PoetryWinter 22-23

Sevenfold Goodbye — Hope Coulter

Sevenfold Goodbye

1     Ponca

   We left sea level this morning, headed north
on a highway gradually climbing. Now, on the brink of the ridge,
       this road has height to lose. In a flung-snake descent
   toward the river it drops, twisting
       through levels of green, new leaves
     on sassafras, blackgum, maple, fall-
                ing      (Louisiana roads
     never pull these tricks)   Brakes strain
        and tires dig in, setting off bombs of dust
    every curve whip         -lashing our necks and spines
while what in the world?     whole hillsides made of rock
      (no rocks back home)     limestone      
               bluffs  in a herky-jerky show rise      up             
      on either side,     gray, pink, ruffled   with lichen—
      More green leaves, last neck-snapping turn before

      we stop. A sigh of dust. My stomach’s still quavering. Sixteen
                      and worried: how will I look
             in my bathing suit? Have I eaten little enough?
—an apple, a nibbled roll. A bikini, a ball cap, and untied sneakers
      are all I need, and a sleeping bag, for a float trip with my big brother,
              his girlfriend, some friends of theirs.
      Lately my value has risen. I got to go
on the trip. Doors slam.

2     Putting in

                                           ‘The unfolding of the unforeseen was everything.
                                       Turned wrong way around, the relentless unforeseen
                        was what we schoolchildren studied as history, harmless history’

A flat gravel lot. Stands of willows in sand. The river
amber, golden, clear over round rocks in the shallows
where minnows dart, flashing silver. Out in the middle
it’s clear too but darker, tinted blue-green like sunglasses,
with ripple marks scratched on the surface. Behind me
the others are working. Unclipping, untying. Hey sis,
come get your gear. They’ve all started calling me sis.
They lift canoes off the vehicles, shoulder them
to the river and set them down, red, yellow, and blue
like first-day crayons. There’s yours. I tiptoe forward,
half-crouched in the rocking canoe, take my seat, and wince
at the scrape of metal on gravel when my brother’s friend
wades out, gives a shove, and leaps in. A startling sense
of transfer, lightening, as we swing away from the bank,
trees and bluffs swiveling around. This must be current: I know
from the furrows on top of the water, from the powerful tug
that comes from those slate-green depths… The boat veers. Hey,
says my partner, you gotta paddle.

Boulders. The water crisps white. In panic I look
past the blank boy astern to my brother, back on the bank
that’s slipping away so fast. What do I do? I yell. Can we practice?

Reared over his own canoe, reaching to hold it steady, he laughs
at me, giving his girlfriend his hand. His beard juts out.

Under the brim of his cap, his blue eyes flame. Hell no,
you don’t get to practice!
                                          How do I do it?
You’ll figure it out.  Go on.

                        My answer a wavering Bye! —

caught by the breeze and flung at the bluffs like a glass,

a shattering wineglass.  Shards.

                                       ‘where everything unexpected in its own time
                                            is chronicled on the page as inevitable.’

3     Undone

Not a bank this time but a shore, another spring. A raft of brown pelicans:
heavy and elegant, like ancient suitcases gone airborne, they flap
overhead. Ponderous, calm. Clean saltwater laps at my feet.
Again early April, the lesson not yet learned,
the lesson of transfer. One medium
to another. How things can blow and spill
their right containers. The age of the uncontainable, crude oil encasing
vane, quill, and down, eyelid to webbed foot, a petrification
that burns, pore by pore, with its poison. Panic.
The acrid, slow smothering begins.


                                         OIL SPILL: HOW MUCH IS A DEAD PELICAN WORTH?                     
                                         NEW YORK (CNNMONEY.COM)  Just how much is a dead pelican 
                                         worth? BP is about to find out.

                                         As the owner of the still leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico
                                         the oil giant will pay billions of dollars in damages, much of which
                                         will compensate for the birds, fish, mammals, are killed by the


1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs intentionally 
or usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: 
automobile accidents.
2. Law. such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault 
of the injured person for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought.
3. any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause.
4. change; fortune; luck:

            When a pelican dives, it
            retracts its coarse brown canvas
            wings on cumbersome pulleys, tucks
            its flapsack pouch of a bill, and points
            the twindling shaft of its body down
            through cubits of air

            into salty brown waves, and on
            like a racer who blows past the finish line
            into a long, slow flourish of inertia,

            but this time no
            clean medium of cool salt,
            clear bubbles streaming by, small perfect globes no now
            it cannot move, the wings cannot extend and blade the body
            back to the surface 
            no graze of fish   no rightness of surround

            glued in viscous, rust-colored tars

           the cells of the body remembering
           flight, free movement
           feather to air
           membrane to water

           life that should be inalienable
           the creature’s thereness        wordless, ecstatically itself

           not knowable again

                                             Subject: Grand Isle area surveys,badly oiled birds at 
                                                  mangrove island colony
                                             Date: Sat, 26 Jun

                                             The shoreline and the bases of the mangroves were coated 
                                             with oil and many birds foraging along the edge or seeking 
                                             shelter under the mangrove canopy had become badly oiled.  
                                             In addition to many oiled pelicans and Great and Snowy egrets, 
                                             high percentages of the Black-crowned Night-Herons and (the 
                                             hundred or so) Roseate Spoonbills were in bad shape.  

