The Great Lakes

Keetje Kuipers

My wife, the one I thought I’d never have—
because does any of us believe we deserve
to be happy in this life?—lets my daughter paint
her toenails a sloppy silver as my aunt smokes
a second cigarette and pages through photos
on her phone so I can see how the car looked
after my cousin wrecked it last month
in a past-midnight field near the poultry
processing plant just a half mile from Grandma’s
unsold house—high on meth or heroin
or maybe not high at all but fighting
her hunger—while I pick through this dead
girl’s jewelry just as starved for something
to hold on to as those feckless gulls pecking

the sand a few feet away. The sun is shining
brighter than the gold-plated necklace
I fasten around my neck and swear to wear
forever, and even though scientists are finding
nicotine in the water and oxy in the mussels,
my cousin’s kids are down there at the edge
of the beach screaming their heads off
with the pure joy of plunging below the surface.
It’s not hard to feel good watching the waves.
But my aunt needs me to believe in the glass
and the blood, and her daughter’s body
a thing unidentifiable, a thing none of us
had really seen in years. She needs me to understand
that her pain is water as far as the eye can see.

Keetje Kuipers’ third book, All Its Charms, is forthcoming. A former Stegner fellow, her poems have been published in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies.