Lit/South Awards 2022
Poetry Competition – Honorable Mention

Shannon C. Ward

The Birds of Lake Norman

All the women on this boat look
the same: dirty blonde and bronzed,
asses plump in yoga pants.

The engine’s clogged, so the vessel barely
makes a ripple. Calm surface,
clear as a mirror, blue as a housewife’s
valium-glazed eyes.

I should be grateful.
I should be grateful.

I’m told whole towns were bulldozed
for this lake. The captain says,
there are cemeteries underneath,

and I wonder aloud how bodies stay
buried underwater,

recalling a soldier who described to me
once caskets floating in the flood
after Hurricane Katrina—

not a comment one should make
on a third date—

but the man finally looks up from his phone
when his friends fall silent, sipping
their rosé. He says, I love

your imagination. If the women
on this boat were mistaken

for sisters, I would be the pudgy,
middle one whose boyfriends
always got eyes for the others,

which is why I find these family outings
so exhausting, father’s body floating
up from the bottom of the lake,

mother making comments
about everybody’s weight.

The boat floats over a battlefield,
bayonets and bullet shells
buried deep in the silt
beneath so much sun glitter.

Once, just a river: Catawba, Catawba:
dammed for hydroelectric power,

arrowheads and beads buried deep
in the silt beneath so much sun glitter.

I want to see what the fish see:

unconscious artifacts
of our hope and suffering
that rust or gleam in aquatic weeds
whose roots wrap around
our thoughts.

My sister sees a nest at the top
of a pole rising from the lake
and asks, what bird lives there?

Looks like osprey, I tell her. She scoffs,
says no, she’s only seen them in Zion.

I want to dive to the airplane
at the bottom of the lake, swim
into the cockpit, enchant the engine,
raise the rusted bird into the sky,
and fly somewhere else,

but not as much as I want to sink
into the bed of the man causing
me this strife, to let him take me home,
swept in a current of sheets,
waiting for the strike
of talons through my scales, so I hold
his hand when we reach the shore.

I say, look at the great blue
heron in the shallows.

Behind us, my sisters say, Look at the crane.
That must be who lives in the nest. But I know

a great blue heron when I see one,
and the ospreys will return next spring.