Domenic Scopa-

Seventh Birthday

What I remember is a worker falling
toward driveway asphalt,
muscled like my father,
paint can hurling from his grip
that loosened as the ladder lost
its footing on uneven earth.

What I remember
is the smooth arc cerulean made
and the way its spill formed
an almost-question mark
as if to mock the importance of celebration


Someday I’ll return to the place
depicted by my memory, overgrown
with carpetweed and hedges,
and abandoned,
and through the chipped cerulean
I’ll find the little closet
with my rumpled clothes,
and sit down, drinking nothing but
the musky air by the window,
and wait for my babysitter to finish
dressing, one pant leg, then the other,
and wait
until the atmosphere of the room
takes back the oxygen in the dawn,
and wait,
until each wrinkled crease
in the sweaters and khakis
is as smooth as childhood,
and wait-
At a certain time, that closet,
that room, that house,
will turn completely into sunlight.


I would pull my pants down
and listen for the faint zipper
on blue jeans, and…
the chance of maybe not this time
already gone-
fickle, oblivious, a hummingbird
launching off its branch
for another tree-
my hand hurrying to strip the T-shirt,
to get there,
that moment of undoing.


The roar of the worker’s howl,
and the complete uncertainty of cerulean,
as it curved and shimmered in the light,
and the inexplicable candor
which my babysitter
made his presence known,
then wiped his body with a rag-
were one-
the birthday, the nowhere, the nothing-
the perfectly baked cake
and the spilt paint’s sprawl.


Elegy for a Death In Utero

Before I crack open a beer,
my wife points out
the father digging holes
in the sand with his daughters,
who starts to cough
and clutch his chest, twisted
into suffering,
skin flushed and shocked-
I shouldn’t stop to watch
toddlers splash each other,
leaden risk of storm
taking baby steps forward
from the skyline,
until all wonder is erased.
The writhing freezes his family
under their umbrellas,
scared deaf
to my pleas
to call an ambulance,
clear the picnic basket
and the cooler away…
When I reach him
through a current of panic
he’s not breathing-
he’s blue-
I can’t stop shaking
to plant my palms
on his chest,
which like a cedar barrel holds strong
until I begin compressions…
But he’s still the pale cobalt sheen
of the suffocated,
and clouds have blurred the sun,
murky light swirling
around us
as I try to jump
the motor of his body,
heart’s sporadic wheeling and wheeling
a cruel continuation
of a stubborn will,
and I believe he’ll die,
and I drown in my failure too,

until he swims back…
and stares around the beach,
as if in an afterlife,
with his family, only strangers,
repeating his name
over and over-
their syllables gathering little
of what’s left
in the way of sunlight.


Photo of an Excavated Grave
Time Magazine, Guatemala, 1998

The young man just kneels
by the grave,
looking down.
His elbows relaxing
on his bare thighs.
He is wearing
only ripped khaki shorts
and a stained white tank-top
that doesn’t cover his beer belly.
They hardly comfort his flesh,
which fails with tears.
And his face, illuminated
by festive candles that fence the grave,
is silent like any photo-
like the stark, bare bottom
of an airplane cruising overhead,
blinking with its crucifix of strobes,
though there are no airports
for hundreds of miles.

I can only imagine
the abundance of lime trees
that border the field,
their ripe fruit-little traffic lights
at crossings-which seemed
to signal go to whomever
ordered the extermination of the village.
When surviving families visit
they must see the same green,
bright and flagrant,
in the rare spots of saw-grass
breaking through the soil, there,
where their relatives
have been forced to sleep.
Usually the bones aren’t found.
The land never cares
who tends for it, or why.

Does the man think of farmland,
of tilled rows ready
to be seeded?-
But, he’s maybe only twenty,
too young to own a farm,
too young to search
until the Guatemalan ground
gives back his family.

He never stirs, never moves.
And now it’s too late for him.
No one, surely not me,
flipping through the glossy pages
of this magazine,
full sunlight flooding through
locked windows,
understands why he’s kept on
kneeling there for twenty years-
Alone, half his body
almost cut out from the photo.


Old Town Square, Prague

When I make it to him-
strolling past
hand-sculpted mannequins suspended
behind storefront windows-
the overdosed homeless man
looks like a mystic dreaming
that his jar has grown full.
It took only seconds-
seeing him there,
syringe still stuck
in his forearm,
and brown-bagged fifth of whiskey
spilling its comfort
all over the cobblestone sidewalk-
to plunge back down the chasm
of my animal anger…
I’m sick of the drugs,
the addicts scrounging
on the corners of the seedy districts,
outstretched palms turned up
as if to receive Eucharist,
the squalid sidewalks,
the fleshy pigeons refusing to fly.
I am sick
of the spirit of sympathy over everything,
that pleasure in sharing,
that religious understanding of pity-
I am going to be unmoved by the addict’s death…
and stare into his face,
and walk away…
I am not going to stand
in the frantic crowd,
with the rubberneckers
and self-proclaimed paramedics,
and celebrate the camaraderie
and silence,
and lose myself
in the immortal tendency to cling-
Still, my hands are a little shaky
from his stiffness,
and my eyes have to blink away
the sight of his curved fingers,
and unkempt beard,
his brunette curls lifted by a breeze.


Domenic Scopa is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, and many others.