Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Kate Gaskin





Forever War

Because we cannot be undone
by routine violence,
because you call what we did

the forever war, because history
is a needle quilting itself
to the same thirsty bedrock

my white ancestors claimed,
there is only, in the end, the matter
of our shared complicity.

I am no better
with no finger on a trigger
than any other colonizer, and you

with your immigrant mother
and the bombs you loaded
onto Jeannie Leavitt’s plane

are only one man among many
telling the same lie: that air power
can suture the musculature of war

shut for good. Can this ever
be undone? Now drones. Now the same
Groundhog Day of special ops

humping across dry lands
most Americans could never name.
You are gone

in your plane over the Tigris
again, and here there is only Nebraska
and wind, my insufficient

hands, the dumb and bloody language
of the tongue I cannot shed.


Sucker Hole

In the afternoons, thunderheads
spooled in from the sea. You used to joke

that from your office window
on base there was nothing but framed

clear sky, blue as the deep end of a pool,
but on the flight line suddenly you were curtained

in by storms, fooled, once again, by a Florida
sucker hole. Each spring I watched dewberries

unwind in our backyard, counted wild
shiso, wood sorrel, and chickweed too. You

resurrected the gardenia bush by the pergola
with just a bit of pruning, but I could lose

any planned thing to neglect, accidentally forget
a whole garden of tomatoes and crookneck

squash, the basil gone sour at the throat
of each leaf. Still, when our backyard

offered us wild berries in a brief
window of splendor, I took them. I watched

the clouds pile against the planes over the bay,
and each day you always came home.



Even now—older—you are a lake
at daybreak, silver, feline, cranes

breaking the sylvan foot between trees
and waterline. You are the shore’s

red mouth, mica glittering underfoot,
the bass in the depths, the reeds,

the snake in the reeds too. Between us
there is both drought and draught,

years of thirst punctured with starbursts
of plenty, so much water I can barely

bring myself to breathe. Above,
the eagles, once gone, are arcing

from their eyries, swinging low to feed.
The water holds steady. Cold springs,

bright teeth. Love, forgive
my shallows. My endless need.


The Argument

All day we were at it, not
bickering but cold, cordial, the way

you can punish without punishing,
thrush-tongued and bitter seed

of so much left unsaid, clamp-
mouthed as oysters. I remember

the time we lived by the sea.
Your parents watched the baby

as we drank cold beer in the fog
while the barges rolled in,

and, later, when the monarchs
flocked south in thick orange swells

if we stood still long enough
they stopped to drowse in our hair

as if we were tufts of milkweed,
though we could give them

nothing sweet. Those were the nights
we loved each other best,

by which I mean easily, the curtains
blowsing in, the ospreys fat

with fish, spitting bones onto the dock
through shrills of mating frogs. And now

this night, its pinched mouth
and sterile air, your shoulders not far

from where I lie burning to touch
you, even now, after all these years.

Kate Gaskin is the author of Forever War (YesYes Books 2020), which won the Pamet River Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, Pleiades, The Southern Review, and Blackbird, among others. She is a recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as the winner of The Pinch’s 2017 Literary Award in Poetry. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. More from this author →