P. Ivan Young


P. Ivan Young is author of Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain (Brick House Books, 2015) and the chapbook, A Shape in the Waves (Stepping Stones Press, 2008). He received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (2011), and is the 2013 winner of the Norton Girault Literary Prize. His most recent publications are in American Life in Poetry, The Louisville Review, Cider Press Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, The Southeast Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He is currently a doctoral student in English at University of Nebraska Lincoln, where he reads for Prairie Schooner.


What Darkness Says

I. Denial

Listen to the child: it sounds
like a claw, an empty nest
of starlings, rain-soaked,
falling to the ground.

In late summer, blackberries
hang on a fence. All it takes
is a hand to paint
the sidewalk in
all those black holes.

II. Anger

My mother never spoke it.
Maybe it was her eyes? No,
it was the skin below,
the wrinkles. No, the shadow,
the shimmering eye shadow.
No, it was the bruise hidden beneath.

The truck driver wouldn't look at me.
Only the wing-flap sound as he spun
the table-top juke box
and chose "The Night the Lights
Went Out in Georgia." Her favorite.
Black coffee and the ice cream amends.
The silent waiting for me to leave.

III. Bargaining

My cousin shook cheap prophecies
out of the Magic Eight Ball.
We were high. Later, I tried to recall
if he predicted the phone call
that said it tasted like gasoline.

A phone is like a cup.
I swallow my Aunt's faint words,
the way he must have
tilted the hard red metal
can to his lips.
Drink his body on a gurney,
drink his breath
like a lamp waiting to be lit.

IV. Depression

I wanted to feel it,
there at the lake, at sunset.
I closed my mouth, my eyes. I sank
into the thermocline, that distinct line
between the body numb
and a rising to the light.

The cold slipping up my toes
felt like a hand grasping
for my ankle, the way my stepfather
gripped my mother's wrist
as his other hand became
a moon, an eclipse.

V. Acceptance

A diver would say subtraction
of the way descent
slowly erases light. Layer lifts
off of layer, like stripping wall paper,
red gone, orange gone,
until somewhere beyond the final
violet haze, the great bowl
of nothing that contains us.

So I open this bag filled with gear
I've gathered over the years:
a black mask, a snorkel,
the smeared ink in a book
where I logged my dives, small stories.
I find my own wonder: A purple shrimp
brighter than a bruise, my body inverted,
head on the sand, fins lapping the sun
above me. I gave up looking
and the translucent body emerged.

Beautiful strange things happen when you dive, such as the subtraction of light based on the order of refraction. The deeper you go, the more each wavelength of color is stripped away until eventually everything takes on a violet hue (the last wavelength to be filtered) that seems somehow like you've reached a bare and essential state. Reviewing my old dive logs took me on this journey of grief and transcendence.