He held mussel shells—indigo blue inside and black
on back—or those round pebbles he had
found rolling like dark marbles in the tidewater
wash as if he had a handful of hard candy.
The wind’s speed picked up, the sea shining behind
him, each wave displayed like a crinkled
sheet of tinfoil unfurled under that day’s final
splay of sunlight. Every one of our son’s
uneasy steps at the ocean’s edge left an impression,
still refilling with water—even as I witness
it now, in midwinter three years later. We could
not have known then to watch for the few
symptoms whenever he would lean to lift another
stick of driftwood, as if the shoreline’s
slant had suddenly become too steep, or the tipped
head and sideways glance he’d give us,
though we thought he only wanted reassurance,
were never seen as dubious sorts of acts
that ought to indicate a reason to have misgivings.
But to the two of us, now so suspicious,
feeling guilt, every unsure move that camera caught
appears to be uninvestigated evidence left
behind, even in this scene when the tape runs to its end.
He sits on the sand, back toward the shore,
counting out his collection of shells in a single file,
as if pretending every one of them were part
of some private treasure, the way anyone might
arrange family keepsakes, jewels or gems
kept as heirlooms somewhere in a darkened drawer,
brought out for comfort in a time of grief.
—Edward Byrne (Porter County)
This poem appeared as part of a sequence of poems, “Whole Notes and Half Tones: Songs for My Son,” in Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press, 2002).
Edward Byrne is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently Tinted Distances (Turning Point Books). He has also edited two anthologies of poetry, including Poetry from Paradise Valley (Pecan Grove Press). His poetry has appeared widely in literary journals, such as American Poetry Review, American Literary Review, and American Scholar. He is a professor in the English Department at Valparaiso University, where he edits Valparaiso Poetry Review.
Poetry Prompt: Clues from a Home Movie or Video
Can you recall a time you watched an old home movie or video and realized something new about you or your family? If not, replay the movie in your mind, or, if you can, watch it again to see if there are epiphanies you missed. Don’t neglect to pay attention to the setting and whether any details in the scenes foretell the future or hint at some hidden knowledge. If you don’t have home videos, look at old photographs for clues.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem and prompt every day in April. Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner selected these poems and wrote the prompts.