“At the Bottom of the Sky is a book in which every moment is earned and nothing is careless or unconvincing. Morrill is a poet worthy of the themes of maturity: defeat, grief, and lack of prospects, as well as resilience, happiness, and fruition. With virtuosity and finesse, and with geographical and sympathetic breadth, Morrill brings justice and beauty to these large, challenging subjects.”
– Alane Rollings, author of The Struggle to Adore
The Hiroshima Maidens
I can’t find the photograph of my father in Trinidad
with a beer in his hand and, on his shoulder, a monkey
wearing his sailor cap. It is lost, burned,
like the flash-whitened faces of these women
reassembled for this picture by the surgeon’s gloved hand
years after the bomb dropped with peace for the Pacific theatre.
An overloaded circuit, bad insulation—they said that was the cause.
As our roof withdrew into its rafters, collapsing
onto trunks, old books, the uniform I’d folded to steal,
I thought of the cigarette I’d hidden in that place
crushed hurriedly by my mother’s call to lunch.
We’d rebuild. But the next time he cut my hair
I sat still without those snapshots of him:
radioman second class, air corps, drafted before graduation.
The clippers buzzed my ears like fighter planes
as I recalled his glossies: the geisha painted on the fuselage,
the hatch he’d hung his legs out over empty, shining water.
My temples whitened. He dabbed the nicks,
telling how they trained him to float using only that cap,
and a drunken pilot nearly crashed him once
in the gulf between Americas. Now, these women,
some with the small, bored faces of their children, unmangled,
crowd this magazine far from home or what was home;
and everything seems clear, even the edge of shadow slicing a grin.
On leave in the jungle, he passed out in my favorite navy whites.
Sleeping with him on our living room floor,
I dreamed of his look toward his smoldering dream house,
the bombardier whose buddies vanished in their first flak.
I could smell the fumes from our upper story,
the reek stinging like the scorched hair of these women,
grown back, chopped uniformly short. From the fire and sickness
of radiation’s half-lives, they are recovered—
these memories, our maidens, hopelessly retouched.
– for M.D. (1949-1991)
The stare of the bereaved, a peeled potato.
One child old enough to understand
one not. This evening,
the open microphone stands before the gathered.
Last night, it transported a sonata.
If you hear now,
hear our words,
not our thoughts
(which you would only know anyway as your own—
human, embarrassingly various).
Must we always be reminded,
A candle weeps in each hand
until there are no more tears, no more words.
Once, fishermen cast back into the sea
the crab with the carapace resembling a samurai’s face
(reminding them, thus,
of an ancient, drowned boy-prince)—
a shell-face thereafter
borne more often to their nets.
Auras peel and fall everywhere
from things that moved you.
the live oak makes its simultaneous motions,
as before this city became its companion.
Somewhere, your image inspires,
This is how it looks.
this bright morning
how long into your eternity?
Shade roves the properties.
You will let us go, please,
You, gone tomorrows
to which we dare not make comparisons.
To My Father’s First Wife, the Adulteress
In the bedroom where your ecstatic cry
died against dusk-veined windowshades,
I later slept—as they had slept who made me
after my father caught you there
and cast you into whatever memory,
whatever dream he would try to forget.
He kept the place and built on
with each addition to our family,
mixing new lumber with seasoned stock
from houses wrecked for an interstate.
I pulled the old nails, and he hammered;
and we could tell a piece of heartwood:
hard to take or let go. Yet I knew nothing—
as it seemed my mother knew nothing
when I finally came to ask
Why marriage? Why him? hoping for a word
about the me who’d called her Stump!
and snatched up my hammer on the way out,
so soon becoming like him. She said
I love you only in reply.
The day I first heard your name
I was a boy who saw betrayal
in having tickled his father’s feet once
and that man waking furious with laughter.
Since then, I’ve heard some call you
Freedom, Exile, even Fate,
and have wondered at the glitter
of a sheared common, and what your cry was for.
When you telephoned that one time
I was told to take no message,
and they shared that, they who called you She.
On a street where walking
means you’re crazy or for sale,
a man on foot waved
a white flag tied to a twig.
My surrendering side
still drives around his block,
part of the rush hour where
we grow up and try to live.
In these times, I hear a name
banished from a collegial mouth
and wonder, Is this us,
vagrants on judgment’s stoop?
In crossed legs of seated officials,
I see heartbeats kicking slightly.
The sky seems the same
horrid headline as last year, the mirror
a petition for change I’ve inspired
but refuse to sign. Once,
under a house propped on jack posts,
the boy who used to be Yours Truly
swam in dirt, his mother above him
on a ledge of grassy twilight,
magnanimous in her permission.
I remember that between
the floor joists and each post,
wood shims, cobbled on the spot,
helped to level up the house
poised for a new foundation.
A home in air. And a boy beneath,
refreshed and blackened
by his imagined ocean!
So simple to swim in our dirt, as dirt…
From that man waving his dead branch,
what answer would solve us?
They day floats like a house
needing a shim to be righted,
words, deeds, we offer—
sometimes gracefully—or withhold,
keeping things uneven,