4     Porches Where I Said She Said You Will I Hope Stay, Say

If there’s a porch in the heaven you didn’t believe in, and a coffeepot,
we’ll have so much to talk over        big news and small    farm gossip and big
questions and more than ever to tell you: how
the morning after your funeral    I knocked on your daughter’s door
saying, “Hate to wake you but hey,
you’d better get up    Big storm on the way
headed straight to New Orleans
then here”

From behind the screen she looked at me
with her cool steel eyes     new teacher, unwedded yet
that came later    after the fling with that other guy
who asked her for your guitar , and she gave it
can’t blame her, all mixed up then    we all were
not thinking straight, her    not a mother yet either
that too I’ll tell you, how down the road there were
grandchildren     beautiful
kids   presuming we’ll have all the time
in the world    and listen   since you said
with some of your last breaths

     When I’m able to talk again,
                   I’ve got a lot to say

which I want to hear, believe me    What was it like there, dying?  Did you float
around your bed the way people say, hover like some kind of genie?  Could you see
your little red-eyed ragged band, us, gathered? Feel forces pulling?
        anyway, she (  It’s a big fucking universe, you pointed out once,
physics of light-fucking-energy, other dimensions and time so weird, who knows  )
but back to shadowy her, behind the screen door     awake and answering, “So

               we lost Pop
               and now we’re gonna lose New Orleans too.”

My aunt older wiser passing the standard down could only stammer, Yeah.
              Looks like it

      how later that fall
we put you in a little box and tucked you in    

under the pecans in the back corner     wood ducks    red-bellied woodpeckers
waterthrush hang out there            little pecans on your grave, swamp lilies
       we hope you like it
no prayers, no words, just somebody picking chords
to help us walk, help us pick our way
across those dirt clods, and        back to the house for pie and coffee

coffee in your Far Side mugs

best we could do, okay

                                     and how—
maybe there’ll be time

eventually by the way
we got your guitar back

6     Oh

Not that anyone plays it

7     A Bulletin from the Front

                                       Subject: Grand Isle Stabilization Center
                                       Date: Fri, 25 Jun

                                       The Stabilization Center was manned for the most part 
                                                 by LSU Veterinary students who I found very 
                                                      competent and dedicated.

                                        The numbers ran from 5 to 20 birds a day most of which 
                                        arrived alive. The majority of the birds which came in 
                                        were heavily oiled juvenile pelicans. Other birds were 
                                        a dead Tri-colored Heron, dead Sandwich Tern, dead Double-
                                        Crested Cormorant, dead and alive Forsters’ Terns, dead 
                                        and alive Laughing Gulls and an injured White Pelican. 
                                        They were all covered head to toe in a very sticky brown tar.
                                        We were tasked with taking the birds’ temperature and 
                                        supplying heat lamps if necessary, cleaning the oily muck 
                                        from their bills, washing out their eyes, giving them a 
                                        water and Pepto mixture through a tube and seeing them onto 
                                        a transportation boat for the cleaning facility in Ft. 
                                        Jackson, LA.

                                         The sounds of these birds (juvenile pelicans) are hard 
                                         to describe. Some of the vocalizations sound like a hoarse 
                                         whinny, others sounded like a resigned or pleading Green 
                                         Heron, and the most haunting was what sounded like a pathetic 
                                         prehistoric wail out of Jurrasic Park. 

                                 ‘The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides,
                                                                   turning a disaster into an epic.’

D.C. al Coda

It’s not a shore to start with, it’s grass   running on forever, each blade shining
with light like a coating of white. Like a joyous     summer levee. Or a pasture,
planted with winter rye, like      where our sneakers and boots used to tromp,
where laughter once rang against the trees.    Then the bottom drops out.
Ground vanishes underfoot.    A ravine appears between us, dividing
you from me. You, on a grassy knoll    that’s now a brink, a bank, but still so close, 
so very near. I can see   your beard, your vet scrub shirt
turned creamy white, like a tunic. Hands    should be able to reach,
to span the expanse, but distance       gallops between. Your figure shrinks.
Forever I can tell it is you. Steadily the current
bears me away.    I call for help.   For a chance to get ready, to practice.
You’ll figure it out, you shout back. You’ll figure it out, go on.
You might even be laughing.   Who knows.



“Cameron Parish marshlands protected with barriers.” 
17 June 2010.

Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/accident

“Grand Isle Stabilization Center.” Eric Liffman to Louisiana 
Birding List-Serve, 25 June 2010.

“Grand Isle area surveys 6/23-24, badly oiled birds at mangrove 
island colony Louisiana.” Steven W. Cardiff to  Louisiana Birding 
List-Serve, 26 June 2010.

Hargreaves, Steve. “How Much Is a Pelican Worth?” CNN Money, 
21 June 2010. https://money.cnn.com/2010/05/21/news/economy/

Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. Vintage Books, 2004, 
pp. 113-14.


Hope Coulter teaches and directs the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in 
Literature and Language at Hendrix College. Her work has appeared in numerous 
journals, including The Yale Review, Southwest Review, and Literary Matters, 
and her collection The Wheel of Light was published in 2015 by BrickHouse Books. 
Awards for her writing include the Laman Library Writers Fellowship, the Porter
Prize for Literary Excellence, and four Pushcart nominations. Hope is a Louisiana 
native who earned her AB at Harvard University and her MFA at Queens University 
of Charlotte. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The author: Leah VanSyckel