Two Poems by Amanda Shaw







“Detritus? I’ve never heard that word,”
my new neighbor says, as I’m apologizing for what
I mistakenly rinsed off of my deck onto his below,
the stems and leaves and plastic labels they stick in the dirt
at a plant nursery, the ones that tell you whether you possess
the suitable conditions for keeping the poor root-
bound flowers alive wherever you’re taking them, which in
my case I do, enough light and space for roots to spread and choice
of deck or windowsill or yard depending on weather or time of year
and I answer “You know, ‘DEH-

bris,’” the way the English guy in a thousand-part documentary
about excavations at Troy (that whole Today I have gazed upon the face
of Agamemnon) says
“de-bREE,” as though my neighbor, Steve,
who doesn’t know me or the word detritus—and he’s a lawyer—
would know why that foppery is funny, that I’d never
say the word that way myself except as a joke (the kind I tell
that never land), although when I was ten I’d say “malice of
forethought” or “beating a dead horse” and my friends were like

What the fuck Amanda, but see now I’m forty-five and live next to lawyers and have the space and light to grow flowers in nourishing but messy soil, that
detritus that washes down onto
his deck in spite of my care; no, he’s got to know I’m not that
weird, moreover I’ve heard it said I’m a “cute nerd,” that’s how far
I’ve come, but Steven’s gay anyway and surely my level of cute-despite-
awkward-ness isn’t in play, I’m just saying I’m not that person, I’d never
deliberately fling soil—lets face it, dirt, it’s trash, it’s

detritus, it’s just the right word
for the situation—onto his property, incidentally that mofo Schliemann
was not only wrong about Agamemnon, he dug all that dirt up without
forethought, destroyed the layers of time above the find he bragged
about with such grandiosity, but I know enough now not to share this further
evidence of nerdity so I am furiously digging into my mind like I always do for

words, more words
to supplement the more words that didn’t work the first time
but then Steven says “I like it. I’ll have to use it”
and I kneel down to pet his little dog Stacy who is truly adorable even
when she barks at me from the debris I’ve washed onto his deck below,
I mean who can blame her?

The Skiff and the Reef

The television is tuned to a show
about Britons fishing in a kind of skiff

made of interwoven willow-rods
and I’m not really listening until I hear

it’s called a coracle, a pretty word
that after I turn the TV off

plays on in my head, sea-changed
to Coral kill, the flap in my mind

that opens to this odd sentence l
ike the flap in the pop-up book

I gave Ruthie who lives by the sea,
a flap which you can lift to see

the pink stinging branches snaking up—
Watch out, poor fish!

At first I wondered what I’d done
but Ruthie told me not to worry,

Daniel Tiger told her Grown-Ups
Come Back, Him mommadadda save him,

it’s ok. First time I watched Daniel Tiger
the chirpy four notes of his chirpy song

stuck in my head for the rest of the day
and I was almost angry at the lie. See,

Ruthie doesn’t know about this yet
but kids in her mother’s first grade class

are going home to find it dark,
Mommadadda disappeared to Mexico

and never coming back.
I’ve no reason to doubt

Poor Fish’s parents taught him well,
made sure he washed his sticky gills

then tucked him into weeds each night,
might swim up in the nick of time

to save him from the poisoned reef—
but Ruthie, that flap could open

to anything, right to the bottom
of the rising sea. What about

the Britons? what about the shark.

Amanda Shaw is a poet, editor, and teacher who currently serves as book review editor at Lily Poetry Review. Her debut collection, It Will Have Been So Beautiful, will be released in March 2024 by Lily. She has taught language and literature for over 25 years, including at the World Bank and other DC-area institutions. Although she’s lived in many different cities, states, and countries, DC has been her home for 12 years and she is excited to become more involved in its vibrant writing community.

Image: Brian Harrington Spier, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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