering of bushes
Bearing their tiny painful brambles, your eyes
Cast down for snakes
A sign, For Sale—Will Build To Suit, sunk into the dirt by the side of the road
Had been there for years and someone had spray painted
James K eats farts across it in a truculent reddish purple.
Teenagers destined for greatness or sadness or an early death
Who crept out to the pond at night with flashlights
Left empty bottles of Fireball whiskey and flavored
Cigar wrappers, glossy McDonald’s fry containers and sometimes
A used condom.
Flies and bees buzzed about the colorful garbage, glinting
Like warmed treasure in the sun.
Old man Pilch had passed
Going on three years now and during the day
It was quiet—the pond grown
Too thick with green stench and the cat tails too tall
For the men to fish anymore.
The pond was sinking into its own oblivion or maybe
The pond was changing its very nature, following after Pilch himself.
I was surprised to meet her, the girl on the pond’s shore.
I guess I’d taken to considering the place mine during the day.
Yes it certainly felt like it was mine—and it felt right to feel that way—as if
After old man Pilch died
The pond longed to be coveted again
By someone to whom it didn’t belong.
Of course, the pond shore wasn’t a shore at all
In truth it was nothing but a giant sandy anthill, still
There she was perched atop it
A small pale girl with a front tooth missing
Hair the color of butter and cheeks crisping in the sun, her eyes
Skimmed milk sitting in two large, blue saucers.
She had surrounded herself with a circle
Of naked Barbie dolls.
She looked up at me stoically and said
For his crimes he has to walk the plank
And indeed she had a small piece of lumber angled
From the hump of the anthill down into the pond, and solemnly
She walked a single male doll down that rectangle
And walked him into the water, her narrow hand and forearm disappearing
Briefly into that thick green sludge leaving, as she pulled it out,
The doll to suffer its fate.
It began this way, just me
Observing her small, strange ritual and her, watching mine
Which was to crack open just one nip of vanilla vodka
And light just one, and then just one more, wide Camel cigarette
And then rinse with a swig of the preposterously blue mouthwash I spat
After, with an attempt at grace—
If spitting can ever be a graceful act—into the sand at my feet.
And in the way I didn’t ask her about how she found her religion
She didn’t ask me about the origin of mine and we shared the dying
Pond that day, the pond sinking
Into its own oblivion and when I returned the following day she was there
As well, and waiting, it seemed, and the pond it seemed
Was waiting also and soon
I sat with her inside the mandala of naked Barbies
Brushing the biting ants off my legs, watching
Several more plastic men go into that accursed drink
Sun shining off her hair, that pale yellow hair
The color of the yolk of a sick egg, milk blue eyes blinking
In concentration, as I inhaled my cigarette
And exhaled the smoke on the doll’s faces which the girl said
Would help to cleanse them.
Eventually she ran out of the men dolls and so we entertained ourselves
By dragging an ancient, peeling red rowboat, beached up in the birch grove,
Down to the pond and pushing it in.
There was only one oar and the boat took on water
Very slowly the dark green water.
We kicked our feet in it and I told her how, a long time ago
When I was her age
I had a salamander that had grown too large for his tank, too
Ravenous for the small brine shrimp and nightcrawlers I slipped
Under the glass into that moist void at night and so I released him
Into this very pond.
The girl thought about this, her blue-white eyes staring intently
At the putrid water while I slogged
The oar through the algae, thick as dry yarn balls and
Whenever the water rippled here or there underneath the green filth she exclaimed
Maybe that’s him
And we both imagined him, the salamander, each time she said it.
Each time she said it we saw him, grown huge and scaled and dark
Circling the bottom of the rank green pond
Feeding on the corpses of the dead trout, lived
Beyond his natural life, forgotten
By both life and death
A wingless dragon, dark lord
King of The Oasis
—and weren’t we his Queens?
Weren’t we, mirroring his slow dark circles below with ours
In the boat above, sun burning our cheeks
Toes wrinkling in the thick water that slowly
Filled the bottom of the old, peeling red boat, and
The girl looked at me and how could she have thought
The exact same thing, how
And at exactly the same time, but
And she answered well, we are his Queens and she answered
Without speaking a word and her eyes were nothing more
Than the Earth itself, seen from outside itself, and doubled,
Blue and white spheres filled
Just so utterly filled with life.
And so we sat, and circled the wretched pond
As though tracing the shape of the crowns
On our heads, listening
To the occasional car gun
Down the wide paved road that led out of town, the branches
Of the birch trees softly shuddering
The ring of naked dolls on the shore watching over us and
If you asked me how it was her ritual had worked, the physics of it
Or the math I couldn’t
Even hazard a guess but
The dolls’ faces had become, somehow
Our very own faces
Bitten into and into
By the tireless ants, motionless
Sitting without blinking in a circle that moved nowhere
Both nowhere and everywhere at once.