Mary Alice MacDonald: Four Poems

On My Fourth Winter in Kentucky

Sometimes I can almost see
in the greyed horizon,
on the tiredest afternoons,
between the duplexes of the town
anchored in stillness
and the cloistered barns
where the famous thoroughbreds
sleep more softly than I do,

I can almost see an ocean there
on the far horizon,
which is as near and far as my home.
I know right now the Atlantic is lapping
against the eroded remainders of beach;
our own horses are wild
and know nothing of rose boughs,

or the whipping need to win.

Last derby they put Eight Belles down
because she broke her leg on the mudridden track.
Our horses, right now, are thundering
along Okracoke
feral and tangle-maned,

When you are near to the sea, she dares
you to cross her. And you know
there is no other passage but your own:
the purpled Beaufort inlet flaunting
its deep belly to the moon, gulls,
a sandbar dying in the sun.
Always the rootedness inland
and the deep rootedness of winter
setting icy snares.

And if I ever get back,
I will hoard it all.
The summer’s narcotic humidity,
the evenness of spring,
the loving spices of autumn,
and the winter’s fearful spearhead
into the century.



Back home my mother is maybe awake too.
She was an insomniac as far back as I can remember.
We would see each other occasionally in the middle
of the night, both ashamed and tired,
pretending to read books.
Her favorites she would use over and over
until the titles were erased from the spines.

Maybe she is asleep finally,
now the children have all moved away
and grown into their lives.
She still thinks I have.
When I phone her she makes a point
to mention when I sound happy
and when I don’t;
when I call her sober
she always thinks I am depressed,
so I try to make sure I’ve been drinking
most of the time.

Maybe she is asleep finally.
This spring she got to start a garden again, she says,
and maybe it is there slowly growing
rows of pole beans and okra from seeds
through the night.


Reasons and Methods for Baptism

The only way to be baptised is to be submerged
completely, almost drowned.
Not because the bible says so but
because it is the only way you will feel
when you make your wetwalk down the
and sing O Happy Day,
it is the only way you can make it
the only new thing,
the yellow day of your first memory,
the shaking of your legs like a fawn,
the only beat of the only drum.

I was eight years old when
late at night, in front of the
fireplace, as my father sat and answered
my every terrified question,
I thought the fire on the logs
just a taste of the fiery many-tongued
hell I was so scared of, then.
I thought a bit of near-death
couldn’t hurt to prepare for it, at least.

I am no longer scared of the fiery kind of hell,
but when I am scared of some other hell,
I remember I have been nearly drowned
and survived. So I move on,
through hell to hell to hell.


I forgot

the 23rd Psalm.
The lost words sink
downward, muddy,
like sunfish in
the pond, multiplying.
The greedy water,
blue turned under
blue, takes them
where I
cannot see.
Where my child feet
could not touch the
bottom. They always
frenzy, escape
silvery and quickly,
barely a blur when I
try to recall.
All at once,
they leave me
alone in the water
again. Will I
ever remember
past I shall not